January 24, 2019

Now that reindeer games and year-end holidays are over, it’s time to get serious — about fun and games! With forethought, games can be a terrific way to engage students in meaningful learning in a relaxed and supportive environment. Here are three ideas:

Play with numbers. Some students feel anxious just thinking about math. Structured play with numbers might be just what they need! Y4Y’s Afterschool Training Toolkit has math game tips, templates and examples for targeting areas where your students could use extra help, whether it’s fractions, problem-solving skills, or big ideas like symbols and patterns. Math games can be competitive or cooperative, single-player or multiplayer. Math play could be part of a treasure hunt (reading x and y coordinates on a treasure map), a foot race (timing the race and ranking the finishers), a bake-off (measuring ingredients and using a rating scale) or an art project (finding geometric shapes in paintings). Finding math in everyday activities isn’t hard, once you know where to look! Considering an online math game, or a game related to financial literacy? Guidelines in the Afterschool Training Toolkit can help you choose wisely.

Play with words. Creating and performing poems, raps, riddles, jokes and jingles feels like play, but these activities build mental muscle. It’s OK to start small: Let’s see how many words your team can list in 60 seconds that rhyme with “hat.” The Y4Y Literacy course has ideas for playing with sounds. It also has ideas for improving vocabulary. For example, you could award points to students “caught” using a word of the day in conversation or in writing. You could start by introducing words they might hear on TV (like endgame) or at school (like theory), and everyday words with multiple meanings (like cloud). Look for opportunities to make this a natural part of regular program activities, such as homework time and field trips. You could also check with school-day teachers for vocabulary ideas. Be sure to play along by using the word of the day yourself!           

Play “what if.” Scientists and researchers play the “what if” game for a living. For example, what if you’re landing a spacecraft on another planet, and you need to slow down to avoid a crash landing? If you’re a NASA engineer, solving problems like this is part of your job. NASA’s “Parachuting Onto Mars” engineering design challenge invites students to think like an engineer by creating and testing possible solutions. Working in teams, they’ll practice problem-solving, math and collaboration skills as they compete against other teams for the honor of saying “We did it!”

Purposeful play can build students’ confidence and skills. It can offer new angles on subjects they’re learning about in school. It’s easy to get started. Many of the ideas described above can add an element of fun to what you’re already doing. Talk it over with your team, and see what they think!

 


January 24, 2019

Do your students think of scientists as loners in lab coats? Citizen science can change their minds and spark new interests — especially when you add social media to the mix.

Citizen science enlists people of all ages in collecting and sharing data for research purposes. It’s nothing new. In fact, the first Farmers’ Almanac more than 200 years ago relied on the general population for data, although they didn’t call it crowdsourcing at that time. It’s a way for your students to work and learn with others, either virtually or in real time, on authentic science projects. For some, the experience could be a game changer. It might even spark an interest in subjects and careers that previously seemed beyond their reach.

There’s a citizen science project to match just about every interest area, and several involve social media:

  • Fascinated by creepy-crawly things? Do a bioblitz! It’s a species inventory that involves observing, recording and documenting living things in a well-defined area in a short period of time. This group project will get students working and talking together in real time — plus they can use apps like iNaturalist and Fieldscope to share and discuss their findings with other citizen scientists across the world. Get instructions for a do-it-yourself bioblitz from National Geographic. Watch this 2.5-minute video to hear what students and organizers say about their schoolyard bioblitz experience.
  • Enjoy word games? The VerbCorner website collects data from humans as they play word games to help computers better understand the nuances of the English language. The site includes an online discussion forum.
  • Are you a cloud watcher? Download NASA’s GLOBE Observer app, contribute your observation data, and connect to the project’s worldwide community of cloud observers via Facebook and Twitter.    
  • Interested in innovation? Visit citizenscience.gov for a U.S. government-wide listing of citizen science and crowdsourcing projects designed to help local, state and federal agencies accelerate innovation through public participation.
  • Want more options? Citisci.org lets you participate in projects created by other citizen scientists or create your own. SciStarter lets you search for projects that match your interests and track your contributions. Scientific American features a variety of real science projects to join. Zooniverse has citizen science projects in medicine, history, literature, social science, the arts and more. Also try searching on #citizenscience.

For links to more citizen science projects, see the Introduction section of Y4Y’s Citizen Science course. The Coaching My Staff section of the course has resources to help train staff and students. See this Y4Y blog post for pointers on integrating technology into activities.

If you haven’t yet dipped your toes into citizen science activities, take a look! Then bring your planning team together to consider what might fit into your spring and summer sessions.

Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood for crowdsourcing, feel free to share your own citizen science stories and ideas; just look for Leave a Reply below. Your 21st CCLC colleagues will thank you.