Guest Author: Hannah Finnley
About the Author: Hello fellow educators! My name is Hannah Finley and I am a Junior Elementary Education major at Grove City College. As I jumped head-first into education during my second semester, I fell in love and found my passion in teaching and doing whatever it takes to reach kids from all different backgrounds. Some of my favorite subjects to teach are math and science, and one of my biggest goals is to encourage young girls to explore STEM and get them excited about the awesome things that they can accomplish! When I’m not in class, teaching, or thinking about teaching I enjoy spending my time running, playing Frisbee, dancing, and spending time with friends and family.
About the tech tool: Spongelab, my favorite online tool of all time! One of the few things that makes me consider teaching middle or high school, just so that I would have more of an opportunity to use it. But what is it exactly? Is it a Google Extension? Is it a science resource for educators and students? Is it pure internet gold? Spongelab is all of these things, offering educators and students a unique place to find interactive resources to make lessons more engaging and allow for deeper exploration of a variety of topics.
Signing up for Spongelab is quick and easy, especially if you use your Google account to log-in. With the vast number of tech-tools out there, having one less extra password to remember is a luxury. You can also use another email account to create an account or you can log-in using Facebook. I prefer to use my Google account, as my Gmail is where most of my professional and educational accounts are linked. Once you’ve created an account, it’s easy to customize a profile and create “classes.” It will walk you through how to add students to your classes, and even allows you to monitor students’engagement on Spongelab through class reports. This may help in assigning students to play a practice game for homework, which can then be checked. By comparing tools used and student comprehension, you’ll also be able to determine what works and what doesn’t. Your profile is also where you keep track of tools that you’ve found, find lessons, share lessons, and earn “badges” and “points.” As you use and explore Spongelab more and more, you’ll find yourself leveling-up and earning credits. According to the site, these credits can be used toward coupons and other educational offers. Credits can be bought, but I’ve found they add up pretty quickly while you click around. If your school has a subscription to Spongelab, your Profile Settings is also where you can enter the affiliation code and have unlimited access to everything on Spongelab. Even without one of these subscriptions, it’s been superbly easy to access many games, visuals, and tools for free just by searching.
Once you’ve got your profile set up, it’s time to set sail and start exploring! If you’re looking for science news and the latest STEM current events, head over to the “My Community” tab. You’ll find Spongelab’s frequently-updated social media pages embedded into one place. For classes from k-12, these news stories can be used to connect language arts, social studies, and STEM into one neatly condensed package! These articles can be used to help squeeze science content into reading for the elementary teacher pressed for time, or as a starting place for a science or research projects in middle level or secondary education. I also see potential as an educational and engaging “when you’re done” activity, where students can explore the site, within certain parameters. Students might be allowed to choose to watch a short video, experiment with a simulation, or play a game that is relevant to the current topic or that they need help in. If you want to take it a step further, ask students to write a quick description of what resource they used and what it’s called. Not only will this help expose you to new tools, but will help hold students accountable for their learning.
But where oh where are these resources actually found? As it turns out- they’re plastered all over Spongelab. After moving to the “Browse” tab, you’ll be able to search for a resource based on subject, type, and language. The language feature may be especially helpful for any ELL students in your classroom, as they can begin to understand the content in their first language. This is also where you can contribute content and add resources you’ve found to your “list” for later use. By saving resources, you can save yourself precious time searching for them again later when lesson planning. Another feature that I love is that Spongelab has partnership with McGraw Hill and some other commonly-used textbooks. I remember using these textbooks myself throughout my middle and high school science classes. Students can use the extra resources that Spongelab has for each chapter to gain a greater understanding of the topic, or see it in a way that makes more sense. This can also help differentiate instruction and make content more accessible for students. Make sure to spend some time picking through the resources available to find ones that will best work for you and your class. Many are interactive and engaging, appealing to all different types of learners. So go ahead! Get out there and soak up all that Spongelab has to offer!
I write about edtech in action, random tools I find, and reflections upon teaching and learning.