Category Archives: Websites

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.

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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 MyOats.com.  Still not exactly what I was looking for, but it gave me another alternative for including words in a mandala.

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Created with MyOats.com

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.

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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.

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created with TypeDrawing app

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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.”

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image from: Wikipedia

Prodigy

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.

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Barclays Coding Playground

It’s been awhile since I stepped foot in my bank. With online resources and apps, I don’t even have to go there to deposit my checks.  But I didn’t realize banks had increased their lobby services to teaching kids how to code…

Okay, not all banks do this.  But Barclays, a bank in the UK, has made it a mission to “demystify” coding, and has even trained some of its staff (Barclays Digital Eagles) to provide tw0-hour coding sessions for ages 7-17 in branches across the UK.

Well, that’s great, you think to yourself, but I’m not in the UK.  No worries, Barclays has you covered, too.  Head on over to Barclays Coding Playground, and you too can practice the basics of coding.  Select any of the objects roaming around the screen and you will be directed to change some of its features using lines of code.  For example, see the giraffe below?  I know.  It doesn’t look like a giraffe.  That’s because I coded it to have a particularly short neck.  Because I could.  And because when I made the neck its maximum size the head went off my browser page which made the image a bit more difficult to capture…

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The Playground isn’t going to make your child into a coding rockstar, but it is fun and would probably entice anyone who hasn’t programmed before to take a few more steps toward learning more.

If you want more resources for coding, here is my Pinterest page.  Also, I will be doing a presentation at TCEA in Austin, Texas, called, “Code Dread,” for those of you who find all of this talk of teaching kids to code slightly disturbing because Barclays wasn’t kind enough to demystify it for you when you were a child 😉

 

Greg Tang Math Resources

Don’t tell anyone, but Greg Tang Math penetrated my incredible resistance to e-mail spam and persuaded me to visit the site out of curiosity.  I’m not really sure why the persistent e-mails that I kept trashing finally grabbed my attention, but I obviously wouldn’t be writing this post if they hadn’t eventually been successful.  (If you happen to be a spammer, please don’t think I am encouraging you to try the same strategy;  I can promise you that it was a one-time-thing…)

The good news is that I actually found some unique math materials on the site.  There are plenty of free resources that you can download, and even some interesting online math games.  For gifted students, the Kakooma and Expresso pages are great challenges. (There is also an online version of Kakooma on this page.) In addition, there are some printable math games on the resources page.

Of course, there are plenty of things you can purchase on the site.  Otherwise, what would be the purpose of the e-mail barrage?  But I think that you will agree that there is a generous dose of free materials, which makes some advertising bearable 🙂

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The Pulitzer Center

In yesterday’s blog post, I mentioned how our class has connected with experts through Skype in the Classroom.  One of the experts was a science reporter named Erik Vance, who helped my 3rd graders really understand the impact overfishing has had on ocean ecosystems. (The students are working on a Genius Hour project about protecting the coral reefs.)  Mr. Vance was matched with us after we scheduled a request for an interview on the topic on Skype in the Classroom.  Our request went to the Pulitzer Center, and a member of their staff, Fareed Mostoufi, arranged for Mr. Vance to speak with the children at our requested date and time.  You can read about the interview here.

The Pulitzer Center in its own words, “promotes in-depth engagement with global affairs through its support for quality international journalism across all media platforms and an innovative program of outreach and education.”  In addition to virtual class visits and curricular resources for all grade levels, the Pulitzer Center has a “Lesson Builder” for educators, which is free to use.  You can use the lesson plans already available in the Community, such as “Visualizing the Drone Debate,” or, “Interpreting Global Issues Through Picasso’s Guernica,” or build your own lessons with the online tool.  You will need to register and log in (free) in order to build your own lessons and save them.

If you are trying to “flatten” your classroom, and to educate your students as global citizens, The Pulitzer Center is an excellent resource to help you get started.

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Screen Shot of Some of the Model Lessons Available from The Pulitzer Center

 

Skype in the Classroom

We have been using Skype for a few years in my classroom.  Sometimes we have chatted with experts for genius hour projects and other times we have talked with classmates who have moved away.  A couple of times we have used it to talk with app developers about products the students were beta testing.

As many educators know, inviting other adults into your classroom, whether virtually or physically, can be extremely unpredictable.  While these adults may be experts, that does not guarantee they are able to impart their knowledge effectively to young people.  They may have great intentions, but might have a hard time keeping your students interested.

This is what is great about using the resources from Skype in the Classroom.  On this site, you can look for guest speakers, virtual field trips, and other classrooms to collaborate with.  The people who have volunteered to have information posted on the site are experienced working with students.  Your chances of having a great Skype lesson are increased when choosing a contact who is prepared to speak to a young audience.

Right before the Winter Break, students in a couple of my gifted and talented classes had successful Skype conversations.  My second graders benefited from a virtual field trip  to Buffalo Bill Center of the West near Yellowstone Park as they learned about animal adaptations, while my 3rd graders spoke with a reporter about protecting the oceans from overfishing.  Both sessions were scheduled through the Skype in the Classroom site after I did some filtered searching based on topics and grade level.  Once they were scheduled, I received e-mails with further details to prepare for the Skypes, and reminders the day before each session.

After each Skype, my students and I felt very gratified that the hosts were willing to volunteer 45 minutes out of their days to help the students understand their topics better. The experts were able to offer perspectives and ideas that were new to all of us, and we agreed we definitely learned quite a bit.  I must admit, also, that I was relieved that the presenters were not only very knowledgeable about their subjects, but excellent at communicating with children.

If you want to use the Skype in the Classroom site, you will need to have a free Skype contact already created, and to register with the Skype in the Classroom site.  If you are a beginner, don’t worry.  There are tons of resources on the site to get you started.  In addition, you will find the people who respond to your interview requests are very happy to help as well.

Take your students to places and people they might not otherwise ever encounter with Skype in the Classroom.  It will deepen everyone’s learning, including your own.

UPDATE 1/8/17: I just found this fantastic blog post that gives suggestions for Skype Virtual Field Trips from Skype Master Teachers!

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A student shares her animal adaptation research with a docent from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West