Friday, May 29, 2009

Ten Spelling Games and Lessons... and a Laugh

Last night Kavya Shivashankar was crowned champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee 2009. If you're students would like to get started on preparing for next year's competition they can test their skills on this sample test from Scripps. Below the video are other resources your students can use to develop their spelling skills.

1. Spelling Wizard from lets students, parents, and teachers create their own word search and word scramble games to play online. Each game can have up to ten words. To use Spelling Wizard simply enter ten words into the list field then select word search or word scramble. Spelling Wizard is probably best suited for students in Kindergarten through second grade. Scholastic also offers a free tool for creating online spelling flashcards.

2. Read Write Think has an online activity for young (K-2) students based on four childrens' books. Read Write Think's Word Wizard asks students to select one of four books that they have read or have had read to them. After selecting a book the Word Wizard creates a simple online spelling exercise based on the words in the book chosen by the child.

3. Spell Bee was developed at Brandeis University with funding from the National Science Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Spell Bee allows students to play spelling games in a head-to-head format. Spell Bee allows teachers to create accounts for students so that teachers can track student progress.

4. MSNBC has an interactive spelling bee based on the words from the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. There are three games to play and the words get progressively more difficult the longer you play. The words are read to students who then type the word into the spelling box. Just like in a real spelling bee, students can get the definition and or hear it used in a sentence. The difficulty of the words in the game make it best suited for middle school and high school students.

5. Spelling Bee The Game is an online spelling bee similar in style to the MSNBC game mentioned above. After selecting an avatar (game persona), students hear words read to them and have to type the correct spelling in the fields provided. If a student spells a word correctly, they move on to the next level. If a student does not spell a word correctly, they are given an easier word to try. If students need help spelling a word, they can hear the definition read as well as hear the word used in a sentence.

6. Kids Spell provides eight free games that help students learn to spell more than 6,000 words. Kids Spell is a part of the Kids Know It Network. The Kids Know It Network provides educational games for all content areas taught in grades K-6.

7. Spin and Spell has been featured on a number of blogs over the last year. Spin and Spell asks students to select a picture and then spell the name of the item. Alternatively, students can have word select for them and then identify the correct corresponding image.

8. offers sixteen free spelling games. Most of the games seem to be designed with grades 3, 4, and 5 in mind.

9. Spelling City is a resource that Jim Moulton shared in his Best of Web 2008 presentation at the ACTEM conference in October. Spelling City not only offers games, it also offers the capability for students to type a word and hear it pronounced.

10. Catch the Spelling offers more than two dozen categories of spelling games. Each game has the same format; as words fall from the top of the screen, players have to "catch" the appropriate letters in the correct sequence to spell the word displayed at the top of the game. Players "catch" letters by moving a cursor at the bottom of the page. In some ways it reminded me of a cross between Tetris and Frogger.

This moment from last year's Scripps National Spelling Bee comes to us in the style of "Kids Say the Darndest Things." If you've had a long week of teaching, this might give you a nice laugh.

Sketchcast - Demonstrate Concepts Through Video

I wrote about Sketchcast last year, but on the heels of today's earlier post about screencasting I thought it would be appropriate to share information about Sketchcast again.

Sketchcast is a great way to demonstrate ideas and concepts through drawing and voice. Using Sketchcast is as easy as drawing on a white board while explaining a concept. Sketchcast provides users with a place sketch diagrams while speaking at the same time. The sketches can then be embedded into a blog or shared via email.

Below is a video introduction to Sketchcast.

Applications for Education
Sketchcast is useful for creating short video tutorials for students. Math teachers could use Sketchcast to walk students through the solutions to challenging mathematics problems. Teachers who are using blogs, wikis, or other websites with their classes will enjoy the ability to quickly create a sketch while explaining a concept to students and then quickly embed that sketch into their blog or wiki.

Budget Cuts and Taxes - Lesson Plans

Today's episode of CNN Student News contains a segment about impact of a proposed budget cut on students in California. This segment could be a good introduction to teaching lessons on how state budgets are formed, how a revenue is raised, and how tax revenue is spent. Below the video embedded below you'll find a couple of corresponding lesson plans.

PBS Kids has a great lesson plan for introducing young students to the concepts of budgets and taxes. The lesson starts with a focus on the students' personal budget before moving onto the basic concepts of government budget.

The IRS website, Understanding Taxes, is a good source of lesson plans and individual learning materials about taxes and budgets. In the teacher section of the site you will find lesson plans like this one (opens as pdf) designed to teach students about services for which tax revenue is used.

Here are some related resources that may be of interest to you:
It's Tax Day! Where Does the Money Go?
Learning About US Income Taxes
The Importance of Supreme Court Nominations
Lesson Plans from the US Department of State
Civics Lessons for ESL Students

Four Free Tools for Creating Screencasts

Making screencast videos is a good way to create a record of the instructions that you may have to frequently give to students or colleagues. Post your screencasts online and your students and colleagues can watch them when you're not available to answer their "how-to" questions. In the past I have created screencasts for my students about adding pages to wikis. If you've never created a screencast because you thought that you had to have some special skills, this post is for you. The four tools highlighted below allow you to create screencast videos quickly and easily. All four of these tools can be used on Mac or Windows computers.

Jing is a free screencasting tool available as a Mac or Windows download. Using Jing you can record videos of your computer screen to visually demonstrate and orally explain to viewers how to perform a task on their own computers. You can also use Jing to take screenshots on which you can then draw and label. Jing screencast videos can be resized to fit your blog or website by following the directions given in the Jing help center. Of the five screencasting tools in this list, Jing offers the most free features. The only drawback to Jing is that you do have to install software on your computer.

ScreenToaster is completely free and quite easy to use. It is a great product although it doesn't have quite as many features as Jing. The trade-off between using ScreenToaster and Jing is that to use ScreenToaster you do not need to install any software. ScreenToaster is a completely web based application that allows you to record what is happening on your computer screen at any given time. ScreenToaster now allows you to record audio to accompany your screencasts. With ScreenToaster you can choose to record all of your screen or just a portion of your screen. When your recording is complete you can save your screencast to your computer, upload it to ScreenToaster, or upload it to YouTube. ScreenToaster is the tool I used to make this popular video about Google's Wonder Wheel.

Screen Castle is a simple screencast creation tool that is completely web-based. To use Screen Castle simply visit their website, click the start button and you're recording. You have the option to enable voice recording for your screencasts. Screencasts made using Screen Castle can be viewed on the Screen Castle website (see my example here) or embedded into another website or blog.

Screencast-O-Matic is a web-based screencast creation tool similar to Screen Castle. Screencast-O-Matic allows you to specify how much of your screen that you want to record. Recording your voice is an available option. Every time that I've tried Screencast-O-Matic it was slow so you probably need to have a fast Internet connection to use Screencast-O-Matic effectively.

What's missing from this list? What screencasting tools do you recommend? Please leave a comment.