Hello science teacher friends! Well, it’s that time of the year again—middle-of-the-year doldrums. Sure, we get breaks, but that means our students do too, and, of course, they come back much more reenergized than we do. To help capture that energy, I tried to find something new, quick, and helpful for this month’s popular media review and stumbled upon a great resource called Science Friday. I’m not sure how I didn’t know about this before, but a resource that I use a lot, Common Sense Media, led me to this discovery and several more!
I’ve mentioned Common Sense in a previous column, but as a quick review, it is a site that offers reviews of movies, podcasts, YouTube channels, video games, and books that are popular with children and teens. In addition to their professional team of reviewers, parents and children can also weigh in; for most items, you get a reviewer, parent, and child age-appropriateness rating. As someone who uses a lot of modern media with students, I always have concerns about what is appropriate and what might cause concern among my students and parents. In today’s politically polarized world, this grows harder by the minute, so I try to err on the side of caution. However, as a reader of this column reminded me recently, that line of “appropriateness” varies significantly by individual, school setting, community, the religious affiliation of a school, etc., so I like to have ways to look beyond my own opinions and innate bias before I use something with my students.
Even though I was very familiar with this side of Common Sense, I had no idea they had launched a “For Educators” portal on its website. (This has apparently been available for years, but since I was just using an old link on my web browser, I missed it!) I was happy to stumble upon this site as it has a plethora of resources for teachers who want to infuse digital literacy into the classroom, but it also has many recommended apps, websites, books, and movies for science teachers arranged by grade level and science content. (I know where many of my future review ideas will come from!) One list, called “Terrific Websites for Science,” offers reviews of many sites listed that I hope you are all familiar with, such as CK–12, National Geographic Education, and Brain Pop, but I was looking for something that bridged a bit into the less “educational,” at least from a student perspective, so Science Friday caught my eye.
Science Friday, as its name implies, is an every Friday two-hour podcast about popular science topics. It is available on all popular podcast apps (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, etc.) and is broadcast on various radio stations live from 2 pm-4 pm ET on Fridays. Now, if the two-hour length scares you, don’t worry! One of the best things about this podcast is that every episode is broken down into individual stories on their website and is completely searchable. If you want to get parents involved, they offer occasional “events” and “camps” that give parents things to do with their kids at home to encourage a sense of wonder about scientific phenomena.
What caught my eye was its combination of two things I love most: podcasts and searchable resources. I know it’s a weird combination, but lesson planning takes a lot of time, and short podcasts that can fit in with any lesson, combined with searchable menus that can select by grade, amount of time, science content area, and my favorite—science and engineering practice (SEP)—make me a very happy teacher. There are two areas you can search: for the podcast itself, choose “Radio” from the top menu, then scroll to the bottom, and the helpful graphic menu will assist you in narrowing to segments that may interest your students on that subject. You can always search the old-fashioned way using the search box, but I found this less helpful as you need exact terms and no misspellings to find items.
The second way to search is to choose “Educate,” which takes you to a page full of educational materials that go along with topics covered in the podcast. Some materials include short podcast clips, while others are entirely hands-on, STEM, and inquiry-based activities. This is the section where you can choose by grade band, duration (shout out to whatever teacher they worked with who explained 45, 50, and block-length periods to the designers!), topic, and SEP. Although some of the materials are targeted to a younger group, I wouldn’t rule out any of the materials for other ages or grade levels; I could have easily used several of the ideas for grades 3–5 and 6–8 with my freshman and sophomores or easily modified them for slightly older students.
Thinking of my physics teaching friends, who often don’t get enough focus from the popular media front, I decided to look through these resources and selected “physical science.” I was immediately drawn to a lesson entitled “What Cherokee Fire Pots Can Teach Us About Thermal Conduction.” It appears to me that the resources may be designed with home learning in mind and are simple enough for a student to follow the entire lesson themselves; however, early in the lesson, they offer a link for teachers which gives a modified instructional sequence more appropriate for a classroom of 25–30 students. This resource is drawn from a podcast that interviewed science educators from Indigenous groups in Canada to discuss how Indigenous ways of knowing interact with Western scientific principles. Using the guiding phenomena of Cherokee fire pots (ones that you can hold in your hand without being burned even when lit), the ideas of thermal conduction are introduced through a series of simple hands-on activities.
Since thermodynamics is often a difficult topic for students and teachers alike, having this grounding phenomenon, combined with the first-person narratives offered in the podcast clips, represents an excellent example of how best to integrate media into the classroom in a way that profoundly enhances instruction. In addition to the science content, the societal issues of how science interacts with native cultures and how new understandings help both sides to respect one another’s views can lead to a great science ethics discussion with your students.
Although the “Educate” section of the website—which even includes NGSS standards alignments—is fantastic, there is much to be gained from the regular podcasts. The content of the podcasts is highly varied, and the guest interviews from expert scientists, doctors, and others can lead your students to a wide variety of exciting areas to explore and intrigue. All of the episodes have readily accessible transcripts and are available from several apps as well as the website. I did not see direct translations for second-language learners; however, using Google translate with the transcript is one potential avenue for this issue. Because of the nature of the resource, students who struggle with reading will have no problem.
I encourage you to explore Science Friday with your students; it may spark a curiosity for a science topic or even a career that otherwise would not have been thought about. I hope you enjoy this resource as much as I do!
Questions/comments/something you love to use with your students you would like to see reviewed? Contact me at email@example.com.
Common Sense Education: https://www.commonsense.org/education
Science Friday: https://www.sciencefriday.com
DCIs: 5 of 5 I tried to find any that were not covered and could not. 🧪🧪🧪🧪🧪
CCs: 2 of 5 It did not have any reference to these, so that coverage will be up to the teacher. 🧪🧪
SEPs: 5 of 5 One of the best, the resources are searchable by SEP! 🧪🧪🧪🧪🧪
Ease of Use for Teachers: 5 of 5 🧪🧪🧪🧪🧪
Interest to Students: 4 of 5 🧪🧪🧪🧪
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