Have you noticed this graphic in an NSTA publication? SciLinks is a database of websites that have been submitted by a corps of “webwatchers“—teachers who search for and review websites related to topics in science. The websites are organized by content and grade level. Teachers can access SciLinks either by using the codes in a SciLinked textbook or NSTA publication (identified by this graphic) or by searching for a keyword or standard on the site itself.
How does a website become part of SciLinks? Potential topics are identified from the content of SciLinked textbooks or NSTA publications. Webwatchers are asked to search the web for potential sites. All sites in the database have been through a review process that includes a rubric. As the sites are screened by the webwatchers and are included in SciLinks, some get higher ratings than others. My personal guideline is “Would I want my students spending their time with this site?”
Recommending sites to students. As a teacher, I can provide logins for students to look at particular sites, or I can give them a printed list of suggestions (or use a site such a Diigo to share the list). The sites are indexed as K–4, 5–8, and 9–12. For interested students, I might go to the next grade level or I would go down a level for students who may struggle with the text. I’d share a login with the librarian so that he/she can remind students of this resource. In my town, many students use the technology at the local public library. Perhaps the staff there could be alerted to how and why students would access this. Parents or other caregivers may also be given logins to SciLinks, too.
In large group settings. Why just talk about science topics when there are many sites that lend themselves to illustrating the concepts? Building bridges, watching volcanoes erupt, seeing animals congregate around a water hole at night, or accessing photographs and video of various topics bring these topics to life. If you have a smart board or projection unit, using a simulation or video clip with the class or a small group of students could be an engaging experience for them – and the resources are free and ready when you are. I’ve even saved some of the pages of a site to supplement or update the textbook information.
Professional development. One thing I’ve enjoyed over the years is using the SciLinks websites to keep current on topics such as the human genome and climate change. I especially appreciate the earth science topics (I taught life and physical science, so I’m continuing to learn). If you’re unfamiliar with a topic, searching for sites geared to middle or high school students would be a quick and painless way to learn more about it. My former district’s teacher evaluation plan had an option for self-study, so I would have taken advantage of the SciLinks list.
I certainly want our students to have access to accurate, interesting, and meaningful content. One of the first sites I reviewed noted that “the tide comes in the morning and goes out at night.” Needless to say, this site did not make it into SciLinks! The SciLinks webwatchers are good at filtering out sites with incorrect information.
The SciLinks sites also provide a way to extend what is in your textbook for interested students. One criticism of American science textbooks is that they do not treat topics in depth. The SciLinks websites can supplement textbook topics with additional information and features such as animations, graphics, and video clips.
Sometimes the sites reiterate basic textbook information. I think that’s OK – some students may need to see the information displayed in a different format or with different graphics to understand. I know one elementary teacher who put the 10-year-old textbook on the shelf and uses nonfiction trade books and web resources to implement the school’s science curriculum.
So, if you’ve never used SciLinks before, give it a test drive!