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Freebies for Science Teachers, April 13, 2021

By Debra Shapiro

Freebies for Science Teachers, April 13, 2021

Grades K–12

Earth Day Activities has plenty of activities to help celebrate Earth Day, whether you want to engage students in observation, action, or spreading the word about the importance of caring for the planet. For example, simple activities like establishing a dedicated time for students to observe the garden daily and record what they see in photographs, nature journals, or videos is a great way to hone observation skills. Students can further develop observation skills by participating in citizen science projects such as Monarch Watch, The Lost Lady Bug Project, and other programs that provide opportunities for learners to practice scientific methods of collecting data while conducting authentic science research.

Other suggested activities that inspire planet stewardship include planting spaces for animal pollinators, growing native plants from seed to repopulate areas with damaged plant life, or designing a “food-forest garden.” In food-forest gardens, food-producing plants (trees, shrubs, annuals) are planted to mimic a natural forest ecosystem, which benefits the garden plants and creates a welcoming space for wildlife.

Earth Day Fun Facts Handout and Teaching Guide

Celebrate Earth Day with this Fun Facts Handout and Teaching Guide from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools program. Featuring quick facts and chunkable text, the student-friendly resource presents activities for both in-person and remote settings to learn about the different ways homes are heated, renewable energy sources, and more. For example, elementary learners can use the handout content as a basis for a paper craft activity. After reading the handout as a class, have students trace their hands on paper and cut them out, writing on each finger an example of how they can help the Earth, save energy, and/or reduce pollution. At the middle level, students can use facts from the handout as a source for persuasive or free-response writing assignments, while high school learners can use the handout statistics to write environmentally inspired social media posts commemorating Earth Day.

An Educator and Family Guide to Earth Day

The ocean covers 70% of the Earth’s surface and shelters an incredible diversity of life. This Earth Day, National Geographic is celebrating all things ocean. This guide features resources about this vast body of water. Take learners on a virtual ocean exploration—whether they are learning online, in-person, or in blended settings—equipping them with the attitudes, skills, and knowledge to take action in their homes, schools, or communities. These resources can be accessed from any device and can be used independently or collaboratively.

Summer Printable Packet

Keep students actively learning when school’s not in session with Summer Motivational Packets from Available for elementary, middle, and high school levels, the packets feature simple, age-appropriate educational prompts and activities to jump start learning in science, math, reading, and writing alongside science experiments, brain teasers, thought-provoking projects, and more. 

Science-themed prompts for elementary learners suggest activities such as using cooking oil and food coloring to explore “fireworks” in a jar or creating an engineering masterpiece using as many toy blocks as possible. At the middle level, prompts suggest activities such as building a model of the human heart from Legos, re-growing new vegetables from root ends of scraps from green onions, celery, and lettuce; and conducting an experiment to compare the strength and stability of two different tower structures made from newspaper. For high school students, activities include designing their own fidget spinner using materials found at home, creating an engineering structure that can hold a book using toothpicks and gumdrops, and figuring out how to make a working sundial using a white paper plate and a black permanent marker.

Resources for Remote Learning in 2021

THE Journal, an educational technology-focused publication targeting K–12 teachers, school administrators, and district officials, has released an updated list of Free Resources to Help With Remote Learning in 2021. Presented in alphabetical order, the list contains more than 30 pages of links and descriptive annotations for high-quality, educational technology resources that address core subjects, including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). STEM resource highlights include AI4ALL Open Learning (high school and college), an Artificial Intelligence (AI)–focused curriculum designed to help teachers incorporate AI understandings into lessons in any subject, and Amazon Future Engineer (for grades four and older), an online robotics challenge that teaches programming basics and how Amazon uses computer science to fulfill customer orders as students work to code an Amazon Hercules robot and deliver a friend’s birthday present on time. Other notable resources are Earth School, a website from the United Nations’ Environmental Programme (UNEP) and TED-Ed with more than 30 environmentally themed "quests" to help students ages 5–18 celebrate, explore, and connect with nature.

Grades K–College

STEM at the Poles! Polar Science Lesson Plans

STEM at the Poles! PolarTREC is a National Science Foundation–funded education initiative providing opportunities for K–12 formal and informal teachers to conduct hands-on field research in the Arctic or Antarctica, working side by side with scientists. Program educator–participants have developed more than 240 lesson plans and other resources to share their research experiences in classrooms and communities. The lesson plans address elementary to adult audiences and cover a range of polar science topics. For example, you’ll find lessons to explore the conditions that accelerate ice melt (e.g., How to Melt a Glacier, elementary and older), the impacts of increasing ocean temperatures on marine life (e.g., Jumping Into Warm Seas, middle level and older), and the geography of Antarctica and citizen science (e.g. Investigating Penguin Populations of Antarctica, high school and college). 

Other lessons use the PolarTREC expeditions as the focal point for teaching students about  science processes. For example, students learn how to conduct a science investigation in Homes Heating Up—A Hermit Crab Investigation (elementary and older); analyze data in Making Sense of Data Sets (middle school and older); create graphs and visualizations from authentic data in Growing Up on Ice (high school and college), and experience life as a science researcher in A Day in the Field: Collecting Ice Cores (high school and college).

Making the Call: Quality in Biomanufacturing

This interactive video series for middle to college levels shows what it’s like to work in a bioscience industry. Produced by Worcester Polytechnic Institute, with funding from the National Science Foundation, the story focuses on a fictional biopharmaceutical company, Franklin Biologics, that manufactures an imaginary drug, Squabanin. In the interactive, students assume the role of one of three characters working at Franklin, following the character through their work routine and contributing to the manufacturing of Squabanin as directed. Each workday scene terminates at a decision point: Students choose one of the options presented, and in the next scene, immediately see the consequences of their decision. Different outcomes—some good, some not—unfold depending on students’ choices. The interactive helps students understand the culture and expectations of working in a regulated company that produces lifesaving drugs.

Although the interactive was created before the COVID-19 pandemic, the content is especially relevant now. The interactive video series is accompanied by a downloadable teacher’s guide. Educators can also view an archived webinar to learn about the components of the game and how the interactive was produced.

Elementary and Middle Level

'Limit Your Resources' Earth Day Challenge

Looking for ideas to support Earth Day initiatives at home? Check out the “Limit Your Resources” Earth Day Challenge Menu, created by teachers at the Hillbrook School in Los Gatos, California. Suitable for grades preK to 8, for both in-person and distance learning audiences, the menu presents simple actions students and families can do to reduce their impact on the environment. Some Earth-friendly ideas mentioned include turning off lights when not in use; conducting a household trash audit and brainstorming ways to reduce waste; stopping the use of electronics for an evening or weekend to save electricity; monitoring food waste with a meal audit; and saving water by taking shorter showers. 

Tour a Recycling Center

Ever wondered what really happens to recyclables after they leave the bin? Featuring colorful illustrations and short, explanatory text, this article from National Geographic Kids describes how materials are sorted at a recycling facility, covering eight steps in the process from initial delivery to a materials recovery facility (Truck Stop), through various classifying categorizations (e.g., Pushover; Bad Bags; Surfin’ Paper; Shattering Glass; Poof, Plastic; Plastics Sorting; Magnetic Magic), on to fully separated, baled materials ready for future reuse (Last Stop). A poster version of the article (downloadable as a PDF) is also available.

The Lawrence at Home

This website from the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, is packed with videos, apps, activities, and more to engage K–8 teachers, students, and families in science learning at home, in distance learning settings, and outdoors. For example, the app DIY Sun Science explores solar learning with instructions and explanations to make a prism, cook with a solar oven, create a solar flare flip book, bake a model Sun cookie, build a Sun tracker, and several other activities. Another app, Monster Heart Medic, uses game play to introduce the cardiovascular system and the steps needed to keep it healthy. 

The site's video playlist has more than 100 science video clips presented by Lawrence Hall of Science educators, covering everything from kitchen science adventures (e.g., sourdough starter; tempering chocolate) and backyard astronomy activities (e.g. Daytime Surprises in the Sky), to explorations of how sound is made (e.g., What Vibrates?) and forces at work (e.g., A Busy Day in Pushville). Finally, a section on the Science of COVID-19 provides curated resources to help teachers and families better understand scientific topics surrounding COVID-19. Of particular interest is Ask a Berkeley Scientist: COVID-19, where students can e-mail scientists for answers to COVID-19 related questions such as these: What is a virus? How do scientists build vaccines? How does a virus travel?

Middle Level

ecoAction Virtual Field Trip

Boeing and Discovery Education are celebrating Earth Day with an ecoAction Virtual Field Trip! Targeted for tgrades 6–8, the approximately 30-minute video explores ways students can help improve the environment with regard to air, land, water, or waste—as well as what a large company like Boeing can do to improve the environment in these areas. Educational materials, including a downloadable video companion guide featuring lesson plans and student handouts for pre-, during-, and post-video activities, accompany the trip. In addition, an online interview with Elizabeth Crawford, a Boeing health and safety specialist, offers a glimpse of a dynamic STEM career and information about what students need to do to get there. 

Seasons Curriculum

Understanding the reasons for the seasons is challenging to teach in any educational setting, but especially so in remote learning environments. Seasons, a curriculum for grades 6–8 produced through Harvard University’s WorldWide Telescope Ambassador Program, contains digital resources to make the task easier. In addition to explanatory videos on topics such as rotation and revolution, the curriculum contains videos to help teachers understand the best methods to model the day/night relationship between Earth and the Sun, as well as Earth’s tilted axis. Instead of conducting hands-on explorations with these models in the classroom, digital learners can view the educator videos to learn how the models work and understand what makes them effective representations. The videos are accompanied by curriculum materials, including teacher guide, student worksheets, and answer keys.

High School

Star Party

Engage students in celestial studies with Star Party, a browser-based digital learning experience produced as part of the Infiniscope project, a collaborative initiative between Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate focused on engaging learners of all ages in better understanding the vastness of space and space exploration. Star Party teaches students about stellar evolution as they learn about scientific ways of knowing, such as how models can be used to further science understandings. In this lesson, students use a model to create stars from stellar nebula and track those stars through their life cycles. Interactive pop-up boxes with information, tips, and guiding questions teach students about life cycle of a star and help them collect evidence about star colors, luminosity, solar mass, lifespans, composition, and temperature. A teacher guide—with lesson vocabulary, a 5E-formatted lesson plan, and relevant student handouts and answer keys—is included.

High School and College Levels

Vaccine-Related Resources
Two COVID-19–related resources can help build science literacy and help high school and college learners better understand the dynamics of vaccine function and use. 

  • "How Herd Immunity Works, and What Stands in Its Way," an article from National Public Radio, features a series of model simulations illustrating various herd immunity scenarios.
  • Ethics of Access: Vaccines and Insulin, a lesson developed by Genome Sciences Education Outreach at the University of Washington and partners, presents interactive simulations and explanatory text describing how quickly a community may reach herd immunity if 1) a more infectious variant takes over; 2) a population is already heavily exposed; and 3) a population has low levels of initial immunity. Students explore complex issues surrounding who should get the vaccines/medicines first and learn about key elements required for a strong justification of one’s position on the matter (e.g., a decision, facts, ethical considerations, stakeholder views, alternative options, and reasoning and logic).

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