If you are not going to inspire your students so that when they go home their heads are exploding with excitement, then you are not doing your job.
- Bruce J. Oreck, current US Ambassador to Finland, addressing a group of teachers
It seems like only recently that we, as a culture, have begun to realize the importance of non-textbook aspects of education. The brand-new Next Generation Science Standards, created collaboratively by education researchers, policy makers, and educators, finally include some critical thinking skills as part of the national curriculum. Perhaps this new focus is because there is now an overwhelming amount of information available through books and the internet to the motivated individual - motivation is now the limiting factor.
Whether or not the internet has caused this shift, it has definitely revolutionized the possibilities for education. One awesome possibility I was recently made aware of is the GLOBE program. The name stands for Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment, which represents the aims of the program well. Simply put, it is a way for students around the globe to collaboratively collect and share data about their world. Based on some of the examples given at the conference, this data includes everything from cloud type and cover to rainfall pH to phenology (when leaves blossom, turn color, and fall off). This data is then accessible to the entire world, and there was one researcher present who apparently spends some of his time working with the GLOBE data (unless my Finnish misled me, which is quite possible...).
Stop and think how cool this is - your students can create data that gets used in actual research!!
However, GLOBE is much more than "just" learning to collect data, and then actually doing so. It is almost like a scientific penpals program because the students get to interact with their agemates from around the world and learn what other places are like. Some countries, like Estonia, are especially enthusiastic about this program and have not just a large percentage of their schools participating, but the also organize summer camps for the really excited students.