Using Games to Make Learning Fun

There are a lot of ways to use technology in an engaging way that’s makes learning fun.  In this blog I’m going to focus on 3 “games” you can use with students. They may be so focused on the game that they don’t realize they’re learning.

Break out EDU logo

In Breakout EDU a group of students work together to solve puzzles, search for clues, open locks, and open the final locked box before time runs out.  The game’s puzzles and problems to solve are built around an academic content or topic. The teacher can create their own or use the many Breakout EDU Games created by other people. The games can be completely digital, use physical locks, or a combination of both.  Some of the games on the Breakout EDU website are free, but they charge an annual fee for full access to all the games. The SUSD curriculum department has purchased some of the physical kits and are working on creating a check-out system. Each kit includes different types of locks, 2 lock boxes, UV light, invisible ink pen, and more.

If you pay the annual fee for full access you can also have your students create digital Breakout EDU Games.  They have tutorials to help you and your students get started and soon you’ll be creating challenging puzzle activities focused on the curriculum.  Student can save their work in a class space that you set up on the website. For more information go to www.breakoutEDU.com.

**Breaking News: Coming soon, over 600 new Breakout EDU Game aligned to curriculum.

Quizizz is an engaging, digital game show format where students can learn while competing against other students and the teacher can check for understanding.  Students get points for answering questions correctly and get more points for answering quickly. Students can compete individually against other students in the class or they can work as a group to answer the questions.  Students use their computer to join a Quizizz game that the teacher has set up. Teachers can use the many pre-made Quizizz games or create one themselves. Quizizz is very similar to Kahoots! but is different in one way.  Students are working at their own pace, so you don’t get the group cheering and talking between each question like you do in Kahoots!

Flippity-LogoFlippity uses Google Sheets to make it easy to create many useful tools such as word search, random name spinner, and flashcards.  Flippity can also be used to create a Jeopardy style game show that you can play with your class. Each Flippity activity or tool has a demo, instructions, and a google sheets template.  To create your own Jeopardy style game show use the template to substitute your own questions and answers. Then follow the instructions to publish the google sheets template, click on the link, and bookmark it for easy access later.

When you click on the question it will show you the correct answer and allow you to award the points if the student or team answered the question correctly.  As your 2 teams continue to answer questions it will keep track of the points for the 2 teams. Play around with it, it is fairly easy to use. 

 

Online Math Resources

I’ve always felt like it was hard to find good math resources online.  Sure, if you want a worksheet, your options are nearly limitless, but when you want a worthwhile, free, standards-based supplement for your curriculum, it’s sometimes hard to find.  I’d like to add a disclaimer before I go on. In the 2019-2020 school year, every SUSD student should receive rigorous tier one instruction that maintains the integrity of our newly adopted curriculum.  Since most of us are new to this material, I believe we should do our best to use what is provided by the publisher. All of the websites I’m including in this post should be considered a teacher resource.  For example, Khan Academy can be used by adults to deepen their understanding. It should not replace instruction.

Recently, someone shared an article with me that I found to be very helpful. In this link are over 60 websites for teaching and learning math.  I’d like to share the ones that are free for teachers and (in my opinion) will be most useful for Stockton Unified School District staff.  I’m also throwing in a few that are not on the list.

My long-time favorite has to be Khan Academy.  With video tutorial content that can be assigned by the teacher to individuals or the entire class that are standards-aligned, this resource works great for a flipped classroom, as an intervention, or for acceleration. Students can access all content (not just what is assigned) at any time, using almost any device. There is even a version for preschoolers now called Khan Academy Kids. Math content goes all the way up through college level courses and can be customized to follow grade level standards or align to PSAT and SAT needs.  Another website that offers something similar is Freckle.  It has a diagnostic and customizes practice to meet student needs.  A third option is Moby Max.  This website has a paid version that provides more features.  Even more sites that deliver something of this type include Math Help and Splash Math.

In the past, I’ve seen how the Chromebooks can become babysitters while kids play on websites like Cool Math Games, Fun Brain, Sheppard Software or Math Game Time. If I’m being honest, even Prodigy Game is more game than it is learning.  That’s not to say that these don’t have a place in the classroom at all.  In my opinion, they should be relegated to rainy day recess activities because they are games.  Another option would be to tell students to play these games for homework. If we assign specific practice that students actually need, they’d get more out of these programs and they’d probably be more likely to do their homework if it involved playing a game instead of completing a worksheet. One website that goes a little bit further than just providing games is Math Playground. In addition to having games, it also has logic puzzles, instructional videos, and a “Story Math” section that models word problems with step-by-step solutions.

If you’re interested in playing math-themed music videos for your students, Flocabulary and Numberock have free songs that kids enjoy.  If you want a neat site for online fluency practice, Xtramath might be what you are looking for.  Many of the websites I’ve listed provide a variety of resources in addition to the pieces I’ve mentioned and I encourage you to click on the links and explore the features to see what might be beneficial.  The next few links provide what I think are great activities to get your students thinking about math in new and different ways. At  Which One Doesn’t Belong, classes can get into some amazing math dialogue about which one doesn’t belong.  KenKen puzzles are what I would call the next level of Sudoku, and require students to use number sense and mathematical operations to solve a puzzle. It doesn’t have the strongest math problems, but Free rice does give students the chance to fight hunger while they practice math facts because it donates rice with every correct answer.

This section is dedicated to middle and high school math teachers.  I haven’t recently met a single subject math teacher who didn’t already know about Desmos, but if you’re new to the profession, or you somehow missed it, Desmos provides a free online graphing calculator with many features.  In addition, at Teacher Desmos you can find a myriad of activities to use with students.  You’ll want to get comfortable with Desmos if you’re teaching high school math in SUSD next year because it is embedded in many of the Pearson enVision lessons.  A different website that also has a graphing calculator is Geogebra. This site also has 3-D math features and worksheets.  A third reference for high school teachers is Shodor.  This site provides interactive activities for students in grades 3 through undergraduate level.

More resources for teachers can be found at Illuminations.  This is the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics page, and it contains lesson plans, games, activities, and brain teasers from a very reputable source.  The same organization has another site, Figure This, with games, family practice, and challenges in English and Spanish for the middle grades.  Another source for middle grades is PBS Learning Media.  Here, you can find culturally relevant video logs that are added to regularly.  The website Greg Tang Math is helpful because it offers a variety of resources for both student and teacher learning.  Like many other pages, it has games, worksheets, and student lessons, but unlike others, it also provides teacher professional development and center activities (be aware that some are not free).

Finally, one last resource that I have found to be helpful over the years, is Natural Library of Virtual Manipulatives.  Here, you will find virtual manipulatives for just about every math concept from pre-K through twelfth grade.  The site is clearly organized by math strand and by grade. Unfortunately, there may be issues with Java, depending on which device you are using to access the website.  However, if you are able to use these virtual manipulatives with students, they can be very powerful and are a free alternative to purchasing physical manipulatives for your class.  If you’ve read this far, I hope you came across at least one resource that will support student learning.

For Students Who Inspire Us

As educators going through our teacher preparation programs, we are not often given insight into all the “hats” we would eventually wear within the classroom. We speak about going beyond instruction and provide a variety of nurturing roles to engage our students. What sometimes is not discussed is how our students can often inspire and motivate us.

I have been a middle school teacher in this district for the past 14 years. I have worked at numerous schools throughout the district primarily in South Stockton. Throughout my tenure as a teacher, I have always thought of myself as a great motivator and encourager of our students, but it has not always been easy. To state simply, we work with a tough demographic and often times, coming to work and going above and beyond can be draining mentally, emotionally and physically. Even with the student challenges to overcome, we can always find diamonds within, if we are willing to find them.

Image of the class at the beachMy diamonds came to me over 6 years ago. I was going through a very difficult and emotional time in my personal life. I had just given birth to my third child, I was also going through a divorce and it was emotionally wearing me thin. At the time, I was teaching 8th grade and these students had looped with me from 7th grade. I remember how difficult it was for me to get up in front of the class and seamlessly go through my day as if all was well. Honestly, I was depressed and I just did not have the energy to motivate anyone. On most days, crying is all I wanted to do.

So everyday, I would muster the courage to teach the best that I could despite what I felt. Even through my pain, I realized a constant at school; the enthusiasm of my students to be around me. My students came, day in and day out with such momentum to learn.  With them around, everyday was filled with smiles and laughter. They were full of life and it was hard for me not to be lively with them during the day. These students loved and cared for me and they would show it through hugs and words of affirmation. Some of the girls would plan to bring me lunch or yummy snacks. These students had no clue of what I was going through, yet they were issuing me my daily medicine that contributed to my healing. This class by far holds a special place in my heart, they graduated from high school last school year and I was honored to be a guest at their graduations.

Being a teacher can be challenging, but within those challenges we often can reap multiple rewards as well. It is easy to develop a tunnel vision lens around the students who can sometimes suck the life out of us. Choose instead to focus on your diamonds; the students who come in and consistent behave well and work hard. Those students often keep us on our toes and inspire us to be better.  Learning is absolutely reciprocal, and there is much to learn and gain from our students. This class helped me to experience the compound effect of being a great educator when I needed it the most.

As we prepare for a new school year, remember to focus on your students who come with joy to school often times just to see you.  

Virtual Field Trips

Traditional Field trips are great, but they do have their drawbacks.  Maybe you don’t like the long bus ride. Maybe you have difficulty getting enough chaperones to volunteer or maybe traditional field trips are just too costly.  Virtual field trips are a great way to bring the world to your students without the hassle of a real field trip.

One of the best resources for virtual field trips that I know of is PORTS: Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students.  PORTS is run by the California State Parks and their rangers.  The park rangers will do a video conference with your class that provides real time, two-way communication.  The ranger can answer students’ questions and present a multimedia, live lesson to the students on a topic related to one of the state parks.  The students can interact with the park ranger as if they were right there, even though they are miles away.

Some of the PORTS topic include:

To prepare your class for the video conference, PORTS provides lesson plans, digital videos, digital images, and other media materials on the PORTS website.  All you need is a computer or tablet with a camera, a projector, and a high speed internet connection. PORTS is completely free, high quality, and are constantly adding new topics.  

To get started, go to the PORTS website  and check out the descriptions of the different topic (called Units of Study).  Then fill out the registration form to request a particular topic and date you would like to schedule the video conference.  The ranger or coordinator will get back to you by phone or email. Make your request early in the year, because spots fill up quickly.

Another resource for virtual field trips is the Microsoft Community Skype in the Classroom Virtual Field Trips.  It is also free, is set up similar to PORTS, and uses Skype to do the video conferences.  You do need to set up a username and password to sign in to the site. It has virtual field trips from all over the world.

Lastly California State Parks has partnered with Google to create an experience similar to street view on Google Maps for many state park trails and beaches called Google Trekker.  They did this by mounting a 3D camera to a backpack and walking the trails. This provides a self-guided way to see nature at our state parks without leaving your classroom. Check out all the locations available at this website.  This is also free, but is not interactive with a ranger and is not in real time.

I hope this gives you some ideas of ways you can use technology to bring the world into your classroom and provide an engaging, memorable learning experience for your students.

Improving Literacy with Fluency Tutor

Fluency Tutor logo.Hi everybody! So, I’ve recently been using a fantastic reading app called Fluency Tutor. The app is meant to take the place of traditional timed fluency tests and running records, both of which are extremely time consuming. The app has several tools/functions that make it a breeze to use. First, it is completely Google compatible. You can import classes from Google Classroom and create Google Classroom assignments from within the Fluency Tutor app. You can also assign to individual students or the whole class, all from with the app. It is also very easy to update your class if you’ve had new students join your Google Classroom.

Fluency Tutor also comes with Fluency Passages that are leveled. You can search passages by lexile level or AR level. This is just my personal opinion, but I’ve found the passages to be of high quality. Many are non-fiction and contain interesting topics like the process in which diamonds are created or how your tongue works. I also really like that some of the early-reader passages don’t look like early-reader passages. But the thing that I really like about this app is the digital tools it contains for students and teachers. Students can record and listen to themselves or even save their recording directly to their Google Drive. They can also have the text read to them and there’s even the option to have it read back in a different language! I’m not sure if every language works for every passage but I’ve seen a HUGE list of languages to select. Students can also click any word in the text and get a definition or a picture definition.

The teacher can create a vocabulary list for all of the words a students has clicked. The list features definitions and is created in a Google Doc. Once passages have been graded, students can see their scores  on a graph- there is a words correct per minute score and a ‘fluency score’ which grades them on phrasing, expression, etc.

For teachers the tools make grading a breeze! Once a student has finished their recording you can listen to it (or any past recordings) while looking at a copy of the text. If you click on any word in the text you can mark it as an error. You can also select the type of error, omission, insertion, substitution, etc. Also, when you click a word to select an error, the recording pauses. After you select the error-type the recording resumes. Awesome! You then mark the last word read in the text and fluency tutor calculates the words correct per minute for you. Once you’ve graded all the recordings for a particular passage you can download a spreadsheet (Google Sheets) with all the scores.

My very favorite tool allows the creation of fluency passages. This can be accomplished by the teacher or the student! Once the Chrome extension is installed a page can be turned into a fluency passage with the click of a button. Now, this doesn’t work with every page and will not work with pdf’s but when it works it is amazing. The resulting page typically looks very clean and pictures that were on the page are often embedded within the passage without errors. For older students, this is really fun and puts them in control of what they are reading. I really love this app because of how easy and useful it is. If you’ve ever hated trying to find time to do 20+ fluency tests then I would highly suggest this app. It does cost 99$ a year, but for me it was totally worth and this will be a tool that stays in my toolbox.

Technology is only as good as _______________________.

Finish this sentence:

Technology is only as good as _______________________.

Maybe you said:

Technology is only as good as its user.

*You may have been thinking of a teacher that calls for help because her computer stopped working and when you get there you plug it back in, and Ta-Da it works again. It’s amazing how electricity works these days.

*Or maybe it’s the teacher who calls for help because a student rotated the screen on the Chromebook. The best part is they sent the student out of the room before telling the student to fix it. If he did it once he can do it again.

Technology is only as good as its server/internet.

*This sentence may apply when you’re at work and you absolutely know you saved that document on the server but still can’t find it.

*When the server is down no one knows what to do. You may find your colleagues suddenly feeling ill or needing to lay down. Some may want to Google “Things to do without internet”, only to find they are still without connection. Which in turn may cause even more panic.

Technology is only as good as its App creator.

*Apps are great. They can help you keep track of your diet and how many steps have you taken that day. There’s even an App that you pay $1.00 to just to see how many people have paid $1.00! What would we do without the Apps?

*Some Apps are for entertainment. Where would we be if we didn’t have that “game” on our phones. Maybe it goes back to the no internet/server…panic would set in if you didn’t have something to keep you entertained.

I joke half heartedly about not having the internet but I see it in our students. If a student can’t access Google because they didn’t turn in their permission slip or the privilege was taken away they act as if life will end.

During state testing all electronic devices must be turned off and not accessible to students. As I collected phones many of them would say I don’t have a phone just to try and keep it with them. Of course I would then say “So what’s that in your pocket”? To which they would reply “Oh, you mean I can’t have it with me even if it’s off”? (Just so all is clear, no phones were out or accessible to any student during any test session). Our students live in the age of technology from the time they wake up to the time they….well it’s on all the time. They go into withdraw when they can’t have it. It’s crazy to me that my own children text each other when they are in the same house! Just get up and walk over to where they are at. It won’t hurt. It’s less than 30 ft.

So now I have another question:

Conversation is only as good as ____________________.

You decide:

Conversation is only as good as its user.

Conversation is only as good a its connection.

Conversation is only as good as its creator.