From the Mars Curiosity rover to a chameleon’s color change, these websites have you and your kids covered
As you might guess, we here at LEARNING STARTS are fans of the growing number of apps and web resources that help teach kids science. The availability of high-quality video, photos, and rich science activities that will engage kids and get them excited about the subject comes at just the right time. Research continues to show that today’s kids need a better foundation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for everything from college to career.
But for time-strapped parents, knowing where to start with your kids—or where to send them during their time online—can seem like its own question of radical physics. If that’s familiar to you, here are three fun sites that take the guesswork out of getting there.
National Geographic Education
The days when piles of National Geographic magazines could be found in most middle class living rooms (or garages) may be over, but the organization remains a leading source of incredible images and reporting from around the world. Now, a new website designed for educators and families, National Geographic Education, draws on the wealth of material from the organization’s archives, publications, documentaries, and other media to support teachers and learners of all types.
Offering a rich collection of science content, National Geographic Education catalogues content for a range of users, including “Teachers” and “Families.” The site also highlights the growing importance of informal audiences and educators, with distinct tabs for “Informal Educators,” “Students,” and “Kids.” Informal science education, in particular, continues to demonstrate the point that learning can—and should—extend beyond the school day. Museums, zoos, and other institutions (along with parents) can help do that. While the content under these headings is not entirely distinct, the effort to support diverse audiences will help first-time users navigate the site.
National Geographic Education serves up excellent videos on a wide range of topics, from sharks to avalanches to ancient Mayan ruins. There are DIY activities and science projects for home and for the classroom. Ever wonder how Earth’s magnetic field could be monitored and measured? Build a magnetometer to find out.
The amazing photographs you’d associate with NatGeo give the site added life, and science topics connected to current events in the U.S. and around the globe give the subjects further relevance to the daily lives of visiting students, teachers, and families. For homework help, there’s a built-in encyclopedia and glossary.
National Geographic Education is part of a larger vision for improving teaching and learning using interactive technologies and media. Another fine example is National Geographic FieldScope, a web-based platform for a citizen science initiative that involves kids and families at home and in the classroom. FieldScope focuses on real world issues and uses community mapping, analysis, and more to enhance scientific investigations. Want to participate? Have a look.
National Geographic Education is suitable for kids of all ages.
In an earlier item we talked about the Exploratorium’s fun science app, Color Uncovered, but the Exploratorium website is well worth a visit, too. It’s a wonderful place to learn and explore. The San Francisco-based science museum is justly famous for its interactive displays and hands-on approach and the same methods are in evidence on its website.
The site includes science projects, explorations, and all manner of “things to make and do.” While sections devoted to "Science in the City" and "Return to Mars" bring specific subjects to life, including Curiosity, NASA’s newest rover exploring Mars. The deeply engaging content in "Return to Mars" includes online events like webcasts, activities that help demonstrate what life on Mars would be like, a video archive, and articles and information about past NASA missions to the red planet. There’s also a fantastic Mars tumblr for kids, educators, and parents exploring the amazing science and wonder behind it all.
The Exploratorium’s suite of online content is probably best for middle school and high school kids.
Wonderopolis is a site for budding scientists and learners. Suitable for elementary school students and their parents, the site is based on a very simple idea: kids don’t begin their approach to science in terms of biology, chemistry, or physics. They ask questions—often about things that adults take for granted.
At the heart of Wonderopolis is their “Wonder of the Day,” a daily question that helps build on the innate curiosity of kids. Why are there revolving doors? What's the largest snake? Are elephants really afraid of mice?
For every wonder there’s an answer, along with videos and background information, glossary terms, and sources for further exploration. The videos are sometimes more entertaining than informative, but that’s part of the fun. And not all of the wonders are science related; some focus on issues of culture, history, and geography, but all help promote a love of lifelong learning and the curiosity at its core.
The National Center for Family Literacy is behind Wonderopolis. With a focus on family learning and literacy skills development, NCLF seeks to promote education and learning outside of the classroom. And Wonderopolis is just one of their family-focused efforts, available online but also as an app for iOS and Android devices. Check it out.