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.
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.
It amazed me to discover yesterday that the last time I posted about Math Pickle was in 2011. This is a great resource for challenging those mathematical wizards in your class, and I really need to access it more often myself.
“We learn best through hard fun,” is a quote that you will find on the Math Pickle website. And there are many “hard fun” puzzles and conundrums to bewilder students of all age levels.
If this is your first time visiting Math Pickle, then I would recommend you click on the link for K-12 Video Support. From there you can click on any grade level or math skill for a grid of suggested activities. Some of the activities are videos, while others include Powerpoint, Keynote, and even PDF worksheets.
My 2nd graders did the “Termite Terrorists” activity yesterday, and I really enjoyed watching them work through some of the puzzles. The included video is meant more to explain the activity to the teacher, but I actually showed the beginning to my students so they could see the lovely introduction that included the disgusting termites;) This lesson lent itself to differentiation so easily because the students who made it through a puzzle could go on to another one that was a bit more difficult. Their conversations and strategies were varied and fascinating. We were amazed by some of the different solutions that could be found for the same problem. Since I actually didn’t look at any answers (and not all are provided), the students had fun trying to “beat” my lowest number on each challenge – and they often did!
Another wonderful resource on the site is the Curricular Puzzle Books link. It includes free materials for Grades 1-6, and even includes a student-created puzzle book.
There are lots of other areas to explore on the site, including recommended board games. Gordon Hamilton has done a fabulous service to the education community by providing so many great challenges and resources for free. You can find out more about the amazing creator of this site, who also happens to be a board game designer, here. If you can’t get enough hard fun from the Math Pickle website, check out Gordon Hamilton’s Teachers Pay Teachers site for additional puzzles available for purchase.
If you never had a chance to listen to “This I Believe” on NPR, then you have been missing out. Although the series does not air any longer, you can still access many of the recordings, and there are books available as well. The best way to describe these personal essays is this paragraph from ThisIBelieve.org: “This I Believe is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. Each day, Americans gathered by their radios to hear compelling essays from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, and Harry Truman as well as corporate leaders, cab drivers, scientists, and secretaries—anyone able to distill into a few minutes the guiding principles by which they lived. These essayists’ words brought comfort and inspiration to a country worried about the Cold War, McCarthyism, and racial division.”
You can find recent recordings from the show here. The appropriateness of the recordings for school depends on the age-level of the children. I have used pieces of the “This I Believe” high school curriculum originally provided through NPR with my 5th grade GT students.
The other day I bookmarked an intriguing Tweet from Drew Frank (@ugafrank) about a “This I Believe” video created by a student for a class. I finally had the chance to view it last night, and I was blown away by the message and creativity. The student’s name is Kasey Tamamoto, and her video is definitely appropriate for all age levels. As soon as I viewed it, I knew it would be the subject of today’s post. There seem to be quite a few of these videos on YouTube. I haven’t watched them yet, but I bet there are some other exceptional examples as well.
The other day, some teachers and I mulled over a relatively new conundrum in the standardized testing world. If you are going to measure growth in a student’s ability using a standardized test that tests the minimal skills required to pass a grade level, where does this leave the gifted student? If he or she is already able to do 5th grade math in 3rd grade, then how will we know for the next three years if that student ever learned anything new? Achieving a 99%ile every year does not necessarily prove growth. Alternatively, receiving a failing score doesn’t necessarily demonstrate lack of growth; it might prove merely that the gifted student was tired of taking irrelevant tests.
We couldn’t come up with the best, objective way to measure learning growth in this population. However, we all agreed that when a gifted child genuinely enjoys coming to school, he or she is probably learning.
How can we foster this love of learning so that these students will continue to grow even when minimum standards do not require it? According to Lisa Van Gemert (@Gifted_Guru), one thing we should not do is moreferentiate. In her article, “Top Ten Ways to Annoy a Gifted Child,” Van Gemert explains “moreferentiation” as giving a child more of the same work. I know – none of us do that, right? Well, I will be the first to admit that I have done something just as unhelpful – told them to read a book or asked them to tutor other students. In fact, when I was a classroom teacher, I was guilty of about 8 out of the 10 things that Van Gemert lists in her article. Ouch.
So, what can we do for these students? Josh Work has some suggestions in his recent article for Edutopia, “Uppervention: Meeting the Needs of Gifted and Talented Students.” I think one of the recommendations that I’ve seen to be the most successful in the classroom is to “Develop Deeper, Not Wider.” This could be the use of Genius Hour projects or another type of independent research that is based on something that interests the student.
If you are looking for some more ideas, I also wrote a post this year called, “It’s Not Enough,” which outlines some other suggestions for giving gifted students more opportunities to grow.
There is not one right answer for meeting the needs of gifted students. Every student is unique. However, there are many wrong answers. My challenge to all educators is to eradicate the “Top Ten Ways to Annoy a Gifted Child” and find at least one way to inspire all of our students to leap out of bed in joyous anticipation of each day of learning in our classrooms.
Don’t be mislead by the title of this site. You are not required to download any software, and the math resources here are fun and free. Although primarily designed for middle and high school students, there seem to be a lot of activities that could be used in upper elementary – and it would be a great site to refer to for extension activities.
The first thing I discovered when exploring the site was the “Starter of the Day” link, which gives a mathematical brain teaser for each day of the month. Below is the example for today:
Shine + Write has many activities that would be great to use with an interactive white board. This “True or False” game, for example, takes some thought. Fun Maths has a page of games and math tricks that will be sure to entertain. Investigations offers challenges that might be good for gifted math students to work on independently.
There are many other links on Transum Software that you may find useful. If you are looking for a way to make math class more exciting, I highly recommend checking out this site.