Category Archives: Websites

Refute It

One of the reasons I keep a blog is because I have a horrible memory.  It’s nice to go back in time every once in awhile and look at the posts I wrote so I can rediscover some great resources.  Luke Neff’s Writing Prompts site is one of those tools.  I originally mentioned the site in 2011.  Neff takes interesting images or quotes, and creates unusual, thought-provoking prompts for older students.  I revisited the site yesterday, and found a prompt that really resonated.  I want so much for my students to question and to use critical thinking skills.  This prompt may activate some lively discussion in my class – which is what I am aiming for!

image from:

For my list of my favorite online writing tools in 2011 (before Google Docs existed!), click here.



I was reading @chucktaft’s recent blog post on Social Studies Out Loud about his recent Breakout Edu experience, and almost missed a list of new-to-me digital tools near the end of the article (click here to see my blog post explaining Breakout Edu).  Taft offers a few different ways to leave clues for fun Breakout Edu experiences that I hadn’t seen, and one of them is Snotes.*

Snotes allows you to make short hidden messages.  The only way to read them is to turn them certain ways – both horizontally and vertically – which can be done physically or digitally.  There is a Snotes app (for both iOS and Android), which allows you to digitally send Snotes secret messages, and there is a Snotes Quotes app, which is a trivia game.

After trying out Snotes, you can register for a free account, which will allow you to make more Snotes. Or, you can pay $1.99 for a bunch of extra features like an “expanded secret decoder.”  Not really sure what that means, but it might be worth two bucks to find out.

It’s quite possible that I typed “snots” instead of “Snotes” somewhere in this blog post, although SpellCheck seems to have found enough “Snotes” to make that unlikely.

There are some other great clue suggestions on Chuck Taft’s site that you might want to check out.  You could use them outside the classroom, too.  My daughter hasn’t had a Christmas or Easter, yet, when she hasn’t had to solve puzzles to find at least some of her treasure…   (She’ll probably get her revenge on me when I die by encoding an evil message on my tombstone.)

*Unfortunately, the website may be blocked in your district, but you can always create Snotes at home to use for school, or use the app.


15 Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep

My students, especially my 4th and 5th graders, love math challenges.  If I can, I find ones that don’t show the answer so we can all try to figure them out.  I think it’s good for the students to see me struggling (and I really do!), and how I handle frustration over particularly devilish problems.  Last week, my 5th graders and I spent a good 30 minutes on this “easy” problem on Steve Miller’s Math Riddles page. (Technically, they had an excuse since they hadn’t exactly learned the math skill needed to solve the problem – yet.)

If you are looking for some unique math problems that will feel more like brainteasers than standardized test practice, here are some sites that I haven’t mentioned before:

And here are some that bear repeating (*sites include activities for primary grades, K-2):

With more and more articles coming out every day about the importance of modeling a good attitude toward math (like this one and this one), it seems kind of as simple as 1+1=2 to come to the conclusion that the people who have fun doing math will be more inclined to do it more often.

UPDATE 4/26/17 – I can’t believe I forgot to include this one: Estimation 180. So, there’s a bonus for you!

image from: fdecomite on Flickr

Make a Manifesto with Canva

As our school year begins to wind down, my 5th grade gifted students are attempting to synthesize all that they have learned by determining what they “know for sure.”  While browsing the examples on Laura Moore’s TCEA Hyperdoc website (click here for my original post about her Hyperdoc presentation), I found this “Manifesto Project.”  When I showed it to my students, they were excited about designing their own manifestos. We did a lot of brainstorming and discussion before the students started working on Canva.  The examples I am showing you are just rough drafts (including mine), but I think they are off to a great start!  Knowing the personalities of these students, I am very impressed by how the students were careful to choose words and designs that really reflect their values and beliefs.

I remarked that it might be fun to make each manifesto into a t-shirt, and the students got super excited about the idea.  So, if anyone has done something like that before, please give me suggestions in the comments below!

If you are interested in more ideas for using Canva in the classroom, here is a link to their lesson suggestions.


Word Mandalas

I am such a geek.  Last night, I was researching mandalas for an upcoming lesson with my 4th graders.  I remembered that Richard Byrne had just published a post about a new online magazine creator, so I thought it might be fun to try it out and let my students collaborate on the magazine.  Then, I started looking for images to put on the magazine cover, and came across a mandala that used words instead of symbols.  There was no information on how it was created, so I did a search for word mandalas – and that is how I landed on Mandific. (I still haven’t discovered how the original word mandala picture I found was made, but that’s okay.)

Type a word into Mandific, and it will create a mandala for you using the letters of the word.  You can adjust the color, the spacing of the letters, and the design.  See if you can figure out my word in the mandala below.

mandalaword art
Word Mandala created with Mandific

H/T to GeekMom for sharing this tool on a blog post.

Then, I continued my search (I won’t tell you how long I spent on Mandific before remembering my actual mission.) I found  Still not exactly what I was looking for, but it gave me another alternative for including words in a mandala.

Created with

As you can see, I didn’t spend a lot of time on that one because I had suddenly become obsessed with finding the perfect word mandala generators.

My next attempt was with using the word cloud generator, Tagul.

Word Cloud
Made with Tagul

I also tried Tagxedo, which will allow you to upload your own image to make into a word cloud. However, I had so many problems with it not loading correctly on three different browsers, that I finally moved on to some iPad apps.

WordFoto has always been a favorite of mine.  I uploaded a photograph of a mandala from the web, and then added some text. If you are not familiar with WordFoto, here is a post I wrote about the app.

Photo Mar 22, 7 21 43 PM
created with WordFoto app

My last word mandala attempt was created with the TypeDrawing app. I uploaded a mandala photo, and then traced the main lines with words and some of the symbols offered in the app. After completing my drawing, I changed the photo opacity setting so that only my drawing shows. I have to say that this was my favorite creation.

Photo Mar 22, 7 46 23 PM
created with TypeDrawing app

Photo Mar 22, 7 44 12 PM

I will keep you posted on what we use! If you have any other ideas for word mandalas (that don’t require expensive software like Photoshop), please let me know in the comments below.

Common Mythconceptions

Did you know the Great Wall of China is not visible from space, you can’t kill someone by dropping a penny from the Leaning Tower of Pisa (or any other building), and bananas don’t grow on trees?  These are some of the “Common Mythconceptions” you can find on Information is Beautiful.  The visualizations on this page are just a snippet of what you can get in the infographic book titled, Knowledge is Beautiful, but they are fascinating to read.  There are different colors to represent various topics, such as science and sports, and the size of the circular icon for each fact denotes the “virulence of the idea.”

You might not want to set younger student loose on this site, as it does include some sensitive topics.  As an elementary teacher I would use it as a resource for some google search challenges to give my students.  It would be fun to develop a “how certain are you” quiz a-la Russel Tarr with some of the information on the site.

In a world where tsunamis of information overwhelm us every time we turn around, one of the best things we can do for our students is to help them learn how to distinguish the facts from the “mythconceptions.”

image from: Wikipedia


This year I seem to have a group of students in each of my grade levels who are passionate about math.  Every time I pull out a math activity, they devour it with glee.  It has been a challenge for me to give these students assignments which maintain their excitement for “hard” math without discouraging them with work that is too difficult.  Their classroom teachers are facing the same dilemma.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to see what my 4th and 5th grade gifted students thought about Prodigy.  Prodigy is an online math game that is free.  (It is also available as an app.)  Teachers can add classrooms of students, and can manage the math topics students practice, as well as the levels at which each student plays.  I immediately assigned all of my students to topics above their current grade levels.  After introducing it in class, I gave them their individual passcodes, letters for their parents, and the caution that playing Prodigy was completely optional.  I also notified their homeroom teachers, and made it clear to the students and the teachers that it was completely up to the teachers to decide if the students could play the game in class.

My students say that the graphics are apparently reminiscent of that popular game, Pokemon.  The students create avatars and can battle each other by doing math problems. They can also earn different abilities as they progress through the game.

There is a paid option for Prodigy, where parents can buy memberships.  This allows the students to access a few more features than the free version.  I have one student who asked his parent for permission to get the membership so far; everyone else seems satisfied with the free game.

I like that I can see individual student reports with Prodigy and that I can differentiate for each child in my class.  I am also pleasantly surprised to see how excited the students are about playing the game.  In addition, the privacy aspect seems fairly good, as the avatars do not give away any student information.

Prodigy does not teach.  It is not a substitute for engaging classroom lessons that include higher order thinking skills.  I enjoy using it as a formative assessment as it gives me reports on the strengths and weaknesses of each of my students in the skills they are assigned, but I would be appalled by any teacher who used Prodigy as their only method of assessment or differentiation.

As long as my students continue to be excited about math, I will view Prodigy as one of the many tools at our disposal that supports their learning.  But I will also continue to provide them with real-life opportunities to use math in relevant ways.