The Social Distancing Puzzles

Yesterday’s post, which was about finding creative ways to make Zoom (or any online conference) calls fun, was a nice lead-in today’s shared activity. Eric Berlin, puzzlemaker extraordinaire, (see my Puzzlesnacks post for more info) came up with an ingenious idea that adds a twist to social distancing while earning money for charity.  When you use the form linked on this page to donate to Feeding America, and then provide a screen shot of your receipt, you will be e-mailed two sets of eleven puzzles in PDF form.  Choose a puzzle partner to give Set A or B to, and you will work on the other.  You can do some of the puzzles independently, and others will need collaboration.  The combination of puzzle answers from both sets will be needed to solve the final puzzle.

I haven’t done all of the puzzles, yet, but they look like they are probably suited for teenagers and up.  With your two sets of challenges comes a third file of hints and solutions.  For more information about Feeding America, you can visit this page on their website.  However, be sure to go to Eric Berlin’s page through this link so your donation will be correctly allocated.

Word Puzzle Grid
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


In April of 2020, as much of the world had fallen under the pall of the pandemic, more and more people were resorting to Zoom video as a replacement for socializing in person.  A few organizations (not affiliated with Zoom) decided to organize a “#ZoomJam,” with the challenge to create innovative games that could be played in this new context.  You can read more about the organizers of #ZoomJam and its origins here.

The competition has ended (though you can still submit games), and you can see the top winners on the #ZoomJam home page.  For a full list of games, you can visit here.

Looking at the games with the lens of an educator, I can see many that could be adapted for teachers to use either as class bonding activities or for academics.  Some of the notable ideas that I could see using with students are: Aardvark, Dance-Off, Hot-Seat, Mute-iny, Night at the Museum, Split Decision, and Zoom Spot.  Of course, you may see many more opportunities on the list that I missed!

Put on a parent lens, friend or family member lens, and you may discover some other #ZoomJam games that you want to attempt – or maybe submit one of your own!

Video Conference
Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Texts for Talking About Race

As I continue to educate myself on anti-racism, I have vowed to devote a weekly post to this cause.  I have been curating resources for this at a rate that is impossible to sustain, and it has been a bit overwhelming.  I don’t want to dump a lot of links on you because you can basically get any list that you want from social media.  Following the tradition of this blog, I will attempt to share no more than a few quality resources with each post.

Today’s very useful resource is brought to you by CommonLit.  I’ve written about CommonLit a couple of times on this blog, and it is heartening to see that this website has continued to improve.  Provided by a non-profit, CommonLit also has remained free for teachers.  As you know, (and I mentioned in yesterday’s post), quality ed tech tools are difficult to find, and sometimes don’t last very long.

CommonLit has compiled 59 texts for talking about race.  It appears that the grade range is from 4th-12th.  Here is an example of a poem called, “The Child,” by J. Patrick Lewis, that is suitable for 4th grade and up.  As you can see on the right-hand side, activities are provided to go along with the text, including questions and discussion suggestions.  Students who are logged in on a computer (not a mobile device at this time) can also annotate the text.  They can have the computer read it out loud, or translate to another language.

At the top of the page, you will see tabs for paired texts, related media, and parent/teacher guides to go along with the specific text.  You must be logged in for some of these resources – but remember it is free to register!

If school is already out in your neck of the woods, be sure to bookmark this resource for next school year.  Parents, you don’t need to wait, since there are guides for you to use if you want to start the discussion now.

Stop Racism
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Dear Ed Tech Companies

Dear Ed Tech Companies:

Many of you came through for educators in the spring of 2020 by providing your tools for free to school districts.  But, let’s face it, you need to make money.  When school re-opens in August or September, many things will need to change – and that means you will likely have to go back to trying to make a profit.  Here are some things that I hope you will consider as you assess your services and their costs:

  • Please make sure that your company is COPPA Compliant – and more.  Though COPPA applies to children 13 and under, we don’t want you tracking or selling information from any of the students using educational platforms.
  • Ads are irritating.  Keep them out if you can.  If you can’t, make them short and appropriate for kids.  And not gross.  Toes with fungus on them can quickly derail a class of any age.
  • Your educational tool needs to work on multiple types of devices and any size screen.  Bonus if it allows for both online and offline use.
  • If you are tiering your pricing, please offer a free version.
  • If you had a free tier pre-pandemic, do not move some of its features to paid.  Keep those same features free.  I can tell you that any company that pulls this trick immediately ends up on my list of never-use-again-no-matter-how-good-it-is ed tech providers.
  • Offer an affordable, browser-based plan, that is available for teachers who just want to use your product in their classroom.  Affordable – b/c a lot of teachers are willing to pay out-of-pocket (even though we shouldn’t) to avoid district bureaucratic obstacles.  Browser-based – b/c a lot of districts don’t allow teachers to download their own software or apps.
  • If a teacher contacts you because you are not an approved district vendor, do the work to become one.  Don’t expect the teacher to do the legwork.  I’ve had to do this numerous times, and it is a nightmare.
  • Accept Purchase Orders.
  • Play nice with other ed tech companies.  Include features that allow educators to import work they have already done, such as flashcards or slide shows, into your platform – and allow for export as well. If applicable, allow for direct assignment to Google Classroom or other Learning Management Systems.
  • Keep a list of potential grants that teachers/schools/districts can apply for in case they are unable to afford your product.
  • Make it easy for teachers to get help with your product or to offer feedback.  There is a 3d printer company that made it to my never-use-again-no-matter-how-good-it-is list b/c it was impossible to get in touch with a live person, the website was a mess of labyrinthian proportions, and of course there was no e-mail contact or online chat.



A Teacher Who Set Up The First Internet-Connected (Dial-Up) Computer in Her School, Donated by a Company That No Longer Exists

Dear Ed Tech
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning

In my third article for the NEO Blog, which was published today, I give a detailed look at how S.T.E.M./S.T.E.A.M. instruction can be accomplished remotely.  The article has links to many resources, so you will likely find at least one new helpful tool somewhere in the post.  You can read, “How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning” here.

My previous NEO articles have been: How Distance Learning Fosters Global Collaboration, and How to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom.

Next month’s article will be, “Applying Universal Design for Learning in Remote Classrooms.”  As always, I would love reader input on this topic.  If you have any resources or examples that would be helpful, please comment on this post!

STEAM Up Distance Learning
Image by janrye from Pixabay

Graspable Math

I’ve been in the process of gathering recommended tools and strategies for distance learning, and bookmarked a spreadsheet started by Fawn Nguyen (@FawnPNguyen) where she is collecting “Distance Learning Best Practices for Maths.”  One of the resources entered on the sheet is Graspable Math.  Intrigued by the title, I decided to check out the website.

Graspable Math is a free website that allows students and teacher to manipulate the terms in algebraic equations easily online.  You can see how it works by going directly to the canvas, and typing in your own unsolved equation.  (Go to Insert – Math Expression.) Then, just click and drag to indicate each step you would go through as you attempt to solve it.  A neat feature of Graspable Math is that only the results of your most recent step will show on the canvas.  However, at any time you can click the handle on the right side and drag it down to show any or all of the previous steps as well.

Here is the short video that was included on Nguyen’s spreadsheet that summarizes Graspable Math:

Once you are ready to create assignments (there are specific lessons on the site you can use if you need help getting started), head over to this page for a quick tutorial on how to design lessons for your classes.

For those of you who are elementary teachers with students who may be ready to move on to algebraic thinking, Graspable Math also has a projects page that includes interactive games that scaffold the topic.  One of the games is specifically appropriate for elementary students.

Whether using an interactive whiteboard at school or teaching remotely, educators will find that Graspable Math is a nice way for students to demonstrate their understanding of algebra.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
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