Is there hope for our children’s education? Last week, I questioned the direction our public schools were heading, expressing quite a bit of frustration. Yet, while I’ve been frustrated, along with many others (judging by the response to that post) we might be missing a possible solution, sitting right under our noses:
Depending on who you talk to, the computer may represent the best or the worst of our futures. In a child’s hand, the computer can be a distraction or a frustration... or it can be a source of fun and knowledge. It is up to us, as parents and teachers, to show our kids how this versatile tool can be used. From games and movies to organizational tools, online encyclopedias, and sites like this, there are many options avaliable. But where are the best tools? And more importantly... how do we use them?
As a student, I’ve taken a number of online classes, and I’ve seen both the damage and the potential of the computer. (I’m not going to discuss game addiction here, instead I’ll just focus on educational aspects.)
Some teachers assume the computer is going to do the job for them. They present the student with a basic outline of their expectations, and leave them with the tools they were given, i.e., quizzes, discussion boards, calendars, and links to information. Then they do the minimum, necessary maintenance throughout the course, collect the work, and spit out a grade. This takes little effort, sure. But the students in these classes become frustrated or bored, and become lost, looking for encouragement from a machine. Parents can do the same thing; for instance, leaving a child to play a few games while they get a little housework done.
Others understand the computer is a tool, not a replacement. The teachers of the best online classes take the basic tools they are given, and use them as a launching point. These folks got into teaching in order to share their enthusiasm for their subject matter, and encourage students to discover concepts and apply them. They seek out games and animations that make learning fun, and use them to draw knowledge into context. I suspect these teachers are eager to check on their online classes, several times a day, to offer encouragement, and feed off of the excitement. Again, parents can also do this, by sitting down with their child, looking for fun educational games and movies, and helping to explain. They can also encourage their children to take their newly gained knowledge away from the computer, and apply it hands-on at home.
In other words, it is up to us, as parents and educators, to use these tools to enlighten and entertain our youth. Luckily, we aren’t alone. Many wonderful websites have cropped up over the years, offering the right tools for the job. Children, and the children-at-heart, can rejoice, having fun and learning at the same time. Here is a sampling of some of my favorite "science for kids" sites, along with a few suggestions from my fellow ScienceBloggers. All the images below are clickable, and lead to kid-safe, educational sites. Sit down with your kids, and let them show you the way.
Kids Love Science (General or Multi-faceted Sites)
Science With Me (Early Elementary)
Learn about everything from parts of the body to the conservation of energy, with fun games and animations. Fun characters like Mr. Heisen-Bear will help our youngest children adore science. Site designer, parent and scientist, Elva O’Sullivan, created the site in order to share her areas of interest with her small kids. Instead of asking for Elva to "play with me", they now ask her to "science with me." The site includes not only games and movies, but also printable worksheets and instructions for science projects. While registration is required to view most of the content, it is completely free.
PBS Science (All Ages)
We all grew up watching it, why not dive in and do it the interactive way? PBSKids.org offers several shows designed to get kids interested in science, with websites packed full of activities, including Zoom Science and DragonflyTV.
BBC Science Games Page (All Ages)
Take the caveman challenge and see if you can catch on to the latest evolutionary advantages, rearrange the solar system, or compete with prehistoric sea monsters. All these activities and more can be found at the BBC Science and Nature page.
The Exploratorium (All Ages)
While this museum is best visited in person (Janet’s Sprogs recently gave it rave reviews) they also boast an excellent collection of online activities on their website... including a Lorenz Butterfly generator!
This site, recommended by Suzanne at Thus Spoke Zuska (who discusses science sites for kids here), not only includes a list of interactive, online activites, but offers evaluations on their content, describing how gender-friendly these sites are.
Virtual Science Museum (Variety of age levels)
While this site may not be the fanciest, it includes links to a wide range of animations, which can be used as teaching tools.
Life is Creepy but Cool (Biology Sites)
Cool Science for Curious Kids (Elementary)
What are you eating?! Discover the plant parts lurking in your salad. While you’re there, check out what you’re breathing, learn about cool critters, and more. Presented by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Nina and the Neurons (Preschool/Kindergarten)
From BBC Cbeebies, comes Nina’s Lab. Explore how we use our senses, with Nina and her neurons, in her interactive laboratory. Suggested by Mo at Neurophilosophy.
Microbe World (All Ages)
This site invites you into the world of the very small, to learn about everything from bacteria and viruses, to algea and protozoans. Along with a blog, Microbe World offers you a chance to "Meet the Microbes" up close and personal. Suggested by Tara at Aeitology.
Super Bugs at MyLearning (Elementary)
If you’d like to mess around with bigger bugs, or even make your own, check out MyLearning.org. Here, you can discover facts about arachnids and insects as you design your own SuperBug. MyLearning also offers interactive lessons in history, culture, and art.
Also, fellow ScienceBlogger Sandra, from Omnibrain, has composed a wonderful list of sites which give kids a better look at the brain. Don’t miss it!
Stuff: What is It, How does it work? (Engineering and Materials Science Sites)
Strange Matter (Elementary)
This is one of my all time favorite sites. Explore the nature of everyday materials, in very unordinary ways. Crush, transfrom, or improve everyday "stuff" with these fun online activities. My favorite: Zoom into a regular soda can, all the way down to the molecular level.
Discovering Engineering (All Ages)
Build a virtual bridge and more, through links listed at this engineering-oriented site for all ages.
Also, Janet at Adventures in Ethics and Science has offered up her favorite "Chemistry for Kids" sites.
Explore Outer Space (Astronomy Sites)
NASA (All Ages)
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has many resources for kids. Here, you’ll find "Ask an Astronaut, the "Way Out" viewer, and more. For older students, check out their "Quest" program, designed to"engage students in authentic scientific and engineering processes."
Your Sky (All Ages)
This is one of those sites that I use all the time, but will also appeal to children. What’s that constellation? Where is Mars? Having an instant planetarium at your fingertips will help you answer those questions young children might ask about the night sky above.
For other areas of science, be sure to check out the general sites listed above. They cover a wide range of subjects, and many include links to other resources. Feel free to suggest your own favorite sites in the comments below!
All images used above were borrowed from the associated site. Please click through for more details.
For kids who graduate from Nina and the Neurons, Neuroscience for Kids:
You've got a great roundup of stuff for youngsters, but when they get a little older and have some math under their belts, here's a great resource: Gerard t'Hooft's theoretical physics course.
Glad you have put up some sites for the young ones. There is so much useless and nefarious crap out there on the internet, it concerns me with children. But not all of it is so, as these sites for the kiddies show. I especially like the Cool Science for Curious Kids. Way to Go.
This is another
From kids to Kids science site
my 7 year old daughter: "What's a Mad Scientist?"
Me: "Um, like a scientist who does crazy things with their science."
her: "Oh. I think I'll be a Mad Geologist."
Maybe one of these sites will help!
Thanks for the suggestions, everyone!
(and feel free to keep adding more)
John, you might want to watch out when your daughter obtains her first rock hammer! :)