Virtual schools might seem like a foreign land from your three-dimensional classroom. But you can visit the world and offer your students some of its benefits -- like fluency with online collaboration and communication -- from right where you are. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection. Here are some destinations where you and your students can start to dabble in online learning.
Free Online Lessons
A little village of providers of free online lessons is sprouting up. Many are video-based; all are free. MIT's OpenCourseWare helped launch this effort in 2001 and now offers 1,900 full, free courses online. The idea, simply and democratically, is to use the power of the Web to spread knowledge around the world.
Khan Academy is a growing library of 1,200-plus videos created by Salman Khan -- who holds a master's degree in electrical engineering and computer science and an MBA from Harvard Business School -- from his California home. Khan turns the video screen into a blackboard and narrates in a casual tone with simple vocabulary. The former hedge fund manager's subjects range from basic addition to calculus to chemistry to the U.S. credit crisis.
Shmoop, founded by former Silicon Valley executives, provides study guides on a variety of subjects, written in a hip, sassy style by master's and Ph.D. students from prestigious universities. The guides cover popular books and topics in literature, history, economics and more, offering summaries, study questions and themes to consider. Each guide asks and answers the question, "Why should I care?"
Connexions is an open-source content library created in 1999 by Rice University engineering professor Richard Baraniuk. Rather than slog through an entire book, contributors on Connexions write bite-size "modules," or lessons on a single, simple chunk of knowledge, such as the cell cycle or the three branches of government. Other people may use these chunks one at a time or mix, match, and assemble them into a course of their own design. The site currently holds more than 16,000 modules.
Next Vista for Learning is a library of short, instructional videos created by teachers and students and vetted by the site's creator, California teacher Rushton Hurley. Video collections include "Light Bulbs," short introductions to academic topics; "Global Views," depictions of life in communities around the world; and "Seeing Service," profiles of people making a positive difference.
Collaborative Online Projects
No time to teach a full online course? Here are some great ways to get your classroom online, by collaborating with other students across the globe on online projects.
The JASON Project
The JASON Project connects fifth- to eighth-grade students with great explorers and events to inspire and motivate them to learn science. Their award-winning curricula embed cutting-edge research from NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Geographic Society and other leading organizations; allow leading scientists to work side by side with JASON students; and challenge students to apply their knowledge to the real-world scenarios scientists face every day.
Journey North engages students in a global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change. K-12 students share their own field observations with classmates across North America. They track the coming of spring through the migration patterns of monarch butterflies, robins, hummingbirds, whooping cranes, gray whales, bald eagles, and other birds and mammals; the budding of plants; changing sunlight; and other natural events. Find migration maps, pictures, standards-based lesson plans, activities and information to help students make local observations and fit them into a global context.
GoNorth! is a free adventure-learning program for the K-12 classroom developed at the University of Minnesota. Students can follow the team of educators, scientists, and K-12 teacher-explorers as they dogsled live to five circumpolar Arctic locations. The online education program is anchored in natural and social science curricula for K-12 classrooms. GoNorth! provides each participating classroom with a free 300-plus page curriculum and activity guide. Activities on the trail are synched real-time to the curriculum.
Flat Classroom Project
The Flat Classroom™ Project is a global collaborative project that joins together middle and senior high school students. One of the main goals of the project is to "flatten" or lower the classroom walls so that instead of each class working isolated and alone, two or more classes are joined virtually to become one large classroom. This is done through the Internet using Web 2.0 tools, such as Wikispaces and Ning, to make communication and interaction among students and teachers from all participating classrooms easier. The topics studied and discussed are real-world scenarios based on The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.
Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trips
The Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trips are interactive multimedia educational programs focused on themes and stories from American history. They include a live television broadcast and a companion website with student activities and teacher resources for use in grades 4-8. Each of the components of a field trip can be used alone or together, allowing you to customize the experience for your classroom.
NASA Quest Challenges are web-based, interactive explorations designed to engage students in authentic scientific and engineering processes. The content of NASA Quest Challenges follows real NASA tasks with the goal of involving young people in developing tomorrow's solutions, while inspiring them toward careers in science and engineering. As students work in teams to mirror NASA career roles, agency experts are available to answer questions and encourage a proper design process. The interaction with scientists occurs via Q&A, chats, interactive webcasts, and posted feedback on the website.
The GLOBE Program
GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) is a worldwide, hands-on, primary and secondary school-based science and education program. GLOBE supports students, teachers and scientists to collaborate on inquiry-based investigations of the environment, working in close partnership with NASA and NSF Earth System Science Projects (ESSPs) in study and research about the dynamics of Earth's environment.
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