Tuesday, June 14, 2016

5 Unique Learning Opportunities That Your Intermediate Students Will Love

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In my most recent post, I suggested that summer is a great time to research unique learning opportunities in which your students can participate during the next school year, especially if deadlines, fees, and applications are involved. With a little digging, you can find some pretty interesting events, contests, and curriculum extras to engage and challenge your students!

In today's post, I'm sharing five very cool such options for upper elementary and middle school classrooms that I recommend checking out. 

1. Electronic Field Trips (EFT)

The world is so much smaller thanks to technology. Students can now see and experience places, people, and cultures that they might never have encountered otherwise. With electronic field trips, students can "visit" places, sometimes in real-time, without ever leaving the classroom. Ahh...just imagine. No permission slips. No loud bus rides. No constant head counts.

Here are two examples:

My classes took part in these EFTs, and they were amazing! My students loved them. Since I last used this resource, it appears that the live broadcasts have been discontinued. Instead, however, they have turned to their HERO multimedia library that includes videos, lesson plans, and other resources about life in Colonial and Revolution-era America that you can access. You can sign up for a free account, but there is a fee involved for school-wide access to the library for the year. The material is high-quality and engaging, and it's a fantastic supplement to social studies curricula. You'll get the most for your fee if you register before the year starts, and that will also give you time to go through and choose material.

I have not used these EFTs; however, in browsing through the collection of EFTs available, they seem to be high-quality and varied in social studies and science content and feature diverse US national park locations. These are not real-time videos; however, you can watch them for free in segments whenever you wish. Each EFT includes a video and a corresponding Web site that is rich in resources to use in conjunction with the EFT. The service appears to be free, which is a BONUS!

This is one of those opportunities I found out about just a little to late to incorporate into my classes, but I would have loved to have my students be a part of it. The YLI mock election is "the largest secure, student-only, online mock election in the nation, using electronic ballots tailored to each student's home legislative district." It takes place during the mid-late part of October and includes many resources and options for teachers to conduct an election tailored to their students and their area of residence. You must register for this mock election, and the activity and resources are FREE!  

We did this activity school-wide for several years, and it was very cool! Every student had the opportunity to write a book and have it hardbound published for FREE. This program, created by Student Treasures, involves each student or class (depending on whether you choose an individual or class book project) receiving a book-writing packet that includes everything they need to create their books (ex. instructions, lined & unlined final pages for writing and illustrations, cover page, dedication page, etc.). Each teacher/school chooses a publishing date, all of which have been established by Student Treasures, so teachers need to plan this project with the submission deadline in mind since all packets must be sent in together before the deadline. Under the guidance and instruction of the teacher, students then write their stories and create colored illustrations for them. In my case, I used this project to practice the writing process--brainstorming, drafting, peer reviewing, revising/editing, planning illustrations, and rewriting, and we spent several months working on the books. I must warn you, though, that executing this program requires a lot of planning so start early! 

I was not the coordinator at our school, but from what I understood then and understand now, the publishing programs are tailored to student age groups (K-6, Middle School, High School, etc.). You simply provide the information to Student Treasures about grade levels and type of book you want students to create, and they determine the program that fits those needs. Again, this worthwhile project is FREE to you, and each student received one FREE hardbound copy of their book. (Parents can order multiple copies of the book using an order form found in the packet.) You can request a free sample packet at Student Treasures' Web site. I can't relay to you how excited students were to receive their books and see their work published. It was amazing!

4. Content-Area Contests

Contests are a great way for students to showcase their talents and, in some case, win prizes for it! I am lumping all of the cool contests I found into one section here because I'm leaving it up to you to decide which of the many out there would fit your needs. There are several different Web pages dedicated to listing contests open to upper elementary and middle school students. I'm including a link to a good resource/repository of contests here. You can find contests for all subjects. I noticed that some have not been updated for next year, and some are defunct so be sure to check for further information at their respective Web sites. Here are a couple of examples that I found:

Cricket magazine is a literary publication for students ages 9-14 and holds contests about a variety of literary topics throughout the year, all of which encourage creativity.

Scholastic Art and Writing Awards involve contests for many art and writing categories in which students enter their pieces based on local program guidelines. These contests are open to public, private, and homeschool students in grades 7-12

NASA keeps an updated calendar list of opportunities for students in grades K-8 to participate in a variety of science and technology related activities, events, and contests. I noticed the word FREE in many of these descriptions, and there's a nice variety of events that take place at NASA locations and virtually (online). Check back as new events are added! 
What do you think? Have you ever incorporated any of these in your classroom? Other suggestions? Leave a comment!

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