Category Archives: Games

New Hopscotch Curriculum

Hopscotch has been a favorite programming app of my students ever since they tried it for the Hour of Code a couple of years ago. One of my 5th graders chose to use Hopscotch to create his entire Genius Hour presentation last year.

Hopscotch is now offering a new curriculum for educators and I had a chance to sneak preview it before yesterday’s release.  I am very impressed by the format of the lessons, which were created using the Understanding by Design framework.

There are 6 lessons, about 45 minutes each, targeted for 5th-8th grades. However,  there is a lot of flexibility that allows for modifications for younger and older students.  The lessons include ideas for differentiation and detailed suggestions to include many levels.

Math, Engineering, and Computer Science Standards are included in the lessons.  Videos links are offered for all 6 activities to either use with your class or for the teacher to watch to gain better understanding.  Hopscotch not only differentiates for the students, but also for the teachers by making the instructions very clear for even those who have never used the app before.

I am excited that Hopscotch is offering such an amazing free resource for educators.  This app encourages creativity and problem-solving while teaching logic and many math skills.  Don’t worry if you have never programmed before.  With Hopscotch, you and your students can learn together.

Hopscotch Curriculum

Make Your Ice-Breakers into Earth Shakers

This will be my 25th year of teaching.  Add this to the years I attended school as a student and you will get 42 “first days.”

42 days of team-building activities and ice-breakers.

During those 42 years, I estimate that I’ve played “Getting-to-Know-You” Bingo about 25 times.  24 of those times were not initiated by me.

If you whip out Getting to Know You Bingo (or the equally enjoyable Getting to Know You Scavenger Hunt) as an activity at a staff development, I will groan.


Almost as loudly as I would at this joke:


If it bores me, chances are my students won’t be too excited about it, either. So I look to my colleagues each year for new ideas.

Maybe you are hunting for new ideas, too.   Here are some that I’ve gathered in the last couple of weeks that might help you to avoid yawns on the first day of school (other than the genuine ones that result from a summer of staying up late and getting up at the reasonable hour of 11 AM).

  • Being Student Centered Day One – Click on the link in Alice Keeler’s post to find a collaborative spreadsheet of 1st day ideas from teachers around the world.  While you’re there, add yours to the list – as long as it isn’t Bingo ;)
  • Get ready for Dot Day – This year’s Dot Day is September 15-ish. Use some of the ideas linked in Shannon Miller’s post to prepare for this great event and to allow your students to display their own unique qualities.
  • Epic Back to School Selfie Template – Shell Terrell provides this great idea that will definitely motivate students to express themselves.  You will need a free SlideShare account to download the presentation – or you can “remix” it and build one of your own!  You can also try one of the suggestions on Shell’s Kid Icebreakers page (lots of suggestions for primary grades),  or from her post on Teaching the Emoji Generation.
  • Social Media Profile –  Speaking of the Emoji Generation, , you might want to try this free download from Michelle Griffo on TPT if you teach 4th or 5th grade. You can see the cute bulletin board of her class’s responses here.

I hope this list gives you some Bingo alternatives that get your students’ year off to an exciting start!




Parable of the Polygons

My students adore Vi Hart videos.  I think the kids understand maybe 1/2 of what she is saying, but she makes math fun and stimulates their curiosity.

Parable of the Polygons” is an interactive website that was created by Vi Hart and Nicky Case.  Having watched several Vi Hart videos, I expected the site to do one of the things Vi does best – teach me math.  But I was mistaken.  “Parable of the Polygonsuses math to teach about racism, sexism, (and all of the other negative”isms”) and what we can do to help eradicate them.

from Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case
from Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case

I innocently played each activity trying to make happy polygons until I realized that I, a self-proclaimed non-racist, have had probably zero effect in persuading others to be less biased.  Using math, I learned that, unless more of us make an effort to seek out more diverse colleagues and friends, there is little chance things will change.

This is definitely an activity that I will be doing with my students and I hope to make some changes in my life based on what I learned. From now on, this little square is going to be on the lookout for opportunities to meet more triangles :)

Bitsbox Subscriptions

“Are we going to do Share Time today?”




5 minutes later…

“When can I share?”

This 5th grader was super-excited, and completely determined to make sure I didn’t forget to give him his 5-minute sharing opportunity.  In my GT classroom, students can earn different privileges for certain achievements, and this was a privilege for which this student had worked particularly hard.

Finally, it was time.

The student came to the front of the room with a box in his hand.  It turned out the box was his first package from Bitsbox.  It included cards, a magazine, stickers, and a surprise toy.

image from Bitsbox
image from Bitsbox

I last posted about Bitsbox in December.  The site is free, and allows students to learn how to code programs.  Once the students log in online, students can write and test programs on a virtual tablet. When users create something they like, it can actually be shared and played on mobile devices.  You can access the Teacher Guide here.

My student’s parents had gone one step further, and gotten a Bitsbox subscription.  Depending on the subscription level that is chosen, either a PDF or an actual box is delivered to subscribers monthly. My student obviously received the box, and he could not wait to share its contents with the class. The students were in awe as he demonstrated how you could actually write a program online, and then play it on your mobile device.

I was thrilled to receive my own Bitsbox in the mail for review.  So was my 12-year-old daughter, especially when she saw the “surprise toy” – a Slinky.

The current Bitsbox magazine is great quality (nice paper, color pages), has 22 apps to try, and includes an inventory of some of the songs, stamps, fills, and sounds that you can use to “remix” the apps. It also has a link to a Grownup Guide – one of the best features in my opinion – which allows you to type in a code number for any of the programs. Parents then have access to a helpful “translation” of the programming involved, as well as extension suggestions.  LOVE!

My daughter enjoyed the “Who’s My BFF?” code, which randomly chooses a friend’s name from the ones that you input.  My students like things that explode, so “Fido’s Lunch” (one of the included programming cards) made quite an impression.

The difficulty of the apps varies.  Some are very short and simple. Others have quite a few lines of code, but obviously allow for more fun when playing the completed games. Content-wise, the target ages seem to be about 7-12 years old, though I must admit that I certainly enjoyed trying them out even though I’m nowhere near that age bracket ;)

So, the big question is, “Is a Bitsbox subscription worth it?”  One thing you should do to help yourself make this decision is try the website activities first.  If your child enjoys those – to the point that he or she is modifying them and begging for more – then you should consider a subscription.  My 5th grader obviously did!  Personally, I think the $20 PDF would not be that exciting.  Kids like to get packages.  That being said, I’m not sure the $40 month-to-month is a very good value.  I think I would try the $35/month for 3 months or the $30/month for 12.  My advice to Bitsbox would be to offer 6 months for $30 each, and the 12 months for $25/month.  I think that would be ideal.


Or You Could Organize a Flash Mob

“I don’t know why they even make the kids go to school during the last 2 weeks.  The textbooks have been picked up, grades turned in, and all the teachers do is show movies.” Okay, first of all – NOT TRUE! Okay, maybe some of it is sometimes true.  Possibly.

But think about it. Let’s say school ended in March instead of June. Wouldn’t we still have the same problems? As far as I can see, the only solutions are:

A.) Make the end date of school a surprise every year by having a groundhog predict it with his shadow:

“Hooray! He saw his shadow.  That means six more weeks until we can ask him to come out again and repeat this process.”

“Oh darn! He didn’t see his shadow! That means today is your last day of school!”


2.) Schedule all standardized for the last 2 days of school.  Because, let’s face it, that’s the only thing that gives school meaning. Otherwise, it’s just about learning for the sake of learning.

Granted, neither of those solutions would be very popular.  So, I think we have to go with Door #3 and make the last two weeks as meaningful as possible – maybe even more meaningful. What can we do to make ourselves, as teachers, feel less like babysitters?

Give our students some physical activity by teaching them how to pack up a classroom. Give our students some physical activity with GoNoodle or Deskercises.

Stretch their brains by showing them Monsters Inc for the 70th time. Stretch their brains by showing them Word Picture Brainteasers or stumping them with 50 Riddles.

Let them play Heads Up Seven Up. Let them play Creativity Games or one of the bazillion quizzes on Kahoot.

Reminisce by showing them a slide show of pictures from the year. Reminisce by creating a Thinglink of a class picture with links to a video from each student or allowing them to each make their own Pic Collage that represents their year. (Check out the new Pic Collage for Kids app here!)

Assign them to draw whatever they want, which usually results in Minecraft, Pokemon, or My Little Pony posters they all want to gift you with. Assign them to draw something that challenges them to think, like a S.C.A.M.P.E.R. picture or a Sketch Note that summarizes their year.

Have your students start moving your supplies to your new classroom for next year. Have your students design a Rube Goldberg Machine to move your supplies or try out one of the many engineering challenges supplied by the F.L.I. girls in their Challenge Boxes.

Speaking of boxes, you probably need to pack some – so get those young, energetic kids to load them up for you. Speaking of boxes, you can always have the students bring in their own, and design games to play the last day of school (on which they will be sure to bring those games home).  Even better, put all the stuff you don’t need anymore into a pile and challenge them to make something new using only those supplies (with the understanding that their new invention will definitely go home with them on the last day).

I think I’ve suggested enough ideas to last one or two days.  How about we crowdsource activities for the other 7 or 8 days?  Put your favorite end-of-year lessons in the comments below!

image from:
image from: Irvine Unified School District

The Fido Puzzle (And an Explanation)

I was reviewing old blog posts and came across one about the Fido Puzzle.  For their “sharing time” my 5th graders have recently been trying to stump each other with riddles, and I think this might be a good one to add to the mix.  (If you are a parent of one of my 5th graders, don’t show them the answer!)


My original post did not include an explanation, but I’m getting kinder in my old age;)

Kahoot is a fun student response site that can be used with any device.  I don’t employ it very often because the nature of my gifted classes doesn’t really allow for many multiple choice questions. Yesterday, though, I decided to see how my first graders would respond to a Kahoot geography quiz.  They have been doing research on different countries, and have participated in all kinds of activities to help them learn the locations of their countries and the seven continents.  Sure enough, there were already several public Kahoots made that were perfectly tailored for my group.


It took a lot more guidance to get them started than it takes with my older students, but they were finally all ready to start.  The first question took them by surprise.  They had never used a student response system in their lives, and couldn’t figure out why the screen in front of the room looked different than the one on their iPad – but was still connected.  Once they realized what was happening, though, they got completely fired up.  They were leaping out of their chairs and cheering when they got answers correct.  After we finished the first quiz, they begged for more.

The level of engagement was undoubtedly there.  I was a bit uncomfortable, though, with whether or not the competition was a good thing or not.  Even when the students used “aliases”, it was immediately apparent by their reactions who was doing well and who wasn’t.

Every student, whether they did well or not, wholeheartedly agreed that they love “Kahooting.”  And I realize that competition can be motivating.  However, I have mixed feelings about the students comparing themselves to others. Am I helping them to learn more by offering this exciting and engaging activity?  Or, am I discouraging those who find themselves unable to answer correctly or fast enough?

What do you think?  Comments welcome!