by Heather A. Marshall
I recently found a website that offers free interactive simulations for teacher use focusing on science topics. This website: http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulations/category/new, through the University of Colorado at Boulder, has the sims available for free download. You can browse by category, by new sims, or by grade level. They are sponsored by NSF, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and others. The PhET program is interested in providing research-based simulations of physical phenomena for free to teachers. These simulations can help students visualize some of the concepts we teach in high school in an engaging way, and help students grasp difficult concepts. PhET hopes that teachers will use these sims within lectures, as extensions of classroom activities, integrated into homework assignments, and as additions to more traditional laboratory experiments.
One of the simulations is for glaciers. It allows the user (student) to adjust sea-level and air temperatures and observe the effects on glacier growth and retreat. It also allows students to measure the thickness of the glacier, create multiple fractures with a drill and observe how the fractures move and stretch through the glacier, and other nifty tools. The advanced feature allows students to view graphs associated with the data. Another simulation is for the greenhouse effect, allowing the user to see the differences in temperatures with more or less greenhouse gases, observe photon interactions, and even model the greenhouse effect using glass plates. Simulations include: Natural Selection, Gravity Force, Buoyancy, a Radioactive Dating Game, and many more.
Another big find of the new year is an interactive flashcard set with terms for a high school earth science class. The flashcards can be shuffled or not and cover the introductory topics in an earth science class (such as chemical structure, minerals and rocks). The cards can be manipulated online, printed, downloaded, added to, and more. The earth science cards are posted here: http://www.proprofs.com/flashcards/story.php?title=earth-science-11-vocabulary-2010, and you can even create your own set by clicking the Create Flashcard button on the right-hand side of the screen. Looks like an excellent tool to share with students or use as a classroom tool for test reviews. The ProProfs Flashcard site also has links to an online quiz maker, online brain games, and even SAT preparatory tools.
I use another online site for online testing: www.ClassMarker.com. For $25.00 a year, I can generate and save all of my unit tests and administer them online (in a computer lab or at home) for all of my 180 students. It automatically grades the tests for me, and does a great item analysis breakdown. You create your own standards, so you can completely align the test to your course. The first test I gave on ClassMarker saved me hours in grading and analysis time. I have found that short answer tests are incredibly difficult to do, however. This works best with multiple choice or matching type questions. I am currently looking for better options to be able to administer online tests with greater variety but still able to do the item analysis. If you have ideas, please email me and I will gladly report on them here! firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather Marshall teaches CP geology at Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill and is CSTA’s high school director.