Monday, March 21, 2022

Plays.org - Educational Games Your Students Will Love to Play

Disclosure: Plays.org is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

Plays.org is a new website that offers hundreds of games for students to play online. Students can play all of the games for free without the need to register or give away any personal details. And unlike many other online games websites, Plays.org doesn’t display advertisements and doesn’t use retargeting technology to track users across the web. Those statements alone make Plays.org worth trying. If you want a better sense of what you’ll find on Plays.org, read on.

All of the games that you will find on Plays.org are written in HTML5. What that means is they can be used in the web browser on any device including iPads, Chromebooks, and any computer that students have access to in your classroom or at home.

As a teacher and a parent my favorite aspect of Plays.org isn’t any of the technical components mentioned above. My favorite aspect of the site is that every game is on its own page that contains a summary of the game’s purpose, details about how to play the game (directions for using a mouse, a touchscreen, and on-screen controls), and strategies for playing the game. Additionally, every game page states who the target audience is for that game.

Three Games to Get Started
Reading the game summaries, target audience, and directions does make it possible to get a sense of what each game is about without even playing it. That said, as the dad of two kids who are just starting to get a little screen time (20 minutes a day, tops!) I still want to actually play the game before I let my kids or any kids I’m in charge of play it. To that end, I spent some time over the last few days playing some of the games on Plays.org. These are the ones that stood out to me.

Curious George Museum of Tens appealed to me because I loved Curious George stories as a kid and now my daughters do too! It’s a game that my five year old liked when I showed it to her on our family iPad. The concept of the game is a simple one. Curious George is in a digital museum and there’s a wall of artifacts behind him. He needs ten of them to complete the collection. The player has to identify how many more he needs in order to complete the collection. Once that is done, a new collection appears and the game repeats.
Sight Word Bingo is another game that I tried with my five year old. The concept of this game is a fairly simple one. I chose the range of words for the game then set the size of the bingo board. To play the game she had to listen to words read aloud then tap the corresponding word on the bingo board. When a line of words was connected she earned a little “bingo monster” avatar. Sight Word Bingo includes vocabulary words appropriate for Kindergarten through third grade.
Lest you think that Plays.org only has games for early elementary grades, here’s one for kids that are a little bit older. LEGO City Adventures Build and Protect City Simulation is a game in which players build a LEGO community from scratch. The game begins with players creating buildings in the city center then moving outward toward suburbs. Players earn coins (points) for completing a building. They then use those coins to purchase opportunities to dig for more building blocks to continue building their cities and towns. At first the blocks and buildings are cheap but they get more expensive as the game progresses and they build larger buildings and build farther away from the city center. I can see LEGO City Adventures Build and Protect City Simulation being used as a means to introduce students to some concepts about city and town planning and development.
Benefits of (Optional) Registration
As I mentioned above, you and your students can play all of the games on Plays.org without registering or giving away any personal information. That said, there is an option to register on the site if you want to. The benefit of registering is that you can create a list of favorite games that you can then quickly access whenever you visit the site on any device. You can register directly on the site by creating a username and password. Alternatively, you can register by using your Google, Facebook, or Twitter account.

Finding Games on Plays.org
If there was one thing that I’d change about Plays.org it is the navigation menu. Currently, to find games on Plays.org you can either scroll through the entire catalog or click on links to game categories like math games or spelling games and then scroll through the list of games in that category. It’s a fine system, but down the road I’d love to see a few more options to refine your game search according to target age range (4-7, 8-11) and or skill (addition, subtraction). Take a look at my short video overview of Plays.org to see how you can find games for your kids to play.

Take Your Students on the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip Hosted by Discovery Education

Disclosure: Discovery Education is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

Discovery Education hosts some fantastic virtual field trips throughout the year. These are open to all teachers who want to have their classes attend them, not just those who subscribe to Discovery Education. I’ve featured many of Discovery Education’s virtual field trips over the course of the last decade. Today, I’d like to highlight one that recently premiered and is now available on demand. That is the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip designed for middle school and high school classrooms.

The American Ideals Virtual Field Trip hosted by Discovery Education takes place inside The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. The overarching themes of the virtual experience is civic engagement and civic leadership. Throughout the twenty-one minute tour students will hear from other student leaders who are engaged in civic leadership and pioneering change in their communities. As you might expect, the tour also provides a bit of history about Ronald Reagan’s political career and the legacy of his presidency including how he earned the nickname of “The Great Communicator.”

The American Ideals Virtual Field Trip is available on-demand so you can view all of it at once. Alternatively, you could start and stop it to share little segments with your students over the course of a few class meetings. There are many segments within the twenty-one minute tour that could be used as the basis for much longer lessons that you conduct in your classroom. That said, the educator’s guide (link opens a PDF) for the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip is based on students completing the virtual event in one continuous activity.

Artifacts Featured in the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip
Throughout the tour students will see physical artifacts housed at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. Those include an exact replica of the Oval Office as it was arranged when Reagan was in office and a look inside the airplane that served as Air Force 1 when Reagan was President. Perhaps the most significant of the artifacts shown during the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip is a piece of the Berlin Wall. Students will see it and learn about the significance of Reagan’s speech imploring Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall.

Interviews with Student Leaders
As I alluded to earlier, there are segments within the virtual field trip that are excellent on their own and better when viewed in the context of the entire tour. Those segments include tips for how to become a civic leader and how to gain trust as a leader. Additionally, there are lots of archival clips of Ronald Reagan’s presidency used as examples of leadership. Finally, the virtual field trip includes interviews with graduates of the Reagan Foundation’s student leadership program who talk about and show how they have engaged in civic leadership.

A couple of the interviews that stood out to me as I watched the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip were with Paige Barella and Alex Edgar. By watching the interview with Paige Barella students can learn about her Stop Bullying Me project, how she developed the idea for the project, and what it takes to be a good communicator and leader.

When they watch the interview with Alex Edgar, students will learn about his virtual voter registration project (featured in the VC Star as well as in the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip), the challenges he faced in getting it going, and the lessons about leadership that he learned through that process.

Educator’s Guide to the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip
As I mentioned earlier, there is a complete educator’s guide to the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip available as a PDF. The guide includes a list of the Common Core Standards addressed through the virtual field trip. More importantly, the guide provides a detailed lesson plan with activity handouts for you to use in conjunction with your students’ viewing of the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip.

In the educator’s guide to the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip there are activities to complete with students before starting the digital event, activities to complete while viewing the virtual field trip, and activities to complete after viewing the virtual field trip. Before beginning the field trip students will be asked to put into their own words what they think civic participation means and share any examples of it from their own lives. Then during the virtual field trip students will use a template provided in the guide to take notes about three themes of civic participation. After the virtual field trip students use another provided template to answer the question, “how has civic engagement been defined?” in a series of historical documents.

The questions in the educator’s guide to the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip don’t have clear-cut answers and that’s part of the beauty of the virtual field trip and teaching civic engagement. By watching the virtual field trip and engaging in discussion with you and each other students will develop new ideas and create informed opinions about civic engagement and American ideals. So while the American Ideals Virtual Field Trip itself is only twenty-one minutes long, the discussion and lessons from it could last for much longer.

Final note about the educator’s guide:
The guide is one PDF that contains handouts for students but also many notes for teachers. If you want to split the PDF so that you have digital copies of the handouts, watch this short tutorial video.


Spring is Here! Kind of...for Some of Us

Today is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. And even there is still plenty of winter-like days to come, here in Maine we're starting to have longer days, see and hear more birds around our house, and there's plenty of mud being tracked into the house by my kids and dogs. Those are all sure signs that spring is on the horizon. On that note, here are some short lessons about the arrival of spring. 

Why do birds sing? And how do they learn the songs that they sing? The answers to those questions and more are revealed in a TED-Ed Lesson titled How Do Birds Learn to Sing?



After learning how birds learn to sing, have your students explore The Wall of Birds interactive mural produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The mural features a variety of birds that when clicked on reveal information about that bird, audio of that bird's call, and a map of that bird's natural range.



Why do we have seasons? What causes the changes in weather patterns throughout the seasons? The answers to those questions and more are found in the following SciShow Kids video and Crash Course Kids video.




All of these videos are great candidates for use in an EDPuzzle lesson. Here's an overview of how to use EDpuzzle to turn existing videos into lessons of your own. 

PBS Learning Media's Classroom Posters collection contains more than a dozen colorful PDFs featuring the letters of the alphabet with representative icons, numbers, shapes, and short words. In the posters collection you'll also find seasons of the year, months of the year, and weather.

And if you'd like to take your kids outside to learn about the arrival of spring, consider creating some outdoor bingo activities for them.