31 free online education projects, lessons and sites
From NASA to the Smithsonian, here are science, technology and math resources families can use, who are now spending more time indoors
Many schools are teaching remotely across the nation, turning living rooms, kitchens and children's bedrooms into makeshift classrooms. Luckily, there are endless resources online — many popping up just in the last couple of weeks — with live lessons and demos from zoos, museums and other groups.
We have 31 different options for life sciences, physical sciences, earth sciences and planetary sciences (build your own Mars Rover anyone?) There are also math and coding projects — plus some tutorials for parents who are just sliding into this brave new online education world themselves.
Everything on this list is free, some are aimed at teachers but most are projects, demos and lessons students can jump into on their own — and start right now.
Alpacas at the Cleveland Metroparks ZooCleveland Metroparks Zoo
Dissections are tricky without access to a lab. But there are some virtual options students can walk through online. One, from The Biology Corner, has links to frogs, earthworm, crayfish and even a fetal pig dissection.
The Seattle, Washington-based Oceans Initiative is running a Virtual Marine Biology Camp, live streaming on Facebook and Instagram at 11 am PST every Monday and Thursday. If you miss the episodes, they have them recorded on their site to view later. The first two were focused on orcas and salmon, and they're planning to expand to dolphin and other marine life.
Over in Cleveland, Ohio, there are free online biology classes through the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo that are online on Facebook at 11 am ET. The zoo is planning to show different animals every day, and most recently showed off their alpacas.
How about learning a bit about bumblebee vomit? NPR has some solid, weekly podcasts on insects, animals and more called Wow in the World. Plus these podcasts are archived online so you can listen to them later.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center has some online resources for both students and teachers, including digital scavenger hunts, tiered by grades, with a focus — of course —on paleontology.
And over at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, better known as NOAA, there are tons of resources on all kinds of sciences. Many are particularly focused on marine life, with lesson plans around coral reefs, and activities tiered for elementary, middle and high school students on sea turtles.
NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory have games, lessons, videos and projects tiered towards planetary sciencesNASA/JPL
Where else should we start when it comes to planetary sciences but with NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory? On its site are a ton of games and projects (and you know they're vetted by some of the top scientists in the world) including how to make a Moon Phases calendar, a video on where the sun's energy comes from, and instructions on how to make your own cardboard rover — powered by a rubber band.
The Smithsonian Learning Lab (yes, that Smithsonian) has more than 470 classes and lessons focused on science — all of them free. There are several devoted to planetary science, including one that looks at the life cycle of stars. Another, called MicroObservatory, shows students how to control automated telescopes that are available over the internet.
Keep in mind that you can turn to the Smithsonian Learning Lab for other resources in subjects including language arts, social science and the arts too.
The Petersen Automotive Museum is giving live physics lessons daily on its sitePetersen Automotive Museum
National Geographic has a bevy of experiments and science labs on its site, some observation-based, others more hands-on. Many of these projects require very basic household items like baking soda and vinegar. We like this cool one that turns milk, dish detergent and food coloring into a lesson on suspension.
The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California is hosting daily live programming on its site — which can be viewed later, if you miss them too. Here, kids can learn how an engine works, find out how to build a balloon car and get some basics on the idea of force and motion, the physics behind how cars move.
The Society for American Archeology also has dozens of projects and activities focused around archeology, from analyzing pipe stem fragments found at Jamestown, to what students can learn by studying a single object, like a coin. The site links to a curated list of educational resources the Society has put together.
Students can view fossils from California through the EPICC Virtual Fieldwork ExperiencesEPICC
Paleontological sites across California are available with just one click through the EPICC Virtual Fieldwork Experiences. There, students and educators can take part in virtual fieldwork experiences, see images of geological maps, look at satellite views and even fossils. And yes, there are sand dollar fossils found inside California, far away from the coast. Although designed for upper grades, the site can help teachers (and parents) walk younger students through these images as well. There are also teacher guides, plus details on how to use these resources with science education standards.
On its site, the U.S. Geological Survey also has some great lessons tailored towards teachers — but that doesn't mean parents and students can't use them as well.
NASA has math challenges built around the number pi Getty Images/iStockphoto
NASA has some great math challenges centered around Pi — actual problems the group says that its own scientists and engineers have tackled as well. Plus, there is an answer key in case you want to see how they calculated their answers.
Fun Brain is games-based, and the math learning here is broken down by grades from 1st through 8th. For example, you can play Baseball, with runs fueled by the number of right answers you get on problems.
Mini Computer Raspberry Pi Getty Images
Never heard of a Raspberry Pi? These miniature computers are affordable, and very simple to learn how to use. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is an excellent place to start with posts on free activities, including how to build a game controller. The Devscover Coding & Raspberry Pi YouTube channel also has videos on how to use a Raspberry Pi (and earned a nod from the Foundation as well) — plus it has some coding tutorials around coding language Python as well.
At Jet Propulsion Laboratory's site, there's a great project teaching kids how to make a Moon or Mars Rover Game using Scratch, the drag and drop coding language invented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Of course Code Academy has free lessons that can turn anyone into a competent beginner coder on Python, Java, SQL and more. You can pay for a Pro account, but daily practice lessons are free, and there are 180 hours of content available.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has a site called Illuminations filled with lessons and interactive options. This is geared towards teachers, who can search based on topics that adhere to the NCTM's or Common Core Math Standards, and also by grade and subjects. The content is completely free — and parents and students can also take advantage of the site as well.
Tutorial for parents and students
A lot of schools are using Google Classroom to deliver lessons to students. Older students, those in middle to high school, are likely familiar with the site. Younger students may need some help — along with their parents. That's where this guide, courtesy of an educator in Sydney, Australia comes into play. A Google Classroom Parents' Guide shows how this online education platform works. This short (just 18-page) guide is excellent, screen shots with simple steps and even a poster on what each icon — from Maps to Cloud, Groups to Classroom — means.