As an astrophysicist at NASA Ames Research Center, Natalie Batalha is not a name you’ll see in the headlines every day. However, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find her in a recent Washington Post story, the headline of which is, “NASA estimates 1 billion ‘Earths’ in our galaxy alone.” She is the researcher who provided the estimate. Other researchers are now more certain than ever we will have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence within 20 years. And if you truly consider the odds, then we aren’t talking about mere traces of water or finding more microbes, but all-out alien civilizations.
Before we make contact with other worlds, it may be a good idea to get our own house in order, to become fluent in what has been and is currently going on here on Earth, and to explore some tools for tapping into what we slightly more down-to-this planet focused
researchers, teachers, and students like to call the Worldwide Classroom. Here, then, is my list, updated for 2015, of tools, ways, and means for your students to reach out …
iEARN. The slogan here is learning with the world, not just about it. Founded way back in 1988, this nonprofit enables teachers and students to use the internet and other technologies to collaborate on projects that enhance learning and make a difference in the world. We’ve also done a review of it in this issue. Can’t recommend it enough! iearn.org
ePals. This is another tool for teachers, especially the ePals Global Classroom, in which educators can create real-world, culturally enriching learning experiences. For example, matching a high school class studying Chinese with a class studying English in China and getting them together via technology to work on a specially designed project. epals.com
Skype in the Classroom. Thousands of teachers are inspiring the next generation of global citizens through transformative learning experiences. Skype provides a free global community for teachers. Lesson choices abound. American high school students can ask foreign students political questions directly about their elections and troop presence. Middle schoolers can visit with a scientist in his or her actual laboratory. It’s the ultimate field trip, and it’s live learning that’s not just interesting, but momentous. education.skype.com
Newseum. There’s a lot of news out there, some good, some bad, but in any case, it creates a lot of fascinating stories. This is a conversation-inspiring experience you can visit in person if you’re in the Washington, D.C., area, but if not, visit Newseum online for all kinds of great resources. With Newseum, find out why there is more to every story. newseum.org
Dig-It! Games. Created by actual real-life archaeologist and educator Suzi Wilczynski, this is a fascinating chance for students to peek into other times and other civilizations (here on Earth, of course), including Roman and Mayan ruins. Wilczynski’s ultimate goal is to change the way history and science are taught. Who knows how an archaeological approach might just be the mindset one day needed to explore cultures beyond Earth. dig-itgames.com
3rd World Farmer. This is a serious simulation game about global issues showing the struggles of poverty and providing students the opportunity to develop a broader worldview through practical learning. The immersive learning platform helps students connect with global issues often hard to grasp with no real context. 3rdworldfarmer.com
Discovery Education. From digital textbooks to streaming media, this company is tops in presenting content to students in its most interesting format. Students attain mastery by interpreting, understanding, and evaluating data in all subject areas. It’s an unmatched and powerful multimedia resource that aligns to state standards and curriculum requirements. discoveryeducation.com
Global Oneness Project. Who knew there were so many dedicated humanitarian types out there in the world today? Stories on this thoughtful site explore cultural, social and environmental issues with a humanistic lens. Standards-aligned content, lesson plans, and an interdisciplinary approach facilitate development of active, critical thinking in students. Simply preview the homepage: Every story presented makes for an emotional impact. This is an amazing, moving site from people who strongly believe in quality and aren’t afraid to show it through stories of human experience. globalonenessproject.org
National Geographic Education. If you ever find yourself in the position of playing host to a friendly alien who crash-lands on our planet and needs an orientation, this is a perfect vehicle in which to provide a fascinating tour. Considering certain students out there, plenty of teachers can relate all too well to such a scenario; in any case, here’s one of the more interactive, immersive, and classroom-friendly experiences available this side of Jupiter. education.nationalgeographic.com
Project Noah. Classrooms aren’t the only places with lots of wildlife; there’s a lot to learn out of doors as well. A tool to explore and document wildlife and a platform to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere, this website and app lets students from grade school to college discover thousands of organisms from around the world. What’s really amazing is the quality of the photographs (excellent clarity) and the geo-tagged mapping of where on Earth they come from. projectnoah.org
There may be a billion planets just like ours in this very galaxy, but there’s plenty to learn and do right here on our own home planet. The above resources, like a starry sky reflected on a midnight lake, are just glimpses of gold from a deeper well of resources available right at your fingertips. Like Natalie Batalha, you just have to search for them.