Category Archives: Teaching Tools

Customizing Words by Osmo

Even though the Osmo Words game has been around for a few years, many people probably do not take advantage of its full potential.  The Words app is engaging and fun, but can be even more powerful educationally by customizing it.

If adults sign up for a free account at myOsmo, they can add their own albums of pictures and words that can be downloaded to the library on the mobile device being used to play Words.  For example, my first graders choose their own countries to study.  As we learn about different features of the countries, I add photos to an album in myWords that they can then use to review.

You can find instructions for customizing the Words game here.  Using your own albums not only allows you to make the game relevant to current learning topics in your classroom, but also to differentiate.  You could use the same pictures in different albums with different vocabulary.  Or, you can associate a picture with several words of varying difficulty.  For example, a picture of the Taj Mahal may prompt the students to guess Taj Mahal, India, or even tomb.

The online album customization is made even easier with links to UnSplash, an awesome resource of Creative Commons photos.  Or, if you don’t want to make your own album, there are many that other teachers have made and shared publicly that you can also download to your device.

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Some examples of the public albums in Osmo Words
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CommonLit Poetry

Back in 2015, I found out about CommonLit from Richard Byrne and pointed people to his post to learn more about this free resource for teachers.  Since then, CommonLit has added a Guided Reading feature that can really be helpful for differentiation in your classroom, Book Pairings, and probably a few other tools that I haven’t mentioned – yet it has continued to be free.  This is huge in the world of EdTech, where teachers often find ourselves priced out of “free” programs.

Since it is National Poetry Month, I thought I would remind you of CommonLit, which does have quite a few poetry offerings.  Once you log in and go to the library page, you can see some of the featured poems selected by the staff for this month.  You can also go to the “Browse all Text Sets” page in order to search for particular genres, themes, grade levels (3rd grade and up), and lexiles.

I love looking at the Book Pairings, which offer supplemental short texts to accompany novels.  For example, my 5th graders read The Giver, and CommonLit links to 4 poems that nicely fit with the themes of the book (along with some news articles and informational texts as well). The search page helpfully identifies the genre of each link, its lexile level, and grade level.  CommonLit even gives you advice on which point in the novel would be a good time to add the paired text.

CommonLit offers a Teacher Dashboard so that you can assign passages within the site.  There are also short assessments and suggested discussion questions for each assignment.

Because CommonLit is a nonprofit organization, it promises that its resources will always be free for teachers.  Take advantage of this site to encourage deeper reading, discussion, and connections.

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Go to CommonLit for more information.

Google Expeditions AR

I was a bit disappointed and, yes, a lot jealous, when our school wasn’t chosen to try out the Google Expeditions VR program as it traveled to different cities around the U.S.  I had tried Expeditions at some technology conferences and thought our students would enjoy the unique experience.

With virtual reality, students wear “Google Cardboard” goggles, which have phones inserted in the front.  Once an Expedition is begun by the teacher, the students are basically immersed in the environment as the teacher leads them through a field trip of a place like a coral reef.

The VR experience is great, but most elementary classrooms do not have the equipment to make it a reality.  Since only one student can use a pair of goggles at a time, and the goggles require a phone, the logistics are a bit tricky for the standard K-5 classroom.

Google has recently begun to beta test a new version of Expeditions, which is augmented reality instead of virtual reality.   No VR goggles are required, and tablets can be used.  The AR version is not available to the public, yet, but our school was fortunate this time to be chosen to try this version out. (If you are interested in seeing if your school can beta test Expeditions AR, go to this sign-up form.)

On the day of the beta test, all of the teachers who had signed up at our school attended a 30 minute training with the Google representative to learn how to use the equipment.  (Google provides everything for the sessions that day, including routers so they don’t have to use the school wi-fi.)  During each 30 minute session, groups of 3 students use Android phones that are on sticks (see the pics below) to scan QR codes that are on papers on the ground.  The teacher, who has already chosen from a list of possible Expeditions, leads the students through different images, controlling it all on his/her device.  All students see the same image at the same time.

When the first image appears, there are usually squeals of delight as the students realize that they are viewing a 3 dimensional version of a bee, or a dinosaur, or a volcano.  They can walk around all sides of the image, and even, for some, go inside.  A few students had some difficulty understanding the spatial dimensions, but most quickly caught on.  The enthusiasm of the teachers (many who had never used augmented reality) and the students mounted throughout the 30 minutes as they investigated planets, tornadoes, and some human anatomy.  Throughout the day, students in K-4 had a chance to try out the technology, and all seemed engaged.

Overall, this technology seems like it has potential for wide-spread use in elementary, since it will be available on tablets (iOS and Google Play) for free.  The trick will be to make sure that teachers design pedagogically sound lessons to utilize it rather than depend on the novelty to lead learning.  As augmented reality become more ubiquitous, the oohs and ahs will quickly subside if there is no other substance to the lesson.  As someone who has been using AR in my classroom for years, I am well aware that it is more important to include technology when it supports the lesson than to depend on the technology to be the lesson.

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Digital Breakout Tools

“Digital Breakouts” are similar to the physical game, where students use clues to try to open locks.  However, in a Digital Breakout, the students input the lock codes online, usually into a Google Form, rather than using tangible locks.  One of our NEISD Instructional Technology Specialists, Heather Miller (@SATechieTeacher) recently used this technique for a PD she presented to our staff, and inspired me to try to create a few of my own for my students.  This “Fibonacci Thief” DBO (I’m guessing it was designed by a Mrs. VanKirk in Milton SD based on the URL) is an example of a Digital Breakout that uses Google Forms embedded in a Google Site.

If you haven’t used Google Sites, don’t be intimidated.  You can actually make a simple Digital Breakout just using Google Forms and inserting some images.  This excellent video explains how to create “locked” Google Forms in a matter of minutes.

This page offers more video tutorials if you want to add some complexity to your Digital Breakout, such as embedding the form in a Google Site with pages for different clues.  It also includes a crowd-sourced document of resources for making fun images and clues.  Kari Augustine’s Breakout EDU Pinterest Board is another place that you can find ideas for generating interesting graphics and codes.  A couple that I found over the weekend that I plan to try are:

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angelique

As soon as I create a couple of my own Digital Breakouts worth sharing, I will post them to this blog!

Dinkee

My daughter (15) and I love to play word games.  A couple of years ago, she received a game called, “Linkee” for Christmas.  “Linkee” has cards that give four trivia questions.  After answering the four questions, players try to figure out what the answers all have in common.  When they figure it out, they shout, “Linkee!”  If they are right, they win the card, which has a letter on the back.  The first person to earn all of the letters that spell “Linkee,” wins.

We love the game (even though no one else will play with us).  However, a lot of the references are a bit too difficult for elementary aged kids.  You can imagine my delight, then, when I discovered there is another version of “Linkee” specifically designed for younger children.  “Dinkee” is for ages 8 and up.  If you want to get a sense of the game, you can visit this site, where there are sample cards as well as a free downloadable version.

I played “Dinkee” with my eighteen 2nd grade students yesterday, and they loved it.  They worked as tables to try to earn the cards, and it seemed the only regret was that we didn’t have time to finish the game.  I’ll definitely be adding this to my list of recommended games for kids.

If you question the value of a game like this in school, then you might want to read this article, which gives a pretty compelling argument about the benefits of making connections.

To challenge your own brain in a similar fashion, you can also try the “Kennections” puzzles by Jeopardy champion, Ken Jennings.

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Dinkee is available on Amazon

Montague Workshop

You may recognize Brad Montague (@thebradmontague) as the creator of the outstanding Kid President videos.  But his creativity and compassionate work with kids does not stop there.  He and his wife have begun a “Joyful Rebellion” with the Montague Workshop.  What began as a series of videos has evolved into 8 resources for teachers that include the Montague Workshop videos, lesson plans, and activities written by teachers.  As the website declares, “Our aim is to be the Alfred to your Batman.”

I don’t know about you, but I feel like a Joyful Rebellion is exactly what we need right now!

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Global “Heart” Warming

One of the presentations I gave at TCEA was called, “Global ‘Heart’ Warming,” – a title that one of my friends later told me should be changed because it didn’t really describe the presentation very well.  (I’ll take new name suggestions in the comments below.) However, I thought I would share the presentation here for those of you unable to attend.  There are tons of links (especially in the “Project-ing” section) to different ways that you can collaborate globally.

Global _Heart_warming quote
Aaron Sorkin

Of course, some slides would make more sense during an oral presentation.  If you are ever interested in having me present to your school or at an event, please contact me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com.  You can see other available presentations on the top right side-bar of this site.