Your school system could be helping students hone their 21st century skills without expending a great of money. Sponsored by Novell, the openSUSE for Schools project is all about providing free learning tools for educators. This robust site has a huge assortment of rich desktop applications designed to run on a Linux desktop.
Virtually every school system has a number of PC lying around that no one is using. What a wonderful way to breathe new life into old hardware! Best of all, even if the plan doesn’t go as expected, no money has been lost. It’s FREE. Why stop there, though? Relatively inexpensive netbooks could be used as well.
If you really want to students to learn and be prepared for life in a 21st century economy, model what you expect–learn something new! Take a risk and give the openSUSE for Schools project a try. You’ll learn valuable lessons along the way and open up new opportunities for your students.
In a time of standardized tests and misguided attempts to cover lessons rather than help students understand and apply concepts in real life situations, we’re losing–if not outright outright ignoring–opportunities to inspire pupils to fall in love with science. Intersection‘s sciencebloggers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum both suggest that we desperately need to get busy finding nascent scientists. Their book Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future is a sobering wake-up call.
We can do better. We must do better. We need new scientists and it’s up to us to find them.
How would you describe a potential scientist? Could you spot one in your classroom? Are you doing all you can to nurture these rare individuals? Why are they so rare to begin? Can anyone be a scientist? If educators are going attempt to answer these questions and help budding researchers bloom, they’d be wise to follow the work of Sloan-Kettering Institute Chairman Emeritus, Richard Rifkind.
Once a scientist, Rifkind is now a filmmaker who wants viewers to “stand in the shoes of a scientist at work in a lab, glimpse the world of research as it really is, and understand what it takes to fill an ample pipeline of future scientists.” He’s passionate about finding and cultivating a new generation of scientists. Toward that end, Rifkind has produced a moving documentary called Naturally Obsessed: The Making of a Scientist. In addtion to producing the film he has also sharing rich resources for exploring ideas presented in the film via the Naturally Obsessed Blog.
Are you curious enough to investigate?
Bibliophiles rejoice! According to a post by Frederic Lardinois of the ever informative ReadWriteWeb blog, literature lovers can now dive into Google Book‘s EPUB Archive and download 1 millions books for free.
There’s no doubt that studying history is important. After all, how can we know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been? That said, thinking about the future is equally vital. Yet, how often do we challenge pupils to look forward in time? Making predictions about what is yet to come calls for a great deal of high order thinking. Coming events create ripples that attentive minds notice. There are a number of highly respected institutions dedicated to anticipating how history will unfold. They include:
Why not challenge students to create a series of future-timelines in which they make forecasts based upon current trends in politics, education, technology and culture?
For a thoroughly engaging example of this kind of generative thinking, visit Future Timeline. It’s a site where visitors will encounter speculations steeped in both fact and fiction about possible-futures. Literture teachers guiding learners through the pleasure of science-fiction will appreciate the imaginative visions of what is yet to be.
Teachers who work with pre-k and kindergarten students and want to introduce their pupils to an interactive whiteboard or digital slate, should plan a vibrant visit to thecolor.com. This chromatic conucopia of point-and-click coloring pages is an excellent means of acclimating little learners to the conventions of tools like those available from GTCO, Promethean, and SMARTBoard. Fast, fun, and free, thecolor.com. can also be used as a means of providing elementary pupils with readilly accessible images. they even have coloring pages for cryptids and superheroes.
Many educators use PowerPoint as if students just love it.
PowerPoint is not the presentation panacea that teachers think it is. As BBC News points out, there’s a problem with how the popular tool is being (mis)used. Veterans of yawn-inducing slideshows have been aware of the problem for a while. In fact, as far back as 2000 in an article entitled Scoring Power Points, author and webzine pioneer, Jamie McKenzie of From Now On identified the malaise and offered ways to mitigate its effects.
- Looking for an alternative to PowerPoint? Take a look at Prezi. This fresh approach to presentation zooms through information in an engaging manner.
- A useful book called Multimedia Learning by Richard E. Mayer presents ideas that teachers and students should bear in mind when creating multimedia presentations. Among Mayer’s suggestions are drawing upon the power of spatial contiguity, using animation and accompanying narrations simultaneously rather than successively, and removing extraneous material.
- Chip and Dan Heath explore what a motivating presenter needs to do in order make an impression on an audience. In their excellent book (one that I continually purchase and give away…yes, it’s that good!) Made to Stick, the Heath brothers explain how to make concepts “sticky” so that listeners remember what was explored. This book should be required reading for educators. Chip and Dan also have a blog that’s quite helpful, too.
If you teach elementary mathematics, stop what you’re doing and drop by the flash-powered Ptolemy Primitives page. You’ll be glad you did. Designed by Alec McEachran, a math teacher/software developer, this impressive web-based resource gives students an engaging means of visualizing the structure of numbers, in the context of their prime factors. For even more mathematical musings, read Alec’s blog.
IE6 won’t die off. In fact, it’s pretty hard to kill. Like some retro-revenant it plods onward, mercilessly fouling the experiences of those who want to enjoy what the internet has to offer. Apparently, IE6 is going to be around for a while longer. According to Yahoo’s Christopher Null, even Microsoft can’t destroy it. That’s not surprising as Maggie Shiels over at BBC News reports that Microsoft will support IE6 until 2014. Oh, the horror!
Recently, Microsoft introduced the world to Bing. Naturally, an SEO bruhaha boiled over. Not to be outdone, Google is brewing up a powerful new platform for internet search called Caffeine. It promises to enhance features such as accuracy, comprehensiveness, and indexing speed. Although Caffeine looks similar to classic Google, it’s a richer blend. InformationWeek is indicating that Caffeine’s indexing prowess really is more focused (i.e., doing an end run around more of the time consuming spam clogging up the internet). BBC News agrees, reporting that Caffeine threatens to put Bing, “in the shade”.
- Although, Morning Coffee isn’t a search engine, it does do a great job of delivering content.
Drawing is a powerful tool for learning. Humans have harnessed the potential of graphic representations for millennia to communicate ideas. With the advent of interactive whiteboards and digital slates like those available from GTCO, Promethean, and SMARTBoard, teachers and pupils still have the option of creating illustrations as a means of presenting, exploring, and refining ideas. Effective 21st century educators consistently model and facilitate the use of digital illustration to
- engage pupils,
- make learning relevant,
- increase the efficiency and effectiveness of instruction, and
- build a foundation for lifelong learning.
Employing the built-in features of the software that powers interactive whiteboards and digital slates is worthwhile. After all, each package allows users to create geometric figures with both ease and accuracy. That said, don’t allow the features of the program to confine illustrations to one computer in one classroom. Learners should be able to share drawings with audiences outside a classroom, school, and district. Think beyond the classroom computer to a web-based tool for drawing.
Check out Odosketch. It’s a Flash-powered drawing resource that’s been around since 2006, thanks to Odopod, a digital agency that works with a number of major brands. This bare-bones artist tablet and colors doesn’t create accurate geometric shapes. However, users don’t need an account to use Odosketch (although, registering for one makes it possible for artists to save their work). Visitors who want to draw need only mouse over the toolbar at the bottom of the canvas. Colors, brush strokes, and other options will appear. It’s a simple means of sketching quick or detailed pictures.
By allowing pupils to use an interactive whiteboard or digital slate in conjunction with Odosketch, educators facilitate the kind of powerful communication skills explored in Dan Roam‘s primer for creating problem-solving pictures, The Back of the Napkin.