There may not be many good local options for field trips when you’re studying Africa, but there are quite a few places you can go online. Check out our suggestions for virtual field trips.
Virtual Camera Tours
- Virtual South Africa
- Great Pyramids of Giza
- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (above — click for full screen option)
- The Castle of Good Hope in South Africa
- The National Museum of African Art has online exhibits to explore. There are also lots of interactive and printable resources in the Playtime section.
- African Voices at the National Museum of Natural History has an interactive timeline, exhibits, and more to explore.
- The Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium has a fun kids section and interesting exhibits and information primarily about the Congo.
- The Arts of Africa at the Brooklyn Museum
- National Geographic’s Crittercam game provides plenty of basic keyboard practice as players help film lions.
- PBS has an African Exploration with a challenging question and answer game, lots of information, and lesson plans. The “For Kids” section is no longer available, but older students will find many learning opportunities.
- The Brookfield Zoo has an animated game called “In Search of the Ways of Knowing Trail.” Kids make decisions to get through the story, encountering facts and challenges along the way.
Taking a virtual field trip or two will enrich your study of Africa and help students get a more accurate mental picture.
Building a map with Google Maps is not difficult. You can find step by step instructions at Build a Custom Interactive Map. The new Maps Engine Lite, however, is even easier. Here we’re building a simple map of Africa. Get started by signing in to Google Maps. You’ll see the link to the Maps Engine right away.
Tell the maps engine where you want to go, just as you do at Google Maps, and you’ll be flown to the right part of the world. We’re mapping Africa, because we’ve found that many students are not clear on the countries of Africa. Unlike many other parts of the world, the simple task of learning something about the various nations will usually bring a lot of new information to the students. This means that the simple introduction to the Maps Engine Lite will prove educational.
This is a great way to keep track of learning during a study of Africa. If you’re using it as a technology or writing lesson, consider dividing the map up among your students. While there is some controversy over some territories or nations, there are approximately 55 countries in Africa, enough for most classrooms to give each student a different country to research.
Why not start by asking the class to name all the African nations they can think of? If you’re feeling bold, have students ask adults they know — and no fair Googling! Chances are you won’t be able to list them all.
Signed in? You’ll see the familiar placemark at the top of the screen. Click on the placemark and then on the location you want to mark. A placemark will appear, along with a box for your information.
Type a title into the space. Click on “Add a description” and you’ll be given a text box for your description.
Decide with your class what aspects of the country should be covered. The example above contains information that can be found just by typing the name of the country in the search box at Google.com, without needing to click through to any other websites. This makes the project simple and safe for all classes. The example below requires a little more research; this information can be found at websites like Wikipedia, the BBC news site, or the World Factbook. For more advanced students, increase the amount of data or the complexity of the writing assignment.
You can also import data, including maps you’ve created and stored in “My Maps” or tables of data in Excel or a similar spreadsheet. You can import documents from your Google Drive and create additional layers of information. For example, advanced students might create a spreadsheet including the GNP of each nation and import that data.
The simplest way to use this layer is to create documents in Google Drive containing the information students have discovered, and then to import them into a separate layer of your map. This tool also lets you create data balloons with photos and links using the rich text editor in Google Maps, and then import them into the Maps Engine.
Once you’ve created all your locations, you can customize the icons used as placemarkers. For a simple map where you are identifying countries, you may choose just to change the colors of the markers. However, there are icons for all sorts of locations and geography issues, from locations of restaurants to availability of sports to crises of various kinds — there’s even a special icon for infestations of monsters, so students who have learned about hic dragones can add it to their maps in a modern style.
As you can see, this is a project which can be used at many different levels just by altering the sophistication of the assignment. It can of course be done for any location. You could easily use your interactive map to store information throughout a study unit, and amaze yourselves at the end of the unit with the complexity of your map.
Diamonds are the state gem in Arkansas, where we live, but students everywhere will enjoy learning more about them. Diamonds are made entirely of carbon — we humans are about 18% carbon ourselves, but diamonds are all carbon. They’re the hardest substance in the world, and they reflect light in a special way (basically, the light bounces around inside the diamond) that makes them super shiny.
How diamonds are formed
- Diamonds began with stardust. As far as we know, pretty much all the carbon in the world came to earth as dust from dying stars. The stardust that ended up deep within the earth was the starting point for diamonds.
- The carbon inside the earth’s layers, between the core and the crust, got cooked and squished — it takes a lot of heat and pressure to create diamonds.
- When magma comes up to the earth during volcanic action, diamonds can come along for the ride. The results is areas where diamonds can be mined, as in the book at the Volcano Lesson Plans link, and also diamonds moved around by erosion.
Have students conduct research on each of these steps and create an infographic showing how diamonds are formed.
Read about Crater of Diamonds State Park, where diamond hunters can keep any diamonds they find — and large diamonds have been found there, including the “Uncle Sam” diamond, which was over 40 carats. Crater of Diamonds is the only active diamond mine in the United States, but it is operated as a tourist attraction; it was found that it could not be operated profitably as a commercial diamond mine. Download the Teachers Guide for reproducibles (reading comprehension passage, maze, and word find).
Plan an imaginary class trip to the park, figure the costs, and determine what sort of diamond the class would have to find to make the trip pay for itself. This project will give practice with online research, math, and problem solving.
Share A Diamond’s Journey , an interactive digital presentation from NBC news, with older students. There they can follow the diamond from the mines in Africa through cutters in India to sales in Europe and the United States. Have students create a chart showing the cost of a diamond and how much of that price goes to the miners, traders, cutters, and dealers.
Compare the Crater of Diamonds park and the commercial diamond mines. Discuss why a diamond mine in the United States might be harder to pay for than a mine in Botswana. Will American workers accept jobs like those of the miners in the Congo or the cutters in India? Would it be legal to pay an American worker $65.oo per month, the wage diamond cutters earn in India, or to have them live in tents at a mine?
The value of diamonds
Gem-quality diamonds are the first ones we think of. Have students explore Blue Nile’s Diamond Education section to learn about diamond shapes and the “4 Cs” of diamond quality: color, clarity, cut, and carat weight.
Don’t miss the chance to work with ratios on the Diamond Shapes page and measurement on the Cut page!
Now learn about diamonds as they are used in jewelry:
- Read about the history of diamond cutting and add the times and places to your class timeline and map.
- Explore a Pinterest board on diamonds which shows many of the most famous examples of diamond jewelry in history.
- Have students design a piece of jewelry for diamonds, being sure to incorporate what they’ve learned about diamond quality and cutting.
Wait — diamonds aren’t just for pretty! Only a small percentage of diamonds are gem quality. Most are industrial quality, but they are still extremely useful. Diamonds have some special characteristics that have nothing to do with their beauty:
- Diamonds are the hardest substance known.
- They do not conduct electricity well (they are semiconductors), but they do conduct heat very well — in fact, diamonds are the best material for thermal conduction.
- They resist water, but accept oil.
Brainstorm with the class situations in which objects with these characteristics might be useful. Share with students (after brainstorming) that diamonds are mostly used for cutting and polishing. However, there are many other uses for diamonds. For example, diamonds are used in micro-electronics to carry heat away from delicate machinery. They are used as bearings (like a ball bearing) in watches, because they are so hard that they produce no friction in this use. They are used as semiconductors in electronics.
If the point has not yet come up in your discussion, point out that diamonds are small and rare. As long as industry needed big pieces, diamonds were not as useful as they might have been. Now that we make very small things for electronics, diamonds are very useful.
99% of the diamonds used in industrial applications are synthetic. See the links below to learn more about making diamonds.
- Nature has video clips and discussion questions about diamonds
- The Mystery of the Hope Diamond includes video clips.
- PBS lesson plan on conflict diamonds.
- Diamonds and Water is an economics lesson on value.
- Toads and Diamonds is a traditional story.
Mt. St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980. I was living in Northern California at the time, and we had ash falling on us from the sky. For so many of us, volcanoes are something we think of as having happened long ago and far away — the eruption of Mt. St. Helens changed our minds.
57 people died in that eruption.
Share this with your students:
Point out the image in the video (1:17) showing the dome as it forms and let your students know that something similar is happening right now in South America, in the so-called “sombrero uplift.” The current uplift is growing at about the same rate as fingernails. Mt. St. Helens was growing at a rate of six feet a day. Have students figure out how to chart the difference in the rates at which the volcanoes are/were progressing.
Visit Annenberg Learner’s interactive volcanoes exhibit (use your projector) to learn the basics about how volcanoes form, how they can be predicted, and how people deal with the dangers of volcanoes.
Now that you have your students’ attention, here are two lesson plans we like to use to study volcanoes. The first, a literature based study, is a good choice for upper elementary, while the second is suited to middle school or older.
- Read The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois and check out a fun Flash movie summarizing the book. Challenge students to catch the typos.
- Check out our hot air balloon classroom theme for more resources.
- Learn about heat and decide whether the 21 balloons really would have been able to escape the volcano as they did in the book.
- Have students design and draw their own balloons.
- Compare Krakatoa in the book with the real Krakatoa, located in Indonesia. Study more about the rainforests of Southeast Asia, where Krakatoa is located.
Preparing for volcanic eruptions
- Are you in the path of a volcano? Use the USGS map to find the nearest volcano to your school. Use Google Maps (or just ask Google directly) to find the distance from your school to the volcano.
- Determine whether you would be in any danger if the nearest volcano erupted. Divide students into ten pairs or teams and give each team one of the Time Magazine Top Ten Volcanic Eruptions to research.
- Have students add the eruption they’re researching to the class timeline and map. Each team should also identify the furthest point at which effects of the eruptions were reported. Compare the distances with your distance from the nearest volcano.
- If you determine that your school would be affected by an eruption, list the effects you might encounter. Note that the 1815 eruption of Indonesia’s Mt. Tambora, the largest recorded eruption, affected the world’s climate so much that crops failed in Europe and North America. Use this information to remind students to consider consequences beyond the most obvious ones.
- Scientists like those in the video above now can predict volcanic eruptions in ways they couldn’t in the past, so people are usually warned. Check out the CDC’s advice on preparing for volcanoes. Compare this information with the disaster preparedness training you usually cover in school (such as preparation for earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, severe storms, etc.) and take the opportunity to remind students of the importance of disaster preparedness.
- Develop a plan for your school if the nearest volcano should erupt. Depending on your location, it might include preparing for evacuation, staying inside to avoid ash, or raising funds for distant victims of the volcano.
- Volcano World’s lesson plans The site contains lots of photos, virtual field trips, and more. Grab a cup of coffee and explore.
- USGS resources include up to date interactive maps of volcanic activity and alerts.
- Enchanted Learning’s classic volcano diagram
- Discovery Kids Volcano Explorer makes a great game for your computer center.
- Another option is the Volcano Maker
A note on the baking soda and vinegar volcano…
My kids made baking soda and vinegar volcanoes every year in school, I think. I have three problems with this activity:
- It seems to imply that volcanoes are caused by a chemical interaction, which is not the case.
- It’s an art project, which is fine, but doing it every year seems to give unwarranted importance to it.
- Kids get sick of it, even though it’s spectacular, if they do it every year.
If you are determined to conduct this project, put a quarter cup of baking soda into a bottle with some dish soap and a bit of red food coloring. Do something with the bottle to make it look like a volcano — sand, papier mache, or store-bought volcano kits will all work.
Pour in a half cup of vinegar and stand back to enjoy the show.
Those of us who teach Shakespeare can easily be overwhelmed by the — literally — millions of online resources on Shakespeare. You don’t have to spend hours clicking around looking for the best ones, because we already did it for you.
First, the plays:
- The Complete Works: all the words
- No Fear Shakespeare is a parallel translation of Shakespeare into modern English.
Now the background information to help place Shakespeare in time and space:
- Shakespeare Online: a retro site that requires some persistent browsing, but totally worth it
- Shakespeare Research Guide
- An interactive timeline of Shakespeare’s life
- A Shakespeare Google Earth Tour inspired by that timeline, written up as an assignment
- Macbeth: A Google Lit Trip
- A Shakespeare Atlas for Google Earth
Some things people think about Shakespeare:
- Lectures on specific critical questions about various plays, from Oxford
- Shawn and Shakespeare: an interesting collection of personal essays on Shakespeare’s plays, plus reviews of movies.
- The New York Times on Shakespeare
When it comes to video, you can probably find a film of any scene you might want to show in class. Go to YouTube and search for the specific scene, or for conversations between characters (“Othello and Iago” for example) to avoid having to wade through too many options.
We also want to point out a couple of general introductory videos about Shakespeare that should pique students’ interest at the beginning of the study:
This is a wonderful time to be studying Shakespeare!
Jeff Rivera’s books about Yuck Kingdom, Um, Mommy, I Think I Flushed My Brother Down the Toilet and Um, Mommy, I Think I Flushed My Brother Down the Toilet Again paint a picture of what happens when things go down the toilet that can make a fun introduction to the idea of wastewater treatment.
Real and Imaginary
Can people really get flushed down a toilet? Is there really a Yuck Kingdom? Certainky not. But there are things about the stories that ring true: older siblings can love their younger siblings and also find them maddening, kids can try to manipulate parents, and people can band together to stand up to something scary.
Have students list the real and imaginary things in the story.
Then study wastewater treatment and compare the reality with the imaginary Yuck Kingdom:
- Wastewater treatment information from USGS
- interactive water treatment tour
- GBRA interactive tour
- interactive map
Have students look at these interactive resources and identify the things that are the same in all of them and the things that are different. Are there any parts of Yuck Kingdom that are like real sewage treatment?
Have students draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper or poster board. Have them draw a scene from Yuck Kingdom on one side and from a real wastewater treatment plant on the other. Label them “Real” and “Imaginary.”
The book has lots of groups of rhyming words. Have students write the words on word cards and sort them into rhyming groups. Have students find the parts of each group that are the same and the parts that are different. Find the groups where the same sound is spelled in different ways and those where the rhyming sound is spelled in the same way each time.
Some of the groups of rhyming words include made-up words. Find groups of words like these and have students divide the real words from the imaginary ones:
At one point, the young heroine of the story says this about her little brother: “He was a pain, but he was my pain.” Author Jeff Rivera has 12 neices and nephews, so he knows what it’s like to have little brothers and sisters. Ask how many students have younger siblings. Create a list of the things they do that make them a “pain.” Then discuss what’s great about having brothers and sisters.
Some students may not have siblings. Ask whether they have similar experiences with a pet, friend, or relative.
Falisha doesn’t want her mommy to tell her daddy what she has done. She’s able to make things right, and we don’t see her getting in trouble with her dad, or having more than a scolding from her mom. Why do kids get in trouble with their parents? Is it important to make things right when we’ve done something we shouldn’t?
How does Falisha make things right with her brother? How does she make things right with her mother?
Ask students whether they think Falisha and Jesse will get into trouble again in the future. Have them write a story of their own starring themselves and their sibling, pet, or friend.
Find more ideas for studying about families at our Families theme page.