Luis von Ahn: Computer Scientist

indexMeet Louis von Ahn, computer scientist and professor at Carnegie Mellon who is already at the top of his field at age 30!  In this video for grades 6-12 from NOVA scienceNOW, students can learn about one of his most successful ideas—CAPTCHA—a test that humans can pass but computers cannot, which has been used to improve the security of Internet sites.  They’ll also discover how he comes up with his innovative ideas, and how CAPTCHAs have been reinvented to help digitize old books.  Resources include background essay, discussion questions and National Standards/Benchmarks for Science Literacy.

PreK-12 Model Curriculum Units From ESE

WGBH EducationAs part of a Race to the Top proposal, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) is developing 100+ Model Curriculum Units (MCUs)to help you use the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks (incorporating the Common Core State Standards).  They span PreK-12 in English language arts, Mathematics, U.S. History/Social Studies, and Science and Technology Engineering.

Each unit identifies the standard(s) to be taught, big understandings, essential questions, a Curriculum Embedded Performance Assessment (CEPA), an outline of lessons, possible digital resources to use, and detailed lesson plans. As media partner for this project, WGBH in Boston will provide digital resources via PBS LearningMedia.

Units are posted on the ESE website at the link below. Many are in draft form and ready for a Try-Out phase. Follow these steps to access the MCUs for a 2-week period, after which you can continue to request access for an unlimited number of times.

1)   Visit

2)   Complete the short form. An access link will be sent to your email address.

3)   Check your email inbox for a message from “ESE Administration”

4)   Open the message and click the link to the website.

5)   Select a unit of interest to you.

You can also visit for updates on the units and links to thousands of free digital learning resources.

PBS LearningMedia Theme: The Science of Winter

7_slideshow Snow is likely to become a part of our landscape before long.  This week PBS LearningMedia features resources to dig into the science beneath the ice and snow to better appreciate the wonders of the winter season.  You and students can explore hibernation, snowflake physics, and the ecosystems of Earth’s polar regions with:

Joy Learno:  snowman (PreK-1) :  Talk show host, Joy Learno, interviews a snowman who likes to crack jokes about snow and ice .  Then the snowman starts to melt. This video segment from Between the Lions provides a resource for language and vocabulary development.

Why Do Snowflakes Come in So Many Shapes and Sizes? (Grades 6-8):  In this lesson students build an apparatus that creates conditions similar to a winter cloud and produce their own snow crystals indoors.  They learn about the molecular forces that shape ice crystals, and gain a deeper understanding of the states of matter.

Inspiration from Hibernation (Grades 6-12):  From NOVA scienceNOW’s “Can We Live Forever?” this video teaches how research on animal hibernation may lead to the successful development of drug therapies for humans.

Life on the Ice (Grades 9-13+):  In this video from the National Science Foundation and the Desert Research Institute, learn about WAIS Divide, an ice core project on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and hear from the people involved in the hard work and light-hearted fun that typifies day-to-day life in the WAIS Divide camp.

3 Design Squad Challenges To Teach Problem-Solving

imagesOne of the BIG lessons we can teach students is to be confident in their problem solving, especially when they make mistakes or have undesirable outcomes.  Since it’s never too soon to be determined and dauntless in tackling challenges, here are three challenges from Design Squad for budding engineers, even when they don’t think they can be scientists someday.

Teach your students to build their own mini robot out of a toothbrush head, a coin battery and a pager motor. Follow this link to a how-to video and step-by-step instructions.

Challenge your students to design and build an airbag system that can safely land an egg dropped onto the floor. Follow this link to a how-to video and this link to step-by-step instructions.

Students will love building this dance pad that helps them move to the rhythm and step to the beat! Follow this link to a how-to video and this link to step-by-step instructions.

At the Edge of Space: A Frontier Full of Enigmas

nova_hunting_the_edge_of_spaceWGBY will air “At the Edge of Space” on Wednesday, November 20, at 8:00pm.  This NOVA episode takes viewers on a spectacular exploration of the earth-space boundary zone, home to some of nature’s most puzzling and alluring phenomena:  the shimmering aurora, streaking meteors, and fleeting flashes that shoot upwards from thunderclouds, known as sprites that flicker into existence for a mere split-second — 40 times faster than an eye blink.

NOVA rides with scientists in a high-flying weather observation plane as they hunt for sprites and finally succeed in snaring them in 3D video, gaining vital clues to unravel their mystery. NOVA also combines advanced video technology with stunning sequences shot from the International Space Station.  Preview.

NOVA’s Beta site offers many related links, including stunning images galleries.   And at PBS LearningMedia you’ll find nearly 2000 digital resources for space — videos, lesson plans, interactives and more — for grades 6-12 (and younger).  With easy to use search filters for grade, specific content and standards, you can explore, save and file favorites for teaching and learning about this infinite subject.

Granby Teachers Explore WGBY Educator Resources

Granby photo

Just one week ago, teachers from the Granby MA. Public Schools participated in WGBY workshops at the junior/senior high during their professional development day.  JoanVohl Hamilton, a dedicated ELA teacher there, was a great help in making these workshops happen.  (Here’s a photo of one group with Joan first in the top row and myself front row, fourth from left:).  These K-12 teachers came into the junior/senior computer lab enthusiastic to learn about the rich resources that WGBY’s Community Engagement and Education Department has to offer.  During our two afternoon sessions, they were able to sign up to receive WGBY’s Education Blog and learn about PBS TeacherLine online courses and WGBY’s Lending Library.  One teacher regretted that she had just asked her school librarian to purchase a Ken Burn’s film she could have borrowed for free, and another began checking off TeacherLine courses she can take to support her students’ needs and fulfill her PDP certification requirements.

But the highlight of each workshop was PBS LearningMedia with its now 34,000 — and growing — resources.  After seeing the site’s user-friendly functionality and registering for free, teachers were able to search resources by grade level, content area, standards, and collections.  Some teachers even began saving favorite videos, interactives, and lesson plans to later examine, share, and organize in folders.  While some had to contend with a few tech glitches such as slow computers and blocked sound, teachers’ feedback showed their appreciation for this hands-on opportunity, with many wishing we’d had more time to explore this vast resource!

Design Squads’ November Challenge to Build It Better

While a recently posted Design Squad challenge has closed, here’s another with 25 days left to enter!  Design Squad invites students to enter their Build It Better challenge — to design improvements to things that they use everyday.  During the month of November, the series is presenting three themed design challenges along with matching photos to get students started. Students can use their sketch-on-sketch feature to sketch designs and improvements on top of the provided photos to show how they would make the original item better.

Approved designs will be shared on the Design Squad website and kids can use stickers to vote for their favorites. Nate and Deysi, the show’s motivating engineer hosts, will also share their top picks for each theme on the website. At the end of the month, the designs with the most votes, plus a few that Nate and Deysi choose, will get special virtual stickers to use on their website!

Themes Include:


Watch this video and visit Design Squad’s website to learn more.

Cyberchase: Environmental Themes for Mastering Math Concepts

Kids-Mezzannine-16x9_493Cyberchase is the Emmy award-winning animated math mystery show that features a team of curious kids who use their math and problem solving skills to outwit and outsmart the villain Hacker in their quest to save Cyberspace.  Adventure, environmental science, and math join forces on Monday, November 4, when all-new episodes of Cyberchase build on the epic struggle of good vs. evil with environmental themes relevant to today’s kids and lets kids be the heroes as they master math concepts to solve life’s wacky problems.

For teachers of grades 3-8, Cyberchase will make lesson plans and video clips available for free download through PBS LearningMedia. Right now, you’ll find live-actionFor Real segments exploring the show’s math topics in everyday life.  Here are sample Cyberchase resources with support materials:

Hugs and Witches (Grades 3-5):  A full episode in which Hacker captures Dr. Marbles and Lady Ada Lovelace, and the kids and Digit must decipher a series of poems to save them.

Balancing Equations with Multiple Terms (Grades 3-6):   In this video segment, Digit and Inez must balance two number sentences to save the bunnies of Cyberspace.

Railroad Repair Using Decimal Addition (Grades 3-6):   In this interactive game, students are challenged to use decimal addition to repair a series of train tracks with spare tracks that range in length from 0.1 to 1.0.


PBS TeacherLine Course Catalog for 2013-2014

pbsteacherlineWith PBS TeacherLine’s new catalog you can now explore the over 40 facilitated and self-paced courses that range from science, reading, STEM, social studies and math to instructional strategies/technology.  As you may know, this flexible, online professional development for PreK-12 educators is also available for PDPs, CEUs, or graduate credit.

Teachers from across the country take these courses and attest to their quality.  For example, Liz S., a math educator from N. Andover, Ma., says the course she took was the “best organized and most comprehensive math course I’ve ever taken.”   According to Judy D., special education teacher from Norfolk, Va., “because of PBS TeacherLine courses, I became a better special education teacher and touched the lives of so many young children.”

We’d like to hear from you about your experience taking any of PBS TeacherLine’s course.

Earth Science Week Resources

indexIn recognition of Earth Science Week (October 13-19), invite your students to investigate the relationship between the land, ocean, and the atmosphere. Use the special collection highlighted on the homepage of PBS LearningMediato to illustrate key concepts with student-friendly visualizations and vivid imagery.

Here are two resources aligned to National Standards that you’ll find among many for Earth Science Week:

Lightening Produces Nitrates (Grades 6-12):  In this video excerpt from NOVA: “Earth From Space,” learn about the global impact of lightning and how it produces an essential nutrient for living things. Satellite images show the distribution of electrical storms on Earth and the frequency of lightning strikes. Visualizations and narration describe the formation of lightning and its role in the production of nitrate, a vital nutrient for life. This video also explains how rain transports nitrate to the ground, where it is absorbed by plants and becomes a part of the food chain.

Life on Fire: Measurement (Grades 6-12):  Understand the current technological revolution driven by the extensive use of telemetry to monitor volcanoes and the conflict between the scientists risking their lives to understand and predict the next eruption set against the pragmatism of people who live and work in the shadow of moody volcanoes. See how one scientist measures the seismic activity of a volcano in Papua, New Guinea.