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Secret Builders

  What it is:  You have undoubtedly heard of virtual world Second Life and its growing popularity in the education realm.  Second life has some amazing educational opportunities for older students (students must be 13 years or older to have an account) but nothing for the elementary age student.  Enter Secret Builders, an enchanting virtual world designed specifically for elementary age children.  Virtual worlds like this are highly engaging for all ages and allow students to interact with each other in new ways.  Secret Builders can be used to supplement different topics including literature, arts, science, and humanities.  One of my favorite features, is the ability for students to interact with historical figures like Albert Einstein, William Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland, Galileo, and more!  Students can visit these historical figures homes and ask them questions.  There is a magazine in Secret Builders called The Crooked Pencil where students can submit writing to be published.  There are learning games to play that, like Free Rice, donate to a charitable cause for correct answers.  Students build up points by completing quests and can use the points to purchase things in Secret Builders.     How to integrate Secret Builders into the classroom:   Secret Builders is a really neat site, students will love the online world and ability to connect with other students online.  Secret Builders is more than just a ‘game’ sort of site though, there is a lot of learning to be done here!  Students can build netiquette skills, computer skills, and learn about humanities, arts and literature all in Secret Builders.  Students can write stories in Writers Block, go on a quest which requires logic skills and weaves in arts and humanities, perform a play in the Theater, solve puzzles, and interact with others.   This is a really neat alternative to worksheets and traditional story writing.  I think that the opportunity for students to interact with historical figures and tour their virtual home is fantastic!  I hope that they continue to add historical figures, I would have loved this sort of history environment! The ability for students to play games and earn real money for charities is a wonderful motivator for students and great for building character education.   Tips:   Secret Builders encourages student and teacher suggestions, if you have an idea, let them know…you may just add the next cool feature to the Secret Builders world!  Take a look at the Teacher page for some great classroom tie-ins and features.   Leave a comment and tell us how you are using Secret Builders in your classroom.

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An inquiry into sharing the planet: embodied energy awesomeness

Posted by admin | Posted in Analyze, Anastasis Academy, Apply, Character Education, Create, Evaluate, Geography, Government, Inquiry, inspiration, Interactive book, Knowledge (remember), Language Arts, Math, Middle/High School, Science, Teacher Resources, Technology, Understand (describe, explain), Websites | Posted on 18-03-2013

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You may think that when I’m not posting here regularly, it is because I’ve run out of cool new technology to share…or maybe I’m just being lazy…or tired of blogging.  While I’ve had moments of the latter two, it really boils down to the 24 hours I have in a day.  Sometimes I choose sleep!

This week, I’ve been pulling together our last inquiry block of the year at Anastasis.  I can’t believe that we are down to counting weeks before we say goodbye for the summer.

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Our last inquiry block is an inquiry into sharing the planet.  For our 6th through 8th graders the focus is: “People can choose to take specific actions to help conserve Earth’s resources.”  Each time I put together an inquiry guide for teachers, I am sure to offer plenty of more detailed questions that they can use to help guide the inquiry.  Below are some of the questions I included.

  • What can people do to help conserve Earth’s resources?
  • What are other countries doing to help/hurt conservation?
  • How does United States demand impact Earth’s resources?
  • What country has the most impact on Earth’s resources/the least? Why do you think this is?
  • Is conservation a political issue?
  • What is ecological overshoot?
  • What is embodied energy?

I love helping teachers craft the opportunities for students to be curious, to dig into learning.  During this planning, I found the following resources that are too good not to share!

What it is: Embodied Energy free ebook download.  Created by a design firm, this ebook does a nice job explaining embodied energy.

How to use the Embodied Energy ebook in the classroom:  This ebook is a well designed book that will introduce students to the energy that we don’t see in the objects around us.  This pdf can be projected for a whole class, downloaded on individual student devices or, if you must, printed out.  Use this ebook along with the Sustainability by Design TED talk playlist to spark student interest into embodied energy and how it can impact the decisions we make every day.

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These introductory activities led me to the Energy Trumps project.  This is a design project by the Agency of Design that looked at using design to help people better understand, and take-in-to-account, the way that we build, design and consume.  I absolutely love the idea of students working together as a class to study a variety of materials.  Each student could create one (or several) of their own embodied energy trading  cards to help others understand the environmental impacts of materials.  Students can research key environmental properties of materials including embodied energy, embodied carbon, embodied water, recycled content, extraction intensity and years of reserves.  These can be used to compare materials at a glance.  (If you purchase the cards created by Agency of Design, you get the added bonus of an augmented reality feature that brings the material properties to life to explore in 3D.  Students can test out the different amounts of material they can get for one megajoule of energy.)

Take this a step further and ask students how they can use that information to help design a more sustainable future.  How can they hack every day objects?  How can they change the way that society builds, consumes, etc.?

How can the idea of embodied energy be communicated to a larger audience so that more of the picture is taken into account by the average consumer?

Any time I create a new inquiry block, I work to remember that we are in the business of apprenticing change makers.  These students matter and WILL change the world.  I love reminding students that age does not have to act as a restriction for world change.

Felix Finkbeiner is a student in Germany (similar in age to these Anastasis students) who is changing the world in HUGE ways.  Felix’s Plant for the Planet initiative has started a movement of planting trees…millions of them!  Read the an article about Felix here.

Felix has also addressed the United Nations with a speech to open the International Year of Forests which can be viewed here. 

Students can use this embodied energy calculator to explore their own curiosities.

The Happy Planet Index is a fantastic way to discover the extent to which 151 countries across the globe live happy and sustainable lives based on their efficiency, how many long and happy lives each produces per unit of environmental input.  Data can be viewed in map or table format.


I love the potential that a new inquiry block holds.  We offer guidance and some starting places to spark interest, but where students find passion is always exciting to watch unfold.  We truly are in the midst of genius in our students!

The other reason to love inquiry? The brilliant way that it allows room for transdisciplinary exploration, and touches each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I mean really, how can you beat learning that looks like life?

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