Newsela: Nonfiction Current Events (Same Articles Presented at 5 Lexiles)

We teachers all know that we need to teach more nonfiction reading.  We also know that kids today aren’t always up on current events.  And we struggle, of course, as always, as to how to find materials for any of this that we can actually use.  Enter Newsela.  (Think NEWS + English/Language Arts)

Some pretty great things are happening at this website.  First of all, it’s currently free.  Free is good, so let’s all enjoy it while we can.   Newsela lets you sign up for a teacher account and create a class.  After that, you basically peruse a bunch of high-interest current events articles that are written with ‘student interest’ in mind.  You can assign articles to your students based on your curriculum or just plain interest.

Here is a small sampling from just a section of one of Newsela's pages of high-interest nonfiction current events.

Here is a small sampling from just a section of one of Newsela’s pages of high-interest nonfiction current events. If there’s a little lightbulb next to the blue box, it has an accompanying quiz!

But here’s where Newsela really breaks out of the mold:  all articles are offered at five different reading (lexile) levels.  Oh, yes, it’s true!  You can orally designate expected levels for your students, or let them choose the level that’s right for them. (Currently, there is no way for you to officially assign a specific level to a student.)


Another noteworthy feature of Newsela is that many of the articles have accompanying 4-question quizzes that truly do match the Common Core standards.  And, if you’re looking for a specific grade level, topic, or reading standard, their search bar is really quite helpful.

newsela toolbar

My son is a sophomore in Advanced Language Arts, and his teacher is using Newsela this year to expose the students to online nonfiction passages.  The teacher has decided to assign 6 specific articles (which have accompanying quizzes), and give students the freedom to choose 4 of their own (also with quizzes).  Because they are in honors classes, she expects all students to read at the top two lexile levels.  She has each student enrolled in her Newsela classes, and from her dashboard she can view the number of quizzes taken, lexile level at which they were read, and the overall quiz average.  This marking period, she has chosen to give a quiz grade to each student for their overall quiz score on the 10 Newsela quizzes.  I sat down with my son last weekend as he took a few of those quizzes, and let me assure you that the depth of the question increases with the lexile level….some of those questions REALLY required higher-level thinking!

So, my primary school teacher friends, what does this mean for us?  Well, it’s only for our older students at this point.  Lexile levels for the articles presented begin at a 4th grade level.  For that very reason, I will advocate for teachers who have students reading at levels of grade 4 and above to use Newsela because of the exposure to:  a) nonfiction; b) online reading; c) online quizzes; and  d) current events.  Additionally, we all know that each year we have advanced or even gifted students that we struggle to challenge. This is a phenomenal tool to keep those kids engaged.

In conclusion,  I truly believe Newsela is a tool worth trying with your students as a quality reading tool.  Whether you choose to print the stories, use them as whole-group lessons, assign them to students independently, or just use them as Social Studies supplements….it’s a valuable resource to share with your students!

As always, I love to hear your feedback and reactions.  Please share @kerszi on Twitter, comment at on my blog, or follow and comment at My Primary Techspiration on Facebook.

Make Your Favorite Quotes Look Fancy-Schmancy

Quozio is a free site that basically allows you to type in your favorite quote or saying, and then it gives you a bunch of options to make it look beautiful.  Sure, you could probably do this yourself with any word processing site, but Quozio makes it really easy.  For me, anyway, that means I’ll use it more often.  As teachers, aren’t we all looking for things to simply our lives?


The site also kindly offers a bookmarklet button, so you can just drag that little doohickey up to your browser bar and it’s right there to greet you every time you open your browser.

It would be fun to have students use Quozio to share their favorite quotes from a story, write Math rules, share ‘one thing I learned’ at the end of a unit and compile into a book,  write phonics rules that you can then display around your classroom, post quotes from a story WITHOUT including the speaker’s name and then play a “who said it?” game with the class…these are just a few ideas!  I’d love to hear from you about other ways you would use it for yourself and with your class!

If you use social media, Quozio also allows you to share your beautiful quotes via Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.  You could also just email one to someone and really make their day!

PhotoMath app…is it a good thing or a bad thing?

This week, connected educators have been all over social media talking about a relatively new app to hit the scene – PhotoMath.  This is an app, which you can download for free from the App Store or Windows Store, which uses your device’s camera to scan – AND THEN SOLVE – Math problems.  Yes, it actually solves the problems.  Not only that, but then you can click on the “Steps” button, and it shows you step-by-step how the problem was solved!


When I first read about this app, I was thinking about Math problems like 7+4 or 18 – 9.  As you can see from the picture above, however, this app knows algebra!  Here are the mathematical features that the app currently claims to be able to solve:


For all of those students who have teachers who mandate, “Show your work!”, this is a dream come true.  Seriously!  The student point-of-view on this is going to be pretty consistent – this is awesome technology!

For educators, though, there is much debate and a lot of mixed feelings about PhotoMath.  I’ve been following the tweets and several blog posts, and many educators fear the implications of an app like this.  They say that if an app can solve problems for students, they’ll “cheat” and just use the app rather than learn the valuable problem solving skills themselves. This camp of educators feels that there is tremendous value and even a critical need for students to practice the logical steps involved in Math calculations.  They call for stricter rules about BYOD use, and fear that unsupervised students will exclusively use this for homework.

Teachers on the other side of this debate claim that it’s a great tool.  They say that if technology is available that makes it possible to skip lengthy processes, why not use it?  Their subsequent thought is that skipping all of the problem solving by relying on the PhotoMath app will give students an opportunity to use those results in higher-level, deeper thinking, real world problems…more time for PBL stuff and ‘taking it to the next level’.

As for me, I’m torn.  I understand both sides.  As a primary school educator, I just can’t get past feeling the necessity of students learning their basic Math facts.  I want students to be able to know how to do multiplication and long division.  I guess that’s an old-fashioned value from someone who’s supposedly a forward-thinking tech geek like me.  On the other hand, however, I tried the PhotoMath on some of my son’s high school Algebra problems – and it worked – and I gasped with delight!  Both he and I were able to look through the steps of the problems and see how they were solved.

A couple of educators I follow on Twitter had interesting ideas and thoughts.  One teacher was planning on having his students solve the problems manually and then again with the PhotoMath app, to be followed by an analysis of the accuracy of the app and how closely the steps modeled their own steps.  (Some reviews on the app’s website claim that the answers aren’t always right.)  Another clever teacher was going to use it as a point-of-view writing exercise:  choose whether the PhotoMath app is a good thing or a bad thing and defend your answer.  I guess that writing teacher wouldn’t be too pleased with me.  I take both sides.

Below is a video that shows how PhotoMath works.  Check it out, decide for yourself, and let me know your thoughts.  You can reply at my blog at, @kerszi on Twitter, or on Facebook as My Primary Techspiration.

Kids React To Old Computers

I came across this video on the internet the other day, and it’s just plain funny.  I was sitting alone in my family room, just laughing out loud (yes, actually LOL) as I watched the reactions of these kids as they checked out a 1970’s computer.  Their comments are hysterical!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!  We sure have come a long way since then.

Quiz Those Kiddies With Your iPhone Camera…..Plickers!!!

Excuse me while I blow your mind.  That’s how I felt, anyway, when I figured out how to use this new-to-me web tool called Plickers.  I was so excited that I started running around my school to show other teachers this AWESOME tool.  Plickers is basically a student response system, but I really think that its creators have gone out of their way to make this an ourstanding piece of technology…and it’s free!  You’ll need a computer, a smart phone, a set of cards (which you print from the website), and it’s most helpful to have some way to project your computer screen for the students to see.

Let’s get you started!  First, you’ll want to go to the Plickers website.  Create your account, and then create your class.  You’ll enter each of your students’ names, and you’ll see that they’re each assigned a number.

plickers class

Next, click on the word Library at the top, and then start creating quiz questions.  They can be multiple choice or true/false. You can indicate a correct answer, if there is one.

plickers create question

Then, for each of your questions, you’ll click on “add to plan” and assign them to certain classes.

The next step is to print these miraculous cards.  They look sort of like QR codes, but you’ll notice that each one is slightly different.  To print the cards, click on the “cards” button at the top of the screen.  It gives you a variety of printing size options, but I just went with the standard.  The site recommends that you print on white card stock for durability, and that you NOT laminate the cards.  Standard cards print two to a page, so cut them in half and you’ll have 40 different Plickers cards.

plickers card

So if you look at the sample Plickers card above, you’ll notice that it has a number 1….that means you give it to student number one from your class.  The 4 sides of the shape each have a letter – A, B, C, or D.  When you project the question onto the board, students show their answer choice by holding their card – facing toward the teacher – with the letter of their answer choice at the top of the card.

Now for part two…you need the Plickers app for your smart phone. It’s free!  It syncs with the program on your computer.  When you open the app, you’ll click on your class name and then one of your questions.  That question will automatically show on your computer screen & be projected to the board (use the Live View option).  As your students hold their cards with answer choices facing you, click on the little camera icon at the bottom of your smart phone screen.  It activates the camera, which you then use to SCAN THE ROOM!  Yes – I’m so serious!  This is mind-blowingly cool!  The app honestly picks up each of your students’ answers and immediately imports the data.  You can see on your phone and on the screen whose answers have been scanned.  If you indicated a correct choice when you created the question, students who get it right will be highlighted green, and red for wrong answers.  Is this brilliant technology or what?

plickers class kids

I know…I know…you’re going to want to try this right away, and soon you’ll be running down the hallways looking for teachers with whom you can share this exciting Plickers thing, too!  But before you go, here are just a few thoughts & other things that I really, really like about Plickers:

  • Each card has a “QR code” that looks just a little bit different.  Genius!  Kids can’t look to see what their neighbor is putting up & just copy the answer.  The A, B, C, & D are too little to be seen, and the designs are all different.
  • The cards are reusable all year long, and the same set of cards can be used for multiple classes.
  • Data is imported immediately and can be viewed in the “Reports” section of the site.  You can view that data by student or by question.  You have it saved in your Plickers account forever.  Instant grading!
  • I tried this at home with my son tonight & he wanted to see how far away he could get from my smart phone and still have his answer be ‘readable’.  He got about 25 feet away, in low light, and we were both SHOCKED that his card actually scanned!
  • I would use this for….quizzes, exit ticket questions, review questions from a lesson taught the day before, informal polls (don’t indicate a correct answer), and I believe this could be used for any & every subject!
  • Teachers can immediately make lesson adjustments and informed planning decisions based on the data that is collected.
  • Students don’t need any devices.  If you’re not a BYOD district, a 1:1 school, or maybe just an elementary school, this is a great way to go high-tech!
  • Lastly, before you start Plickering away, below is a great video that I found that demonstrates everything about Plickers step-by-step.


Another EXCELLENT YouTube Tutorial

Third Grade Math Teacher Uses Plickers With Students

Media Specialist Uses Plickers

Students and Teachers Tell Why They Love Plickers

Coding for Kids – 5 Great Sites!

The following post is actually a page on my teacher website at school.  I thought I’d share it here, too!

Coding for Kids

These days, so many kids are interested in learning how to code.  To them, it’s a game and a fun challenge that involves patterns, problem solving, and creativity.  Coding to create programs and apps is something that will be a critical part of the future, but it’s not yet a formal part of our elementary curriculum.  I firmly believe in its relevance, and so I’m putting some helpful information and links here for kids and parents who may want to explore the wonderful world of coding at home!

  • ScratchScratch is a free educational programming language that was developed at M.I.T..  It’s been designed to be fun and easy to learn.  Scratch has tools for creating interactive stories, games, art, simulations, and more. Scratch even has its own paint editor and a sound editor built-in.   In Scratch, users drag these blocks from a block palette and attach them to other blocks like a jigsaw puzzle. Structures of multiple blocks are called scripts.  This method of programming (building code with blocks) is referred to as “drag & drop programming”.  There is an onscreen step-by-step tutorial on how to get started that makes learning easy for kids.  Note: This past summer, a Scratch Jr. version came out for iPads.  It’s a similar program designed for even younger kids.  What a great to get our littlest ones started in coding!

    Scratch image

  • Code.Org – The philosophy of is that everybody should be able to code and have access to learning those skills needed. Their website suggests that children as young as 4 can learn to create their own programs! This site also uses “drag & drop programming” and has fabulous instructional videos in their “LEARN” section (think Mark Zuckerberg & Bill Gates, among others!) They also endorse an amazing movement called “An Hour of Code”…Join the largest learning event in history, Dec 8-14, 2014…The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 170+ countries.  Anyone, anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event. One-hour tutorials are available in over 30 languages. No experience needed. Ages 4 to 104. 
     code org image

  • Tynker is a really cute and very good that teaches coding to youngsters, but they have now started charging $50 to enroll in each course. They offer two courses (beginner and intermediate) for at-home use. If your child gets REALLY into coding, I do believe this may be a site in which to consider investing.

Tynker Screenshot

  • BotLogic – This site starts very simply and in a game-like format, it teaches the basics of really just understanding programming language.  From their site:  “ is an educational puzzle game that challenges kids and adults to tackle complex logic problems while teaching valuable programming concepts. Using simple commands (and eventually code), players program their bots to navigate through progressively challenging mazes. As their skills improve, players earn rewards by using the fewest number of commands and go head-to-head with friends in programming tournaments. It’s smart. It’s fun. is all about helping children and adults to develop and maintain strong logic and spatial reasoning skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.”


  •  Code Monkey:  Code Monkey is just adorable!  It starts with the simplest tasks and asks children to help a monkey get some bananas by programming code.  It’s simple coding, in sequentially harder challenges, but it’s pretty addicting.  I signed up for a free account without and email and just kept playing.  All you need to do is choose a username and password!  This is definitely a great site to try!  From their site: From first steps in coding to advanced subjects in computer science. We’ve got you covered with intuitive, bite-sized lessons. Taught by cute animals!  Finished the tutorials? Start creating & sharing your own CodeMonkey Challenges for others to solve, and eventually any kind of original HTML5 games and apps!”
Code Monkey

Social Studies SuperStar Site! For the older grades….

Go social studies go

I found this site several years ago, and when I did, it looked completely different.  As a matter-of-fact, when I checked it out again this week, I was astounded ~ it had changed completely.  I love, love, love that this site keeps evolving and getting better.

Go, Social Studies, Go is definitely a big contender in the world of Social Studies and American History for Middle and High School Students!  Why wouldn’t it be?  There are maps, primary sources and documents,  interactives, student-friendly reading passage and short nonfiction pieces,  Check it out! Go, Social Studies, Go  is an undiscovered huge piece of WOW that should be celebrated & shared!

It has been subdivided into three major areas, (U.S. History, Ancient History, & World History)  and and we primary school teachers will mostly be interested in the first section.  Here in America, it tends to be a curricular focus to study American History in 5th – 6th grade.  If you click on the first section, you will be amazed with the plethora of categories that appear!  As of today, there are over 50 brilliantly chronicled categories of American History!  I’ll list just a few of them, so please explore the full site for all of the amazing resources in every category you can imagine:

  • Jamestown
  • Salem Witch Trials
  • Colonial America
  • Countdown to Revolution
  • Creating a Constitution
  • George Washington
  • Lewis & Clark
  • Gold Rush
  • Industrial Revolution
  • Dred Scott
  • Indian Wars
  • Ellis Island
  • World War I
  • 18th Amendment
  • Rosa Parks
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.

…..and so many more!  If you teach history, love history, have kids who learn history, or just plain care… Go, Social Studies, Go is a site that needs more recognition and should be shared…so please click ‘share’ !!!