Educational Gaming

Kindergarteners use a lot of educational games, both with and without technology.  We use games to to engage students in learning by drawing upon their age-appropriate instincts to play.  The same is proving true for educational games on computers and tablets.  Due to the fact that most kindergarteners are unable to read or write fluently and indpendently for much of the year, many online educational sites highlighted in our Wilkes classes are difficult to integrate into our classrooms.  Games, however, are a great way to start kids on the path of being comfortable navigating and utilizing technology as a medium for learning.

My students this year love the web-based game Teach Your Monster to Read.  It has two levels for differentiation: First Steps and Fun With Words.  In both games, students create a monster and travel through a magical land finding (earning) customizable items for their monster and parts to fix their monster’s broken space ship. In First Steps, students play a series of mini games that teach and identify letter names, sounds, and common digraphs and blends.  After teaching the mini games, it gives the students the choice of which game they’d like to play to learn the rest of the letters and sounds.  Occasionally, they add new games as you progress to a different level.

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In Fun with Words, students use their monster to blend and segment words, identify words within a sentence, and read full sentences that utilize quotations and different punctuation.  The game is scaffolded to help students hear, read, and find the words and sound segments.  some (as in the image above) have the sentence that the student has to read and follow the direction.  Other games have similar word or word segment bubbles and require kids to listen for and match the sound.  As students progress, the sentences and words become more difficult.  My students love this game.  Even when it is hard, they continue to try until they succeed at the tasks.  As an added bonus for teachers, after creating an account, you can create student groups, track progress, and assign skills for individual or groups of students to work on.

Another game we use on the iPads is called Hungry Fish.  In this math game, students begin by feeding their customizable fish with the bubbles containing numbers that match the number on the fish’s belly.  As the levels increase, the difficulty increases.  Students must add bubbles together to add or subtract (depending on which game you are playing) and feed their fish.  Correct answers grow the fish larger, incorrect answers shrink him down to nothing.  Teachers can set student levels, or the game will do it for you.  If a student fails to pass a level, it drops them back down to something they can succeed at before moving them up again.  Again, students get to customize their fish after earning rewards.  Hungry fish reinforces fluid mental math and addresses Common Core math standards in grades K-4.


Both of these games are huge hits in my classroom.  Students love the enthusiasm (and British accent) that comes along with Teach Your Monster to Read as well as the challenges that come along with “caring for” their fish.  I highly recommend both of them for primary classroom use.  Along with reinforcing CCSS concepts and skills, games allow for students to take risks in their learning with a low affective filter for failure.  As Jane McGonigal speaks to in her TED Talk (below), video games that include current affairs may be a format for solving real-world problems, as those who play them continue different avenues for success instead of giving up at the first sign of failure.  It is definitely worth the watch.

Which educational games do you use in your primary classroom?  Are there any that prove successful?  Are there any that you thought would be great but your students don’t like to play?



The Flipped Classroom teaching style has been gaining momentum as it puts more responsibility of learning into the hands of the students and decreases student talk time.  The idea of creating mini-lectures in video form for students to watch at home before accessing content at school is very desirable – watching the videos may replace traditional homework while kids have more hands-on time in the classroom to apply their knowledge and create new learning.

One Scholastic article titled Flip Your Classroom drove home that videos will not replace good teachers.  Instead, teachers will be able to spend quality time helping kids to truly understand the concepts, apply their understanding, and participate in tasks that engage the higher order thinking skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The article also mentions that it is not expected that teachers flip their classroom over night.  Start with one lesson or one unit.  Enact that unit, reflect upon its effectiveness, refine and try again.

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One main characteristic of a flipped classroom is that students watch videos at home.  Thinking of the demographics of my own classroom (100% free and reduced lunch, 50% ELL…) this shot up a red flag for me.  How will this ever work when my kids don’t have computers at home to use or, if they do, half of them don’t have parents that speak the language I teach in.  Although I supplement my teaching with Spanish, the main focus of kindergarten is to learn reading, writing, and math skills in English.  I allow my students in the classroom to talk with each other in Spanish if they are working, as long as they use key vocabulary words in English.  Initially I started thinking that I could make the lesson in Spanish as well as English so that parents could work with their students.  That might work – I’d need to make sure I use the same level of language in both.  However, the larger problem still exists – my students don’t have internet access at home – Most of the parents only have email on their phones.

Then I read a post on Edutopia, The Flipped-Learning Toolkit, Flipping the Un-Flippable Classes, that highlighted a teacher in Seattle who had kids watch the videos at school before starting to work.  Randy Brown has half of his students watching and learning on devices while the other half works with him or independently.  This is something that may work in my classroom!  Andrea Buehler has some great videos on YouTube that show a video kindergarten lesson:

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These are great to have on hand for students to check out while they are working on handwriting and phonemic awareness.  If students had a library of these videos on their devices, they could access them anytime they needed a reminder on sounds or letter formation.  These will be very beneficial in my room.  Additional videos on blending, writing, and specific reading/writing rules in English can be very helpful!

Due to the demographics of my classroom, I don’t honestly think it’ll ever be fully flipped, however the wheels are turning on how I can flip certain lessons and subjects and support students in higher level thinking and learning skills.

One Device For All

In my district, iPads are the technology device of choice.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, my district is currently in the middle of a digital conversion process.  Aside from them being the district choice, they are my choice as well due to how easy it is to link them within the network of my already existing MacBook and iTunes accounts.  I can easily push out apps to all the devices I utilize as well as share my school iTunes accounts with the devices that are used for the listening center.  IPads are easy to use and many students have experience using Apple products at home.  I reached out to Matt Gomez (who leads Kinderchat and is a leader in technology implementation in kindergarten) via Twitter to see what his favorite tools were. I couldn’t agree more with his suggestions.


I recently collaborated with some colleagues to write an implementation program for our school which you can download and read here: PREDigitalConversion.  It calls for 1:1 implementation grades 3-5 and 4:1 implementation in K-2.  When we were looking at ideas to pull together, we focused on Apple’s iPads in Education sites as well as Edutopia’s 1:1 Implementation site.  Our plan include a gradual release of responsibility to the kids (along with a year-long roll out plan broken down by teacher and student roles), as they complete a digital “iPademy” (iPad academy – page 3 in our program) as well as including Family Tech Nights throughout the year so that parents can feel up to date along with their students.

I payed close attention to the problems that plagued Los Angeles Unified during their iPad rollout.  One major problem in LAUSD was the lack of tech support, including the technological readiness of the staff.  Although we have a 96% buy-in from our staff, one major concern among them was their own lack of knowledge when it came to using iPads for anything other than apps or checking Facebook.  We wanted to make sure that staff feels confident in their new style of instruction.

Our professional development focuses on School Improvement Wednesday (SIW) trainings on digital citizenship, application instruction, creating common assessments, and planning time.  Additionally, we will have Studio-style lesson studies (more on that on page 4 of our program), and Appy Hour – a digitally focused Happy Hour where we focus on specific apps to use in class.

Some possible problems that face us are students damaging or missing devices (LAUSD reported that 31% of their ipads had gone missing!) as well as the financial cost of replacing devices as they become outdated.  Overall, there is also a fear of the unknown.  I work with a dedicated bunch of strong teachers who are trusting us that we will give them the tools they need to be successful.  One of our district administrators said that we cannot let our fears stand in our way and that we have to continue forward making educated decisions along the way.

We just learned that our staff is getting our teacher iPads this year, so we will be able to implement some of our SIW trainings and Appy Hours this year.  Students will be receiving their iPads next year.  Although we were initially disappointed that our kids wouldn’t get their devices this year, we are now thinking that is a benefit to the teachers that we will have a year to practice on our own devices with one another before implementing technology-enhanced instruction in our classrooms.

I hope you take the time to read our iPad conversion proposal.  I’d love to hear any suggestions you have on how we can better facilitate our roll-out.  Has your school successfully implemented a 1:1 integration?  What advice can you offer me and my staff?

Digital Citizenship vs. Digital Responsibility

“Digital citizenship” is a phrase that is getting tossed around quite a bit lately in my district.  We are in the middle of an iPad rollout:  1:1 devices for kids grades 3-12 and a smattering of devices for grades K-2.  A few years ago, when our district started this process, we were asked to write a grant (of sorts) stating why we should be one of the first schools to receive technology, how we would implement it, and our plans to teach appropriate use.  As a result, “digital citizenship” became the buzzword.  Meriam Webster defines citizenship as, “the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community.”  I fully support teaching students to be active and positive citizens, but are “come to school with device fully charged” or “bring device to school daily” really measures of good citizenship?  To me, they are not, but until recently, I had a hard time explaining why.  I started to think about what makes someone a good “regular” citizen: They are caring towards others.  They strive to make a positive difference in their community.  They are trustworthy and reliable.  None of these things have to do with how charged I keep my technology. Keith Heggart recently wrote a post on Edutopia titled, “Why I Hate “Digital Citizenship.”  His post put into words what I had been thinking, but unable to articulate.


Heggart makes that claim that what we are really teaching is digital responsibility.  Follow the guidelines. Bring your device to school.  Don’t share your passwords.  As he mentions, that’s how to be sensible online.  Heggart goes on to state that if we are really teaching digital citizenship, we should teach how to correctly debate and discuss online and to engage their democratic leaders in dialogue through the internet. Common Sense Media is a site frequently used to foster digital citizenship in schools.  October 19-25th is Digital Citizenship Week.  Their blog post states that LAUSD, a major player in the digital conversion world, is pledging to teach 5 lessons that week: safety/privacy, password creation, cyber-bullying, information literacy, and digital footprint.  Under Heggart’s definition, only one (cyber-bullying) or maybe two (digital footprint) of these 5 lessons are actually about citizenship.  The rest are about responsibility.  Below you will find two posters available on the Common Sense Media website that are good examples of the differences between the two: responsibility      citizenship

Right now, my district doesn’t have a universal citizenship/responsibility curriculum or philosophy.  We do, however, put a strong focus on student/community citizenship and I want to make sure that transfers into the ditigal world.  Personally, I like Common Sense Media and the resources it has made available to me as we undergo this digital conversion process.  I do think that it is equally important to be both digitally responsible and an active digital citizen.  We should, however, teach kids the difference between the two.  Digital citizenship should focus more on the interactions that occur with the use of technology, where as digital responsibility should focus on safety and care.  My concern is that if we gloss over responsibility as citizenship, the major issues in digital citizenship such as cyber-bullying and social activism will fall to the wayside when, in fact, they are just as (if not more) important. How does your district define “digital citizenship?”  Do you have any documents you can pass my way that will help my district on our journey towards technology integration?