For the Littlest Ones…Duckie Deck

Duckie Deck is a site that I just discovered last year, and it has become one of my favorites for my youngest students!  I teach grades 1-5 in my computer lab.   Duckie Deck‘s website says that it’s great for preschoolers and toddlers (and it REALLY is), but I’ve found that there’s really something for kids up through 1st grade and maybe even a bit older.

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At the time of posting, Duckie Deck has a home screen with 160 different games for young children!  Depending on the age of your students or children, some may seem too babyish, and others may be slightly challenging.  As a teacher, I have found three TREMEMDOUS benefits to using this site with the littlest ones:

  1. No reading required…for any of the games.  This site could be used by children whose primary language is not English.  Great for ESL classes and special needs classes.
  2. No keyboarding!  This site is EXCELLENT for practicing mouse skills (or touchpad skills on a laptop!)  This means that it’s perfect for kids without letter identification skills, physical disabilities, and even visual challenges.  
  3. Super-simple navigation:  When a child is done with a game, he/she simply clicks on the logo “Duckie Deck” in the upper left-hand corner of their screen, and it returns them to that home menu of games!  

Here’s an excerpt from their site:  At Duckie Deck we create smiles. Over eight million toddlers and preschoolers have played our preschool games and smiled. We cover important topics, from brushing teeth to sharing with others – things that are essential for a healthy and well-rounded young mind. Come smile with us!

Duckie Deck logo

Note:  As a tech teacher, I have decided to begin the year showing Duckie Deck to my 1st graders, kids in Transitional 1st, and youngest self-contained special needs students.  It’s a great way to start the year in regard to computer skills!  After I demonstrate how easy it is to navigate the site, the students have a fantastic time choosing their own activities.  While they do that, I’m able to observe each student’s ability to use a mouse, make sure headphones fit, review basic computer use rules as needed, and teach a bit of problem-solving (maximize screen, adjust volume, reopen site if it accidentally closes.)  

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Teach Problem Solving and Independent Thinking

I’m guilty.  As a teacher and as a mom.  Okay, as a wife, too.  

I so often want to be helpful to my students (child, husband) that when I see them struggling with something, I jump right in there and solve it for them!  A student asks where to find an answer, and I cough up a page number.  Ugh…I know better!  My son spills hot wax on the carpet and I spring to the rescue.  Why didn’t I make him Google how to solve this problem and let him learn how to fix it?  My husband, well…my husband would probably rather I didn’t post examples about him here.  But you get the idea.

We often forget that sometimes the greatest teaching comes from NOT answering a question, NOT solving a problem, NOT coming to the rescue, and NOT giving an answer.

Do you have students who are constantly coming to your desk with problems such as, “I can’t find a pencil.”  Or “I forget what pages I’m supposed to read.”  Or “What is the definition of that word again?”  Or even “What time is dismissal?”   It’s so quick and easy to answer these questions, but when we do, two things are happening:

  1. It’s honestly taking time away from important teaching/learning time.  Add up all the times we do this in a day and it can sometimes take up quite a bit of time!
  2. The student is learning to be needy and to be dependent on us (me…we…teachers) to solve their problems.  We are not teaching/raising problem solvers.

Here’s what I’m going to try to really stop myself from doing this so much.  I’m going to adopt the mantra, “How can you solve that problem?”  Look back at the example questions above, and you can see how posing this mantra/question as a response each time would result in a student having to THINK!   Aaah, I love it!   Secondly, I think I’ll show this video to my students to exemplify the problem.  It should lead to some laughter and hopefully be followed by a pretty good class chit chat.  If you try it, too, I’d love to hear from you.  Share your thoughts here on the blog or on the Facebook page!

(Tip:  You can stop the video at about 1:45….)

 

 

 

Two ‘Oldies but Goodies’

     I’ve been sort-of an ed tech geek for at least 15 years.  I love learning new technology!  I adore gadgets.  I ask people for help with tech stuff I don’t understand.  I go with the flow.  By that I mean that I have these…..waves of interest.  Sometimes, I’m on a kick of ed-tech exploration for weeks at a time, and sometimes I just take a break.  There are times when I spend an all-out weekend investigating new sites or tools, and times when I just Pin them on Pinterest….for “later review”.  With tech constantly advancing every nano-second, I try to just do what I can.  After a break, I usually come back with gusto…wondering, “What did I miss?”   You know what I have discovered?  You don’t really ‘miss’ anything.  It’s like the TV shows you watch.  You can catch up.  And sometimes…sometimes I really just need to remind myself that I don’t have to scrounge for ‘new, shiny, and cutting-edge’….sometimes the old stuff still works just beautifully!

 Today’s blog is dedicated to two of my favorite ‘oldies but goodies’.  If you’re already familiar with these sites, maybe today will be a fun time to exclaim, ‘OH Yeeeaah…I forgot about that one!” and try it again.  If you’ve never seen these sites before, think this:  if I’m calling them ‘oldies but goodies’, it means that they are tried, tested, and true… and have stood the test of time for a reason.   Old things are breathtakingly new to people who have never used them.  

 

1.  Wordle:  This is a word cloud generator.  It makes pretty pictures out of words (like the one you see below).  The words that appear most frequently are ones with the largest font size.  There are two ways that I’ve used this:

  •  The first way is to copy and paste text from any source into the box and just hit ‘GO’.  For primary school teachers:  think nonfiction.  The text of the Constitution, a current event article, or any informational text.  It may be interesting to see and study which words seem most important by analyzing text size as a class.  You could also challenge your students to copy/paste their finished writing projects into a Wordle to see if they tend to overuse certain words and prompt them to create synonyms.  If you teach the Reading concept of  ‘determining importance’, this can be a cool tool.
  • The second (any my favorite) way is to have students enter words themselves.  It’s phenomenal for review lessons on thematic units to select, recall, and analyze key terms.   Here’s one way that I have used it:  After teaching a comprehensive unit on Slavery & the Underground Railroad, I challenged pairs of students to write a column of words that they remembered from the unit.  I gave them 10 minutes or so to generate their list.  I then asked students to put dots in the margins next to the 5 words they thought were probably the most important or indicative of the unit.  Next, I asked students to put stars next to the top 3 out of those 5.  Finally, I asked students to discuss and choose the one word that was THE MOST IMPORTANT to them and draw a heart next to it.  (Such interesting discussions and debates happened during this vocabulary/unit review!)  At this point, and not before, I introduced Wordle.  I asked the students to work together to input the words and hit ‘ENTER’ after each.  The word with the heart was to be typed 5 times, the stars were 3 times, and all other words once.  (TIP:  If a term is actually two or more words, like Harriet Tubman, then you must type a ~ as glue to hold the words together in the Wordle, like this:  Harriet~Tubman.)  When the list is complete, students hit the ‘GO’ button.  To make it even more fun, students can continue to hit the ‘RANDOMIZE’ button at the bottom until they find a design they like (I did it about 20 times for my sample below!)  Print for display, and have even further valuable discussion and debate as students present their Wordles and defend their thinking!

 

Of course, Wordle is just great for fun stuff, too!  I’ve used it to have students make Mother’s Day gifts by typing adjectives about their moms (put in frames, make bookmarks, put into those mugs or cups that let you insert paper…)   It’s a fun ‘all about me’ activity for the first week of school, too, and it looks pretty fancy as a Back-to School-Night display!

There are other word cloud generators, and I’ll blog about a few others in a future post, but year after year I always come back to Wordle at some point.  It’s easy, fun, and my favorite ‘oldie but goodie’!

 

2.  Zoom Science:  Zoom is a website that has been around since…well, for a really, really long time!  The whole website is part of PBS, and so we know it’s incredible and that it has stood the test of time.  The Science part of this website (to which my hyperlinks take you directly) has been a go-to website for me forever.  It is just an awesome teacher tool to have bookmarked, saved, and perhaps put on a pedestal.

Zoom Science

Here’s a buncha reasons why:

  • TONS & TONS of awesome Science experiments geared toward primary school kids!  Zoom Science rules!
  • Experiments are categorized (chemistry, engineering, the senses, forces & energy, life science, patterns, sound, structures and water)  If you want to find something that matches your curricular needs – you’ve got it!
  • Most of the things you need to do the experiments are free or cheap and easy to find.
  • Visual appeal – Zoom Science website is just clean & easy to read.   Materials & steps presented simply, & printer-friendly version available
  • LOVE THIS:  Children who have tried the experiment and played with variables of it post their results at the bottom of the experiment page!  It’s fun to save this until after your students are done the experiment, and then show it to them.  It almost always results in kids wanting to try new strategies with the same experiment!
  • You and your class can post your results, too!  Based on students’ ages and email availability, it may have to be the teacher who does the posting on behalf of the kids, but it’s sooooo motivational for the students to see their own results posted on a real website!
  • I SAVED MY FAVORITE FOR LAST:  You know all of those moms & dads who are dying to come into your classroom to help? You probably try to get them in by having ‘guest readers’, right?  Well, here’s a little experiment for you:  add ‘Spotlight Scientists’ to your parent-volunteer program!  You can assign experiments, or even better, just give parents the link to Zoom Science and let them choose random experiments to do with the class!  Here are my 3 hypotheses:  You will probably get more dads coming in,  you’ll save money because parents will buy/provide the supplies for their chosen experiment,  you’ll have a lot of fun with this and probably even end up learning something new!  Trust me….this is a good idea!

 

     I hope you found something new and useful that you can try this year – or – I hope that you’re able to rekindle your love affair with a proven educational super site.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, and especially learn about the creative ways you’re using these tools in your own classrooms!

Need to Escape for Awhile?

Escape-He-Finally-Did-It

I know.  We’re just getting BACK to school, and many of us feel like we already need to escape!  Sometimes, this is the craziest and most exhausting time of our entire school year, right?  All the new supplies, paperwork, explaining routines, putting names on EVERYTHING, parent contacts, collecting forms, learning about the children, Back to School Night preparation, giving & grading benchmarks….you know the drill.  I usually crave (ummm, I mean require) an after-school nap for about the first two or three weeks until my body and brain get used to being back at school.  Who’s with me?

So here are my three little gifts to you.  They’re not just for teachers.  Tell your friends!

1)  Calm.com – Seriously, this is an actual website.  Down the left side of your screen, you get to choose if you want ‘guided calm’ or ‘timed calm’, and you choose the length of time.  At the bottom of the screen are a few icons where you can change the calming background picture, the soothing spa music, and you can set your volume.  That’s it.  It starts automatically, so you can just chill.  (Tell your boss you got this from a technology blog and you might get professional development for ‘working on it’.)  http://www.calm.com/

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2)  Moodturn.com – When you see the site, it’s pretty self-explanatory.  Just choose your theme, your background, adjust your volume, and you’re good to go!  Turn out the lights, link your hands behind your head, feet up on your desk, lean back and….Uh, you might want to wait until the students have left the classroom before you try this!    Here’s the link:   http://moodturn.com/

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3)  Do Nothing For Two Minutes – Again, I’m serious.  As soon as the page opens, a 2-minute timer starts.  A beautiful seascape appears, and you hear the soothing sounds of whispery waves.  A small onscreen warning prompts you to “Just relax and listen to the waves.  Don’t touch your mouse or keyboard.”  (If you’re a rebel like me or just sort of scoochie, you’ll see a FAIL message and it starts back at 2 minutes again!  Sometimes, we all just need to take 2 minutes.  Treat yourself.  http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com/

Do-Nothing-for-2-Minutes

I hope you enjoyed your little escapes!  You might want to bookmark this page.  Back to School night is coming soon.  And parent-teacher conferences.  And Halloween.  And more benchmark testing.  And……………….