Thursday, February 22, 2018

Reviews by Lab Llama: Cool Math Games

Some sites are old...some sites are brand new...others are glitchy...others run great! Who has time to vet them all?? 

Lord knows that I don't, but I want to share some llama love by rating the sites that I have had some firsthand experience using. I'm not paid (darn) and by no means are these reviews "official" but hey, who says they can't still be useful. 

Today's site of choice - Cool Math GamesIt is a flash game website that can be used by the computer lab teacher as a free time/game day option. Or at least, that's how it is used in my class. 

Price Point
This site can be used for free but also has an ad-free version that (as of February 2018) costs $6.99 a month. Are there a lot of ads....actually, yes. On the home page alone, I count 8. Yes, EIGHT. It will also occasionally run a 15 second advertisement before starting a game. 

Personally, I have not found it to be worth coughing up that much money for something I only use as a free time option. The ads in the free version of the site...I haven't encountered any that were outright inappropriate, and the kiddos are patient enough to deal with them so I haven't let that deter me from this site.  

This site gets dinged a little on practicality because of the number of advertisements it contains.

Despite that, the site is well organized by skill (strategy, logic, numbers, etc.) and is also searchable by title. My students often get hooked on a specific game so having the ability to search by title comes into play for my classroom. 

Student Engagement
Holy VARIETY, batman!!! There are tons of options on this site. Other free time options get the "I'm bored" comment from time to time because there are fewer options, but that has not been the case with Cool Math Games. Check out some of the randommmm games that are the most popular on the site at the moment:

"There is No Game"??? lol I guess this site is more relevant than I am in some ways. 
I also appreciate that there are games that appear to female students as well without pandering to them. 

I have not encountered a day when the site doesn't work. However, since the games are dependent on Adobe Flash, I have had problems where I have had to update Flash or have had browser settings where it prompts for permission each time the students go on (curses on you, required Firefox!). Since these are just regular lab maintenance things, I don't dock any points on reliability.

Academic Value
The great "free time" it academic enough? Should every moment of computer lab be tailored specifically to computer skills? I don't know where you fall on that topic, but here is what I have found:

Cool Math Games skills
- Critical thinking skills
- General site navigation (scrolling, recognizing ads versus real content [lol], dropdowns)
- Cooperative skills (some games can be played two player)

Final Score What type of llama lover would I be if my scoring wasn't llamarific!!

With a half point taken away for price & practicality we get a score of...
4 out of 5 Lovely Llamas!

I'd love to hear from you! Do your students use Cool Math Games? Have you found another game website worth recommending?
Please share in the comments below.

Llama love,


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Reviews by Lab Llama: Kid Blog

Some sites are old...some sites are brand new...others are glitchy...others run great! Who has time to vet them all?? 

Lord knows that I don't, but I want to share some llama love by rating the sites that I have had some firsthand experience using. I'm not paid (darn) and by no means are these reviews "official" but hey, who says they can't still be useful. 

So here we go...KidblogIt is a blogging site for teachers to host student blogs. 

Price Point
Okay, so I know we like free. I mean, we really like free. But this is one of few subscriptions I have felt has held its value.

As of September 2017, an account costed $60 annually. At $5 a month for it to host all my students...not a deal breaker.

Kidblog offers free 30-day trials for you to check it out and sometimes run seasonal specials for discounted prices (I've seen 20% offers at times). 

Kidblog definitely checks the proverbial box for practicality. 

- Students login with a dropdown menu of the usernames associated with a given blog (can I get a "hoorah!" for not worrying about mis-typed usernames!!).

- The teacher dashboard allows you to lock down posts and comments (I require approval for both), it's easy to reset student passwords, and you can create bulk accounts using a CSV file. 

- The account license doesn't limit how many computers use the site so students can access their blogs from home. 

- Public versus private is a breeze. You can make your class's blogs public, private to only the teacher and students, or limited to students + a specific list of email addresses. 

Student Engagement
So, student engagement is key. In my class, if it's too far from being a "game" I get terrible final products from my classes. Kidblog scores full marks for student engagement. 

- They have fun tools for customizing avatars and images for within a given post.

- Further customization can be done to individual blog posts including custom fonts, backgrounds, and header images. 

- Plus commenting, commenting, commenting! Boy, do kids love to talk (as if you didn't know that already).

I am on year three of using this website and have seldom run into problems of the site being down for maintenance. Since it doesn't run flash or any other bells and whistles, there's little else that affects this site's reliability...other than your internet connectivity, of course.

Academic Value
The students like it - good. It works reliably - good. But does it contribute to learning? Any computer lab teacher worth their weight in RAM knows that activities must make the students more computer literate or what's the point??

So what skills does Kidblog enhance?
- Typing skills
- General site navigation (dropdown menus, signing in and out, saving work, etc.)
- Digital citizenship (cyberbullying through comments, appropriate post topics, secure passwords, and more)
- 'Netiquette (typing in ALL CAPS, spamming, replying to others)

Final ScoreWhat type of llama lover would I be if my scoring wasn't llamarific!!

With a solid rating in each category, it may not come as a surprise that this site gets a score of...
5 out of 5 Lovely Llamas!

I'd love to hear from you! Have you used Kidblog or a similar blogging site for kids? Please share in the comments below.

Llama love,


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

3 "Must Grabs" during the TPT Back to School Sales

It's here! It's here! 😀

The sale I wait for all July. Prime Day, Shhhmime Day - I can't help but get excited over the deep discount on great products.

Despite being a TPT seller myself (*insert shameless plug that my store is also on sale*), there is something to be said for the convenience and ease of buying quality products from your fellow teachers.

So here are a few "must grabs" to suit the computer lab classroom.

1. Reward Bracelets from Second Grade Smiles
What are they?
These bracelets are replacements/alternatives to brag tags. As a tech teacher who sees students too infrequently, I've never been able to use brag tags.
Why use them?
With these printable bracelets, I thought it would be a great way to send a positive note with kiddos outside of my computer lab. Messages like "Wonderful Worker" and "Lovely Listener" definitely apply to my students! I also really like that there is a "Birthday Kid" option - when kiddos tell me it's their birthday, I didn't previously have anything to give to them.
The cost?
Only $1.60 during the sale!! What!!

2. Emoji Punch Cards from Erintegration
What are they? 
The punch cards are an emoji-themed behavior reward system. Just designate what the incentive is, then punch off the emojis as students do good behaviors.
Why use them?
Um, emojis!!! Okay, I guess that's not a real reason on it's own.
I think this will be a great classroom incentive tool. The student's name is prominently featured in the middle - so I'm thinking these will work as name tags for the kids. I have clothespins on each monitor that they will fit into without problem.
The cost?
Also only $1.60! Hoorah!

3. Interactive Attendance Charts from Pink Cat Studios
What are they?
A local download to your computer + an HTML file (don't worry, it's crazy easy to set up) = attendance charts that students click using the smartboard on their way into my computer lab.
Why use them?
These are a must have! I've purchased a few individual themes in the past and I L-O-V-E this product. My K-3rd students know that they take their lines from outside my door, straight to the board to hand of the pen to click the smartboard. Once they've done so, they set headphones at their desk, and sit on the carpet for instruction. Magnificent!
The cost?
Okay, so these were my splurge. Price of $23.99, marked down from $67.89. #worthit

I'm a happy computer lab camper. <3
Do any of these strike your interest? Why or why not?
Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Cup Full of Love

Remember the little people. Now, I don't typically refer to myself as one of the "little people," but at the end of the year it is easy for us "extra subject" teachers to feel that way - especially when our classes ended a week ago. Here's my short story of how one teacher's thoughtfulness brightened my end-of-year days:

While primary teachers have been rushing about with end-of-school parties and performance rehearsals, I have been sitting quietly in my classroom clicking away looking for materials for next school year. I feel like that motorcyclist that zips by in traffic that is secretly hated by everyone else.

While I enjoy my cruise to freedom, I was surprised by something... loneliness. In all the busyness of the last couple weeks, students no longer wave and ask about class, teachers no longer have time to talk, administration is nearly impossible to meet with... now it might sound crazy, but it's true that it's a little sad. But, one teacher turned this frown upside-down with a quick email -

And a cup full of student LOVE!

What a simple but sweet gesture to brighten a fellow teacher's day!

I was inspired by her kindness and created a new freebie product to use to thank the computer teacher in your life. Click the image to download the free product - I also included a blank "Thank You" for other deserving folks:

Too late for a student project this year? An email will do! You wouldn't believe how far an email to the librarian, secretary, IT specialist, computer teacher, PE coach will go!

Here's to a fabulous summer!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Exploring New Robots

As the school year comes to an end, I'm looking into radically upgrading our robotics component of class. Here is one of the robots I'm looking to purchase this school year. They are made by Wonder Workshop and offer a variety of teaching resources.

I don't intend to purchase "Dot," but do want several "Dash" robots.

Do you have any experience with robotics and students? What would be your greatest teaching concern?

Thanks for sharing!