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Smithsonian debuts Online Education Conferences; offers educators PD, digital badges

educators-PD-online Educators looking for a unique professional development (PD) experience that relates textbook curriculum to real-world events and current issues now have a new, free online opportunity thanks to the Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian Online Education Conference series is an interactive online webinar presented each month by Smithsonian experts, and can be used by educators looking for an innovative PD experience.

The entire series is available for free online so educators can pick the topics they want to implement into instruction at their convenience. The conferences cover a range of cross-curricular topics from astrophotography, to civil rights and the rainforest.

Educators can connect and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #eSNPD

(Next page: Video and topics covered)

Examples of topics covered in the Smithsonian PD sessions include:

Diplomacy in Action: Practicing Diplomacy from Early America to the Present: Experts explore historic objects from the time of the founding of the U.S. Discover how the U.S. utilized diplomacy to build relationships that secured the country’s freedom, and helped shape a nation founded on the principles of freedom and equality. Presented by: Marcee Craighill, Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, and Susan Holly, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State.

Urban Waterways: Thinking about Environmental Stewardship. In this session tailored specifically for educators, Tony Thomas of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum presents a Citizen Scientist program, which has introduced Washington, DC area high school students to the Anacostia Watershed. Students begin to take an active role in environmental stewardship and environmental justice issues. Discover how you, too, can empower students to accept ownership and responsibility for the waterways in your region.

In the Face of Extinction: Thinking about the Biodiversity and Conservation of Frogs. Panama is home to nearly 200 species of frogs. Join conservation biologist Brian Gratwicke to learn about the fabulous frogs of Panama, masters of camouflage who lead a watery lifestyle and act as nature’s “middlemen” in the food chain. Learn why frogs are disappearing around the world, why it matters to you, and what Smithsonian scientists and their partners are doing to prevent their mass extinction.

Each PD session is about 50 minutes and is archived after the broadcast. The entire series is available for free online so educators can pick the topics they want to implement into instruction at their convenience. For the 2013-2014 school year, the online conference series will take place every second Wednesday of the month.

“Teachers who participate in these conference sessions are interested in incorporating Common Core standards into their classrooms and in providing students with 21st century learning experiences that make connections across various subject areas,” explained Ashley Naranjo, Learning Initiatives specialist at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access. “For example, in June 2013, an astrophotographer from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory explained how his work in capturing images of celestial objects draws on his knowledge in science, art and technology. Students were then able to apply the skills he demonstrated and remotely control telescopes and use free Smithsonian image processing software to enhance, colorize, and analyze their own images of solar system objects, stars, nebula and galaxies. A primary goal of not only this specific online conference, but of the series as a whole, is to expose students to a wide variety of career paths that they might have otherwise been unaware of.”

Naranjo also explained that the central education office of the Smithsonian is focusing on studying what teachers and students like best about the program, and building a “robust online platform that will make it easy for educators to find related resources.”

Many of the sessions are student-appropriate, but special sessions will be dedicated to teachers in a “virtual teachers’ lounge” to highlight Smithsonian learning resources related to conference topics and offer an opportunity to discuss them with fellow teachers.

According to Naranjo, the virtual teachers’ lounge is to encourage sharing of classroom resources, both from Smithsonian educator’s perspectives, as well as among teacher participants. Within a chat area, other educators from around the world can add ideas and examples of related projects they’ve completed in their own classroom.

Each conference also ties into Smithsonian Quests, a free program where students complete tasks to earn a digital badge.

“Online learning allows students to connect with unique learning resources that make learning come alive, from primary sources and digitized objects that might otherwise not be accessible to them,” said Naranjo. “Students can explore these types of resources in our Smithsonian Quests digital badging program, which offers a more personalized approach to learning, as compared to typical classroom instruction.”

“The Smithsonian Quests program allows educators to incorporate technology into their lesson plans in practical ways,” said Madeleine Holzer, executive director of EmaginationEd, Inc. who works with both fourth grade classrooms at Family Life Academy Charter School in the Bronx, N.Y. “For example, teachers were able to participate in Smithsonian’s online Inauguration conference, then guided their students to fulfill their quests by writing letters to President Obama.”

Here’s a helpful video tutorial for teachers to get started with Smithsonian Quests:

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“The cross-curricular nature of the conferences and quests has been a significant advantage for my students and teachers,” said Nichole Heyen, principal at Lincoln Magnet School in Springfield, Ill. “Smithsonian Quests engages students in project-based learning, and provides a springboard for discussion to develop and share lesson plans among my teachers and build a community with other educators.”

Educators can connect and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #eSNPD.

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