Top 7.5 Ways to Use
Legends of Learning Playlists

Game-based learning produces strong performance results and engagement. Playlists help teachers manage and deploy games for their classrooms to achieve those results. They are an incredibly versatile tool that provide strategic lesson plan architecture, real-time data and control, and performance analytics.

To help teachers we’ve compiled a list of the top seven (and a half) ways teachers can use playlists with their students:

1. Introduce science content – LoL playlists can provide a great introduction to new concepts. Each game contains a significant amount of content, so students can visualize new science concepts in a fun, interactive environment before listening to a lecture or opening a textbook.

2. Mid-unit refresh – After a few days of teaching the same topic, it can start to get stale for students. Reinforce and invigorate your lessons by deploying a playlist in the middle of the unit. Keep it fresh with a little fun!

3. Homework – Looking for take-home exercises that don’t involve a worksheet? Now you can build a playlist and set it to launch at a future date, for a set period of time. Your students might even want to do their homework!

4. Monday warm-up – It’s amazing how much students can forget content over the weekend. Use games and quiz questions in Legends of Learning playlists to ease them back into the swing of learning science for the week.

5. Assess progress – One of the best features playlists offer are assessment questions. This item lets you gage student knowledge and progress anywhere in a playlist; before, after, or in between games. You will know whether students are getting the larger lesson or not in real-time.

6. Stations – If your students are rotating through stations, between labs and other activities, playlists are a perfect addition; you can build them to last as little as ten minutes. This is a good option for classrooms that do not have one-to-one device access.

7. Test Review – Study guides, jeopardy, and practice tests help students prepare for tests from many different angles. Playlists add another element, mixing engaging gameplay with strong subject matter review.

7.5. Past unit recall – In that same vein (thus, the 7.5), if your students need to review foundational concepts you taught them months ago, launch a playlist for their blast from the past! This can be particularly useful for highlighting NGSS Crosscutting Concepts (CCC), which you can read about on our blog.

You can learn more about playlists on our help site. Log in today, and create a playlist for your next lesson!

What Are Crosscutting Concepts and Why Do They Matter?

In our last NGSS blog, we took a closer look at the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), the standards’ mechanism for organizing science content. This blog discusses another, more abstract pillar of the NGSS’s three-dimensional learning model, crosscutting concepts (CCCs).

The CCCs are ideas that apply across the entire range of DCIs, and NGSS defines seven of them:

  1. 1) Patterns – Observed patterns in nature guide organization and classification and prompt questions about relationships and causes underlying them.
  2. 2) Cause and Effect – Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. Deciphering causal relationships, and themechanisms by which they are mediated, is a major activity of science and engineering.
  3. 3) Scale, Proportion, and Quantity – In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different size, time, and energy scales, and to recognize proportional relationships between different quantities as scales change.
  4. 4) Systems and System Models – A system is an organized group of related objects or components; models can be used for understanding and predicting the behavior of systems.
  5. 5) Energy and Matter – Tracking energy and matter flows, into, out of, and within systems helps one understand their system’s behavior.
  6. 6) Structure and Function – The way an object is shaped or structured determines many of its properties and functions.
  7. 7) Stability and Change – For both designed and natural systems, conditions that affect stability and factors that control rates of change are critical elements to consider and understand.

With CCCs, teachers can deliver new content in the context of older material taught successfully, adding continuity to the long-term science curriculum.

Legends of Learning Ambassador April T. says, “[t]here is a big push to make sure that our students are becoming comfortable identifying and explaining the SEPs and CCCs that are being presented in our different units and activities.” This push is important, but it comes with challenges.

Smithsonian Science Education Center Director Katya Vines points out that interweaving CCCs with DCIs and SEPs “will certainly be challenging to American teachers not used to this way of teaching. It will require a strong concept-based curriculum, additional teacher training, and appropriate assessment materials.”

While science curricula traditionally focus on specific content, the NGSS’s “three-dimensional” approach places importance on ideas that are more abstract and can be more tougher for students to learn, and for teachers to teach.

Getting Teachers on Board with CCCs

With these challenges in mind, making sure teachers understand how CCCs work and why they are necessary is key. The California Academy of Sciences compares the concept of CCC to a study of how expert and novice chess players organize information:

Expert chess players think about groups of pieces and the strategic moves they can make, while novices tend to focus on the individual pieces. Like the expert’s mindset, CCCs group pieces of scientific information by broader similarities to fully understand each piece’s importance.

Learning science without CCCs is more like the novice perspective, failing to consider how the different scientific principles relate to each other across the broader field of science.

Bringing CCCs to Students

The next challenge is actually teaching students. As unfamiliar as teachers may be with CCCs, students probably struggle more with abstract concepts. This makes NGSS pedagogy crucial to success.

NGSS Writing Team Leader Cary Sneider has a number of tips for teaching CCCs. He recommends targeting only the CCCs that best apply to the grade being taught. Since NGSS outlines detailed performance expectations for each grade, it is fairly simple to determine which CCCs are appropriate.

Sneider continues, “the best time to introduce a crosscutting concept explicitly is after the students have used the concept in two different contexts. So, for example, after the students have studied patterns in plants and animals, and again in relation to weather, the teacher can help the students see how both topics involve patterns, and how identifying patterns helps them better understand those subjects.”

This “learn by doing” approach is useful because students are best able to understand concepts when they see examples. However, it’s not only students who learn by doing; teachers do, too. The next task is finding out what teaching CCCs looks like in practice.

The Research + Practice Collaboratory published a series of worksheets for teachers that “can be used as part of a multi-component assessment tasks—or they can be used in formative assessment discussions in the classroom.” Each worksheet is full of detailed, fill-in-the-blank questions for each of the seven CCCs to apply them to any relevant subject matter.

In addition, Community Resources for Science compiled a webpage with videos, presentations, NGSS publications, NSTA webinars, and a number of in-class exercises that cover CCCs as a whole, as well as each specific concept, to help educators teach them.

Legends of Learning’s 90 learning objectives are based on the content-based DCIs. The resources mentioned in this blog, and more from our upcoming NGSS white paper (which will be found on our resources page), help teachers bring the three-dimensional NGSS model to their classrooms.

Implementing NGSS in the Classroom

Since states began deploying Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) standards seven years ago, 18 states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards in full. Now many schools and teachers are just beginning their NGSS journey. Finding actual curriculum and content challenges implementation.

The NGSS standards seek to create engagement in the classroom. With the NGSS teachers make science learning an active exercise, but finding engaging NGSS content and exercises to achieve that? Now that’s a challenge.

Many teachers visit Legends of Learning for its NGSS content. There are few wide ranging series of content and lesson items for the entire NGSS suite, much less the entire middle school suite (Earth and Space, Life, and Physical sciences). Others are looking for more depth to help students get a grasp of the content.

“For me, the hardest part of implementing NGSS has been that at times I feel like the standards ‘gloss over’ certain topics, then dive straight into others in a lot of detail,” said April T., a Legends of Learning Ambassador. “Sometimes when I feel like if I follow the standards as they are written (with the instructional boundaries/limits), that my students might not have the background they need to learn new material later in the year or in the next grade level.”

Implementation Requires Science, Engineering, and Crosscutting Techniques

While there is great content built off of the NGSS DCI content system available, there is still a wide range of activities that teachers need to take on. Successful implementation requires a multidimensional approach to teaching to be the norm in every science classroom. This requires extending beyond the traditional content first approach. Now teachers must focus on science and engineering practices (SEP) and crosscutting concepts (CCC) requires different ways of thinking, lesson planning, and daily instruction.

In the case of SEP, teachers need to implement exercises that help students embrace the principles of scientific inquiry. On the engineering side, teachers challenge students to define a problem and resolve it via a solution. Other principles involved in NGSS’s view of SEP, include:

  • Developing and Using Models
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
  • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

About Those Cross-Cutting Concepts

Though more intuitive, CCC teaching challenges educators in different ways. Traditionally, teachers give lessons in an isolated, linear fashion. NGSS assumes that various aspects of science and its topics cut across lessons.

For example, one might learn that seeds germinate and produce plants (Life Science), but weather and climate changes may create new challenges that prevent the plant from successfully growing.

NGSS recommends teachers make sure that students understand the following crosscutting concepts:

  • Patterns
  • Cause and Effect
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  • Systems and System Models
  • Energy and Matter
  • structure and Function
  • Stability and Change

“There is a big push to make sure that our students are becoming comfortable identifying and explaining the SEPs and CCC’s that are being presented in our different units and activities,” added April T. “We were given 1/2 day PD time this year to plan with our grade level cohort (or as a department, schools go to determine how they wanted to use their time). We came up with an activity or a system (it was pretty open ended) to make sure the SEPs and CCCs are being embedded into our instruction.”

NGSS challenges teachers to create lessons that address all three principles; DCI, SEP, and CCC. Many teachers actively seek out the resources and getting the training to succeed. To help, our next blog in our series will offer a series of content and lesson plan resources to help teachers bring the new standards to the classroom.

35 Earth Day Ideas and Resources for Your Science Classroom

Earth Day is coming up, April 22! This year, Earth Day Network, the nonprofit dedicated to growing the global environmental movement, asks educators, community members, and others to focus on climate change and environmental literacy. The site already boasts Earth Day ideas and science lesson plans for kindergarten through twelfth grade.

See our Earth Day Activities and Ideas page for free games, additional resources and lesson plans! Or, sign up and explore our full platform of games!

And of course, there are many learning objectives and games within the Legends of Learning platform that you can use to make Earth Day fun and engaging. But you might want to integrate other Earth Day ideas for your classroom, particularly if you’re using blended learning strategies. If that’s your case, we have you covered. We’ve got two giant lists of resources and activities to celebrate Earth Day.

14 Earth Day and Science Activities for Your Middle School Classroom

If you want to forego the usual painting of planet Earth or planting of bean sprouts, consider these 14 ideas. Many offer long-term benefits, inside and outside the classroom.
 

1. Conduct a science experiment. Some students learn by reading or seeing. Others learn through practical application. You can incorporate all your students’ learning styles and levels with Earth Day science experiments. Plus, science experiments give students real-world experience in developing hypotheses, exploring results, and correlating human endeavors to the ecosystem. You’ll want to focus students’ efforts; Earth Day covers a lot of science material. To be most effective, integrate your Earth Day experiments with the science curriculum and learning objectives currently being taught in the classroom.

2. Form a GREEN committee. To make a difference in the local environment, form a GREEN committee of faculty, administrators, and staff. Next, create a corollary committee of students and parents. The two committees work hand-in-hand to organize and oversee environmental projects, such as a community garden or recycling program. The National Wildlife Federation offers an excellent resource for starting an environmental committee at your school.

3. Get outdoors. Ted Wells, a fourth grade teacher, says students need to connect with nature so that they’ll be intrinsically motivated to protect it. With that in mind, get the kids outside. If you’re studying the water cycle or stamens, pistils, and petals, ask students to call out those things as they explore the outdoors.

4. Get some (pretend) funding. Create student research teams and give them a special Earth Day WebQuest, courtesy of Education World. The students’ mission, if they choose to accept it, is to research a critical environmental threat and develop a solution that could win up to $1 million in funding from the fictitious “Help Our World (HOW) Foundation.” The project increases science comprehension and research skills and teaches students how to apply for grant money.

5. Get some Google Cardboard. Virtual field trips on the big screen are one thing, but immersive ones are something else entirely. Invest in Google Cardboard headsets, then take students on a journey via Google Expeditions or The New York Times. Ms. Frizzle’s got nothing on you anymore.

 

6. Hear from an environmental expert. Microsoft claims a multitude of ecological experts, all who would be happy to join your classroom via Skype. Prepare kids for the conversation and, to make sure they take something away from the discussion, ask them to recap what they learned in a paragraph or two.

7. Join the PepsiCo Recycle Rally School Recycling Program. Up the typical recycling ante by participating in PepsiCo’s Recycle Rally. The free, nationwide program offers resources and incentives to “make recycling easy, fun, and rewarding.”

8. Partner with the art teacher. The usual Earth Day arts and crafts may be blasé, but don’t ditch the arts just yet. PBS offers some great Earth Day crafts, some of which can be used in science experiments or outdoor excursions. Plus, some of your students may absolutely adore the “Recycled Cardboard Rings.” If you only teach science in your classroom, buddy up with the art teacher.

9. Plant a garden. Heighten the local aspect of Earth Day with something other than planting a tree. Plant a community garden instead and invite parents to participate. The long-term project will instill a sense of ownership in students and produce fruit and vegetables that can be sold at a local farmers’ market. Another good resource for this activity is KidsGardening, an organization committed to engaging and teaching kids through gardening.

10. Solve a mystery. Give students a “mystery box” of supplies and task them with creating a product that solves an environmental challenge. The assignment will encourage creativity, critical thinking, dialogue, and collaboration.

How are you celebrating Earth Day in class?
 

11. Start a recycling program. Kids learn what they practice, so implement a recycling program this Earth Day. Accompany the effort with lessons about why recycling is important and how “reduce, reuse, and recycle” makes the world a better place for everyone. To expand the program across your school, check out RecycleWork’s guide.

12. Take your students on a virtual field trip. If you can’t go to the desert or visit the polar bears, bring them to you with Discovery Education. You can view archived footage or join an upcoming Virtual Field Trip. You can even share science and engineering opportunities by taking your students on a virtual tour of 3M. Now that’s snazzy.

13. Turn your students into film directors. Enhance students’ critical and creative thinking abilities by transforming them into film directors. With the Tellagami app, students can create animated videos about a local or global environmental issue and share it with the classroom on Earth Day.

14. Visit a local museum or science center. Get kids out of the classroom for the day and take them on an exploration of a local museum or science center. Tie the trip to learning objectives to guarantee engagement and impact.

21 Earth Day and Earth Science Resources

Use Earth Day to teach students about preserving natural areas, such as coral reefs.
 

If you want to do some Earth Day sleuthing, check out these 21 sites. They feature lesson plans, activities, and additional resources.

1. 48 Days of Blue, backed by the National Aquarium, provides challenges you can use throughout the year. This is a great resource if trying to extend climate and environmental literacy to students’ home lives. The challenges also are great fun, including things like a “Lights Out Dinner” and “Beware of Vampires.”

2. The American Museum of Natural History only offers a few environmental and ecological lessons, but they’re robust. Your students can explore existing case studies and scientific data to learn about scientists at work today, to analyze findings, and to grow their understanding about the relationship of man and environment.

3. BBC Science & Environment gives a global perspective on climate change and environmental issues. Not everything will apply to Earth Day or middle school science learning objectives, but you’re sure to find something to entice and inspire students—maybe, for instance, this article about air pollution.

4. Earth Day Network’s lesson plans, contests, and activities align with Next Generation Science and Common Core standards. You’ll find resources for all grade levels, as well as an abundance of Earth Day and general science concepts.

5. Education World offers more than 24 classroom activities, across several grades. Most of the activities coordinate with other subjects, helping your students apply their scientific know-how in different contexts.

 

6. Environmental Protection Agency recognizes teachers, scientists, and citizen activists for their work to protect the New England environment. Your classroom could participate in an environmental activity, which you could then nominate for the EPA’s Environmental Merit Award. The application provides several criteria that can be used to define a classroom project. The EPA also offers a number of Earth Day events and projects that can be tailored to the classroom. And, if those two things aren’t enough, you can always look into the EPA’s Environmental Kids Club.

7. Get to Know contains a variety of educational resources related to Earth Day and science. The activities include raising tadpoles, converting salt water into drinking water, and studying fractals via “snow paint.”

8. Google Maps for Education. You’ll love this resource. It’s so much fun! Google’s mapping tools allows teachers and students to “explore, create, and collaborate.” The combination of ecology and geography teaches students how humans and the environment interact and affect each other.

9. Green Education Foundation focuses on “creating a sustainable future through education.” The site shares a couple of interesting ideas, including the organization’s “Adopt-a-Plant” contest.

10. NASA ClimateKids offers all sorts of resources and activities, ranging from online games to videos. The site even features a “dream” section, which teaches kids about opportunities to work in an environmental field. NASA ClimateKids also includes a number of lesson plans and ideas for educators.

 

11. National Education Association provides Earth Day curriculum resources that span all grade levels. The resources linked to here are for sixth through eighth grade. They include individual and group projects that help students develop investigative and collaboration skills.

12. National Environmental Education & Training Foundation offers a “Greening STEM Educator Toolkit.” You’ll want to give the resource a look if desiring to teach climate change and the environment as cross-curricular concepts.

13. National Wildlife Federation provides all sorts of fun resources and programs. For example, you can get students involved in the “Young Reporters for the Environment,” an environmental journalism competition for kids ages 13 to 18.

14. Nature Works Everywhere is on a mission to “help educators teach how nature works.” The site includes everything from videos and lesson plans to garden tools. Nature Works Everywhere is another place to go for virtual field trips, too.

15. PBS Nature offers a lot of video content that can support Earth Day and physical science lessons. The site boasts a number of films, with many of them exploring how humans impact ecosystems. Many of the videos come with supplementary materials that can be used in the classroom or home.

 

16. Project Learning Tree offers suggestions for how to incorporate the environment into your science lessons, helping students engage in learning inside and outside the classroom. The program has received several awards for its work in helping educators, parents, and community leaders teach kids.

17. Project Wet provides lesson plans specific to water and conservation. The organization’s mission statement says it all: “We envision a world in which action-oriented education enables every child to understand and value water, ensuring a sustainable future.”

18. ReadWriteThink offers lessons plans and parent and afterschool resources for just about every grade and learning level. Much of the activities emphasize writing and literacy. Visit this website if you want to strengthen students’ science, writing, and critical thinking skills.

19. ScienceNetLinks is another go-to spot for lesson plans and resources spanning all grade levels. You’ll want to make note of ScienceNetLink’s ““How We Know What We Know about Our Changing Climate.” It provides a wonderful introduction to climate change and the environment.

20. Teachers Pay Teachers offers 14 activities designed for middle school and high school. Many of the ideas are cross-curricular, as with the Scientific Notation and Water Conservation” resource and the “Financial Costs and Benefits of Going Green.” Some of the resources are free, but others require a nominal fee.

21. USDA Forest Service focuses on national forests and grasslands. The site’s “Educator Toolbox” contains vetted resources and professional development opportunities. Some of the organization’s educational themes include climate change, exploring the great outdoors, and wildfires.

With all the Earth Day ideas and resources listed here, you’ll have plenty of choices for tools to teach, engage, and inspire your students. Now, onward, heroes. Let’s be legendary this Earth Day by using some Google Cardboard or starting a community garden.

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