A Bit About Me

Friday, April 5, 2013

Game-based Learning for 1st thru 6th Grades

All school year, I've been using a variety of games from ABCya.com to support classroom objectives. After a little bit of digging, I recently tripped upon the Arcademics website which offers a host of games that span over several topics:

  • Addition
  • Subtraction
  • Division
  • Multiplication
  • Integers
  • Decimals
  • Money
  • Decimals
  • Time
  • Algebra
  • Fractions and Ratios
  • Spelling
  • Geography
  • Word Relationships
  • Typing

These games were built for Grades 1st thru 6th, and several of them have an iPad app. that goes for 99 cents. The nice bonus here is that each month, the website offers one app. for free.

The thing that I love the most about this site is that it incorporates the use of usernames (without passwords). Thus, in teaching students as young as First Grade about the importance of Digital Citizenship and being safe online, this site proves to be very useful.

At the beginning of the school year, I taught students about the importance of being safe online. In this particular lesson, we talked about usernames and how they help to keep us safe online. I had each First Grader create their own username based on some of their favorite animals, foods, colors, numbers and letters. As a result, I got some creative little combos.


The beauty of this lesson was that the students were over the moon with excitement about being able to use their self-created usernames to play some of the Arcademics games.

This lesson is a MUST for teaching students the importance of staying safe online. The fact that they get to practice some core skills in timed settings is an added bonus.

Monday, April 1, 2013

It's All About Collaboration

Every single grade level has at least one standard that relates to collaboration or shared writing experiences. The beauty of these standards are that there are several ways to go about accomplishing this task.

*Note: This particular post will be continually updated based on the new collaboration tools that become available.

Some collaboration tools require an email, while others don't. Therefore, I'll be segmenting this particular post based on the need for an email address or just a username/password combo.

The first tool is the tried and true GoogleDocs. While you do need an account in order to set up a GoogleDoc, you do not need an email to edit one. Check out this GoogleDoc, and add your own text to it without signing in.

When setting up your own collaborative writing GoogleDoc, just be sure to choose "Anyone with a Link" and "can edit".

K-12 Typing - It's in the Standards

With the introduction of the Common Core State Standards, one can only begin to ponder the ways in which to approach the many technology-infused standards that exist. Since there is only one standard (technically three) that focuses on both the quantity and quality of one's ability, I've decided to dedicate this post to the skill of typing.

We all know how important it is to learn how to type correctly. I'm sure that many of you have had staggeringly long papers to write type for graduate school. I remember the longest paper that I've ever had to type was 27 pages long.  That being said, below are the Standards that relate to typing. As you can see, there is only a clearly defined expectation for 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

W.4.6:  With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.

W.5.6:  With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting.

W.6.6:  Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.

In making software purchase decisions, I've been getting input from fellow teachers on the software programs that they'd like to have for their students next year. When I brought up the need for typing programs, several teachers mentioned how great the Mavis Beacon Typing program was when they were in school. As great as the program is or may have been, some things need to be adequately updated with the changing times to ensure that our students are engaged in the learning process.

Through my experiences in teaching, I've devised a grade-by-grade plan for teaching typing. Keep in mind that a lot of typing lessons require the teacher to function as the scaffolder.

I completely realize how crazy it may seem to teach a 5-year-old how to type, but here's the thing...since tech integration in the Common Core begins in kindergarten, so too should the most basic keyboarding instruction. Kindergarteners should be focused on finding letters with their two pointer fingers, as many of them have hands that are not quite big enough to span adequate reach on the keyboard. Thus, I recommend the following online activities for Kindergarten:

Keyboarding Zoo
Typing Rocket Jr.
Key Seeker
Super Hyper Spider Typer

I've used all of these "games" with kindergarteners and they've absolutely loved them all. The Keyboarding Zoo and Key Seeker games are great because animated animals and such come up after a specific letter is typed. Keyboarding Zoo is reinforces letter locations by having students type the same letter 10 times before they are given the next letter in alphabetical order. Super Hyper Spider Typer, and Typing Rocket Jr. are timer-based games, making them both my secondary choices for kindergarten. 

First Grade
The list of typing programs for First Grade is very similar to that of Kindergarten, with only a few minor tweaks based on their overall ability levels to find proper keys on the keyboard. With adequate keyboarding practice in Kindergarten, First Graders will likely feel more comfortable in timed settings. Thus, I would include the Cup Stacking Typing Game into the mix for First Grade.

Based on how quickly students are able to consistently "master" the above games, I'd begin to include Dance Mat Typing into the instructional plan. Dance Mat Typing is a really great program, and though it says its meant for students aged 7 to 11 years old, I would personally cap the cut off age at either 8 or 9 years old, as I've noticed many 4th and 5th graders getting bored by this very animated program.

Second Grade
Dance Mat Typing and the other 'games' above are well-suitable for Second Graders. In teaching this particular level, it's important to begin scaffolding proper typing practices. At this grade level, students should be introduced to the home-row keys (L = a, s, d, f; R = j, k, l, ;). During the Dance Mat Typing activities, I consistently walk around the class tapping the back of students chairs to remind them to sit up straight. By the end of Second Grade, they've got this mantra stuck in their heads: "No backs on backs, No legs on legs, No elbows on the tables". This mantra encourages students to sit straight without getting elbow cramps.

In addition to Dance Mat Typing and the previously listed activities, I'd include the following activities as they encourage students to type complete words:

Spider Typer - Hard
Alpha Munchies w/ Sight Words

Third Grade
Before a student completes Third Grade, he/she should be able to:

W.3.6:  With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

On the aspect of keyboarding, there are two viable choices, depending upon your school's situation. 

Option 1
First is continuing with Dance Mat Typing, and beginning to incorporate timed typing examples like the one listed below.

Timed Typing assessment:
Typing Assessment 

When it comes to online Typing Tests, one thing that I've found is that it is hard to find a website that isn't infiltrated with advertisements. So, when it comes to Typing Tests, I'd suggest doing a Google search and finding the one that works best for you.

Option 2
If your school has a technology budget, then I'd suggest purchasing software to push out to all of the computers. 
Software purchases are a tricky area, depending upon your school's Vision and Philosophy. Thus, I've stumbled upon this great list that breaks down the Top 10 Typing programs for kids. It's a great resource site because it compares each program, side-by-side, saving you a lot of the typical legwork required in making software purchases. 

Fourth Grade
Since the formalized keyboarding skills begin in Grade 4, I suggest utilizing Typing software as needed, while focusing on the actual integration of keyboarding skills in classroom assignments. This can be done in a variety of ways, from having students type their hand-written poems, to typing full-on research papers. Either way, the most important thing here is that students become comfortable with typing information on a regular basis, as they will be expected to type one page within a single sitting. 

Incorporating daily or weekly typing tests would also be beneficial for this grade, as it will help them build both speed and accuracy. 

Typing Test for Kids 

As a way to incorporate game-based learning programs into the curriculum, I recommend having students "compete" against others in a typing race. It's relatively easy, you see. All they have to do is join a game of Sky Chase, and type the words as they see them, as quickly as they can. At the end of the game, students can see their accuracy percentage and how many words per minute they were able to type.

Fifth Grade
By the time a student completes 5th grade, he/she is expected to type 2 pages within one single-sitting. This makes it extra important to reinforce typing opportunities for writing assignments, while also amping up on the Typing Tests. 

At this grade level Typing software can still be used, but it becomes increasingly important for students to gain comfort in typing. As adults, we know how tiresome it can be to type up a two-page paper in one sitting. Now, imagine your students having to do the same exact thing. At this stage, typing should become an activity that is infused within the curriculum, multiple times a week, if not daily. 

In addition to the previously listed software in the Third Grade section, feel free to include any of the additional game-based learning sites listed above, as these will undoubtedly maintain the student's interest while also teaching them an invaluable skill.

Sixth Grade
At this stage, students are expected to type 3 pages within one single-sitting. Prior to this point, students should have grown accustomed to typing. They should be using their home-row keys, without making many mistakes and capitalizing without using CAPS LOCK.

By this point, typing should be as second-hand as texting.

7th Grade thru 12th Grade
In 7th thru 12th grades, typing should become a daily part of the student's life. Though there are no standards within the common core that directly relate to the skill of keyboarding for these grades, special attention should be paid to more formalized typing that relates to the various writing standards of each respective grade. 

Since these grades will likely have to type their responses, to the questions in the Writing Section of the PARC-C, it's important that typing is regularly practiced within the instructional day.

I hope this post gave all an insightful view on infusing keyboarding instruction into the curriculum. Be sure to read my next post on some collaborative writing platforms.