Literacy for Our Littlest Learners

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I must admit that even though I love technology, I am always a little cautious when people ask me about using technology with the littlest students. There are so many things that need to be learned in those early school years (self-regulation, early literacy, number sense, interpersonal relations and a love of curiosity and learning) and many of those things are really best learned face to face and through direct intervention. Am I suggesting we therefore shouldn’t use technology in the primary years? Good grief, no! Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. But…..it is important to limit screen time for our smallest learners and we therefore need to be very selective about what we use with them.

My first choices will always be apps or technology that allow creation, like BookCreator or iMovie. My second choice will always be well-crafted, engaging yet rigorous apps, like those put out by Duck, Duck Moose, Motion Math and Dragonbox Math (totally not an exhaustive list – that’s for another blog!) Many of these apps focus on Math, not so many focus on literacy.

Enter Squiggle Park. Squiggle Park is Canadian and it runs on both iPads and laptops (the Android version is coming out soon). It is  an early literacy program designed to help students master reading skills such as phonemes, phonemic awareness, word work, and spelling. At the time, Squiggle Park is designed to be used for students from Pre-K to Grade 2. However, there is nothing to say that older ELL students or students with learning disabilities wouldn’t also be able to use it effectively.

Squiggle Park allows teachers to set up a classroom, add and delete students and access student progress through the dashboard. When you first set up the classroom, you choose the grade level of your students and Squiggle Park “suggests” a world for them to start with. There are currently 25 worlds and as a teacher, you can set the world your students start with, even if it is not the one suggested. Squiggle Park provides teachers with a PDF that shows exactly what skills are covered in each world.

Within each world, cute little monsters guide the students through matching, sorting, ordering, listening and collecting games that are designed to teach them, without ever “preaching” to them (kids have fun, learning happens, it’s a win-win). Students can earn stars by doing well and lose lives by not answering correctly. By the way, you would think this whole “losing lives” thing would be de-motivating, but the players I watched all seemed to accept this as a logical, given part of game-universe! You can only lose two lives in any stage of a world and once you’ve lost all 5 of your lives you go back to the start of that level to play again. Once you have achieved 80% mastery of a level, you are moved up to the next level.

The people at Squiggle Park have made student log-in easy, with picture codes rather than passwords. They recognize that Squiggle Park could be very useful for ELL students and their families and they have provided teachers with informational letters to send home, in a variety of languages. On the teacher section of their website they have also added lesson plans, printable monster pictures, certificates, Valentines and a bunch of other things teachers and students can use. Squiggle Park also has a variety of teacher “tutorial” videos on their website, to help teachers set up and use Squiggle Park.

The creators of Squiggle Park claim that with 30 minutes of play a week, students can master reading skills up to 5x faster than with direct instruction alone and that ELL learners can catch up with their peers in as little as 10 weeks of play. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these claims but I can vouch for the fact that if a game is engaging, kids will play. And if they play, they will learn.
If you are a primary teacher in West Vancouver School district, please contact your administrator or Cari Wilson (me) for information about our extended trial of Squiggle Park. If you are outside of our district, Squiggle Park is offering time limited free trials – just click here.

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Digital Citizenship – Be Internet Awesome!

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During the course of the year, I often come across new sites and apps. Some are awesome (my favourite this year is Quizlet) and some are so-so but I try to take the time to check them all out and at least “kick the tires” to see what they do. A few months ago I stumbled across this digital citizenship and safety offering from Google. (I have previously written about internet safety, here and here).

The site is called Be Internet Awesome. Google has created a straight-forward curriculum guide for teachers, based on their 5 fundamental tenets of digital citizenship and safety:

  • Share with Care (Be Internet Smart)
  • Don’t Fall for Fake (Be Internet Alert)
  • Secure Your Secrets (Be Internet Strong)
  • It’s Cool to Be Kind (Be Internet Kind)
  • When in Doubt, Talk It Out (Be Internet Brave)

The curriculum is aimed at students in Grade 3 to 5, which is a great age to really delve into these topics. Many children at this age are beginning to interact with one another on the internet, either through social media or online gaming. Helping them learn good digital citizenship skills at this age will pay off as they get older.

The curriculum is organized into the 5 sections above and includes easy to organize discussion activities, games and vocabulary. This is all well and good (and certainly helpful for many teachers who struggle with knowing what to say to kids when it comes to these topics) but for kids, the best part is that the culmination of 4 of the units is a chance to put what they’ve learned to practice by playing “Interland”, Google’s online digital citizenship game, designed to compliment the curriculum. In Interland, you become a colourful Internaut who battles hackers, oversharers, phishers and cyberbullies by using the skills you’ve learned.

Players work their way through Tower of Treasure (where they learn about keeping things secure), Kind Kingdom (where they battle cyberbullies and build up other characters with kindness), Reality River (where they learn to spot fake), and Mindful Mountain (where they learn to “share with care”). The graphic interface is bright and geometric and the characters are generically cute or scary. Kids do not need to create an account and it works well on both laptops and iPads.

Teaching kids good digital citizenship skills is an “it takes a village” kind of thing. In its teacher resource package Google includes an information letter you can send home to parents and there is also a safety pledge that kids can sign with their families. In addition, you can print off posters, badges and certificates.

I have to say, I think Google has hit a home run with this one and if I were teaching Grade 3 to 5 students, this would definitely be a part of my year plan!

Google_BeInternetAwesome_DigitalCitizenshipSafety_Curriculum_

Google_BeInternetAwesome_Pledge

Google_BeInternetAwesome_Poster

Google_Interland_Certificate_of_Awesomeness_resources

 

Play Games – Learn Stuff! (Kahoot and Quizlet)

When I was a student, some of my favourite classes were the ones where the teacher played games with us. Bingo, 7-Up, spelling bees, Jeopardy – I loved all of them. Fast forward a few years and guess what? My students love playing games, too. Even better? If I choose the games correctly, they end up learning without even realizing it! Even even better? There’s some awesome technology to help me do this! Today, let’s have a look at Kahoot and Quizlet.

I was introduced to Kahoot a few years ago at a conference and I loved it right away. First off, it’s free. Really free – not freemium free (you know – the kind of site where the basic stuff is free but the really cool stuff costs money?) Secondly, with Kahoot, I am the only person in the class who needs an account. As an intermediate teacher, I want to keep the number of accounts my students have to a reasonable number, so this also makes me happy.

So…how does it work? Once you’ve created your teacher account, you can build your first “kahoot” by creating a multiple choice “quiz” for your students. Or, you can choose a kahoot that someone else has built! Once you have the kahoot you want, project your device and start the game. Your kids can play individually (on any internet enabled device) or in teams (one device per team). They go to kahoot.it, enter the code you’re given and then sign in with their first name.

kahoot
The question and answers show up on the teacher’s device – the kids choose a colour-coded answer.

Your computer will project the question, with 4 colour-coded possible answers. The kid’s devices will just show the four colour choices. As quickly as they can, they choose the correct answer and lock in their choice. When the time is up, the screen will show the correct choice as well as the top scorers (based on a combination of speed and correct answer). And it’s on to the next question!

You can access the results afterwards, if you want. I don’t tend to use Kahoot as actual assessment but more as a way to practice what we’re learning, so I don’t use the assessment side of the site.

Recently Kahoot added the ability to assign Kahoots as homework. I haven’t used this feature yet, but it looks promising. Here’s a blog post from Kahoot that explains it.

My kids love to play Kahoot. They get super excited and motivated. The only criticism I have is that the timed aspect of it can be intimidating for some students.

On to Quizlet. Quizlet has a large variety of applications, from flashcards to a collaborative classroom game. The base version is free and the upgraded version is $35 USD a year. I have the free version and it works fine for me.

Using Quizlet, you can create flashcards for your class, or use sets that have already been created by other teachers. Once you’ve created the basic flashcards, Quizlet automatically create 7 different ways that students can quiz themselves on the material, as well as a Quizlet Live game. You can create a class on Quizlet and invite your students to be a part of it or you can just send students a link to your quizlet and they can use it without signing up for anything. There is even an ability to add the Quizlet to your Google Classroom (I haven’t tried this yet but it looks like it works well!)

All of the applications of Quizlet are great but the one your kids will likely enjoy the most is Quizlet Live. When you use Quizlet Live, students go to www.quizlet.live, enter a code you give them and then enter their names. Quizlet will put them into random teams. (You need more than 4 kids to play). Kids then need to move and sit together in their teams and the game can begin. In the game, each student has some but not all of the information needed, so the students need to work together to be the first team to reach 12 correct answers. Getting a wrong answer resets your team’s score to 0, so students really have to collaborate and communicate.

quizlet progress
The teacher’s device shows team progress!

 

quizlet kids
Each student has some of the answers, but only one student in each group has the right answer to any given question.

Students can play on any internet enabled device. The teacher’s device shows team progress. One of the things I like about Quizlet is the flexibility. I can create a French vocabulary Study Set and my kids can use it independently to study their vocab in a variety of ways but they can also use it collaboratively to play a game in class. And by the way….playing Quizlet Live uses a number of the Core Competencies! (just sayin’!)

Playing games in class can be both fun and educational! Enjoy!

Using Google Forms for Quizzes!

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Happy New Year everyone!

My last blog post was about using Google Forms to track student reading. I recently launched it with my own students and it’s going really well!

Google Forms is basically a spreadsheet. It can be used for all the regular spreadsheet things – tracking expenses, creating budgets – even wedding planning! But it can be used for other things, too!

Aside from the aforementioned Reading Tracker, you could use forms as a questionnaire or survey for parents or students. Our district Pro-D committee uses it as a way to gather information for upcoming events. Here’s a link to an awesome slide deck by Graham Attwell, outlining 79 interesting ways to use Google Forms!

And….drum roll please….you can also use Google Forms as a way to give and mark tests, too! Yep, you heard me right…forms will even mark the tests if you set them up right!

Here’s a great video showing you the basics:

So, if you give frequent quizzes in your classroom, or you are looking for a different way to do exit tickets, maybe you’ll consider giving Google Forms a try? Next week’s post will highlight a number of other sites and apps that can be used for in class quizzes and games. Enjoy!