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.

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!