Rare! Novel Classroom Activities

WGBH’s Digital Kids team,  took an innovative direction to bring the new WGBH TV series Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark into classrooms.

Working closely with external science advisor Dr. Chris Whitbeck, the team devised a classroom activity focused on animal adaptations with a technique based on the work of Eleanor Duckworth. Dr. Duckworth’s approach, developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is based on Piaget’s writing. The underlying premise is that students will engage more with the content if they are allowed to discover it for themselves, to ask questions, and to not simply be provided factual information by their teacher.

So for this project we worked closely with longtime WGBH science adviser, Dr. Whitbeck who uses this technique at the CT Douglas Elementary School in Acton MA where he is principal.

The WGBH production team created prototypes of what was to become our Safari Slideshow and observed a full classroom session with fifth graders led by one of his teachers, Meghan Giannetto. Because the success of this technique relies on teachers being willing and able to facilitate kids’ asking questions or offering hypotheses while holding back from proffering their own answers, much of our work in refining this product has been in guiding and choreographing the teachers. We observed Meghan’s techniques and built them into the structure of our student-facing content as well as into the support materials provided to teachers.

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We created the Safari Slideshow and a complementary digital deck of Creature Cards in HTML5 to make this content fully usable across typical classroom technology, desktop, Chromebook, tablet and interactive whiteboard or simple projector. The Creature Cards are designed to allow students to learn more about their favorite animals, discover more about their adaptations and even take turns around the classroom to share what they have learned. This is especially important because all of the animals featured are endangered and learning about them is the first step to advocating for their survival.

The team also created companion worksheets along with teacher guides and even a close captioned How To video featuring Meghan Giannetto explaining to other teachers just how easy and engaging this activity can be. Teachers can find all these resources at PBS LearningMedia.

The digital team for this dynamic project is Bill, Lizzy, Dan, Gentry, Jeff, Alan, Li and Greg.

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