Crossword Puzzle
3-5, 5-8, Language Arts, Vocabulary

Crypt-O-Words

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-Words Jr (Grades 2-5). You can currently purchase the e-book or 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.

By the way, I’ll be adding this to my Brainteasers and Puzzles collection. Check it out if you are hunting for some diverting challenges for your students!

3-5, 5-8, Computer Science

Gifts for the Gifted — Microbit v.2

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.

BBC Microbit V.2

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 info@chicagodist.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.

3-5, 5-8, Computer Science, Creative Thinking, Writing

Coding with Poetry

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.

Learn about how Caia combines poetry with computer science in this video from Code.org.

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.

5-8, 6-12, Anti-Racism, Videos

Crash Course: Black American History

Clint Smith, author of How the Word is Passed, and staff writer at The Atlantic, hosts a new series called Black American History on the Crash Course YouTube Channel. As of today, June 4, 2021, there are 5 short videos on the channel, including an introductory preview. Though the videos are short (less than 15 minutes each), they probably already cover more Black American history than the textbooks that are currently in our public schools. For example, the 4th video covers Elizabeth Key’s legal battle for freedom — certainly a piece of history that was never covered in any of my classes.

Watching these videos can help people to understand the complexity of our country’s past and how it still has a strong hold over our present. For example, in the video that teaches about the slave codes that were written even before the United States was a country, the following quote refers to these laws of the 17th and 18th centuries:

From Crash Course Black American History “Slave Codes”

Unfortunately, statistics show that the disparity among races in consequences for breaking the law is still true in some places in our country today. While our current laws are not overtly racist like the slave codes, they are often enforced that way.

I look forward to learning more from this Crash Course series, and I hope that teachers will be able to use it in their classrooms — though, ironically, teachers in Texas and some other states may not have the freedom to do so.

I will be adding this post to my Wakelet of Anti-racism Resources.

5-8, 6-12, Videos

On Being Wrong

A few weeks ago, I vowed never to discuss politics on Facebook again. Vicious statements were being thrown around even amongst some in my friend group, and I realized that getting involved was only escalating people’s anger. Then a friend of mine who has some different political views than I do invited me to participate in a small group chat on Messenger with a few of her other friends. We are all from vastly different backgrounds, and have diverse opinions, but it has been very illuminating for me. In fact, it has made me question some of my own strong perspectives and, yes, to admit that I might be wrong about some things.

In this TED Talk from Kathryn Schulz, a “wrongologist”, in 2011, Schulz talks about the fear that many of us have – that getting something wrong means there is something wrong with us. It’s a characteristic I observed often in my gifted students, and I can attest that I am extremely hard on myself when I make mistakes. Fear of making mistakes can paralyze people. But overcorrecting for that can also have terrible consequences. As Schulz demonstrates when she describes an example from the medical field, “Trusting too much in the feeling of being on the right side of anything can be very dangerous.”

When we are certain we are right, we often make false assumptions about those who disagree. According to Schulz (and I certainly have observed this) we: assume the other side is ignorant because they don’t know all of the facts, then assume they are idiots because they have the facts but don’t interpret them correctly, then assume they are evil because they are intelligent but still don’t agree with us.

At the beginning of this video, I thought that it probably would end up being a poor choice for me to recommend on this blog. It’s 17 minutes long (way beyond the attention span of many students), and it’s from almost 10 years ago. But, as Schulz explains (wisdom she gather from Ira Glass), our lives are full of, “I thought this one thing was going to happen and this other thing happened instead.”

So, I will admit that I was wrong. I think this video would be great to share with students from 5th-12th grade, and with adults everywhere. Schulz is witty, brings in great examples, and the information is just as relevant (if not more so) today.

When I think about the things that I know for sure, that I am absolutely confident about, I can count them on less than 10 fingers. One belief I have is that we must try to understand each other instead of jumping to “the other side is evil” whenever we disagree.

I’m willing to bet some people would argue with that statement.

But, I’m also willing to allow for the fact that it might be wrong.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay
5-8, K-5, Websites

What’s the Big Idea?

I first mentioned Donna Lasher’s website, Big Ideas for Little Scholars, last January. Since that post, she has added so much more to this incredible resource, so I thought it would be good to revisit it. If you teach gifted and talented and/or advanced elementary or middle school students, Donna’s site should be your number one bookmarked page in your browser. It is incredibly thorough and very well-organized. For example, she has a page of academic and creative contests organized by categories, as well as a link to a page where they are grouped by months they begin. If you are looking for seasonal and holiday lessons, Donna (@bdlasher) has another page for these in chronological order.

With lesson ideas, teaching materials, books, and websites all organized by grade level bands, Big Ideas for Little Scholars makes it simple for teachers and parents to access innumerable resources for children who are craving more challenges in any subject area. In addition, you can visit Donna’s “About” page to learn how you can get invited to access and contribute to a Google Team Drive for teachers of gifted students.

I love to read Donna’s blog posts, and I always look forward to receiving her newsletter in my Inbox. If you feel like you’re in a rut (okay – I realize many of you wish you could get in a rut right now), want to find a fresh way to teach something, or desire ideas to make a topic more engaging, Big Ideas for Little Scholars should be the first place you look.

Through deeper learning experiences students master core academic content and build skills in problem solving and critical thinking. **THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN DIGITALLY ALTERED TO REMOVE OR OBSCURE STUDENT IDENTITIES.**
Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action