Beyond the Textbook: Virtual Field Trips for Science & Social Studies

January 2015

Have you ever wanted to take your students on a field trip around the world? What if they could visit the deserts and grasslands of Africa for free? Would you jump at the opportunity? On February 5, 2015 at 12pm Eastern Time, this opportunity will become a reality for your students.

Join +The Nature Conservancy's Charles Oluchina and science teacher Tyler DeWitt as they host this wonderful learning opportunity for students using Google’s Hangouts on Air. This 40 minute live broadcast, "Take a Virtual Field Trip to the Deserts and Grasslands of Africa," will transport your students to Burkina Faso to learn how one African farmer solved the challenges of desertifcation before heading to Kenya to learn the benefits of ecotourism and how grasslands are vital to the sustainability of the earth. Then, teachers will be able to extend the learning for their students through a first peek at +PBS LearningMedia's fabulous online collection of videos, interactive games, and lesson plans from the new PBS series EARTH A New Wild.

To sign up for this unique event, register at the Nature Works Everywhere website by clicking here.

Classes can watch the live virtual field trip or the archived copy by visiting The Nature Conservancy’s YouTube channel. This virtual field trip is the first in a series of future broadcasts that will examine the interconnectedness of people and nature. This program is designed for students in the third through eighth grades.

Through this program, students will gain a greater awareness and appreciation of the following key concepts:

  • Working with nature so nature works with us
  • People and Conservation
  • Desertification
  • Smart Development
  • Ecotourism
  • Habitat
  • Grasslands
  • Reforestation
  • Land preservation

+Nature Works Everywhere also have fabulous lesson resources for science, geography, and social studies classes. Some examples of what you can find on the Nature Works Everywhere website are listed below:

The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving the beauty of our natural world. That is why they created Nature Works Everywhere “to help students learn the science behind how nature works for us -- and how we can help keep it running strong.”

The partnership between us and nature has never been as important as it is now. Do your students understand where we belong in this fragile relationship? Let’s bring this lesson to life for them and help them become our future changemakers!

This blog post is sponsored by We Are Teachers.

Teach Your Students How to Dumpster Dive

October 2014

"Teach Your Students How to Dumpster Dive" was the name of my presentation at the San Gabriel Valley CUE Tech Fair on October 18. My session was on how to teach students to be expert researchers and great content creators. I also focused on the concepts of copyright, fair use, free to reuse, and public domain since most students (and even many teachers) don't understand that the Internet is not a free buffet where you eat without paying the bill. The goal is to teach students how to sift through the trash to find the treasure.

Incidentally, while searching for a good (free to reuse) image for my presentation, I discovered that dumpster diving is considered a recreational activity for some and a philosophical way of living for others. The latter group are known as freegans, people who adhere to an anti-consumerist lifestyle. But I digress....

In addition to explaining how to use Google Advanced Search, I also wanted to build a list of credible websites that teachers and students could use.

Below is the list I'm developing. I plan to add to it if I come across anything new.

Nope. is not on the list by mistake. In my class, my students learn about disabilities while reading Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon," and that's where they go to find articles about the different disabilities that people have. I like the fact that it's medical information written in language that kids can understand. Plus, all articles are reviewed by doctors so I take that as an opportunity to discuss with my students the importance of discerning true medical facts from myths written by people outside of the profession.

I hope this list is helpful. If you have a great website to share, please add it as a comment.

Amplify the Learning with PBS LearningMedia

Why PBS Digital Innovators love teaching
July 2014

Everyone loves summer - students and teachers alike. We can easily guess what students like to do with their summer, but what about teachers?  I, like many other teachers I know, actually spend a part of my summer planning for the next school year and working on professional development.

This past June I had an unique opportunity to take my learning to a new level when I was chosen as a Lead PBS Digital Innovator.  Earlier this year, PBS selected 100 educators from across the country to join their LearningMedia Digital Innovators program.  From this group, they then choose the top 16 educators to attend the PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovators Summit in Washington, D.C.  We were also accompanied by our local PBS station representatives for two-days of professional development in our nation’s capitol.

While at the Digital Innovators Summit, I learned a wealth of information and connected with some of the most amazing educators in the country.  I discovered that PBS LearningMedia weaves all forms of media - texts, images, videos, and interactive games - into a dynamic learning experience for all students.  Some great resources shared were PBS News Hour Extra, a site created to teach current events in the classroom with accompanying lesson plans for teachers to use.  Another was a self-paced lesson on the The Powers of the Government where students can work independently at the speed that is customizable to them.  For hands-on learning, I was impressed with the Nova Elements interactive which allows students to build their own atoms to reinforce their learning.  There are also adventure games like Mission U.S. where a student can role-play to learn about an important historical event.  Lastly, what English teacher wouldn’t appreciate having a go-to place when teaching Shakespeare?

Not only has PBS LearningMedia created and curated great resources for teachers to use in the classroom, they also provide professional development collections like Professional Development for the Common Core, a rich resource for teachers who want to learn how to adapt their lessons to these new standards.  For those who want to create a 21st Century classroom, they need to visit the Digital Tools webpage to enhance their curriculum with technology.  PBS LearningMedia is also constantly evolving and many great additions like Interactive Quiz and PuzzleMaker tools will be added this fall.

PBS LearningMedia is a treasure trove of primary sources, interactive content, and lesson ideas.  Teachers, if you haven’t delved into this online resource yet, you need to start today.  My brain has been churning with all that I learned from the Digital Innovators Summit, and I can’t wait to try them all out when school starts again for me in August.

If you already use PBS LearningMedia in your classroom, please share your favorite PBS resources below.

This post originally appeared on the PBS SoCal Education Blog on July 24, 2014.

Oh, The Places We Will Go with Google’s Connected Classrooms!

June 2014
What if you could take your students on unlimited field trips?  What if your class could visit Antarctica or speak with a NASA astronaut? With Google’s Connected Classrooms, this is now absolutely possible.
In recent years, Google has taken their video calling service, known as Hangouts, to a whole new level by introducing the ability to broadcast a live recording of it. These Hangouts on Air allowed anyone to create broadcasts on the Internet for free. Then, Google stepped up their game by launching a new educational outreach program called Connected Classrooms, in which students around the world can participate in virtual field trips via Hangouts on Air.
During every Connected Classrooms event, a few classes are invited into a special Hangout on Air where students can ask questions and interact directly with experts and distinguished guests. Other classrooms can follow along by viewing the live broadcast, submitting questions in the Q & A feature of Hangouts, or by accessing an archived recording at their leisure.
By partnering up with educational institutions, non-profit organizations, businesses, and famous individuals, Google has created a fantastic program that will bring the world into your classroom. Below are some places where students have ‘been:’
  • Seattle Aquarium – Classrooms everywhere were treated to a free field trip to the Seattle Aquarium’s Window on Washington Waters exhibit where a scuba diver in the tank took live questions from the audience and broadcasted this interchange to the world.
  • Above the Arctic Circle – This hangout started above the Arctic Circle in Alaska and ended in Berkeley Lab in California. Students learned “how and why scientists study permafrost to better understand the vulnerable Arctic ecosystem — and what may happen to it as the climate changes.”
  • Dogsledding Through Google Glass – Dave Freeman, a wilderness explorer and dogsled guide from the Northern tundra of Minnesota, took students on a “ride” on his dogsled. Students were able to experience this unique trip through the wilderness from his Google Glass perspective.
Those adventures sound amazing, don’t they? After learning about Connected Classrooms, I couldn’t wait for my class to participate. When when our turn came, I couldn’t have been more ecstatic.
To commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Connected Classrooms partnered up with Peace Jam, and they invited three classes to speak with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee. My students and I couldn’t believe our luck. Then, a couple of weeks later, we received another special invitation. The White House, in partnership with Connected Classrooms, was looking for one middle school class to speak with Education Secretary Duncan. I am proud to say that my students conducted themselves with poise and maturity as they presented their questions to these distinguished guests.
Connected Classrooms Hangout 1
Google+ Hangout with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
All my students were absolutely thrilled to have been given the opportunity to participate in these two wonderful Connected Classrooms events. Not only did they learn from the wisdom of our special speakers, they also learned how to conduct themselves professionally in front of a live camera. The students who presented their questions practiced their public speaking skills in an authentic environment. They also became the superstars at our school that day and were the subject of their classmates’ envy. What student doesn’t want that?
To participate in a Connected Classrooms event, you will need to join the Connected Classrooms Community on Google+. By joining this community, you are also tapping into a global network of educators which was never possible before. Are you teaching Spanish and want your class to chat with other classrooms in Spanish-speaking countries? Are you teaching social studies and want your students to actually talk to their peers who live in the country you are studying?  Connected Classrooms is the place to find these contacts. Feel free to reach out to the other educators in this community. Everyone is very welcoming and quick to respond, and I’ve witnessed many fantastic connections formed through this community.
Join the Google+ Connected Classrooms Community if you haven’t already. I look forward to interacting with you there!
This post originally appeared on the CUE Blog on June 10, 2014.

Reaching New Heights in Learning

April 2014
How do you deal with that anticlimactic lull that you inevitably feel after spending three fantastic days at the Annual CUE Conference in Palm Springs? The answer is simple. You stay for the CUE West Coast Summit Featuring Google for Education (GIEWC), of course!  
Circle of Friends #selfiewithselak

The GIEWC Summit, which took place on March 22-23, was a high-energy, fun-filled conference hosted by CUE, and it was one of those must-attend events of the year. CUE, co-producer of the Google Teacher Academy, sure knows how to satisfy your desire to become a Google Apps ninja in the classroom.
On Saturday, the GIEWC Summit kicked off with a keynote from the amazing Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet. Cerf is the reason why we use the phrase “surf the Internet” when going online because “Cerf” is pronounced “surf.” Vint Cerf showed us a map of the Internet, and it was so intricate that it left me in awe of how much we take for granted.
GIEWC Photo Booth
(L to R) Beth Fisher, Kara
Lawler, and Kimberly dos Santos
After the keynote was the shred sessions, where all the speakers gave a 90-second pitch of their presentations so that attendees could more accurately plan out their schedule the next day. All presenters enthusiastically showed off their talents and kept the audience engaged with their various styles. One particularly humorous moment occurred when Scott Moss asked, “Do you like to party?  If so, then you might not make it to my hangover session tomorrow,” as he jokingly referred to his 7:45am session on Sunday.
The next day, all sessions were in full swing as attendees filled the rooms, fully ready to embrace more new knowledge. You really have to applaud these educators who were so willing to give up their Sunday to soak in more professional development. These are the real rock stars in the education world!

Following the entertaining shred sessions, CUE really brought out the white-gloved service as we all meandered over to the East Lawn for some appetizers. It was a wonderful way to unwind and socialize with other attendees after spending three mind-blowing days at the CUE conference.
The sessions at GIEWC Summit were all taught by Google Certified Teachers and/or Google Apps Certified Trainers. The sessions offered ranged from Kate Petty’s fantastic smorgasbord of Project-Based Learning ideas to Diane Main’s “Drawing: No Longer Drive’s Ugly Stepchild.” Some super cool hacks were also shared, like when Danny Silvashowed how to create a QR code for a Google calendar event that will automatically add that event to your own personal Google Calendar. Everyone oohed and aahed overBrandon Wislocki’s trick of adding hotspots in Google Drawing.  If you wanted to learn about Google scripts, then JR Ginex-Orinion had you covered, and if you want to fully utilize YouTube’s many functions then Lisa Highfill showed you how to do it right. I presented on “The Google-Powered Classroom,” showing how I use Google Apps to meet the literacy and technology standards required by the Common Core.
I heard many compliments from the attendees on the concurrent sessions I missed that I truthfully wished I could’ve gone to every one. Where’s Hermione Granger’s Time-Turner when you need one? Even as a Google Certified Teacher, I don’t presume to know every hack, and I’m always pushing the boundaries of my own knowledge. To me, it isn’t just about the technology tools, but how different educators apply them in a classroom setting.
After a full day of intense learning, we all gathered for Demo Slams from the presenters.Bill Selak showed the audience how to find and curate artwork, historical events, landmarks and digital exhibits with the Google Cultural Institute. Sean O’Neildemonstrated how to use the Color Picker Eyedropper Chrome extension and in his words “… how it makes us designers instead of just ‘posters’.”
Then the conference ended on a high note as Jaime Casap, Google’s Global Education Evangelist, shared his wisdom in the Closing Keynote. He challenged us with the question, “When did collaboration become cheating?  Working together is important.” Casap also stated, “Technology is not the silver bullet.  It’s there to support and enable students.” Before he left the stage, he graciously took questions from the audience. Mike Lawrence, in true geeky-style, threw out a Catchbox, a wireless microphone enclosed in a soft cube, to audience members so that they could participate effortlessly.
The GIEWC Summit definitely left you with many brain-overload moments that all educators should experience. Not only was it very fulfilling in a geeky sort of way, it was also way too much fun, as evidenced by the candid photos that surfaced from this event. Conferences should never be dull. If the GIEWC Summit returns next year, I’ll be there. Will you?
GIEWC Tweet 3
GIEWC Tweet 2

This post originally appeared in the CUE Blog on April 20, 2014.