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Miscellaneous Resources

The following resources are suggested to help prepare our students for high-school, college, and state testing:

Smarter Balanced Digital Library.  Collection of Common-Core aligned lesson plans, learning activities, and videos, most subject-specific.  You will need your SBAC teacher login/password for access.  (To recover your login information, contact Rosamartha Llamas, Office of Research, (562) 997-8654,  Listen Current provides free audio clips from public radio broadcasts (like NPR's) for use in the classroom.  The "current events" clips may be played without signing up.  With a free subscription, you get access to a Library of Common Core Lesson Plans; and activities such as a Language Identification Worksheet with certain clips.  The Language Identification Worksheet struck me as possibly being quite valuable for ESL students:  Students are directed to "Listen closely and check off each phrase as you hear it," then given a written set of phrases to recognize/identify as spoken: "Try to imagine a world without war, conflict, grief, or memory," "He began to lose pieces of his memory", "And I had to tell him about her death," etc.  Other notes:

  • Lesson plans / audio clips are available for Science, Social Science, and ELA.
  • Premium features like "interactive transcripts" of the public radio stories [what are those?] are available by school/district subscription.
  • Site founder and current CEO is Monica Brady-Myerov, longtime public radio reporter.  This large nonprofit site offers hundreds of lexile-rated reading passages in PDF format for free classroom use.  Many of the passages are paired with comprehension-oriented question sets in editable Word files.  Details:

  • Permission is granted to make multiple copies of texts and question sets for your classroom.
  • In many cases, illustrative images provided for sharing with a class by LCD projector.
  • Other ways of using the Readworks materials in the classroom are discussed in this 13-minute video (suitable for showing at a department meeting). 
  • List of donors / supporters includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and JPMorgan Chase & Co. 

NGSS / Everyday Engineering.  The elephant in the room for K-12 science teachers is now the Next Generation Science Standards, promulgated by the national Academies of Science and Engineering (via their working arm the National Research Council), and also endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).  These were adopted for California schools by our State Board of Education as of 9/4/13. 

For teachers, the most pressing mandate of these Standards will likely be incorporating the following so-called "Practices" across the coursework:

  • Asking questions and defining problems.
  • Developing and using models.
  • Planning and carrying out investigations.
  • Analyzing and interpreting data.
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking.
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions.
  • Engaging in argument from evidence.
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.

Science teachers have of course coached students through these "practices" in the past, particularly in Science Fair projects, but there appears to be a new emphasis on integrating them throughout courses.  The more traditional way of viewing science content remains embedded, however, as the four topic groupings in the Standards now called "Core Ideas":

  • Life Sciences
  • Engineering & Technology
  • Earth & Space Sciences
  • Physical Sciences

In the Standards, those four Core Idea groups are overlaid by 7 "cross-cutting ideas":

  • Patterns
  • Causation
  • Scale
  • Systems
  • Energy
  • Structure & Function
  • Stability & Change

A very nice, extremely interesting way to get a feel for this complex structure is to try the Concord Consortium online NGSS Pathfinder.  Concord Consortium is a non-profit grant-funded group that got its start designing "probeware" teaching modules--microcomputer sensor-based labs--for the National Science Foundation. To use their Pathfinder, click a Core Idea subject area first, then one of the Practices, then a Cross-Cutting Idea.  The Pathfinder then presents various activities developed by the Consortium to teach the selected elements.

For its part, the NSTA has published a paperback book called Everyday Engineering: Putting the E in STEM Teaching and Learning, by Richard Moyer and Susan Everett, on Amazon for $20.  It consists of 14 lab investigations of everyday objects that students have typically encountered in offices, kitchens, bathrooms, and/or outdoor recreation.  The engineering behind these items is the interest:

  1. Ballpoint pens
  2. Clips and clamps
  3. Turkey Pop-Up Thermometers
  4. What Makes a Better Cereal Box?
  5. Charcoal filters
  6. Ziploc Bags
  7. Absorptive Power of Terry Cloth Towels
  8. Toothbrush Design
  9. Holiday Blinkers
  10. Windmills
  11. Flashlights
  12. Life Preservers
  13. Bats, Racquets, and Golf Clubs
  14. Squirt Guns

Amazon currently has only 3 reviews of Everyday Engineering, including the following by Orlando Ferguson, from Sept. 26, 2012:  "This book is a big disappointment.  Seeking straightforward engineering projects for an after-school STEM club, I bought this book. Most of the activities require costly equipment and materials. (One activity required wooden baseball bats, which are quite expensive.) The biggest problem is that it doesn't contain straightforward instructions that the students can follow. If you buy this book, you will have to develop your own student instructions. Lastly, there are few, if any, diagrams on how to construct the projects. If you're looking for STEM projects, you'd be better off looking online."

Orlando is right, however, to focus on 1) the cost of required materials and 2)  the necessity of having straightforward instructions.  And that is where we must begin.

Virtual Tours.  Wikipedia points out that the phrase "virtual tour" can describe a variety of multimedia presentations, all involving at least photography.   Nowadays, however, doubtless reflecting the influence of Google StreetView, the term is closely associated with 'panoramic' photographic scenes that provide an interactive 360-degree view of some particular place.

Visitors to this type of tour "move" from one location to another by clicking icons which are seemingly embedded in the scenery.  Other icons in these scenes may display written information when clicked, or have different effects.

One stunning example of this is the US National Park Service's Grand Canyon Archaeological Virtual Tour, which begins at Lipan Point on the South Rim.  Click the rightmost icon in the menu at the bottom of the view to expand the image to full-screen.  The result, on any of the iMacs in  our labs, is simply spectacular.  The red icons in this tour move you to other locations; the blue ones give point-of-interest information.

This year Hamilton instructor Bryan Mahan led his classes on a virtual aerial tour of Florence, Italy, created by The Airpano Project.  Airpano is eight photographers from Russia, on a mission "to show the most beautiful places of our planet to the public in a way nobody did before: from a bird's-eye view, with an ability to move and look around freely".  The Airpano team are currently on grant from the Russian Geographic Society.  They have posted nearly two thousand 360-degree panoramas on their website.

Where would YOU like to take your students, by air?  Machu-PicchuAntarcticaYellowstone National Park?  The French Riviera?   For these opportunities and many more, thank this intrepid group of Russian engineers/photo enthusiasts; and check out