Love (of Lifelong Learning) Is in the Air

Happy Valentine's Day! Love is in the air, and hopefully you've all had wonderfully romantic evenings with your significant others. 

Unfortunately for me, a string of bad dates over the past few months has caused me instead to be celebrating today's alternate holiday, "Singles Awareness Day." (OK, this and perhaps the fact I failed to post this Valentine's Day blog on the actual day has had some impact on my current relationships status.) But, as a lover of love, I'm not going to let that deter me from having a Valentine; instead, I'm going to make all of you my Valentines! And, since I don't believe displays of love and affection should be restricted to just one day a year, I'm going to shower you with the gift of great free resources that can be used to inspire learning each and every day.

I know many people have very high expectations on this day of romance, and quite honestly it's been awhile since I've had opportunity to buy a Valentine's Day gift. Sooooo, I decided to do a little research to help give me guidance on what I should get all of you: 

Source: Mashable. The 7 Most Popular Valentine's Day gifts in the US.
https://mashable.com/2014/02/10/valentines-day-gifts-chart/#AURkjgt6YgqS

Given my perpetual state of indecision and the fact I have so much love to give you all, I've decided this year I'm going to give you everything above! So, my dear Valentines, in no particular order, I present to you with a range of (freely available) gifts to show my love. :)

Greeting Cards

I'm a huge fan of the greeting card. To me, expressing yourself in writing by way of a card is one of the most thoughtful ways to show your feelings in a manner that is authentic, sentimental, and representative of real effort. I also find it to be a great way to practice the diminishing art of handwriting :)

And who doesn't like getting a nice handwritten card? I often cannot decide what is more satisfying....the act of receiving a card or the act of writing one. 

Since I cannot show each and every one of you my love by way of personalized handwritten cards, I instead give you Quizlet. Quizlet is quickly becoming one of my favorite tools for creating interactive flash cards, quizzes, and games to provide fun practice opportunities for whatever topics you want. It's free to create an account in Quizlet, and what's great about the site is it allows you to share out what you have developed with others, as well as to use and adapt flash cards others have created with your own students. You also have the ability to download flashcards which in turn can be printed for offline practice. 

Two of of my favorite features of Quizlet are that you can upload Excel or .csv files to automatically generate sets of flash cards for lots of words really quickly, and if you want to add pictures to your cards, the tool does a creepily good job at suggesting spot-on images that relate to whatever terms you have entered in. 

"Roses are red, 
Violets are blue. 
To help you forever learn, 
I give Quizlet to you."

Candy

Who on Earth doesn't love candy?!? Personally, I'm more a fan of fruity, chewy candy like Gummy Bears, Starburst, and Sour Patch Kids (in case you were thinking of getting me something). But I also love really good chocolate every now and then as well. 

If you are working with ESL students, Learning Chocolate is great site that provides a range of simple, user-friendly activities which use pictures, sounds, and games to help students learn basic vocabulary in a number of different languages. 


Now, this isn't your run-of-the-mill box of chocolates that contains like three caramel ones you actually enjoy while the remaining are filled with some weird, fruit gelatinous substance leaving you to wonder how much your Valentine really loves you. No no, my loves. Learning Chocolate contains loads of words within each of the categories shown above, providing repeated opportunity to practice each set of words through a standard sequence of structured activities that include listening, speaking, comprehension, and spelling practice.  

For those of you who consider yourselves choco-holics, I promise you Learning Chocolate will satisfy your cravings well beyond February 14!

Flowers

Flowers are arguably the most ubiquitous (and ridiculously marked up) Valentine's Day gift. For many, today simply isn't complete without a dozen long-stemmed roses. But is there a such thing as "short-stemmed" roses? And while we are on the topic of stems, what better thing to give your beloved than the gift of free and open STEM resources? 

PhET is a super cool website developed by the University of Colorado Boulder and chock full of interactive simulations for Science, Technology, and Math processes. These simulations are fantastic for leading whole class instruction on a wide range of concepts, providing interactive opportunities for prediction, testing predictions, and discussion.  

Now, while this might not be the fragrant set of dozen roses you were anticipating, I'm certain it will serve as veritable aphrodisiac for you math and science lovers! And, unlike flowers, PhET simulations don't wilt and die; rather they provide a beautiful bouquet of learning opportunities the whole year through!

An Evening Out

There are plenty of things one can do for a special evening out....movies, shows, art galleries, and more. Personally, I particularly enjoy eating; so to me, planning the perfect meal is an essential part of setting the stage for love. 

At my very first presentation introducing CrowdED Learning last year, one of the attendees shared with me a free learning site I had never heard of—FreeRice.com. I'm beyond excited when folks share sites I've never heard of, and this one is one of my favorite discoveries. 

FreeRice supports the United Nations World Food Programme. The site is organized into a range of subjects, including math, science, geography, humanities, foreign language learning, chemistry, and more. Anyone can go onto the site, pick a subject, and start answering practice questions related to that subject. For each question you answer correctly, the banner ad that appears generates enough money for the World Food Programme to donate 10 grains of rice. 

So, with FreeRice.com, I give you the opportunity to learn while doing good for others. How's that for love?!?

Jewelry

They say diamonds are a girl's best friend. But, I've also heard pearls have been making a bit of a comeback in recent years. These timeless beauties have been the go-to gem of choice for first ladies and royalty alike, so why not splurge a bit on these underwater treasures to show your undying commitment? Or, if you're being a little budget conscious as I am at the moment, why not save money and go diving for pearls for free?

Pearl Diver is a fun interactive game from Math Snacks available both on the computer and on iOS devices (the mobile app does cost $1.99). In the game, players need to dive at the correct point on a number line in order to harvest pearls. The game progresses in level of difficulty, starting with positive integers, moving to negative integers, and then moving into positive and negative mixed numbers and improper fractions. The game also focuses on estimation skills with fractions, albeit in a slightly quirky manner by way of the "Sushi Round." 

Here is a great video overview of the game. 

I've talked about Math Snacks before in the very first Fantastic & Free First Fridays feature. The site is full of great math videos and games along with comprehensive student and teacher resources, and Pearl Diver helps tackle one of the most challenging numeracy concepts for learners of all levels. So, I invite you to take a look and dive into this gem of a math game. 

Clothing

Personally, I sort of question clothing as a gift. Having had exes who liked to buy me clothes for how they wanted me to dress, I have my reservations as to whether clothing is the best choice for showing someone your love. 

That said, when looking holistically at all that is needed for life and career success with adult learners, personal appearance certainly is an important aspect. So, while I could point to some great resources on interview skills, résumé skills, and job hunting (all for which you will see plenty as we build out our CrowdED Learning resource libraries over the coming months), I'm instead going to give you the gift of a particularly inspiring organization focused on providing attire to help women work toward self-sufficiency—Dress for Success


Dress for Success is an international not-for-profit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing support, professional attire, and development tools that help them thrive in work and in life. Over twenty years old, Dress for Success operates in more than 150 cities across 30 countries and has helped more than one million women work toward self-sufficiency. While, as the name suggests, the organization provides women with professional attire to help secure employment, no article of clothing could be more beautiful than Dress for Success's mission to empower women in breaking the cycle of poverty en route to obtaining safer and better futures.  

Gift Cards

While I personally hate giving gift cards, when your loved one seems to have everything (or if they have really picky tastes that you will never quite understand), sometimes the gift card is a perfectly acceptable gift. That said, anytime I've ever received a gift card, I end up buying something that costs more than the value of the actual gift card, meaning in the end I've been given something that ultimately leads to me spending money on something I otherwise wouldn't have spent money on in the first place. (I once got a $50 gift card to a fancy steakhouse for which I ended up paying $150 in addition to said gift card.) So, rather than giving your beloved something that typically leads to them spending even more money, perhaps a more practical gift might be the gift that keeps on giving for a lifetime: the gift of financial literacy. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a federal government agency whose role is to ensure our financial institutions treat Americans fairly. The CFPB has a lot of really helpful resources for a wide range of financial topics to educate all Americans, not just adult learners. 

I first learned about the CFPB's resources at an adult education conference where they were promoting the Your Money, Your Goals toolkit. Your Money, Your Goals is a set of financial empowerment materials that can be used to help learners meet their financial goals and understand how to attain and maintain economic mobility by increasing their knowledge, skills, and resources for getting financial support. The toolkit includes online resources, companion guides for at-risk populations, and training materials, all of which can be downloaded and printed. Interested institutions can also order (for free!) helpful booklets on topics such as handling debt and how to manage your finances when you fall behind on bills.

Better than any gift card, the Your Money, Your Goals toolkit is a fantastic set of resources that can be used to help learners develop greater confidence in and control of their financial decision-making and well-being. 

And We Lived Happily Ever After...

OK, so perhaps these aren't the most romantic gifts I could have mustered up (and delivered a day late!), but I think they are pretty useful and sincerely hope they provide you with resources and tools you can use to inspire the ultimate happily ever after—that of lifelong learning, self-sufficiency, and economic mobility for your students. While you do that, I'll work on stepping up my romance game...mind you, only after I go to the store to scoop up all of the discounted Valentine's Day candy lining their shelves :)

In the meantime, much love to you all...and a huge thank you to educators in particular for the love you show each and every day by empowering your students through the gift of learning. 

To learn more and stay up to date on our goings-on, please check out www.crowdedlearning.org and sign up to stay in touch, volunteer your expertise, or make a recommendation. We look forward to hearing from you!

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