Teaching about computer hardware

TeachingWhile teaching students coding concepts and how to use Word is becoming the norm, it is also important for teens to learn the basics of computer hardware.  Take the ‘black box’ mystery away by explaining what the parts inside the machine actually do; this will help student to be able to troubleshoot problems when using their computers.

Take apart an old desktop computer
Nothing is better for hands on learning than actually getting out a screwdriver and taking something apart!  Old desktop computers are great because they were often made to be taken apart and customized.  Your teenager can then see the memory (and know how to replace it), find the hard drive (and understand the difference from a solid state drive), understand the different ports and what they do, and, if the desktop is old enough, get a quick lesson in things like modems and how the internet works.  The ideas are endless!    But there are serious safety concerns here as well.  Be sure that the computer has been unplugged for several days before taking it apart, and also be sure that your student does not play around within the power supply.  This is a great time to learn about capacitors and safety around electricity.  Have your student look up capacitors before opening the case on a desktop so that they know what they look like and why not to touch them.
Here is a detailed video on taking apart a desktop computer (You may only want to watch the first half): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctAVC2JwEwI

Raspberry Pi
website: https://www.raspberrypi.org/ 
First released in 2012, Raspberry Pi is a very basic computer without a case.  At $35, this is an affordable way to introduce students to all of the components of a computer.  The Raspberry Pi 3 (64 bit quad core processor) comes with integrated wifi and bluetooth to make it easier to connect to the internet and keyboard.  It has an HDMI port to allow connections to a TV or monitor, speaker output, a LAN port and four USB ports.  I’ve used the Raspberry Pi with students and it is an excellent way to introduce them to operating systems, hardware components, and much more.   There are tons of educational lessons available to use along with the Raspberry Pi.

Kano Computer Kit
website: http://us.kano.me/
The Kano Computer Kit includes a Raspberry Pi along with all of the peripherals needed to get started.  It has a wireless keyboard, case for the Pi, memory card, cables, diy speaker, and a book on getting started.  This is a great kit for anyone who is not comfortable just getting started on their own with a Raspberry Pi.

 

Teaching GIS to middle and high school students

Teaching GISGeographic Information System (GIS) is a system or software application for displaying, analyzing, and manipulating spacial data.  While the definition may make the concept seem like one that is way above the high school or middle school level, in reality, this is something that students may already use every day through their maps and GPS on their cell phones.

Hopefully these introductory GIS lesson plans will inspire you to dig a little deeper with your students.  Most counties in the U.S.  have GIS maps available online for you to explore your own neighborhood, adding in layers for topography, flood zones, planning and development, and more.

Introduction to GIS
website: http://education.nationalgeographic.org/activity/introduction-gis/
This lesson plan has several great introductory questions for leading students to understand what GIS is and how it is used in everyday life.  The activity using a large rope to make a map may be one that is better suited for classroom situations and younger students.  All in all, it is a good, quick way to introduce the concept.

Exploring Ecosystems with GIS
website: http://education.nationalgeographic.org/photo/new-gis/
Another quick lesson from National Geographic on GIS which would integrate nicely with an Environmental Science or Biology course.  The lesson uses the Jean Lefitte National Park FieldScope mapping software (free online) to bring real information into the lesson.  Using the FieldScope software, students used provided handouts to complete maps and questions.

Think Spatially Using GIS
website: http://edcommunity.esri.com/Resources/Collections/thinking-spatially—ago
This is a series of lesson plans for upper elementary or middle school level.  The lessons cover  I think that these lessons could be completed by middle school students without much direction, but elementary students would need a lot of help to get through the lesson.  There are nine lessons total, and each one builds upon what the student has previously learned.

Hands-on Exercises for GISday
website: http://gisday.com/resources.html
T
he GISday resources page has several great lesson plans for teens (grades 7 – 12).   Some of the links are to downloadable resources and other are links to other websites that you may want to explore further.   Some of the resources for those age 18+ are easily accessible to high school students as well.

 

 

Teaching Coding Concepts through Games

Teach Coding ConceptsIf you are wanting to include some programming logic in a computer course for your middle or high school student, there are so many ways to go about doing this.  More than almost any other subject, all things technical can be learned on the internet.  The key is to find the very best resources that fit your students’ learning style!

The sites listed below range from beginner to much more advanced coding.  The concept of learning through games is not just limited to younger kids, and these site are quite fun for adults.

CodeCombat
website: www.codecombat.com
This is a fun site that I’ve used with middle and high school students.  It starts with basic concepts, and it used real code instead of pseudo code so that students can get used to the syntax.    There are courses available for purchase as well as 125 free levels that students can play in either JavaScript or Python.    The concept is to move around and play in a labyrinth type of game where you control the game play by correctly completing the coding task.

CodeAvengers
website: http://www.codeavengers.com
This website for high school and college students gamifies the process of learning HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, and JQuery.  There are free intro courses for JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.  Other courses cost $29 each, or you can get a teacher account and pay $25 for an annual license for each student.  If your student is serious about learning coding and likes the interface, the $25 annual license seems like a great deal.

CodinGame
website: http://www.codingame.com
This site is great for more advanced students who want to improve their coding skills or learn a new language.  It offers coding challenges using gaming concepts in a variety of different languages including PHP, JavaScript, C and about 20 others.  There are also contests and head-to-head challenges.

4 Great Sources of Outline Maps

4 Great Sources for free outline mapsMaps are of course an essential part of geography, and a great outline map can be useful in so many learning situations.   Instead of spending a half our searching for the right map, check out and bookmark the resources below.

Education Place Outline Maps
website: https://www.eduplace.com/ss/maps/
These outline maps from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are free to use for personal and classroom use.  The maps are organized by continent, and most are offered both with and without countries labeled.

MapMaker Interactive
website: http://mapmaker.nationalgeographic.org/
National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive is an awesome resource for creating exactly the map you are wanting.  Starting with a base map of the world, you can zoom in to the area you want to see, add in layers such as political boundaries, and add in lines and text.  While this resource is great for creating a custom map, it does take a little time to learn all the ins and outs of making it work.

Contemporary Maps of World Regions
website: http://alabamamaps.ua.edu/contemporarymaps/world/index.html
This simple looking website from the University of Alabama is full of maps of the world regions in various formats including jpeg and pdf’s both in color and black and white.  Options include base maps, country labels, capitals, and major cities.  Maps are up to date and include new countries such as South Sudan.

Arizona Geographic Alliance
website: http://geoalliance.asu.edu/maps/regions
The Arizona Geographic Alliance is part of Arizona State University, and offers tons of resources for teaching geography.  Click on Regions to view very nice looking black and white .pdf’s of each region. The Countries tab will bring you to maps of some, but definitely not all, major countries.  

Four Great TEDed Videos for Teaching Geography

If you haven’t ever checked out all of the great videos on TEDed, now is the time to do so.  Go ahead, we will wait…

TEDed is the youth division of TED, known for excellent speakers and videos on all kinds of topics, from science to technology to world ideology.  And while TED Talks can be great to use with students, the shorter format and to-the-point narration make the TEDed videos a surefire way to engage students.

Here are just a few of the TEDed videos available along with some suggestions for using them with a study of geography.   You can watch the TEDed videos on YouTube, or you can watch them on the ed.ted.com website.  If you go to the TEDed website, there are usually quick quizzes and discussion questions to use with the videos.

Where Did Russia Come from?
This video would be great to pair with studying the rivers and physical geography of Russia. Or you could use it as a jumping off point for looking at some of the historic cities of Russia including Kiev and Moscow.  Another thought for human geography would be to look at how the different people groups still exist in Russia today.

The City Walls: Constantinople
You could pair this video  with a Google Street view or Google Earth view of modern Istanbul.  Zoom in on Istanbul, and you will see the same outline of roads today that are shown on the video. A search for “wall” will bring you to many places where you can see the ruins of the ancient walls in street view.  Spend some time traveling in Street View along the roads that flank the wall to see where it crumbles a bit in places and still stands tall in others.

The Infamous and Ingenious Ho Chi Minh Trail
This video would be great to use  when studying SE Asia, since the Ho Chi Minh trail stretches from northern Vietnam, through Laos, back to southern Vietnam and stretching into Cambodia.  The trail played a vital role in the Vietnamese War, and it has now become a popular route for adventurous motorcyclists.      Here is a travel article on motor biking the Ho Chi Minh trail: http://www.wanderlust.co.uk/magazine/blogs/insider-secrets/how-to-tackle-the-ho-chi-minh-trail-by-motorcycle?page=all
Where Did English Come From?
This final video would be excellent to include at the beginning or the end of a study of Europe.  Or you could use it along with lessons on languages around the world.  The video goes into the roots of English, going back even farther than the Anglo-Saxons and Old English.  Another fun activity to do would be to look at all of the countries today that have English as an official language and trace those pathways back to England.

Beginning Coding – With Scratch

TeachingScratchI’ve used a variety of applications over the years for teaching coding skills to homeschool students, and I always come back to Scratch as the best way to start off.   Scratch is a program for creating simple games, animations, or interactive stories.  It is free, designed for 8 – 16 year olds, and created by MIT Media Labs.

Scratch uses drag-and-drop programming elements to allow students to understand the logic of programming without worrying about the syntax.  What I love about Scratch is the visual way it shows the basic concepts, such as if – then – else logic.  It is robust enough to create games that are fun to play, and yet simple enough that students can dive in and quickly get started.

High school students may think Scratch looks a little basic, but for anyone without previous coding experience, it really is an excellent place to start.  Even parents sitting in on classes tend to love playing with Scratch and learning along with their kids.

Scratch
website: https://scratch.mit.edu/

The main website for getting started with Scratch is the MIT website.  On it, you can click on Create in the navigation bar and jump right into creating Scratch games.  On the Create page there are links on the right side to some tutorials to get started.  You can download the Scratch file and save it on your computer to come back to it later.

There is also a downloadable version of Scratch for offline use.  It runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux.  If you are teaching a class, this is the way to go so that you won’t need to rely on internet access.

ScratchEd
website: http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/

ScratchEd is a repository of wonderful ideas for teaching Scratch.  In the Resources section, there are hundreds of lesson activities broken out by grade, curriculum area, and content.

ITCH Scratch
website: http://itch.ucodemy.com/v2/

This site has several great courses on Scratch game development.  The classes are free for students to sign up for, which is a wonderful option for checking things out.  It also offers the option for a teacher subscription (currently $29/mo) for setting up your own lessons, managing students, and having a private sandbox.

Itch actually runs scratch inside of its website, so you don’t have to download or open a separate screen to view the tutorial videos.  The videos are well done and provide an explanation for the programming logic needed for the games.

EdX Scratch Course
website: https://www.edx.org/course/programming-scratch-harveymuddx-cs002x-1#!

Starting in June 2016 there is a new course on Scratch programming starting.  Put together by Harvey Mudd college, this looks like it will be an excellent course.  There are several other EdX courses on programming that also use Scratch, so poke around in the EdX course offerings to see if there is something to fit your needs.

Invent With Scratch
website: http://inventwithscratch.com/

Invent With Scratch offers quite a few video tutorials on making specific types of games.  After students have mastered the basic tutorials on the Scratch website, this site could be a great place to turn students lose and have do several tutorials.  After doing the tutorials, it should be easy for students to come up with their own games based on the ideas that they just learned.

Graphic Design Lessons for High School

Teaching graphic design basics to students using Canva.  Perfect for middle and high school students.

Teaching graphic design basics to students using Canva. Perfect for middle and high school students.

Basic graphic design skills can make or break many school projects.   Imagine being able to add the professional looking touches to standard computer applications projects such as designing a brochure or newsletter. Blogging projects come to life with quick and easy creation of blog post headings.

While there are many online applications for editing photos, there are only a few for creating simple graphics with great built in design elements.  Canva is one that works exceptionally well for the tasks it was built for.  It won’t have all of the options of Adobe Illustrator, but for high school students needing to put together a quick graphic, it is almost perfect.

In the “pros” column, Canva offers a great free account option.  It allows you to create the graphic, save it in your account, and download it in several file formats.  Canva sells graphics and photos to add into your design at $1 a piece, but there are many free options for getting started.  Canva allows you to upload your own images as well to use in your designs.

The best part of Canva for teaching graphic design to high school students is all of the built in design lessons.  The Canva Design School has tutorials on all the basics including fonts, colors, layouts, and icons.  The tutorials are hands on and walk the student through both the concept and how to apply it in Canva.  And it is all FREE!

I’ve been using Canva for a couple of years now in a homeschool class that I teach for high school students.  I introduce it early on in the class and assign several tutorials to be completed each week.  The first semester of the class focuses on Microsoft Office essential skills, and the students use Canva for adding graphics into Word and Powerpoint.  By the time we get to blogging in the second semester, Canva is the tool that students use quickly and easily each week to design graphics for their blog.

Using Google Earth to Teach Geography

Google Earth Resources For Teaching GeographyGoogle Earth is an amazing free resource that every student should enjoy using.  Nothing gives a better overview of our world, while also offer a way to dive into the minute details.  The 3D imagery lets you view so many famous places in a way that you almost feel like you are there.

Google Earth is free to download.  Just go to the Google Earth website.   There is a desktop, web, and mobile version available.  The Google Earth Pro version is now free  and adds a few nice features for teaching geography, such as being able to calculate distances between points.

There are so many ways to use Google Earth in teaching geography!  This is just the first of several posts on this topic.  Below are several resources to get you started.

Tutorials on using Google Earth
website: https://www.google.com/help/maps/education/resources.html

From the 148 page users guide to the many tutorials available, there is no excuse for not knowing how to use Google Earth.  A great place to start is the tutorial on creating a narrated tour.  Narrated tours give you a way to create an automated video-like tour in which you can add your own narration, text comments, and zoom from place to place.  Use it to teach geography by assigning students a country and have them narrate a tour of famous landmarks.

Geoguessr
website: https://geoguessr.com/world/play

This free online game uses Google images to plop you down somewhere in the world.  You can navigate around in the image and then guess, based on the visual clues, where in the world you are!  It is addictively fun.  (I just wasted another half hour on it!)

Google Earth Outreach Showcase
website: http://www.google.com/earth/outreach/stories/showcase.html

The Google Earth showcase gives examples of how different non-profit organizations are using Google Earth.  There are several in the showcase that could be used in your study of geography.  The USGS is featured with their real-time earthquake map.

Google Earth Tips and Tricks
website: https://support.google.com/earth/answer/148177?guide=22358&ref_topic=22361

This help site for Google Earth has several easy ideas for getting started with Google Earth.  They are a great way to introduce your students to the software and interest them in learning more.

Lit Trips
website: http://www.googlelittrips.org/

Google Earth Lit Trips are a great way to connect literature and geography.  The concept is simple: use Google Earth to create maps showing the journey of a character in a piece of literature.  From classics like The Odyssey  to more modern works such as The Kite Runner, Lit Trips are a great way to integrate these two subjects.  The website has downloadable files to get you started and inspire your student to create their own lit trip.

3 Important Resources for Teaching American History with Historical Documents

Three of the best sources for primary sources for American History

Three of the best sources for primary sources for American History

Historical documents are an essential part of  teaching history at the middle and high school level.  They give the student a glimpse into the moment of history through the eyes of an observer, and they can help students understand the conflicting viewpoints of people in that time period.

While I love diving in and trying to understand complex historical documents, I’ve found that some  students don’t enjoy it at all.  Often the more archaic and difficult to understand texts  are just an exercise in frustration to students.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t teach with historical documents, just that some students will need more help in decoding them than others.  Giving context and an overview of the document is a good way to introduce the study of primary sources.

Below are five online resources for finding excellent American history first person accounts, essays, and writings.

50 Core Documents that Tell America’s Story
website: http://teachingamericanhistory.org/50docs/

This is a wonderful resource from the Teaching American History website.  The core documents  of course include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and several of the Federalist papers.   Great speeches by John C Calhoun, Frederic Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan are included, as well as documents such as the Monroe Doctrine.

The documents included cover the time from the founding of America up through the 1980’s.  These are a great addition to any American history class, but they could also be used for a study of current events or modern topics.  For example, the James Madison essay on “Property” could be an excellent source for talking about quite a few current political topics.   Part of the essay reads:

In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.

Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.

Smithsonian’s History Explorer
website: https://historyexplorer.si.edu/

The Smithsonian’s American History Museum website is chock full of educational resources.  It is almost overwhelming with the amount of information and lesson plans available on this site. The website link above should take you into the list of primary sources and lesson plans for 7 – 12th grades.  You can use the filters on the right side of the page to adjust to the era of history you are teaching.

The lessons and documents are varied and fairly interesting.  For example, The Bracero Program: A Historical Investigation is an 11 page lesson plan on the program from 1942 – 1964 that brought in 4.6 million temporary workers from Mexico.  This is a great lesson for those studying the time post WWII, and it also could be used for in looking at our current political issues with immigration reform.

National Archive’s Teaching with Documents
website: https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/

The whole National Archives website (archives.gov) is an almost overwhelmingly rich source of historical documents. You could spend hours and hours immersed in the records from Ellis Island,

The lesson plans are broken down by era and all include copies or images of historical documents. An example of a lesson plan from the post-Revolutionary War era is Teaching With Documents: Eli Whitney’s Patent for the Cotton Gin.  In the lesson plan there is a digital copy of the first cotton gin patent along with background information on Whitney’s problem with the patent.  While most of us remember from history class that Whitney’s cotton gin allowed the Southern cotton plantations to grow causing an increasing need for slave labor, I didn’t realize that Whitney had all kinds of problems with patent challenges and licensing of the patent.  So after learning about and looking at the original cotton gin patent, students can also learn:

While Eli Whitney is best remembered as the inventor of the cotton gin, it is often forgotten that he was also the father of the mass production method. In 1798 he figured out how to manufacture muskets by machine so that the parts were interchangeable. It was as a manufacturer of muskets that Whitney finally became rich. If his genius led King Cotton to triumph in the South, it also created the technology with which the North won the Civil War.

Welcome to Involve/Learn

This website is a resource for homeschool moms in their search for wonderful material for their students.  The focus is on middle and high school resources for both social studies and computer education.

Started by two homeschool moms with students in high school and college, we hope that this site helps others find the websites that they need for inspiring the love of learning in their students.