There are some aspects of project-based learning that can be daunting or intimidating. Connecting and collaborating with community members was one of those things for me at the beginning of my PBL journey. But putting that fear aside is a must for several reasons:
Those of you that have dabbled in project-based learning know that bringing an expert to your students is common practice, as is bringing your students to the expert (Ex: A research lab). Community experts come into a place of learning for many reasions such as to speak, work with students directly on their projects, offer feedback and assistance, and occasionally play a role in final evaluations.
That has changed a bit with Covid. Distance learning presents an obvious challenge to connecting experts with students face-to-face, as does classroom learning. Even those students that will be back in a classroom will be experiencing a different learning environment than before, with understandable precautions put in place.
So how do you continue to incorporate community expertise into project-based learning mid-pandemic? Technology! Thankfully we are living in a digital era where communication is not a problem. My students engaged with community experts digitally even before Covid because there are so many cool ways to do that these days.
Before moving on, click "Get in Touch" right here on this website to sign up for my email list. You will receive my free project-based learning assessment e-portfolio where students can showcase their project outcomes, including community experts/collaborations. Grab my PBL Tool Kit to help with designing projects that include community experts.
Connecting with Community Experts Virtually for Project-Based Learning Experiences
How to Utilize Community Experts for PBL During Covid:
Students should use experts to gather information about their project topics. I am a biology teacher, but I am not an expert on colony collapse disorder, for example, a topic that came up during out pollinator study. The U of M had a CCD research program at the time. I was able to bring my students to their lab to discuss their research on disappearing bees. But how could students have gathered information from this expert team without being face-to-face?
I have been able to get my hands on so many unqiue resources by connecting with the right people. My favorite of all time was a human brain. A neurology student conducting research and writing her disseration on addiction came in to speak to my students and brought with her a real human brain. She then donated sheep brains for us to dissect. Connect with these community members however you see fit! She could have shown us the human brain on a video call and sent us the sheep brains to dissect together.
Collaborate with experts! Organize experiences that are mutually beneficial to your students and your community expert. There are so many amazing online programs that offer sharing and collaborating capabilities. For example, lets say students are coordinating a fundraiser. Students collaborate with local chefs to create a cookbook filled with recipes using only local ingredients. They then sell the cookbook.
FlipSnack is an online magazine/book creator that can be shared. Canva is another example, as are Google Apps. This entire cookbook could be created by a variety of collaborators without anyone ever seeing each other face-to-face. Of course that is not ideal, but that is the situation we're in, and it's a good option considering.
Start Building Your Network:
Keep an eye out for awesome community experts, especially if you will be the one coordinating these collaborations. My students self-direct their PBL experiences, so my students often find their own experts, but it's nice for you to have a log of potential connections to offer your students. Start with these steps:
1) Brain Dump: Grab a piece a paper, pull up a Google Doc or planning program, and dump all of your ideas for connections and collaborations into it.
2) Reach Out: Connect with a few people a day. Connect with someone of interest on LinkedIn, email a few people here and there, put a post on a Facebook group or Instastory.
3) Log Connections/Develop a Network: Jot down those that you make connections with or work with. Once you have worked with them, stay connected and keep them posted so that there is potential for future collaborations.
What are some of your favorite ways to bring community collaborators into your curriculum? How about digitally? I am gradually learning about amazing educational technologies, but have a lot more to learn. Fill me in!
For more details, tips, tricks, and resources on community experts, head back to to some earlier blog posts. Try this post on using the community as a resource and keep checking back for more posts in my PBL digital series.
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The year 2020 has been a doozy. In a matter of six months there has been a pandemic, school closures, economic collapse, "murder hornets", countless instances of racial injustice, and an uprising, one that has been a long time coming. I've been thinking about how these unprescedented events have impacted the lives of my students and what power they have to shape the uncertain future of this world.
I believe that the young people that I have worked with have more power than many their age because active and reponsible citizenship is strongly rooted in the school's philsophy, and therefore is center stage in all curriculum. It is never too early to teach young people how to be responsible, active citizens for the betterment of their lives and those that they share the world with.
Why does is matter if students understand and participate in the community? So that they can navigate challenges and uncertainties, identify injustices and know how to make them right, and to protect themsleves and their loved ones now and into adulthood. They can participate in shaping a world that they are proud of; a world that is healthy; a world that is fair and just; a world that positively impacts everyone.
How do you teach your high schoolers to be responsible citizens? Incorporate authentic learning experiences into the mix where students work directly in, with, and for their communities. Check out the following learning experiences that naturally include opportunities to become active, responsible citizens of the world.
Start by Adding Current Events to Your Curriculum:
I spend a lot of time on current events with my students. I include current events in advisory, my science classes, and even with my student book clubs. I do this for a lot of reasons, one of which is to give students topic ideas for their self-directed project-based learning experiences. I also include current events in my curriculum so that learners stay informed.
I infuse current events into my curriculum in a variety of ways.
Pedagogy that Promotes Active and Responsible Citizenship
1) Project-Based Learning:
Project-based learning is largely built around the idea of community. It is not simply a series of projects that students knock out in a couple of hours and present to their classmates and instructor. Students work closely with community experts, participate in authentic learning experiences (ex: meet with a scientist in their lab vs. read about their study online), complete innovative final products, and share their new knowledge with a wide and relevant audience (ex: submit a mini-documentary on habitats to a local nature center.)
A large part of my TPT store is dedicatedt to PBL resources. Check those out here. A great resource to start is my PBL Tool Kit. Students direct their own interest-led PBL experiences. *Note: I have converted, and will continue to convert, many of of PBL resources to include a printable AND digital (paperless) version to use with Google Apps. Check back here throughout the summer for posts on using these resources effectively during the distance learning era.
Ninety percent of this blog is dedicated to project-based learning. If you're interested in learning more about the basics of PBL, click here. Check the archives for more posts on PBL.
2) Problem-Based Learning:
Students identify a problem in the local, national, or global community and develop a "comprehensive plan" that would theoreticaly solve or drastically mitigate a real-world problem. Students research the problem, look at a variety of perspectives around the issue, come at the problem from a several angles, and assemble a plan to solve the problem.
Problem-based learning is an amazing way to encourage active citizenship. Students learn how to identify real-world problems, how to track down the source(s) of the problem, to see issues from many perspectives, and how to go about tackling the issues through a community lens.
You can find several problem-based learning resources in my TPT store, including my problem-based learning tool kit. This tool kit includes the guiding materials for any problem-based learning experience.
3) Community Action Projects:
Community action projects are the most tangible way to practice active citizenship. It is a combination of project-based learning and problem-based learning with an added service-learning component. Community action projects require that students take action. Students dive deeply into a specific community issue, develop an action plan, and TAKE ACTION. This is the most tangible way for students to be active citizens of the world.
Check out this post for more details on community action projects. I have created several community action projects that follow specific themes. Those resources can be found in my TPT store. I also have a tool kit with guiding materials for student-directed community action projects.
I often combine the learning methods mentioned in this post into one large project. My students spend weeks working on projects that result in positive long-term impacts on the community. Students direct their own learning experiences, engage in real-world issues, and actively participate in building and strengthening their communities.
This full experience helps learners develop a deeper understanding of important events and issues in their communities. Through active citizenship, students are able to see their place in the world and why/how their own actions matter.
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Top Young Adult Books for Women's Studies
About ten years ago I picked up a book called "Half the Sky". Within the first chapter I read this quote: "More than 100 million women are missing..." at any given time. This is because of trafficking, gendercide, domestic violence, etc. This quote, and this book, really struck me. I mentioned it, and the PBS documentary that goes along with it, to a few of my high school advisory students. They were interested, largely because many of the issues resonated with them personally. These students led project-based learning experiences on some of the issues and shared their final products with the school community.
One of my coworkers was particularly inspired by their projects and suggested that we start a school-wide book club on women's issues. The interest, participation, and engagement was astounding, from students of all genders and backgrounds. Over the past ten years, since this book club got its start, we have read dozens of books centering around women - women's history, women's oppression, stories of achievement, books with powerful and inspiring female characters, and more.
Girls around the world are faced with extraordinary challenges on a daily basis simply because of their gender. Have your students read these books because they are relevant, real, relatable, teach empathy, and they're interesting. We also all suddenly have a lot of time on our hands with school closures. I connect these books with self-directed project-based and problem-based learning experiences, which is perfect for distance learning when we need our teens to be able to work independently.
Head to TPT to get your hands on these TpT resources - Women's Issues Community Action Project and Women's Studies PBL Project. You can also check out my free Start a PBL Project Cheat to help students design and lead projects on women's studies.
There so many great young adult books, and many books that celebrate and study women. I chose these specific books to add to this list because they are student favorites. Read all books yourself before reading them with kids. Consider your student population, their age and maturity level, backgrounds, etc. Not all books are appropriate for all students. Use discretion.
1. Sold, by Patricia McCormick
I love to read this book with my students because one of the themes it explores is the power of "education". This book is about a young Nepali girl who is sold to a brothel in India. It is an amazing story of perseverance. This book is not a true story but is based on the very real issue of human trafficking.
2. I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erik L. Sanchez
Many adolescents can relate to this book. Although the storyline - a young teenage girl tracking down secrets about the life of her sister who abruptly passes away - is a little out there, but the themes throughout the book are relatable, the focus being on the unreachable expectations of and pressures on girls.
3. Renting Lacy, by Cindy Coloma and Linda Tuhiwai Smith
This was a breakthrough book for my students. This book is based on a true story (true stories), and takes place in the United States. Sex trafficking is a global issue.
4. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, by T Kira Madden
This is another student favorite. Many of students understand the writer's situation and feelings precisely because they have experienced them first hand. They are part of the "tribe". The book is so well written, however, that even those that do not belong to the "fatherless tribe" take something profound away from this reading experience.
5. Girls Like Us, by Rachel Lloyd
This book is a memoir, a true account of the author's escape from the commercial sex industry as a child. She later founded GEMS - Girls Education and Mentoring Service - to help other young survivors in New York City. More student-directed PBL projects have come out of this book than any of the other books we have read as a group.
6. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
This is such a powerful book about race, police brutality, self-concept, voice confidence, loyalty to family and friendship, and justice, all challenges teens face everyday. All teens should read this book, but I have it on a women's studies reading list because the main character is female. Her gender identity plays an important role in the story.
7. Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld
Uglies is a book series that takes place in a dystopian future. The book chronicles Shay's required surgical transformation from "ugly" child to "stunning" adult. This book evokes dialogue about self-confidence and body image, among other things.
8. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
Go Ask Alice was written in 1971 and is still relevant today. I first learned of this book from a student and it continues to be a favorite book club read. That is why I included it on this list. The story centers around a girl who develops a drug addiction at age 15 and runs away from home. Although it is classified as a young adult book, there is strong language as well as graphic details of abuse. Read it before reading with students.
9. Refugee, by Alan Gratz
Refugee is not even remotely centered around women's studies. The book focuses on three separate refugee stories that ultimately interconnect in some way. The three main characters are teenagers, one of which is female. Her story, although fictional, blew me away. So, this book is included on this list simply because of this character and her strength, determination, and grit.
10. A Walk Across the Sun, by Corban Addison
Another book about trafficking! I realize there are many of these on this list, but of all of the women's topics that we read about, my students are the most interested in trafficking.
11. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak is a powerful book about an unfortunately relatable issue; sexual abuse and rape. The main character, Melinda, is raped at a party. Throughout the course of the book she gradually comes to grips with what happened to her. She speaks out and finds her voice. This is an especially important book for young people to read, of all gender identities, in the thick of the "me to" movement.
12. I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced,
by Delphine Minoui and Nujood Ali
Nujood is married off by her father at age ten to a man in his 30's. This book is her TRUE story of child marriage, abuse, and her escape to freedom.
The following books are not young adult books and may be too much for your student population. Each of these books was added to this list because they highlight the bravery, determination, and resiliency of female characters. And my students love them.
"Half the Sky" is what started this journey for me and my students. This book is not really one that students want to read through from front to back. It's not a story; it's journalism. While I read the other books with my students I pull quotes, statistics, and personal stories from Half the Sky.
1. I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai
This memoir is the inspiring story of a young girl from Pakistan who strongly and vocally advocates for girls' education. In doing so she and her family become targets of the Taliban.
2. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
This book is not specifically about women's issues, but the book focuses on several female characters, all faced with a variety of female-centric conundrums from friendship loyalties to motherhood to female reproductive health. READ this book before reading it with students. You may not find it appropriate for your audience.
3. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
This is the story of a girl who is abandoned by her family and is left to fend for and educate herself. It's interesting for students to follow along through the various stages of her life.
4. Educated, by Tara Westover
This is an incredible true story of a girl's struggle in a violent home and the choices and sacrifices she makes to escape the abuse.
5. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
This novel takes place in a dystopian future. In this patriarchal society, women are forced into a variety of roles. The book focuses on the perspectives of these different women and the choices they make to either accept their fate or gain their independence, and at what stakes.
6. The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah
I LOVE this book. I read this book with a few of my students, and the sentiment is shared. The story about a small family that move to Alaska to start over. The father, who suffers from PTSD, is violent toward his teen daughter and wife. This is a powerful story about love, parenthood, loyalty, friendship, survival and so much more.
7. Everything Here is Beautiful, by Mira T. Lee
This is one of my favorite books right now. Everything Here is Beautiful is interesting book about mental health, several stories written from different perspectives. The main characters are sisters, one with bipolar. This topic highly resonates with my student population, but I believe it resonates with most. We have all been impacted by mental illness either directly or indirectly. Mental health is an important topic in and of itself, but I added this book to a list of books on women's studies because of its focus on sisterhood, motherhood, and women's health.
8. 1000 White Women,
I was floored when I learned that this book was based on actual historical events. 1000 white women is a really interesting book about volunteers for the "Brides for Indians" program started by the U.S. government in the 1870's. Aside from that mind-blowing foundation of the story, the side stories and pictures painted of a woman's worth and their role in 1800's America is fascinating.
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"Authentic" is a buzzword in the project-based learning world. Authenticity is the foundation of PBL and plays a role in every step of the process from project design to final evaluation. That is one feature that separates project-based learning from other teaching methods. The learning experiences, final product, resources, presentation, assessment, reflection, etc. should all be authentic - they should be relevant, real, have meaning and purpose in the lives of learners.
For example, an authentic learning experience would be one in which a student interviews an oncologist vs. reads about cancer on Wikipedia. An authentic final product might be a mini-documentary that follows the experience of a cancer survivor vs. a poster board with tidbits of information about cancer. An authentic presentation would be hosting a community screening of the mini-documentary vs. a presentation to the class.
This post is specifically about that authentic presentations.
Backtrack a few weeks to posts from my project-based learning series for more details on PBL.
What is an authentic presentation?
An authentic presentation is the demonstration of new skills and knowledge to a relevant audience in the community. The idea is that the information or the final product reaches an audience that could use the final product or benefit from the material in some way, where the learner can experience and visualize their new understanding of a concept or skill at play in real life. A presentation that is not authentic would be one given to the class followed by the final product getting tossed in the trash, never to be thought of again. An authentic presentation would leave a mark on the community, and depending on the nature of the presentation, possibly make a profound long-term impact (check out my community action projects, a type of project-based learning that leaves a lasting impact on the local or global community).
Why bother with authentic presentations?
One reason to incorporate authentic presentations is quality. When students know their final product will be seen by more than the teacher they up their game a bit. Other benefits include encouraging community collaboration, building communication and networking skills, promoting citizenship, enhancing students' worldview, understanding their local and gobal communities, and more. The result is deeper learning, learning that goes beyond content knowledge. This is true because learners construct meaning through real-life experiences. They see relevance and purpose as it relates to their lives.
Authentic Presentation Ideas
Reaching a relevant audience and making an impact on the community doesn't mean your students have to do public speeches everyday. Speaking to a community audience, such as performing an original skit on bullying to a local elementary assembly, is one way to deliver new skills and knowledge in an authentic way. There are other ways for those educators and learners that are confined to the classroom. Other options include publishing work on digital media such as a blog, submitting work to an online publication or contest, displaying student work in the community, and even bringing the audience to you.
One way of bringing an authentic audience to your students is to host exhibition or presentation events at the school or at your home (if you are a home educator). This gives students the chance to showcase their work to the community. Invite relevant community members, family members, friends, and experts utilized in student projects. The cover photo is of one such exhibition night that my school hosts quarterly.
Check out the graphic organizer below for more authentic presentation ideas. My students use this organizer when designing their projects. Feel free to do the same with your students. A free printable version can be found at Experiential Learning Depot.
Example of an Authentic Presentation in Project-Based Learning:
You assign a PBL project to your life science class. They are to do a project on symbiotic relationships. Each student designs their own project around this topic. Each student chooses how they will find the information, which experts to connect with, how they would like to demonstrate learning, how they would like to present it and who will be their audience (other than the teacher and class). This is what the PBL process looks like in my seminars. I give the topic and the learners direct the learning experience (with my guidance). I will be doing a post in the near future on the steps involved in student-directed project-based learning. Stay-tuned for that. In the meantime, I highly recommend reading Passion for Learning by Ronald Newell.
One student decides to create an infographic on the different types of symbiotic relationships (authentic final product). She collaborates with an ecology professor from a nearby university and a graphic designer in the area (authentic learning experiences). They work together to create a professional quality infographic with solid, accurate information. The student then needs to determine how she will share her learning experience with a relevant audience that will benefit from the information and/or the final product itself (authentic presentation).
Examples of Authentic Presentation Options for this Project Using the Graphic Organizer Above:
1) Distribute Final Product to a Relevant Audience in the Community:
2) Display Final Product to a Relevant Audience in the Community:
3) Present Final Product to a Relevant Audience in the Community:
4) Publish the Final Product:
5) Share your Final Product Digitally:
Good luck! If you're overwhelmed by the possibilities, utilize some of the organizational templates provided in my store, including the one above. Many of them are free. Implementing authentic experiences in your curriculum does not have to be chaotic. Even student-directed learning can have structure and SHOULD be teacher facilitated. I am a firm advocate for authentic learning and love to talk about it. If you have questions or are seeking out advice or tips, please reach out. I would be ecstatic to help out!
My TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, is filled with PBL learning resources. Check them out if you think project-based learning is something you might love to try with your students.
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A couple weeks ago I took my two young children to the zoo. On our way home my four-year-old said "did you know that jellyfish can grow their bodies back when they get chopped up?" In other words, they can regenerate when, say, they have a close call with a sea turtle. My son learned this from chattin' it up with a zoo volunteer. He practiced communication skills, asked questions, took a social risk, and gathered information from an expert on a topic of interest.
I often talk about project-based learning on this blog because it's what I know and use in teaching. An overarching theme of project-based learning is community, from generating projects ideas to the final assessment. Students use community experts to gather information on their project topics, create innovative final products that impact the community, and present their projects to an authentic audience, one that is relevant and often public. All of the PBL components just mentioned involve the community in some way or another.
Before I get into any details on specific ways to use the community as a resource in project-based learning, let's first talk about why you would do this in the first place? Sounds like a lot of work, an extra task or thing to organize, or time away from teaching content. It can be an extra task if you let it. But you could also put some of the responsibility on your students. They can certainly and should be tracking down their own community experts and authentic audience. Community experts also deliver much of the content you would have to otherwise. It also doesn't mean you have to leave the building. As an experiential learning educator I strongly advocate for doing so, but that is not an option for everyone. If it's not an option in your situation, then bring the community to you! And your students can do the same. I'll get to some options soon, but first, why bother to use the community as a resource?
Benefits of Utilizing the Community in Project-Based Learning:
1) Development of 21st-century Skills - students learn a variety of important life skills such as resourcefulness, communication, and collaboration.
2) Real-world application of content - students make meaningful connections when they can see and experience concepts first-hand. For example, shadowing a genetics counselor would allow students to experience genetics concepts in the context of real-life.
3) Building a professional and personal network - students develop a hefty network that could lead to future references, job offers, lifelong mentorships and even friendships.
4) Strengthening the community - community collaboration puts students in a position to actively work at breaking down walls between students and community members that may have developed due to misunderstandings or stereotypes. There is so much to be learned from others, and not just from their expertise, but from their stories.
5) Access to resources you may not be able to offer - I took a graduate class with the biotechnology department at the University of Minnesota several years ago. They offer up their equipment to educators and their students, which I have taken advantage of many times. There have been a variety of scenarios where my students have needed a resource that our school couldn't provide, from actual materials to expertise or skill.
How to Use the Community as a Resource in Project-Based Learning:
The following are ideas or ways that I have personally used or have seen coworkers use the community as an element of learning experiences. You do not have to be doing project-based learning to include community resources in your curriculum. Use some of the suggestions below and adapt them in a way that works for you and your learners.
These are only a few options of many. When planning community involvement in your curriculum, consider the topic of study. Take constraints such as time, your own skills, equipment and space into account. Think about your needs and how a community member might be able to fill that role or provide that resource. It may seem like an additional task to an already demanding load. But if you plan well and put some of the responsibility on your students, it may actually feel like you're saving time, and the end result is worth it. The benefits are worth it.
What are some ways you currently use the community your curriculum? I would love to hear more examples. If you don't currently, what is keeping you? What obstacles do you face and how could you work around them or work through them?
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Spring is the perfect time of year for citizen science! It's warming up outside, students are getting antsy and exhausted, testing is underway, breaks are badly needed. On top of that, things start to get active in the world of wildlife, especially in temperate regions like Minnesota. Animals emerge from hibernation, migrating species begin their long journeys to their summer sanctuaries, and it's breeding season for many organisms.
Citizen science is when citizens, like your students, have the opportunity to play an active role in wildlife studies or projects going on around the world that benefit from participation by citizens. Hawk Watch International, for example, hosts hawk counting events at their migration sites that anyone can participate in. Volunteers count passing hawks and record their count to an online database.
Citizen science is a great learning tool for many reasons. One is the application of science concepts to the real-world. Participating in citizen science also shows students that they can play a role in improving the community and the world around them. They are active citizens, an important 21st-century skill.
I highly encourage organizing classwide citizen science activities or taking a project-based learning approach to citizen science. Take a look at my PBL Toolkit to get students rolling on citizen science PBL projects. Using my Community Action Projects resource is one project-based learning approach that makes sense in this case, as students would be actively participating in projects that better the community.
The following is a list of some of my favorite citizen science projects to use with my high school students AND my own young children. The projects listed below are appropriate for ALL ages. You could get students involved either part of school curriculum, at home for homeschool projects, on a family camping trip, or over the summer to keep students busy and sharp, among other things, There are many more citizen science programs out there other than the 20 listed below. I'd love to know about others that you've done with your students!
20 Citizen Science Projects for Students of All Ages
1. Globe at Night
The purpose of this project is to raise awareness about light pollution and its impact on communities. Students can report their night sky brightness observations daily. All they need is a computer or phone. This would be a great supplemental learning experience to a broader PBL project on light pollution.
This website has a variety of projects to get involved in, which is nice when it comes to student-directed learning. Students can pick a citizen science project in line with their interests such as insects, mammals, migrating species, invasive species and more. What's really cool about this website is that is promotes communication and collaboration with naturalists and research scientists.
3. Project Budburst
Project Budburst focuses on plant observations. The intention of the program is to understand human impact on wildlife, particularly plants. One area of focus right now is determining how plants are and will continue to respond to climate change. This site has a tab for educators with age specific learning activity recommendations.
4. Project Noah
Project Noah is another citizen science option that emphasizes wildlife observation and inquiry. There is a section for educators that has a "classroom" feature where teachers can set up and manage class citizen science projects. The education section also provides investigation ideas from mimicry to backyard ecology. This is a great option for homeschoolers as well. You can add as many students to the "class" as you wish. It would be a great independent PBL project because citizen science naturally collaborative, an important element of PBL.
5. Project Squirrel
This citizen science project seems a bit dull. I mean, squirrels? They're so ubiquitous and kind of a nuisance. They aren't rare. They aren't large predators. They are a slightly cuter version of a rat. Squirrels, however, can tell us a lot about the health of the surrounding environment. Students can get involved in this project by recording squirrel observations and photos. It's a more interesting and hands-on way to learn about ecosystems. There is also a special experiment students can get involved in that looks at food patches.
This resource is incredible. What's different about Zooniverse compared to the other citizen science options mentioned so far is that the projects cross disciplines. There are projects on climate, history, literature, medicine and even art, not just natural science. One of the projects on there right now is called "Anti-Slavery Manuscripts". This project was added by the Boston Public Library to include citizens in transcribing their collection of letters written by anti-slavery activists. I think the best feature of this website is that students can create their own citizen science projects to add to the site, which citizens from all over the world can then contribute to. That would be a really cool PBL project and deep learning experience for older students or as a class project. I used to do large group projects like this with my advisory.
SciStarter is similar to Zooniverse in that there are a variety of citizen science projects available to choose from AND students can create their own. It is essentially a massive catalog of citizen science projects. One of my favorite things about this website is their blog. The blog articles illuminate the impact of citizen science on our understanding of the world.
This is a super black and white, straightforward catalog of citizen science projects in the U.S. It is not fancy and does not have a special section for educators like many of the websites mentioned so far. However, the catalog is exhaustive. If you are having your learners do student-directed PBL projects, this website is a great place to start. They can search for ideas relevant to their interests.
9. World Water Monitoring Challenge
This project is fantastic for raising awareness and educating students on water issues across the globe. Students monitor their local waterways by performing water quality tests. Consider implementing scientific open-inquiry labs on water quality in your area (check out my inquiry-based learning toolkit for guiding materials - I also have several student-directed water pollution activities in my store including inquiry, PrBL and PBL..) Students that are especially passionate about this issue and want to get more involved can apply to be ambassadors on the website. The downside to this citizen science project is that it is not free. Specific water quality kits need to be purchased to participate. One upside (of many) is that it's global.
10. The Great Backyard Bird Count
This citizen science project is only open for participation a few days per year. There are four designated days for citizens from all over the world to count birds. This year (2019), almost 33 million birds were counted. Students can count birds, submit observations, and explore the data. There is also a photo contest students can take part in! Your students will need access to smartphones and the eBird app to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Hawk Watch International, which I mentioned above, is a similar program, but specific to hawks.
11. Journey North
Journey North is a citizen science option that specifically focuses on migrating species such as the monarch butterfly and whooping cranes. There are many organisms to choose from as well as specific projects. The Symbolic Migration project is one example where students from around the world create paper butterflies and send them to students in Mexico. Those students then care for them through the winter and return them in the spring, symbolizing butterfly migration. This is a cool way to integrate art, geography, science, history, and culture, as well as to encourage global learning and collaboration. My kids and I participate in the loon program each spring, which is the MN state bird (my place of residence).
12. Butterflies and Moths of North America
As the title of this citizen science option suggests, this particular project is specific to butterfly and moth sightings across North America. Students can take photographs and record sighting locations of butterflies, moths, and/or caterpillars to the database. Students can open and analyze data maps. This is another one that is easy to participate in as long as you're in North America. Migrating moths and butterflies use the north as a summer sanctuary and the south as a winter sanctuary. They can be found in most environments from urban gardens to national parks. My students and children take part in this project every spring.
13. WildCam Gorongosa
This project can be found and your group managed through Zooniverse (#6). Scientists and conservationists need help tracking and identifying species in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Students scroll through photos taken by wildcams placed in the park. Students identify organisms and their behaviors IN the photos. That's one interesting thing about this citizen science project; students can participate from anywhere in the world, including in a classroom. I understand some educators don't have the flexibility to get out of the building everyday to view wildlife. This is a great option for those in this situation. The "lab" tab in the upper right corner of the homepage is a place for educators to compile class data, which might come from an inquiry investigation for example. Students can also discuss what they see with other volunteers and scientists. It's highly collaborate, and pretty addicting once you start!
14. Nature's Notebook
This website is geared toward educators. Nature's Notebook focuses heavily on phenology monitoring, but what's cool is that you can create your own phenology monitoring program with your students that is relevant to your community. Your students could consider starting a citizen science program as an upper level project-based learning experience.
15. The Wildlab Bird
The Wildlab Bird is another citizen science opportunity offered by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Students observe birds near their learning spaces and report sightings of GPS-tagged birds to Wildlab. One thing that is unique to this citizen science option is that they promote STEM. They put a strong emphasis on integrating technology, so much so, that they will provide iPhones to your students for this project. They will also visit your school or other learning environment free of cost to help you get started.
16. Celebrate Urban Birds
This project encourages urbanites to observe their surroundings and appreciate wildlife. You don't have to be in the middle of a national park to find wildlife. This is a great project for urban students that don't have easy access to natural areas.
17. Project FeederWatch
I love this project! There are so many learning opportunities built into it. It is not simply a matter of counting birds in your school yard. You could take advantage of design thinking by having your students build their own bird feeders. The shape, structure size, color, and food included will all be dependent on the bird they're hoping to attract and count. In order to find this information students will have to do some research on the natural history of birds in their community. You could split your students up into groups, have each team determine a bird of focus, design a birdfeeder specific to the species of their choice, and then observe and count the birds to report to Project FeederWatch. This would be a great PBL experience.
18. School of Ants
The purpose of this program is for citizens to help create a thorough map of ant species and their ranges across North America. This is a great supplemental activity or could be a PBL project in itself. Students would learn about the natural history of ants in North America, what they eat, their behaviors, distribution, and more while contributing to real science. This website has many resources for educators as well.
19. The Lost Ladybug Project
Another one on insects! The Lost Ladybug Project asks citizens to help them collect ladybugs, photograph them, and submit the images along with some basic information such as location, date, habitat, etc, to their database. This could be a great supplemental activity to a larger discussion or unit on topics like invasive species, habitats, competition, evolution, genetics, and more. Be creative, or let your students get creative by having them conduct student-led scientific open inquiry investigations.
20. The Great Sunflower Project
The Great Sunflower Project emphasizes pollinators, a hugely important topic and one that has been in the spotlight for quite some time, as our pollinators are at risk. There are a few ways to get students involved in this program. One way is to have them grow sunflowers, monitor pollinator visitors, and test the effects of pesticides on the pollinators. Students can also participate in pollinator counts anytime, anywhere, even in the school yard or in their home gardens. As a project-based teacher, I think this final option is the coolest way to get involved; students can learn about important habitats for pollinators by literally creating their own pollinator habitat such as a bee or butterfly garden.
Thanks for visiting! I hope you're able to get your students involved in at least one of these citizen science projects this spring. By introducing them now, they can take over and continue to stay involved on their own throughout the summer and into next year. I'd love to know about anymore citizen science projects not mentioned here that would be worth looking into.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources. There are a couple free ecology resources available to download.
Photo Credit: Many of the photos above were taken directly from the citizen science websites cited. The quote photo, blog cover, butterfly photo, bird photos, butterfly art piece, and child looking at butterfly catalog were taken by Experiential Learning Depot.
The Importance of Intergenerational Learning Experiences
The young and the old and everyone in between living, playing, and working side-by-side is a tale as old as time. Yet that tale seems to be one of the past. We currently find ourselves in a
society where those interactions across age groups are few and far between.
Once upon a time intergenerational relationships formed organically. A family living in tight corridors was necessary for survival. Children, parents, grandparents and so on worked and lived as a community working toward the same goals. Their lives were interconnected. Today we live in discrete units. We have our own goals. We have our own lives from 9-5. Students split up by age. A greater role is placed on peers than ever before. Modes of communication have drastically evolved from my grandma's generation to my daughter's generation. Heck, communication has changed dramatically in the past 5 years let alone the past 50 years. Information is at our fingertips. Why ask grandma about the Dust Bowl when I can ask Alexa? I can ask her in the bath. I can ask her while I'm driving. I can even ask her at 3 in the morning when grandma has been long asleep.
Alexa has become such a fixture in our household, that not only does my daughter know how to get what she wants from her, but she also thinks Alexa is a real person. Living with us.
Now don't get me wrong. I don't believe that the changes we've seen, especially in the recent past, are necessarily bad things. Especially when it comes to technology. These changes are here to stay and are continuing to evolve as I write this. The best thing I can do as a parent and teacher is embrace it. But I also don't want to see my children or my students (or myself for that matter) miss out on the amazing benefits of intergenerational relationships.
Before going on I want to be clear about the definition of intergenerational. The way I mean it in this context is in connection with learning. Intergenerational learning is when those from varying age groups learn from each other. It's not a matter of being in the same room at the same time with people of all ages, like in a movie theater for example. It's working together with the intention of learning from one another. And yes, older generations CAN learn from younger generations, regardless of what you've heard about millenials, or your fears about Generation Z! Everyone has a role to play.
Benefits of Intergenerational Learning Experiences:
1) Learning from each other.
2) Building a stronger, healthier community of trust, reliance, and collaboration.
3) Discovering commonalities.
4) Provides opportunities to see different points of view.
5) Breaks down misconceptions, judgements, and stereotypes.
6) Those involved gain skills from those that are more experienced. This goes both ways. There are skills that young people have that some older generations struggle with. Tech literacy is one example.
7) Older generations can help children develop a healthy self -concept (self-esteem, confidence, identity, ideals, values and priorities.)
8) Intergenerational relationships can provide personal one-on-one attention to a child if approached as a mentorship experience.
9) Gives children someone other than a parent (fear of parental disappointment) or peer (fear of judgement) to confide in.
10) Elders with intergenerational friendships report better mental wellness.
Ways of Making Intergenerational Learning Experiences Part of the Curriculum:
1) Consider developing a mentorship program. Bring mentors from various generations to spend time with your students. They can play games, read to each other, chat, build something, etc. But the interactions should be one-on-one and should occur regularly.
2) Start a technology literacy volunteer committee. This would work well for older students. Pull together a group of kids that would like to offer tech lessons to those in the community that need it.
3) Start a club that community members of all ages can join. Ex: book club, knitting club, chess club, etc.
4) Incorporate intergenerational learning experiences into your current curriculum. Don't change anything, just add community volunteers to work with your students in the classroom.
5) Along those same lines, assign a project specifically designed to provide intergenerational learning experiences. I created a PBL project on generations that asks students to interview several individuals from different generations.
Check it out here: Project-Based Learning: Generations.
6) Organize shadowing experiences. Older students can arrange shadowing experiences with community members from different generations outside of the classroom. Urge them to make this activity a regular occurrence, not a one time thing.
7) Pen pals - if mobility is a challenge, consider a pen pal program with any number of mixed- generation facilities. An assisted living facility is one option. These relationships don't have to be between children and the elderly, however. My high school students used to go to an elementary school once a week to read to first graders. That is also an intergenerational learning experience that benefits both parties.
8) Form an Intergenerational community service crew to give time to improving the community. The purpose of this would be to bring various skills and ideas from different generations to the table. It's also a great way to learn from each other while working toward common goals.
These are just a few ideas. There are many possibilities. Play around with what might work for the age group you work with, your schedule, the number of students you have, your level of flexibility, mobility and more. What works for you and your students may not work well for others. But don't let these obstacles stop you from providing intergenerational learning experiences to your students, or if you're a parent, to your children. There is so much to gain from intergenerational relationships. Don't waste an opportunity!
Check out Experiential Learning Depot on TpT for more experiential learning resources. You can also follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
10 Free Gifts to Give Your Students This Holiday Season
Children of the 21st century need so much more from educators than content delivery. We as teachers (and parents) grew up in an entirely different world than our students. Information is available to them anytime, anywhere. Memorizing facts, we know, isn't relevant to this generation, it won't be relevant to the next generation, nor the one after that.
What students need now are the "free gifts" on the list above, among other things. There are many more student-needs than what I listed on my gorgeous graphic up top, I just couldn't fit anymore on the page!
Educators are (or should be) well aware of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Basic needs must first be met for learners to reach a level of "self-actualization." Many children do not even have consistent access to their most basic needs: food, water, warmth and rest. School may be the only place they get those things. Safety, friendship and the tools to build a healthy self-concept are additional student needs. Most children struggle with these ideas, especially tweens and teens. They need us to help them navigate through this unique time in history.
What we can give our students this holiday season is support, kindness and love. We can listen when they need us to listen. We can provide our students with learning opportunities that help them develop the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. We can offer experiences that foster the discovery of skills, talents, interests and desires.
I left my job a year ago to stay home with my own children, and since then have done some serious reflecting on my career. The last few years at my job I felt bogged down by constant student behavior issues, the pressure of adhering to standards, truancy, and my own stuff going on at home. I lost patience with my students and lost-sight of their most inherent needs.
We all know teachers don't teach for the money! We teach because we love our students. You are likely already giving your students most, if not all, of the gifts on the list. If you're not, it's okay! Give yourself a break. We as teachers are up against a lot. But try to do some serious, honest self-reflection this winter break. Make changes in your classroom if you need to. Create the conditions they need to thrive. Assign projects that promote student voice and choice. Provide a plethora of input to aid students in discovering their interests and talents. Focus on your students, who they are as individuals, and what they really need from you.
Check out some of Experiential Learning Depot's projects that might be just what your classroom needs. They are all student-centered, so provide that choice, voice, autonomy and hands-on experience mentioned on the list.
Activities for Building a Strong Advisory Community
Project-Based Learning Tool Kit
Community Action Projects
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Multicultural Awareness in the Classroom: how to Celebrate Student's Cultural Diversity
Happy apple picking season! Well, the end of it anyway. Apple picking in September and October is a long time Minnesota tradition. It is probably a tradition in the Midwest in general and maybe a few other places that grow apples. Apple picking with the family in Minnesota however, doesn't just mean heading to an orchard and picking apples. It means an entire afternoon of kid rides, face painting, corn mazes, climbing haystacks, taking haunted hayrides, picking out pumpkins for carving jack-o-lanterns, sipping hot apple cider and snacking on brats, fresh apple donuts, and caramel apples. It's shooting rotten apples with a giant sling shot. Yes, this happens, and if you don't know about this, check out Arie's season of the Bachelor! And the celebration isn't over when you leave the parking lot. You then go home and bake loads of apple inspired treats because you have too many apples to just eat!
The sights, the sounds, the smells - mmmmm, apples and cinnamon. This experience reminds me of fall, family, who I am and where I come from. Fall just isn't fall in my world without apple picking. It's not that apple picking is that great. It's the same year after year. But that's the beauty of it. It's a fond tradition that I share with my family, and have since I was a child. I am now passing that tradition on in my own little family. It's a deeply rooted part of my heritage. Yes, getting lost in a corn maze, the same time and place every year, is part of who I am, and I love it!
But, OK. This is an education blog. Yes, yes. So what's my point? This has been an unusually rainy and cold fall for Minnesota. There was a point where I thought maybe we wouldn't be able to apple-pick this year, and I felt devastated even imagining that. This experience has come to play such an important role in my life. Not just apple-picking, but traditions like this in general. I think having and creating traditions is so meaningful. It's an important part of one's self-concept, and knowing who we are and where we come from. There is massive effort on the part of my coworkers and I to help our students have these same feelings of nostalgia, belonging and pride in who they are and where they come from. I've noticed with my students that the learning activities they most enjoy and look forward to year after year are those that have to do with culture and tradition.
I do a heritage project with my students every year, where they focus on a piece of their heritage and culture. They learn about themselves and their family history. They pinpoint family traditions and discover how those traditions came to be. They essentially learn about their family background and then have the opportunity to brag about it in an annual heritage festival, putting their exhibits on display for the community. This project is something the students look forward to each year. If you're interested in trying this with your students, check out this resource to get it going - Project-Based Learning: Heritage.
It's an interesting project to do even when you suspect your students may not have many family traditions to draw from, and those that do may not be fond of their family traditions. I suspect that with my own students, yet they STILL always find something about who they are that they are proud of and want to share.
You could also expose your students to traditions in school. Start them in your classroom. I have two co-workers that are especially great at that. One of them, Val, started an annual tradition called "Feast" every year around Thanksgiving, where each advisory cooks something together, and then the school sits down and shares a meal. Val also brings her own family traditions into her classroom, such as making lefsa with her students. It's a bonding experience for everyone. Another coworker of mine, Tom, is also great at this. He brings his apple cider maker into his advisory in the fall to give students a little dose of that Minnesota apple-picking experience without ever leaving the building.
All of these activities may not hit any of the standards, but they help tremendously in building a strong community within your school and strong personal self-concepts within your students. Children can't think about biology for example, until their basic needs are met. Their learning environment needs to be a place of safety, trust, kinship and belonging. Having school or classroom traditions helps to build on those needs. Check out this free resource for more ideas on creating bonding experiences by implementing school traditions.
What are your favorite family traditions? What are some traditions you have as a school or in your class that the students look forward to?
Happy fall folks!
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I was recently told, by two individuals that I admire and trust (best friend and husband), that my blog posts should be more relatable. A little less information heavy, and a little more fun. I can do that....I think. If you know me well, especially when it comes to education, you know I tend to be serious. I feel that the intention of this blog is to share information with educators and parents. So I won't stop doing that, but to appease the crowds, the INFJ in me will attempt to be more relatable. And what's more relatable than the Great Minnesota Get-Together!!??
As I go through any average day, I am always thinking about how to make this or that into a learning opportunity, a project or some kind of lesson. I think this is probably a common phenomenon among educators and parents. It’s purely accidental, I can’t help it, and truthfully I don’t mind it. Keeps my brain rolling when some days it feels like all I’m doing is changing diapers and breaking up sibling fights (my children are wonderful and I love them deeply). Every book I read sparks project ideas, including one I’m reading now about cannibalism! I recently visited the science museum with my own kids (awesome trip) and was thinking the whole time about how I could transfer these ideas into my class. A simple walk around the block with my kids sparks project ideas. I’d try them on my students as we speak if I was still teaching. Yesterday I went to the good ole’ Minnesota state fair. My kids were playing with an interactive pollinator exhibit. I said out loud to my husband, “this would make a great project for my students”. He told me to turn it into a blog post, so here we are! Ahead of you is a comprehensive list of projects or learning activities inspired by our family trip to the State Fair on Saturday (the busiest and hottest day of the fair!) Enjoy!
Something worth mentioning is that I am only offering project and activity ideas here, not logistics for implementation. Doing that would take me a year. I have project-based learning curriculum on my TpT site like that, which did take me a year to put together. If you want a guide for implementing project-based learning into your classroom, with a full year of project ideas, templates, rubrics and a manual for application, check here. Look over the sample and discuss with your school's director if you think making the purchase would be a good move for your school (moving from lecture-based/teacher-directed to project-based/student-directed learning). Otherwise, check out the MN State Fair inspired project ideas below, and execute them your way with your class this fall!
15 State Fair Inspired Learning Activities
1) Interactive Exhibits - there was a really fun agricultural area at the Minnesota State Fair for kids. The exhibit simulated how food goes from farm to table through active participation in the process. There was a pollination demo that had fishing pole like structures, with pollinators such as bees attached to the ends of the lines. Our kids took the poles and tried to catch "pollen" (plastic golf balls wrapped with Velcro) nestled in a large flower, and moved that pollen to another flower, simulating pollination. This interactive exhibit kept my children busy and engaged for twenty minutes, and by the time they were bored of if, my four year child clearly understood how insects pollinate flowers. As a project-based learning instructor myself, I am always looking for authentic and innovative final product ideas for showcasing projects. Student-created interactive exhibits, on any subject, would be great for student learning and awesome learning opportunities for exhibit visitors. When designing projects this year, consider asking students to create an interactive exhibit as their final product, that they can then display at an exhibition night for family, friends and the community.
2) Mapping the State Fair - using an online mapping program (zeemaps.com is a great one), create a map that illustrates one aspect of the fair. A student could try to locate data on state fair visitor demographics for example, and map the number of visitors that travel from each county to visit the fair each year. Another student could map all of the "park and rides" available to fair goers or parking areas, all of the root beer stands at the fair grounds, all of the kid friendly exhibits at the fair grounds, etc.
3) Local Food Theme Exhibits - at the MN State Fair this year, my family and I ran into an apple exhibit in the horticulture building that we have never seen before. The exhibit was everything apples! It was awesome. My children each had an apple popsicle. This exhibit inspired this project idea. Discuss as a class all of food items that are grown locally, such as corn, soy beans, wild rice, and apples, in Minnesota's case. Have each student cook something using a locally grown ingredient. Host a local food festival at your school where family, friends and community members can sample recipes made with local food. Turn it into a school fundraiser by charging a few dollars for admission.
4) Open a State Fair Food Stand - Okay, students wouldn't be expected to really open one (it's pretty cut-throat), but have students make plans as if they are going to start one. They should think about what they would sell, vision, mission, goals, cost, marketing plan, etc. If you would like your students to go through the actual vendor application process, they certainly may. The Minnesota State Fair provides forms and details for doing so. Click here to be transferred to application information.
5) Fair Impacts on the Local Economy - have students analyze the various ways in which their state or county fair benefits their local economy. Each student or pair of students can choose one economics question or category to focus on (parking, local businesses outside of the actual fair grounds, transportation to and from the fair, fair food vendors, fair entertainers, number of jobs available and in what departments, advertising, etc.) Students can come back together and share their findings.
6) Create a State or County Fair History Timeline - have students research major events around their state or county fair, and insert those events into a timeline with dates, photos, even videos if they use a digital timeline program. Students can focus on one aspect of the fair's history such as musical guests, dates of establishment for well-known food vendors, award winners year after year, and so on. It could also just be a general timeline of the most notable events.
7) State Fair News Project or Activity - students should search for interesting news articles on their state or county fair. Archives at the local library or history center would be a great place to start. Have students select one specific news article to turn into a history project. For example, in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt made his famous "Speak Softly and Carry a Bit Stick" speech at the MN State Fair Grandstand. If a student was doing a project on this news article, he/she would then research what the speech was about, why the speech was given, what the social and political climate was like at that time, etc.
8) Historical Maps Activity - have students pair up or group up and research old state fair maps. Assign each group a range of years (1900-1920 for example) and ask them to find a map from as many years as possible. Once students have had sufficient time to collect maps, have them printed and tape them to the wall in chronological order. As a group spend some time observing ways in which the fair grounds has changed and evolved over the decades.
9) Environmental Impact - have students analyze possible side-effects of the state fair on the environment. For example, amount of waste produced. Brainstorm solutions.
10) State Fair Energy Use - split students up into small groups to research information on energy use at your state or county fair, essentially investigating how much energy is used, what elements require the most energy, how those elements are powered, and energy plans for the future. This information may not be readily available online. Teach students how to reach out in the community to find the answers to their questions.
11) Amusement Park Rides and Physics - have students choose their favorite ride at their state or county fair. Research how and why the ride works. For example, Gravitron is a ride that spins in circles, and because of centrifugal force, you become plastered up against it's walls, thus not requiring a seat belt to stay in place. Once students have chosen a ride and understand the physics principal(s) at play, have them build a moving model that demonstrates that particular law of physics.
12) Food Art - one of the coolest parts of our state fair is seeing all of the art made of food items, like beans and corn kernels. Have students try this unique art medium!
13) Behind the Scenes - every time I go to the fair I wonder what it's like behind the scenes for those involved, such as people that show animals, run food stands, entertain, work for a clean-up crew, take tickets, set-up and take-down rides, etc. Have students choose one element of the fair that they are curious about and contact an expert in that area. They should either shadow that expert or interview them on what it's like behind the scenes of the state fair. This could really be applied to any community event.
14) Conduct a Fair Survey and Analyze the Results - ask a question about fair goers, create a survey, conduct the survey and analyze the results. Topics could be food favorites, average amount of money spent per fair goer, top 5 most visited exhibits, etc. The fair does not need to be going on to do this activity. Have students create a survey online using Survey Monkey, and post it on their social media pages. This activity could also be done on any event, or any subject for that matter. It doesn't have to be on a fair.
15) State Fair Traditions - my family has state fair traditions. We visit the same exhibits, eat the same exact foods, and go on the same rides year after year. Ice cream from the dairy barn, lefsa and cheese curds are state fair staples for us. Have students write their state fair story. Could be in essay format, article format, poetry, they could write and illustrate a children's book about their state fair traditions. Again, it doesn't have to be on the state fair. Students could do this writing activity with any event where traditions have likely been established.
Hope you're all inspired! Happy Labor Day and last day of the fair to all! Good luck tomorrow for those of you starting school!
Follow me on Pinterest and visit my TpT store for more education resources
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.