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.
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!
From preschoolers who love to play with toy trucks to high school students discovering all the jobs involved in logistics and freight transport, everyone can learn something from a good less on trucks. Scroll down to find lessons at different grade levels.
Preschool and Kindergarten
Read books about trucks:
Listen to a song about trucks and sing along!
Invite students to bring a toy truck from home to show, or collect toy trucks at garage sales or dime stores. Have students create art with their toy trucks:
- Drive the trucks through shallow trays of paint and then across paper, creating tracks of paint.
- Have each student roll or pat out a thin slab of Model Magic and run trucks across it to create texture. Model Magic can be painted or colored with markers as well.
- Alternatively, make trucks. Milk carton dump trucks are a lot of fun, or just glue simple shapes onto paper — rectangles plus circles for wheels.
Kids come to school with some old-fashioned ideas about trucks! Share this information with your students:
Trucks pick up raw materials, such as rice from a farm or milk from a dairy. They may also pick up things like containers of computer parts arriving by ship — not exactly raw materials, but the needed parts for manufacturing. Different kinds of trucks pick up different things:
A tanker truck carries liquids like gasoline or milk. It’s very important to keep these trucks clean and safe. Tanker trucks have round bodies.
A flatbed truck can carry big things, like containers used to transport things by ship. They have big flat surfaces. It’s important to make sure loads on flatbeds are very secure so they won’t fall off the truck.
A van is the rectangular part of the truck. A truck may have a cab (shown on the flatbed) that attaches to a van, or it may be all in one piece, in which case it’s called a straight truck. Vans are used to carry dry goods, like boxes of cereal, books, or toys.
A truck for bulk hauling, such as carrying rice or other grains, might have a walking floor, as you can see in the video below. This automatic floor can make it easier to load and unload bulk items, or very heavy things that would be hard for people to carry.
Trucks bring raw materials to a factory to be made into new products, or to a warehouse where they’re put into packages. A warehouse is a big building where things are stored, and a manufacturer, factory, or store might have its own warehouse. Often a warehouse is part of what’s called a “fulfillment house,” where raw materials or new products are packaged and sent on to customers or to stores.
People in fulfillment houses use computers to keep track of all the things they need to store, package, and send. Students have probably seen bar codes and scanners in stores. These are the tools warehouse and fulfillment house workers use to make sure all the items in the warehouse get to the right place.
Once the products are all packaged, they’re packed into more trucks — usually vans — to go to stores. The workers use computers to make sure everything goes into the right trucks and to the right stores.
Truck drivers might make short hauls, like driving products from the warehouse to a store in a nearby city, or they might make long hauls across several states. Long haul drivers have beds in the cabs of their trucks, and they take showers and eat at special places called truck stops, where they can rest and get diesel fuel for their trucks. Most truck drivers have computers in their cabs, too, which they can use for communication and entertainment.
When the trucks arrive at the store, workers unpack the truck and put the products onto the shelves. They may use the barcodes on the packages, and they may also put new labels onto the packages. Sometimes a small store will use a different computer system, so the barcodes put on the boxes in the warehouse or on the products by the manufacturers don’t work with their computers. Bigger stores usually use the same system from start to finish.
Printable version of this passage, with comprehension questions, in PDF form
Read and discuss the information, have students complete the comprehension questions, and then ask students to think of other kinds of trucks. This passage was about freight trucks, but students will also think of garbage trucks, fire trucks, dump trucks, and more.
Finish up by having students draw and label a picture that shows the most interesting thing they learned. Create a bulletin board or a class book. Alternatively, have students imagine a world without trucks and write about it.
Discuss the information in the passage above with students:
- Did students realize how much computers are now used in freight transportation? Truckers also often find their jobs by computer, with programs called “load boards.” There are also freight brokers who use computer programs to find the trucks and drivers (also called “carriers”) for customers who need things transported. Then manufacturers or farmers and stores can use computers to track the products between the factory or field and the store. Ask students if they think everyone needs to learn to use a computer now.
- Trucks use huge amounts of fossil fuel to carry goods from one place to another. According to government studies, trucks are responsible for about 20% of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. New laws require big trucks to become more fuel efficient by 2018. Challenge students to think of ways that fuel use could be reduced. Possibilities include everything from more efficient truck designs to using things made or grown locally.
- The whole field of freight and getting things from one place to another is called “logistics.” Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook’s page on this field. Have students conduct internet research to find jobs in the field of logistics in your area, and then to find colleges offering training in logistics. As a class or in small groups, compile a list of the jobs in the field, the skills and talents required for this type of work, and the pros and cons of the jobs.
Give students a typical logistics job to plan:
- Have students imagine that they have a shipment of computer parts arriving from China or Japan.
- They’ll arrive first at a dock in Los Angeles, and the class is responsible for getting the components to a computer factory in Cleveland.
- Then the finished computers need to be shipped out to stores. One group of computers will be sent to a fulfillment house in Bentonville, Arkansas for “kitting” — they’ll be packed in special red boxes with some cool accessories for a Back to School promotion at a store in St. Louis.
- The accessories will be going to the fulfillment house from a factory in Toronto and a warehouse in Virginia.
- The red boxes are being made in Ft. Smith.
The class is responsible for getting the special computers in their snazzy boxes to St. Louis in time for the special Back to School promotion. Have students figure out how they’ll do it. They should consider the people they’ll need to hire, the trucks they’ll need, the information they’ll have to keep track of, and the schedule.
You could divide the class into teams and have each team present their plan, or have the class work together. Create flow charts once the plan is finalized.
Combine research, art, and writing to create a great classroom project that can be anything from a quick classroom activity to an organizing system for a major science unit.
The basic idea is to have each student create a labeled picture that shares information, then put them all together into a display in the best way for your particular class:
- a bulletin board
- a Pinterest board
- a portfolio page on your class website
- an album for the class library
- a poster board display
I made the example above on my computer, which can be a great way to practice tech skills, but it works just as well if you do it with art supplies in the classroom. You can also use the Trading Cards tool at BigHugeLabs if you want to get a little tech practice but don’t have a graphics program in your classroom. The example below shows a card made with this tool:
Begin by choosing a topic, either as an assignment or together in a class brainstorming session. Then instruct each student to create a card. You could show kids baseball or video game trading cards if the idea will be completely new to them.
To make a card:
- Choose a subject. Here, I’m looking at adaptations. I’ve made a card for a cheetah. If others make cards for other animals, we’ll have a display of various adaptations that will give a good overview of animal adaptations.
- Research the subject, looking for specific information related to the overall theme of the portfolio. Take notes on note cards during this part of the process.
- Choose several points you want to make about your subject.
- Find or create a picture of your subject. I used a photo of a cheetah which I found online (with Creative Commons licensing).
- Label the picture with the informative points you want to make.
- Use any visual tricks you want to make your project look cool — I put white under my words and used arrow images to point to the elements of the picture that went with the information I had in mind. If you’re using physical cards, this is a great opportunity to practice new art techniques in a small project.
Once students complete their cards, collect them and display them. I like to take some time here to discuss possible ways to organize the cards, since I teach writing — organizing data is key for my class. If you’re focusing on the art aspect, you might choose to lay the cards out to find the most attractive mix. There may also be an obvious best arrangement; for example, if you have students create cards for elements, you’ll probably want to arrange them according to the periodic table of the elements.
At WordCamp in Kansas City this month I heard a speaker who suggested using a WordPress website for quick in-class assessment. When you’re giving a lecture or explaining a concept, you can have everyone logged into the class website, have them answer quick questions online, and thus make sure that everyone is catching on — not just the one or two who answer a verbal question.
Her method was complicated and unattractive, but it’s a great idea, so I set about to see whether I could reproduce it easily with a standard WordPress set up.
I used a free plug-in called “WP Survey and Quiz Tool.” It’s easy to install check out how to install a WordPress plugin), and then you can just create your surveys or quizzes. If you just had a quick comprehension question, you could set up a survey and watch the totals to get a quick gauge of how much of the class is getting it. I decided to give students a few minutes to do a fast in-class quiz following my lecture on the thesis and before I set them to work on a project.
To set up a quiz, you just go through the wizard and fill n the blanks. Step one, shown above, is to give your quiz a name. You’ll use this name and people will see it, so go with something meaningful, not “Qz4forchptr16wk9fall2013.” This decision is followed by a bunch of questions that let you decide whether students can retake the quiz, the percentage of correct answers required to pass, what to show when the quiz is over, and so forth. You can also upload a certificate if you care to.
Next, you have to set up sections for your quiz, even if you just have one section. Here you can define the difficulty level and choose to show the questions in order or randomly — more useful for tests than for in-class response, so we won’t go over this.
Type in your questions next, specifying multiple choice, short answer, or open-ended answer. Again, you have multiple options, none of which relates to this use of the quiz builder. We’ll discuss the use of this plugin for other types of assessment later. For now, accept the defaults and get those questions typed in.
For multiple choice and short answers, you’ll need to type in the answers as well. You identify the correct answer from multiples, save the question, and move on to the next question.
This is a nice robust tool — you can give hints, show the correct answer on a review page, and weight questions. Again, not high priority for this use of the tool.Get as fancy as you want, and then save your quiz.
Now you have to put your quiz into a post (check out how to post). You have to use square brackets. Type “wpsqt,” which stands for “WP Survey and Quiz Tool.” Now tell the computer what name of the quiz is using “name=” followed by the name of the quiz in quotation marks. Aren’t you glad you used a meaningful name?
You also have to specify whether you made a quiz or a survey by saying type=”quiz” or “survey” as the case may be. If you make any errors in punctuation, this won’t work. If you’ve done it right, you’ll get a page like this when you publish and view your post:
So, when I’ve explained the concept of a thesis to my students, I can give them a minute to take the test, and the computers will instantly score their answers.
The students get a thank you screen (and a link to a certificate, if you did that). You can quickly check in and see how the students did. I took this test anonymously, so my name shows up as “anonymous,” but if your students are logged in, you’ll see their names. This lets you find any sheep who need a little help over the stile.
If you just want a fast take on whether the class as a whole got it, you can use a survey. In very large classes, this would be more practical. I can quickly scan 20 results for my class — and look back later and see who’s really not catching on.
I’m using the Gleam theme from Elegant Themes. I can have all students log in at the beginning of class, ask them to go to the page for in-class response quizzes, and then say, “Now please take the quiz named ‘What’s a Good Thesis?’” when I want that response. As you can see, I can put a lot of other things here, too. I’ll replace the background picture (that’s for summer!) with a shot of the class once school starts.
You’ll notice that this will work only if all of your students have access to computers. In my classrooms for next term, I expect to have almost enough to go around, and many of my students carry smart phones. I’ll show a QR code at the beginning of class for those using phones, and get everyone into the habit of logging in as they arrive.
If you try out this idea or some variant, I’d love to hear about it!
I’m a teacher, but I’m also a parent, and I’ve occasionally had disagreements with my kids’ teachers. Once a teacher complained to me about my daughter’s resistance to doing routine stuff like copying out spelling words repeatedly. “Most of our lives as adults,” she said to me, “consist of doing repetitive, boring, routine tasks.”
My reaction: “Not my kid.” I hope I didn’t actually say that, because I know — as a teacher — how it sounds, but I remember that I thought it.
That kid is now a data analyst for a global firm, doing no routine tasks at all. And it’s not just my kid. The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide shares a chart from Educational Leadership that shows the kinds of tasks that are on the rise in the American workforce, and the kind that are becoming steadily less needed and less valuable:
- Increasing at an incredible rate: complex communication and expert thinking
- Decreasing dismally: routine cognitive work and routine manual work
We shouldn’t be surprised by this. In our global economy, the routine jobs are increasingly automated (that is, done by machines) or outsourced to less expensive labor in countries with a lower cost of living. It isn’t the case now, and it certainly won’t be when our students enter the workforce, that only special people that
The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide goes on to suggest that we consider whether “teacher who are only information dispensers, book readers, babysitters, and multiple choice quiz givers” might also be replaced by machines, but even if we’re not worried about that, we should be thinking about the value to our students of learning to do repetitive, routine, boring work.
Let’s say that we want our students to develop some basic tech skills.We could use something like Mouserobics to help students learn to use a mouse — but there are so many games and activities online which involve pointing and clicking that we can just give the students something fun, challenging and/or informative instead. No disrespect intended to the creators of Mouserobics, but try this experiment: try out Mouserobics and also 15 Puzzle. Which required self-discipline to complete? Which required self-discipline to stop playing?
Are you thinking that our students need to learn self discipline? I agree. However, they don’t need to learn the self-discipline involved in doing repetitive clerical tasks. They need to learn the self discipline involved in continuing to work on a challenging problem, the self discipline involved in collaborating well with others, and the self discipline involved in following a process rigorously.
If you want your students to do repetitive things, choose something like digging holes and refilling them, so they’ll get some cardiovascular benefit.
Look at all the hands-on minds-on ways we can let students practice with point, click, drag, drop, zoom, and pan:
- Carnegie Library Storymaker (for emergent readers and writers)
- Kerpoof (requires just a little reading and writing, but more dexterity)
- Google Maps Cube (combine dexterity with map reading for upper elementary and up)
- Google Earth (for everyone)
- Google SketchUp (elementary level and up — waaaay up)
- Prezi (a cooler alternative to PowerPoint for middle school and up)
- Pinterest (a great companion to online research)
We could go on (and please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments). The point is, nearly any basic skill can be practiced in the course of a game or an open-ended project. If it can’t be, then maybe it’s not a task worth practicing.