6 Websites to Help You Transform That Lesson from Flat to Fun


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Go-to websites for updates and inspiration

By Lisa Lawmaster Hess

I love to learn new things which, when you think about it, is a good trait for an educator to have. I am not, however, a big fan of falling into the black hole of the internet when I go in search of new information.

Most teachers have favorite sites for the topics they teach, and I’m no exception. But, for me, the subject I teach coincides with the people I teach. As an instructor of child and adolescent development, I find that my lessons and my audience merge in a unique way. The information that feeds the lessons I teach also teaches me something about my students, which enables me to do my job better.

In addition to expanding our knowledge about the topics we teach, it’s important to keep our teaching fresh as well. While we can get new ideas through professional development workshops, sometimes we just want something that will give our next unit a little boost, or a new way of teaching an old concept. Often, the best ideas are rooted in research and come from fellow professionals in classrooms like ours, who can identify with the desire to make each succeeding day better than the last.

Here are a few of the sites I go to when I’m in need of updates and inspiration about the ins and outs of kids, teaching, and life in general.

Center on the Developing Child  

In their words: “The mission of the Center on the Developing Child is to drive science-based innovation that achieves breakthrough outcomes for children facing adversity.” 

Why I like it: It makes research digestible.

Although much of the information on this site focuses on early childhood, it’s a great resource for research-based information that is readable and accessible. There are articles, videos and longer scientific papers that provide information on topics from learning language to ACEs and resilience to how the architecture of the brain develops. (The infographics are my favorite). The varied resources make this a great site to recommend to busy parents who might only be able to eke out ten minutes to watch a video about how simple activities can boost brain development.

 

Greater Good Magazine (UC Berkeley)  

In their words: “Science-based insights for a meaningful life.” 

Why I like it: It’s clear, factual and easy to translate into classroom content.

I first discovered this website as a great resource for positive psychology concepts, but quickly discovered that it’s much more. With articles like “Four Ways Schools Can Support the Whole Child” and “Preventing Bullying,” it’s news you can use. Like the Harvard site, this one has a variety of resources – videos, podcasts, quizzes, articles – and is a great resource for teachers and parents. It’s labeled as a magazine and it reads like one. The site is easily searchable by topic (education, parenting and the family) or readers can “leaf through” it by scrolling through the articles posted on the main page. Secondary educators may find some of the material appropriate for their students as well.

 

Cult of Pedagogy  

In their words: Teacher nerds unite.

Though the name may sound dry (or worse), the description says otherwise:

If you’ve ever been told you’re way too into your job …
If you can’t stop talking about teaching (even during happy hour) …
If you buy teaching books with your own money and wake up in the middle of the night with lesson ideas …
Welcome home, friend. This place was built for you.

Why I like it: Clean, clear and easy to use.

The resources on this site are immediately usable and/or relatable because they’re teacher-created. The blog posts fit into three categories: The Craft, Go Deep, and Teacher Soul.

In addition, there are podcasts, videos and even online classes. And the whole thing is organized in pretty much the way you’d expect a teacher-run site to be organized; the home page gives you a lay of the land and things are both categorized and searchable.

 

Happify  

In their words: “Overcome stress and negative thoughts. Build resilience.”

 Why I like it: It makes me smile.

 Some days, don’t you just want to make the world a little happier? Help kids (and maybe yourself) bounce back from a rough morning, afternoon or week? This site (like Greater Good Magazine, above) offers insights into the science of happiness along with how-to’s on its various aspects, like optimism, kindness, and gratitude. In addition, there are pithy quotes and inspirational stories and videos. A little more commercial and a little less straightforward than some of the sites above, it nevertheless is good for a smile on a cloudy day.

 

Two more you probably already frequent:

TED Talks 

In their words: “Ideas worth spreading”

Why I like it: Intelligent ideas presented in an interesting fashion.

For me, watching a TED Talk isn’t research, it’s entertainment — real people talking about all kinds of real ideas. I can click on a category on the homepage or search by topic and voilà! A list of talks that might interest me pops up. If I want something more kid-friendly, I can explore the library of TED-Ed videos, each of which comes with teaching ideas. Or, I can click on “Playlists” and a list of diverse offerings united by topic pops up. As a college instructor, I use these talks regularly in my classes to disseminate information and spark discussion.

 

Pinterest 

In their words: “What will you try next?”

Why I like it: It’s visual. (And one of the founders graduated from the district I used to teach in).

Although it’s neither teacher-created nor research-based, this site is so popular with teachers and crafters that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t the brainchild of either. Loaded with visuals of bulletin boards, lesson ideas and other classroom goodies (along with recipes, pithy sayings and more Etsy stuff than anyone will ever need), it’s a fun place to browse and an easy spot to get sucked into. It’s a great idea generator for those times when we need to be inspired, but looking at pictures is about all we have the energy for.

 

Most of these spots have a store, items or services for sale, or some other commercial aspect. In most cases, I don’t find these intrusive; in fact, until I did some exploring, I didn’t even see the “store” tab on some of the sites.

New ideas not only keep us up to date on the latest and greatest, they can also help us to deepen our understanding and enhance the lessons we teach. Having 24/7 access to sources we trust means that no matter what time it is, or what time zone we’re in, a new idea is just a few keystrokes away.

And some nights, when we just can’t face teaching that same lesson in the same way again, that’s a very good thing indeed.

Lisa Lawmaster Hess is an adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania and a former elementary-school counselor. Her latest book is Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist’s Guide to Sorting Your Stuff.

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