Written By Michael McConnell, STEM Instructor
I am what sociologists call a digital native. Tim Berners-Lee released the first web browser the month after I was born. (I’ll leave it to curious readers to research and calculate when that was.) There is no “pre-internet” part of my life. Computers and the internet are a part of some of my earliest memories.
The internet has changed drastically over the years and not always for the better. What was originally promoted as the ultimate tool to unite the world and freely share all of human knowledge, turned out to be an equally powerful tool for scammers, hate groups, unscrupulous advertisers, and media oligarchs. However, among all the quackery, memes, and viral videos there is still a great deal of educational content not locked away behind paywalls. With so many distractions out there, I think these resources deserve to be highlighted, and given free Search Engine Optimization (SEO) with embedded links.
Khan Academy is the website that is closest to achieving that old utopian view of the internet. It has videos and activities to guide users from preschool numeracy to multivariable calculus. More and more, Khan Academy is branching out into science, history, English, art history, and computer programming. All of this learning is treated alike. Users earn points and unlock features by watching videos, completing assignments, and passing tests.
DK published some of my favorite books in elementary school; big visual encyclopedias about history and science. Now, they’re making that same information available for free online. With interactive photos and diagrams, kids can explore science, history, math, art, and music from a trusted source.
In 2013, the Lifelong Kindergarten Group of the MIT media lab developed Scratch, with the hope of teaching coding to children. Now in its 3rd iteration and is wildly popular. It has an active, supportive, and well moderated community of users. Kids as young as 8 years old can use Scratch to make games, animations, and music. If your young computer programmer isn’t ready for Scratch, there is also ScratchJr for mobile platforms which uses icons instead of text.
PBS Digital Studios
The same network that gave us Arthur, Sesame Street, and Odd Squad is adapting to online media. PBS Digital Studios has great educational content for elementary, middle school, high school students, and adults. They do not include sponsored content or embedded advertisements because, just like their broadcast counterpart, PBS is not funded by advertisers. Instead PBS Digital Studios are made possible by viewers like you.
In the heart of KC, it’s tough to experience Earth’s place in the cosmos by stargazing. WorldWide telescope is a free service that helps bring the stars a little closer. This interactive night sky allows users to view stars, planets, constellations, and deep space objects as if viewing on a perfectly clear night. Click on anything you find in the sky to read more about it. You can also select a premade tour to sit back and learn.
Solar System Treks
Solar System Treks is an amazing tool recently launched by NASA. It allows users to explore Mars, Mercury, Vesta, Titan, Ceres, and the moon. You can scroll around, take measurements, capture 3D models, and even make a custom VR flight path to view on your phone.
From chalk and slate to silicon and radio waves, the fundamentals of education never change. The internet is not entirely a wasteland of misinformation and wasted time. It is a garden. All content can wither or thrive as it is given attention. So, be deliberate in how you and your family use technology. Encourage the best uses and avoid the attention traps.