My First Virtual Classroom: 5 Tips to Design Your Own

As my own children have gotten older, I have gradually taken on more work “outside the home”. I have substitute taught, tutored, and taught a variety of classes online. As I have begun to teach more virtual classes, I have missed having a classroom space for learning centers, resources, and motivational posters.

For the past few years, I have contracted with VIPKID to teach English to children in China. Most recently, I have been teaching a variety of online science classes through Outschool. While I have been able to build relationships with my students and their families and find joy in teaching, a “classroom” space was the one missing component.

To provide a cohesive place to gather all the resources I share with my students and to aid in communicating with their parents, I recently developed a virtual classroom. It’s been so much fun!

Features of My Virtual Classroom

The virtual classroom provides me with a way to immerse my students in the content and maximize the learning time I have with them each lesson. With a handy video tutorial by Thomas Blackmore I was able to set up my virtual classroom in under an hour.

For my virtual classroom, I’ve decided to only activate a few items this week to challenge my students to find the hidden activities. For my “Junior Naturalists” class, one of the features leads to the document where the students and I share our nature journals. Another leads students to a digitized version of Leonardo da Vinci’s journal.

Next week, I plan to add more active links and perhaps a couple of additional objects to my classroom and an ongoing “What Can it Be?” type of activity with either a microscope or telescope. I also plan to add audio messages in the near future.

I have so many ideas on what else I would like to try within my room! For now, I will share my top five tips for designing your own virtual classroom.

Five Tips to Design Your Virtual Classroom

  1. When inserting images, use “png” or “transparent” in your search query to find objects that have a transparent background. You might also consider Lunapic. Lunapic is a free website where you can make the backgrounds of many images transparent, recolor, or add all sorts of effects.
  2. If you can’t find an image in the exact color you desire, first go to Format options in the menu above (or right-click on the image). Then select an option from the Color menu that appears on the right panel.
  3. If you use Chrome and you want to use your Bitmoji, I suggest adding the Bitmoji Chrome extension. This way you can insert images directly into Google Slides. Alternatively, you can create a file folder with Google Drive and download your favorite images. This helps if you plan on attaching audio files to your Bitmoji (see tip 4). Unfortunately, you cannot copy and paste your sticker from the Bitmoji extension and then add audio to it.
  4. To add audio to an image of your choice, first add the audio file to your slide. Then click on the audio icon and click Replace Image which will appear in the menu bar above. Then either search for the image in Google or upload an image. If the new image is not square, parts of it may be cut off. To correct this, click on the “crop image” icon and adjust the bold, black cropping handles as needed. 
  5. For any objects that you wish to keep stationary (i.e. the floor) I recommend that you add those to the slide master. This will clean up your canvas. With several images, it can get crowded and difficult to isolate a single image to make changes. To access the slide master, click on the Slide – Edit master. Keep in mind that the images you place in the slide master can not be linked to a URL or an audio file.

Youth Activism: Don’t Silence Their Voices

At our weekly Scout meeting earlier this week we talked briefly about how we, as individuals can make a difference. If you do your duty, then you can make a difference and though you are just one person, together youth activism has the power to impact the world.

Youth activism is youth engagement in community organizing for social change. Youth participation in social change focuses more on issue-oriented activism than traditional partisan or electoral politics.

As hard as it seems, it’s possible to make a difference. All it takes is one idea and the right mix of determination and willpower to effect change at the local level. Start with one thing you’re passionate about and find small, local ways to organize and find solutions to the problem. 

Image of youth activist Greta Thunberg with her sign "Skolstrejk for Klimatet"

GRETA THUNBERG

By now, everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist focused on the risks posed by climate change. She began her school climate strike only a year ago. This past week, she inspired over 4 million people to take a stand for climate.

“Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed.”⁣⁣ ~ Greta Thunberg⁣⁣

Greta is great. However, if we center our attention and lift up only the white youth leaders on an international scale, we risk recreating the exact same dynamics of instilling a culture of white supremacy that is present in modern, adult organizing spaces. We risk silencing the voices of black, indigenous, and people of color .

Indigenous youth and adults have been tirelessly leading the fight for climate justice for millennia and yet their voices have not received the same recognition. Let’s celebrate a few of these amazing young activists!

Image of youth activist Autumn Peltier

AUTUMN PELTIER

⁣Autumun Peltier, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in Canada, was appointed chief water commissioner for the Ashinabek Nation and was recently nominated for the 2019 International Children’s Peace Prize, awarded annually to a child who “fights courageously for children’s rights.” She was only 13-years-old when she addressed the UN General Assembly and told world leaders to “warrior up” to protect water.

Image of youth activist Isra Hirsi

ISRA HIRSI

Isra Hirsi, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike. She helped launch the U.S. movement the same month her mother, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, took office. She says the climate crisis “is the fight of my generation, and it needs to be addressed urgently.”

Image of youth activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

XIUHTEZCATL MARTINEZ⁣⁣

Earth Guardians Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is an indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement.⁣⁣ He has fought for climate protections and spoken to large crowds about the effects of fossil fuels on the Indigenous and other marginalized communities since he was six years old. In 2015, Martinez and 21 other youths filed a lawsuit against the US Federal government, Juliana et al. v United States et al. They argue that the federal government is denying their constitutional right to life, liberty and property by ignoring climate change. 

ROOTS & SHOOTS

Are you a young person interested in making change, but don’t know where to start? Or are you an adult who is inspired by the recent wave of youth activism in the U.S. and want to help out? Consider Roots & Shoots; join an established group in your area or start a new group for your homeschool community or at your school.

Roots & Shoots, a program of the Jane Goodall Institute, is a global movement of youth who are empowered to use their voice and actions to make compassionate decisions, influencing and leading change in their communities.

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ~ Jane Goodall

Founded by Jane Goodall in 1991, the goal is to bring together youth from preschool to university age to work on environmental, conservation, and humanitarian issues. Roots & Shoots is a movement for youth just like Greta, Autumn, Isra, and Xiuhtezcatl …. just like you or your children.


Homeschool Science for College Bound Students

As a former elementary science specialist, science has always been a major part of our homeschool. During the grammar and logic stages, I taught each of the kids together following a three year cycle (life, earth, and physical sciences) emphasizing hands-on labs and outdoor experiences.

As the kids have matured and their interests have developed, I have begun to customize their coursework to align with college in mind and their individual career goals. As a result, the courses they have taken (or will have taken in the near future) are unique to each.

*Make sure to enter the giveaway at the end of this post for an online homeschool high school science course. Giveaway ends 8/30/19!

Disclaimer:  I was compensated for my time for this review. All opinions are honest and I was not required to post a positive review.

Options for Homeschool Science

Providing a quality science education through high school is a common concern amongst homeschool families. Considerations like budget, time, and even your own level of comfort are frequent topics of conversation at co-op or in online forums.

There are many different avenues available for teaching science in your homeschool. While traditional textbooks, lab kits, and literature based instruction remain popular, online courses and dual enrollment are gaining momentum.

Dual Enrollment

In our homeschool, we opted for the dual enrollment option. This was the best choice for us for a multitude of reasons but primarily cost. Keep in mind, it is important to take into consideration the aptitude and maturity of the student prior to making this choice. It isn’t for everyone.

Additionally, the grades the student earns in college courses will forever be on their transcript. It is also critical to research the local regulations and admission guidelines of the universities to which your child intends to apply. Not all schools accept dual enrollment credit.

Another related option is credit by examination. Students may earn college credit through examination by passing standardized exams in numerous subjects including biology, chemistry, and natural sciences. Taking an accredited AP course is NOT required. Students may study independently using textbooks, online courses, or even tutors of their choice.

Online Courses

There are a growing number of companies that provide diverse online educational opportunities for students around the world. From computer programming to local ecology, the choices are endless.

Online classes are not just for kids. There are a wealth of courses and materials available for adults providing both personal enrichment and professional development.

College Prep Science

One provider that stands out is College Prep Science. I am impressed by the acumen of the author. He has worked as a college professor, has more than twenty years of experience teaching homeschooled students, and he’s a homeschool dad!

The course offerings are diverse, here are a few that will be offered September 2019:

  •  Biology – College Prep (9th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Chemistry – College Prep (10th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Physics – College Prep (10th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology (9th-12th) – Two Semester Class
  • Exercise and Sports Physiology (8th-12th) – One Semester Class

Like most public and private schools, College Prep Science uses a virtual lab service with all classes that allows students to perform very realistic labs online. Students are able to virtually pour liquids and chemicals, light burners, move things in the lab, weigh things, measure temperatures, record results, etc.

The courses provided by College Prep Science are Christ-centered.

Students are instructed on how to produce quality lab reports and they turn-in formal lab reports which are graded. Emphasis is placed on students understanding scientific inquiry, the scientific method, and the resulting science lab reports.

“We focus on building critical thinking skills and developing a research and inquiry mindset with the resulting quality lab reports and thinking skills that affect every area of academics and life.”  ~ Greg Landry, College Prep Science

Summer Camps & Weekend Intensives

Often you can also find incredible summer opportunities at your state university. A year ago, my daughter took part in a week long intensive engineering camp where she was able to take part in authentic research, connect with professors in her prospective field, and make friends with other teens with the same goals.

College Prep Science

College Prep Science offers two day Biology and Chemistry Lab Intensives in 15 locations nationwide. Parents may issue school credit for these as they deem appropriate. According to their website, each two day intensive is the equivalent of a full school year of labs.

They also provide online bootcamps for ACT prep and CLEP Biology prep. For students planning to be science majors in college, doing well on the “science reasoning” section of the ACT is especially important. 

Online Science Class Giveaway

To enter this amazing giveaway of an online science class ($680 value) from College Prep Science, you’ll need to subscribe to their newsletter. One winner will be announced in their newsletter on August 30, 2019.

Teaching homeschool science with college in mind does not have to be overwhelming. I hope these options can help you successfully navigate high school science. Best wishes with the giveaway!

SESEY 2018: Summer Experiences in Science & Engineering

My daughter has been interested in engineering for as long as I can remember. She’s taken part in a numerous STEM workshops for girls over the years. Last summer, she had the amazing opportunity to take part in a summer intensive workshop (SESEY) at the university where she plans to enroll.

SESEY was created to encourage traditionally underrepresented groups to explore the world of engineering and to consider careers in its variety of fields. Initiated by Oregon State University in 1997, SESEY is coordinated by the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering.

Working in the lab as part of her summer intensive workshop at Oregon State University

Participants have the opportunity to interact directly with university students – to ask questions about campus life and how to balance their course load. Presentations and tours of each department are provided to help students better understand the diverse options in engineering.

Learn how to encourage girls in STEM careers with these fun activities.

Best of all, participants have the unique experience of taking part in an authentic research project. Working in small groups, they apply the inquiry method to real life issues. At the end of the week, they present their findings in poster format at the annual DaVinci days celebration.

My daughter was overjoyed to be assigned to the one environmental engineering project this past year – Bioremediation of Chlorinated Solvents Using Aerobic Microorganisms. Here’s a peak at her poster:

The program – especially the professors and university student volunteers who collaborated to make it happen – has cemented her desire to pursue a career in chemical and environmental engineering. She will be applying for admission soon.

You might also be interested in the engineering unit I developed, World’s Tallest Buildings. This short unit study includes a timeline project, integrated writing assignment, and an oral presentation.

Have your teens taken part in summer learning experiences or weekend intensive courses? I would love to hear about opportunities in other parts of the country.

Celebrate America’s Independence and Explore the Science of Fireworks

With Independence Day upon us this week, the fireworks stands are popping up all over town.  With the dry weather and heat wave many are experiencing this year, I am confidant many cities will be enforcing strict prohibitions against fireworks.  Why not then take the time to explore the science of fireworks and perhaps try making a few simple ones yourself?

Learn about the science of fireworks with this awesome video. How do fireworks work? Where do the cool colors come from? What makes the big explosions?

Creating firework colors requires considerable art and application of science. Excluding propellants or special effects, the points of light ejected from fireworks, termed ‘stars’, generally require an oxygen-producer, fuel, binder (to keep everything where it needs to be), and a color producer.

The bright colors visible when fireworks explode are a result of pyrotechnic stars —pellets of chemicals that generate certain colors or produce sparking effects when burned. When the bursting charge is ignited, the main fuel explodes first, transferring energy to the colorant chemicals, which prompts these chemicals’ electrons to move into an excited state. Then, moments later, when the colorant chemicals cool and the electrons fall back to their base state, they release the extra energy as colorful radiation when they are flying through the sky. The specific color depends on the chemical:
fireworks
To achieve unusually-shaped fireworks, such as double-rings, hearts or stars, technicians pack the fuel and colorant chemicals inside a tube in different formations. Chemists design fireworks to burn as slowly as possible, rather than explode rapidly – a slower burn means that a visual effect will last longer and cover a greater area of the sky. To achieve this, the fuel and oxidizer chemicals used are relatively large-grained, about the size of a grain of sand. Additionally, chemists avoid mixing the fuel and oxidizer together thoroughly, making it more difficult for them to burn.

Flame Photometry

If you wish to delve into the science of fireworks even further, consider undertaking flame photometry experiments.  Rainbow Fire, is an exciting activity kit that you may wish to consider; it is available for purchase at Science Buddies. The necessary materials and the experimental procedure are outlined for you on their website.  Of course, adult supervision is required.  The four chemicals used in the kit are:

  • Copper sulfate
  • Strontium chloride
  • Boric acid
  • Sodium chloride

Things to Ponder

  • How are the colors produced by a chemical when it burns related to the atomic structure of the chemical?
  • What is flame spectrometry and how is it used by physicists and chemists?
  • How does this science project relate to what astronomers do when they are trying to identify the atomic makeup of a star?
  • What are metal ions? In the chemicals used in this science project, which elements in the compounds are metals?

Black Snake Fireworks

Do you remember watching long carbon worms emerge from growing tablets our parents lit with matches on the 4th of July?  For a simple do-it-yourself recipe, a homemade black snake is sure to delight.

Science with Harry Potter: The Magic of Motion (Physics)

Charms is a core class and subject taught at both Hogwarts and  Ilvermorny Schools of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is a required subject for all students. Throughout the course, students learn specific wand movements and proper pronunciation of the charms outlined in their course texts.

Levitation

You don’t need a magic wand to create levitating objects. Simple gather a few things from around the house and you will be underway.

1. Levitating Ping Pong Ball

You only need two things to perform this science experiment.

  • Ping pong ball
  • Drinking straw (preferably a bendy straw)

Procedure:

  1. For the best results, use a bendy straw instead of a regular straight straw. Bend the neck 90 degrees so it points straight up. While holding the straw with one hand, hold the ping pong ball over the end.
  2. Blow a constant breath of air into the straw under the ping pong ball.  If the air pressure is strong enough, it will lift the ball off the tip of the straw and the ball should be able to float at least one inch off the straw.

How does it work? Simply put, it’s air pressure.  The air coming from the straw is moving faster than the air around it, and this means that it also has a lower air pressure than the air around it.  The ball is kept within the column of lower air pressure because of the higher-pressure air surrounding it.

2. Static Flyers

In this experiment, if you know how static electricity works, you can make the students at Hogwart’s envy your skills. Here’s a great TEDEd video to get you started, The Science of Static Electricity.

  • Plastic produce bag
  • Balloon
  • Cotton towel

Procedure:

  1. Use a pair of scissors to cut a strip from the open end of the produce bag. Once the strip is cut, you should have a large plastic band.
  2. Blow up the balloon to its full size and tie off the opening end. Rub the the surface of the balloon for 1 minute with the cotton towel.
  3. Flatten the plastic band on the table surface and gently rub the towel on the band for 1 minute.
  4. Hold the plastic band about one foot over the balloon and let go. The plastic band should levitate.

How does it work?

Rubbing the towel against the balloon and the plastic band transfers a negative charge to both objects. The band floats above the balloon because the like charges repel one another. If you really want to impress someone, just tell them that it’s a demonstration of “electrostatic propulsion and the repulsion of like charge.”

In a related demonstration you may have tried picking up small pieces of paper confetti with a charged balloon. Though the paper isn’t charged, it is attracted to the balloon because the negative charge on the balloon repels the electrons in the paper, making them (on average) farther from the balloon’s charge than are the positive charges in the paper.

As something gets farther away, the electrical forces decrease in strength. Therefore, the attraction between the negatives and positives is stronger than the repulsion between the negatives and negatives. This leads to an overall attraction. The paper is said to have an induced charge.

3. Levitating Spiral Orb

One more fun activity is the Levitating Orb. For this one, you’ll need:

  • PVC Tube about 60cm long (a regular balloon will also work)
  • Mylar tinsel (typically used to decorate Christmas trees)
  • Cotton towel (or your clean hair)
  1. Arrange 6 strands of mylar together and tie them together in a knot at one end. Do the same at the opposite end (each knot should be about 15 cm apart). Cut off any excess strands on the ends that protrude beyond the knot.
  2. Charge the PVC tube by rubbing the towel back and forth along the length of the tube for about 30 seconds.
  3. Hold the mylar orb (by the knot) above the charged tube and let it drop and touch the tube.
  4. It should repel away and start floating. If the tinsel keeps sticking to the tube, the tinsel is probably not thin enough and you will need to try another kind of tinsel. You will also need to “recharge” the tube each time.

Projectile Motion

In the Harry Potter movie The Sorcerer’s Stone, Malfoy throws Neville’s remembrall and Harry races after it, making a spectacular catch (all while flying on broomsticks).

Magical Motion ~ Using this film as a starting point, students are immersed in concepts related to projectile motion. They explore the relationships between displacement, velocity, and acceleration.

Projectile Magic ~ In the next lesson, they learn to use equations of linear motion to describe the behavior of a system as a function of time.

This post is part of a five-day hopscotch. Join me each day this week as we dive into each course.

Herbology (Botany)

Care of Magical Creatures (Zoology)

Potions (Chemistry)

Alchemy Astronomy & Divination (Geology)

Magical Motion (Physics) – this post