Bring some holiday spirit to your classroom with these fun tech lessons!
Google’s Santa Tracker
Google’s Santa Tracker has a game for every day till Christmas. Students can choose the clothing colors for Santa’s elves, share a texting conversation between Santa and his reindeer, prepare and send a phone message from Santa to a friend, play games of skill, and explore Santa’s village. On Christmas Eve, Santa will unveil the dashboard of Santa’s sleigh.
This is a super fun center for your classroom computer, and it gives practice with basic keyboard and mouse use. Most activities do not require reading, and there are no Santa spoilers, so you can enjoy this with kids of all ages. Santa lets “big kids” create mp3 greetings for friends, and offers a nice collection of things to celebrate, from la Navidad and Kwanzaa to Winter and the Season.
On the way to the solstice (that’s a holiday, too!), track seasonal changes with Journey North. There are ideas and activities that won’t require every student to have a computer, which is nice if you don’t have the ideal level of access, but students can still see how data can be collected, organized, and shared through the use of modern technology. You can communicate with other observers of seasonal signs, add information to the sum of knowledge, and use live cams to observe a number of different animals.
Joining the Citizen Scientists who support Journey North, whether you make a class project of it with a Seasonal Showcase or just set up a computer center and let kids explore on their own, can provide deeper understanding of the seasons as well as real world opportunities to use technology for science.
Interactive Reindeer Orchestra
Care2′s Reindeer Orchestra is pretty silly, but it offers some intensive keyboard and mouse practice, number recognition, and a bit of musical fun, too. Set it up as a center at your classroom computer. Challenge students to make their own tunes. Have students write them out on paper as a series of numbers and leave them for others to play.
If you teach music, let students use the reindeer with sheet music. Ask them which key works best!
Healthy eyes are part of overall health, so eating right, exercising, and getting enough rest are important for healthy eyes. Recent research confirms, however, that certain foods and nutrients are especially good for the eyes; in fact, people who eat these foods throughout their lives have less age-related vision loss as they age. Help your students develop good eating habits that will protect their eyes from now on — and get some math and social studies practice at the same time.
The foods that make the difference:
- leafy green vegetables
- citrus fruits
- oily fish like sardines and salmon
- nuts (increasing numbers of students have allergies to nuts, but those who are not allergic can benefit)
Clearly, these are healthy foods in any case, but they may be new to many students. These foods contain Omega-3 acids and lutein, nutrients that researchers have found are important for eye health.
Introduce the eye with an interactive experience on your smartboard or computer center:
- The Children’s Museum of Manchester has a simple cartoon introduction to the parts and functioning of the eye.
- The National Eye Institute offers a more detailed interactive diagram.
- The Exploratorium has a virtual dissection of a cow’s eye.
Then collect some data and create visual representations of it — understanding visual representations of information is a key skill for the 21st century.
Practice gathering data while encouraging the consumption of these super healthy foods. Create a bulletin board display of the charts called “Eye See Data” or “Eye See Graphs.”
- Ask student each morning who ate the listed foods, count, and mark the number on the calendar. At the end of the unit, week, or month, use the numbers to create a line graph. Did the class consumption of these foods increase?
- Have a classroom tasting. Bring a variety of leafy greens such as spinach, chard, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, and cabbage. Have students taste the various greens and chart who likes or dislikes them. Give each variety a pie chart showing its popularity. Finish with a vote on the best one, and create a pie graph showing that preference.
- Give students incentive charts and stickers to take home. Have them create bar graphs showing how many friends and family members like each of the listed foods.
Where do people eat these eye-healthy foods? Everywhere! From the Dutch herring rollmops (pickled herring) to Vietnamese sardines in tomato sauce, from Southern style collard greens to Portugese kale soup, from Spanish orange cake to South African citrus salads, you can find traditional recipes for all these foods on every inhabited continent.
Have students research the foods on the list, searching for traditional recipes from many different places. As recipes are found, add stickers to the class map to show the locations. Once a country has a sticker, students may not add another but must keep looking till they find a new recipe from a country that does not yet have a sticker.
Use Google’s Map Maker to create a map of traditional foods. This can be as simple as adding a marker and typing the name of a dish, or as complex as creating a report for each dish with photos and music, so it’s good tech skills and writing practice for every grade.
Challenge students to try the recipes at home, or create a recipe book for students to give parents for a holiday gift. Get some tech practice by making this a computer-generated project. There are lots of ways to do this:
- Use a free Microsoft Office cookbook template to build a cookbook if you have the software on your classroom computers already.
- Use the Family Cookbook Project‘s free software to create a PDF cookbook you can download.
- Create a Pinterest board. Pin the recipes from the sites where they’re found, or you can upload student drawings and type in the entire recipe to make a self-contained recipe board. Share the link on your classroom website so parents can try out the recipes with their kids.
Both the Chart It and the Map It options lend themselves to the creation of infographics. If you’re working with upper grades, click through and use our Infographics Lesson Plan as a culmination of the unit.
One of the things that changed when the Old World of Europe and Asia met the New World of the Americas was what the people ate. Peppers, corn (though the English used the word for something else before importing our corn to their country), potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, peanuts, pineapple, cranberries, sweet potatoes, vanilla, and zucchini were all New World foods. Old World foods included apples, cucumbers, onions, oranges and other citrus fruits, rice, wheat, sugar cane, lettuce, almonds, cinnamon, carrots, and grapes.
Here we share a few of our favorite lesson plans and classroom activities for grasping this important concept.
For the youngest students, prepare a table with a map of the Americas at one end and a map of Europe on the other. If you have projects on the Pilgrims and Native Americans or on explorers, group the projects at either end of the table.
Bring foods or pictures of foods representing both the New and Old Worlds and have students sort them into stacks on the New World and Old World maps. If you use pictures, you can create either an interactive bulletin board or a center once you’ve presented the lesson. Of course, if you bring foods, you’re ready for snack time!
Ask students to think about where tomato sauce might have come from. If they think of Italy, they’re right — except that while the tomato sauce we’re most familiar with was an Italian invention of the 1700s, tomatoes are a New World food. Pizza, which is an Italian invention from the late 18th century, could never have existed without the tomatoes of South America.
Have students choose some favorite foods and use the Food Timeline to identify when and where they originated. Then use one of these options to map the foods, making sure to distinguish between Old World and New World foods:
- Add pictures of the foods to the classroom wall map.
- Use Google Maps to create individual or group maps showing where specific foods originated.
- Have student create reports on their foods, post them on a bulletin board, and use yarn and pushpins to link the reports to their locations on a world map.
The Ngram Viewer is a wonderful tool at Google Books which searches out the frequency of words at time depths from 1500 to 2008. In the screenshot at the top of this post you can see how Old World foods were most popular in books in English at the beginning of this time, how New World foods began to be mentioned in the 1500s, and how they gradually increased in popularity.
The Ngram Viewer is very easy to use. Have students type a term into the search box. By default, the viewer is case sensitive, but you can deselect that as shown above. We can see in this screen that chocolate was being written about shortly after it was taken to Europe by explorers, but that it became much more popular after English speakers began to live in the Americas, with a big jump during the 20th century. Try the same search within the corpus of Spanish (that is, the books in Spanish) and you will see a very different pattern.
The Ngram Viewer is a fun tool to use and it allows students to create charts in moments. Use it to practice the use of charts and to work on technology skills and visual learning.
Have students explore the use of the names of various Old and New World foods and look for patterns. Ask them to think about what they already know about the use of these foods and to conduct research on them. Then ask each student to choose one food to report on or two foods to compare.
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.
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!