I recently revisited the site to take a look at the page full of Slow Reveal Graphs for elementary students, and was delighted to see one for Wordle Stats by Andrew Gael (@bkdidact). It provides a Google Slides presentation ready to go that includes a Jimmy Fallon clip where the Tonight Show host plays Wordle, apparently for the first time. This is great for two reasons: students who haven’t played can learn along with him, and he models how to learn from failed attempts as he plays. After the clip, students are shown the Stats page which many of us are familiar with, and information is filled in on each slide so that students can try to figure out how the chart will eventually be completed.
If you’re looking for fun ways to begin the school year, this could be the ticket for you. Do the Slow Reveal Graph, and then have students either make their own Wordles or try one of the many variations that I’ve collected here.
Many of you may also follow my friend, Donna Lasher, at Big Ideas 4 Little Scholars. She also has a Facebook group, and sends out a newsletter. If so, you may have seen her recent blog post in which she announced some new puzzle books she has just released: Crypt-O-Words (Grades 4-7) and Crypt-O-WordsJr (Grades 2-5). You can currently purchase the e-bookor paperback versions of each of these here.
These books are designed to teach advanced vocabulary through the use of riddles, puzzles, and games. Click on the link for each individual book to preview some sample pages on the website for Critical Thinking Co. As you work through the books, there are “call-backs” to previous words, so that students continue to review the vocabulary and using it in different contexts even as they are adding new words to their repertoire.
With 30 lessons in the Crypt-O-Words book for Grades 4-7, students will have the opportunity to learn and practice using higher level words that were gleaned from recommended PSAT and SAT word lists. Even better, the students will have fun discovering the words and applying them as they solve a wide variety of puzzles that will challenge their logic and critical thinking skills as well.
The books begin with short explanations and general suggestions for integrating the books into your class. One unique feature of the book, however, is that it continues to give specific teaching tips for each lesson, along with suggestions for extending learning.
While most students doing these activities will not be learning a new language, the process for acquiring unfamiliar vocabulary should include the steps outlined in this article from Babbel: Selection, Association, Review, Storage, and Use. In Donna Lasher’s Crypt-O-Words series, students perform these actions consistently without it seeming repetitive — due to the incredible assortment of different types of puzzles. Each exercise begins with a riddle that hints at the word being introduced so students can make predictions, a puzzle to help students “discover” the word so they can find out if they were correct, and multiple challenges to help them practice the words in context.
Whether you are a parent who has noticed your child has an affinity for language, or a teacher who is searching for an enrichment resource for children who would benefit from some extra challenges in language arts, the Crypt-O-Words books are engaging and worthwhile purchases that make learning vocabulary fun instead of a chore.
When I was asked to write curriculum for some picture books, I jumped at the chance. Without a young child at home any longer, I don’t spend as much time in that section of the bookstore very often — and I miss it. I was given a few books to begin the project and pulled one out randomly, settling in happily to immerse myself in the illustrations and simple prose of Memoirs of a Tortoise, by Devin Scillian and illustrated by Tim Bowers.
By the end, there were tears in my eyes.
Memoirs of a Tortoise is a year in the life of Oliver, an 80 year old tortoise, who spends happy days with his human friend, Ike. Though Oliver is comparatively young in tortoise years, Ike is not. One day, Ike does not return to their garden, and Oliver must make a trek to visit his 137 year old mother 10 gardens away to find out why Oliver’s “pet” human couldn’t stay with him.
Though the book gently addresses the theme of loss, it is not sad. There a few humorous lines, and the story’s ending is a reminder of the fact that we may not be able to enjoy someone’s physical presence forever, but we can be grateful for the time we had them and hopeful that we will continue to encounter new friends along our journey.
I love a book that you can repeatedly re-read and discover new delights each time. Memoirs of a Tortoise is one of those books. I need to read the other three “memoirs” by this author/illustrator team, but it’s difficult to imagine they will have the same kind of impact on me as this beautiful story.
To order Memoirs of a Tortoise and learn more about the author, click here. (I did not recall until I looked at the site that Scillian also wrote a book I used frequently with my students, P is for Passport.) I also highly recommend reading Scillian’s bio, which shows him to be quite the Renaissance Man with a variety of interests and talents. Tim Bowers is equally fascinating, and you can learn more about him here.
If you are a teacher of students in grades 3-5 in the US, you might be interested in signing up for The Pen Pal Project sponsored by the United States Postal Service and We are Teachers. Participation is free and each class receives a Pen Pal Project kit. Sign-ups end on December 12, 2021, so be sure to visit the site right away if you want to be included. Although stamps will not be part of the kit, envelopes and stationery will be provided. You can find more information here.
Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season. I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) on every November and December. These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child. For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page.I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students.
I actually wanted to recommend Microbit V.2 in my 2020 list, but noted that it was difficult to find it anywhere to purchase in the United States, the location of a majority of my readers. After collecting even more resources for it throughout this year, I was once again eager to include it — but found it to be almost as elusive. However, I dove into locating some stock and I think we may be in luck.
The Microbit is a “pocket-sized computer” with LED’s, buttons, and sensors. The original version has been out a few years, but last year saw the release of version 2, which added audio sensing and a speaker. You can read all about it, and see some examples of cool things you can do with it, here. Many places still sell the first version, so be sure you are getting Microbit V.2 if you want the audio capabilities. This is the page that shows retailers, but I’ll also list a couple at the end of this post who currently have some in stock.
To use your Microbit, you will need a computer (with micro USB cable) or mobile device (with bluetooth). You will create code for it on a device, and then transfer it to the Microbit. Directions for getting started can be found here. A battery pack will be needed if you are using a mobile device, or if you want to use your Microbit away from the computer. That’s why I recommend purchasing the starter pack which includes the cable and battery.
There are several platforms you can use to code Microbit (get a summary here) including Scratch and Make Code. You can also set up a free Microbit classroom if you are an educator. Technically, you don’t even need a Microbit if you are using the Make Code editor, as there is a virtual one for testing out your code, but what fun is that?
For some of the lessons and fun project ideas I’ve collected, you can check out this Wakelet. And don’t forget that next week, December 6-12, is Hour of Code week.
Here are some potential places to get a Microbit V.2 as of 11/29/2021:
Amazon (cable and battery pack included): $38.90, only 12 left in stock
Walmart (Microbit only, so you would need to purchase a Micro USB cable and batter pack separately): $40.79 + shipping is kind of a high price, to be honest, but the result of supply and demand at the moment, unfortunately.
PiShop.CA (includes cable and battery pack): $25.95 + shipping, which I think is $18 for the US based on this page
Elmwood Electronics.CA (includes cable and battery pack): $21.87 + shipping. The extremely helpful customer service rep, Stewart, told me, “Shipping to the USA from Canada (we’re in Toronto) can be extremely variable. Our US sister company Chicago Electronic Distributors – can accept educational orders, and are set up to work with US tax exemptions and payment systems. If your readers wish to contact email@example.com for a quote, we can transfer stock from Canada and fulfill from our warehouse in Florida. This might add 10 days or so to the order time, but we do have the stock.”
If you are not in a rush to get it, and you are good with buying your own USB cord and battery pack, SparkFun indicates they will have some Microbits in stock by December 5th for $15.95 + shipping. You can add yourself to a waiting list to be notified. You can also add yourself to a waiting list at Adafruit (no indication of when they will get new stock) for a $19.95 pack with the battery and cable.
As I mentioned last week, the International Hour of Code Week is coming December 6-12, and I think it is an amazing experience for students and teachers. I understand that it can be daunting for anyone who has little or no experience with coding, but the people at Code.org really make it easy for anyone to participate — even if you have no digital devices in the classroom. One of the things that may seem like an obstacle to many teachers during this year of “catching up” is trying to fit coding into the curriculum. Code.org provides many tutorials that can be used in different subjects and this week, I noticed they have released a new tutorial that would be awesome for ELA teachers in grades 4-8. Through the “Coding with Poetry” tutorial, students will learn how to animate some classic poems, and write and share their own poetry to animate. With short videos, examples, and the option to have instructions read out loud, this lesson is a wonderful step-by-step walk through that will help students to feel like accomplished authors and coders by the end. I particularly like the introductory video, where a student named Caia explains how her passions for both poetry and computer science intersect.
For an example of one way my students have mingled coding and poetry, visit this post from when we used Scratch and Makey Makey to make interactive onomatopoeia poems. And, for many more coding resources once you and your students get hooked, here is my Wakelet collection.