February 2011

Online resources that make science fun for all ages

The Internet offers a bevy of resources that make science less intimidating and more exciting. Here, we give a brief rundown of some of our favorites.

Episodes of “Sid the Science Kid,” an interactive cartoon that teaches the basics of experimental science, can be viewed online.

It’s no secret that U.S. students are not as competitive in the sciences as their counterparts in other countries. While this can, in part, be attributed to the way science and math are taught in our nation’s schools, it also stems from students’ lack of interest in science. Fortunately, the Internet offers a bevy of resources that make science less intimidating and more exciting.

Experiencing science through experiments

Websites like Science Kids and Kids Science Experiments expose children to science through a variety of hands-on experiments using reagents that easily can be found around the house. For example, an experiment on Science Kids explains how to make a crystal snowflake using a supersaturated borax solution and some pipe cleaners. Detailed instructions are provided for the experiments on both sites, along with an explanation of the principles involved. The experiments can be easily adapted for classrooms, home or as a presentation at an event. And, when paired with an insightful question, the experiments make great science fair projects. The Science Kids website also has a number of educational games, quizzes and videos.

Anchored in a desire to increase science literacy, Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, created the Science is Fun website. Featuring mostly chemistry, the resource offers a variety of experiments that can be done at home. Visitors to the site also are encouraged to expand their knowledge by learning about the chemical of the week, which ranges from acetic acid to ozone. Under the Explore heading, the site offers chemical explanations for things observed in everyday life, such as the chemistry of color change in tree leaves. The site also contains links to other online resources, such as the American Chemical Society’s “What’s that stuff?” website, which explains the chemical properties of everyday materials like silly string, wasabi and trick birthday candles. If you like what you see, the site also lists upcoming chemistry-related events that are open to the public.

Companion sites

The “Sid the Science Kid” website is a companion site for the Public Broadcasting Service TV show “Sid the Science Kid.” Visitors can view episodes of the interactive cartoon, which teaches the basics of experimental science, such as observing, comparing and contrasting. Each episode is built around a single scientific concept that is teamed with two or three experiments that can be performed at home. Characters on the show keep track of their findings by recording their data in journals. The site also contains simple animated games, such as “Super Duper Antibodies,” in which kids can fight the flu by clicking on antibodies and placing them on flu viruses. Parents also can print activities from a large coloring book for offline entertainment.

The PBS website Kids Zoom also offers excellent tools for kids interested in science. The site is very child-friendly, and kids easily can navigate through it by themselves. The site is an online version of the children’s show “Zoom” where kids can try the activities featured on the show. The site also allows kids to send in their favorite experiments, recipes, brain-teasing riddles and thoughts on current events. For example, Anastasia from Texas submitted instructions on how to make a biome in a baggie. Experiments listed on the website cover various subjects, including chemistry, engineering and life sciences. Each experiment gives kids the opportunity to share their feedback on how well they thought the experiment worked, allowing readers to incorporate changes to perfect the experiment. The site provides a healthy balance that allows kids to have fun while they learn.

Interactive lessons

Today’s technology also offers students the opportunity to learn science in ways previous generations could not. Instead of being confined to textbooks and blackboards, students can experience science through interactive, illustrated, online lessons. The lessons often are paired with exercises, problem sets and quizzes, allowing students to challenge their newly acquired knowledge.

The Biology Project at the University of Arizona offers online lessons in Spanish and Italian.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Cool Science for Curious Kids site is geared toward younger scientists, such as those in primary school. Lessons here include “Classifying Critters,” which explains taxonomy and asks viewers to group animals in the correct categories, and “Plant Parts Salad,” in which kids learn about edible plant parts.

The Interactive Concepts in Biochemistry website is an interactive multimedia companion to Rodney Boyer’s “Concepts in Biochemistry” textbook. This resource, aimed at high school and college students, offers everything from interactive animations of the Citric Acid Cycle to links to cutting edge articles highlighting recent developments in biochemistry.

Impressively, online lessons are not limited to English-speaking students. The Biology Project at the University of Arizona website offers problem sets and tutorials on cell and human biology in Spanish and Italian.

Science put to music

Alternatively, if students are not visual learners or if they have difficulty remembering concepts, they may benefit from an array of online science music videos. YouTube features a host of videos that have taken science and put it to music. Using melodies from popular songs, graduate students and professors introduce concepts like apoptosis, the polymerase chain reaction, glycolysis and gene regulation. (Some of these videos were featured in the June issue of ASBMB Today.) In addition to being entertaining, each song, paired with illustrations, helps make the concepts easy to understand and even easier to remember.

While not everyone will gravitate toward science explained via catchy songs, most will enjoy Science Songs for Teaching. This website features science songs, such as “Ana and the Telophase” by The Trigs, “The Mitosis Square Dance” by Robin Walling and “The Senses Boogie” by Mark and Morgan Kasmer. Much like the videos, the songs offer students a means of easily remembering concepts about a particular subject. The site also offers printable lyrics and teaching tips.

By creatively weaving science concepts with today’s technology, educators have developed these informative yet entertaining resources to make science fun and easier to learn. With the ability to access the internet from smart phones and laptops, the resources can be used anywhere. So whether you’re a teacher with students working on a science fair project or a parent with children looking for a way to entertain themselves, these engaging resources are sure to captivate their interest.

Lola Olufemi (olufemi_lola@yahoo.com) is a doctoral candidate/NSF BRIDGE fellow at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

Do you have a favorite educational science website? Post it in the comment section below.

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