If you’re like me, you’re always looking for ways to get your elementary students to become better spellers. Weekly tests don’t work — the learning doesn’t “stick”, and for many of the students, the words are too easy or hard anyway. This has bothered me for years.

I’ve tried bringing in parent volunteers to test students individually and create personalized lists for each child. I’ve tried abandoning spelling tests altogether, focusing on mini-lessons and then checking students’ writing for proper spelling of the patterns I had taught. I’ve examined all of the spelling websites and apps out there, and I’ve tried most of them, to minimal effect.

What I want is an elementary spelling website that I can use to support my minilessons on word patterns, but which students can also use to move forward at their own pace. I want the site to include high-frequency words in addition to pattern-based words. I want the site to be gamified enough to hook in my students while also still spending the vast majority of the students’ time on actual spelling. I want the site to show me my students’ results at a glance in real time.

That site doesn’t exist. So I decided to make it.

And with that, it’s time for me to unveil my next big project: Rocket Spelling is going to be a differentiated spelling website designed for students in 1st-5th grades. It will include 1,200 high-frequency and pattern-based words, gamified learning with instant feedback for students, and live results at a glance for teachers. It will be the spelling site I’ve wanted to use for the past 5+ years.

Rocket Spelling will go live in the spring of 2017. If you’d like the chance to have your students beta-test the site for free yet this spring, please sign up now at We’re going to accept a limited number of classrooms for this special free offer. (Normally, the site will charge an annual subscription fee, but early signups will get full access to the site for free throughout the spring and summer of 2017.)

If you, like me, are frustrated with what’s been out there in the area of spelling, sign up now! Something better is on the way.


Customized Math Games for Your Classroom

Sometimes I’ll be getting ready to teach a math lesson, when suddenly I’ll think, “I wish I could find a good game that teaches this content in a more exciting way than just plain practice problems can.”  Sometimes I manage to find the perfect game to use, but often I can’t find a game that does exactly what I’m looking for.

That’s where comes in.  This amazing website will make the perfect math game for you, designed exactly to your specifications.  I couldn’t find a fun online game to measure fractions on a number line, so I had this game created for me.  Want a math game that uses your school’s colors or has other fun personalized elements to it like that?  Custom Math Games will do that for you as well.  Once the game is created, Custom Math Games will also host your game and allow you to have an unlimited number of students play the game as well.

The next time you can’t find the perfect math game, I seriously urge you to have  Custom Math Games create that game for you!

Suggested Resource: Flocabulary

If you teach third through eighth grade, no matter what subject, have I got a recommendation for you: check out Flocabulary!  Flocabulary is a subscription-based website that offers you and your students access to incredibly engaging music videos (often hip-hop, but it varies) in a wide variety of concepts.  Students can learn about everything from verbs to fractions to Martin Luther King, Jr. through Flocabulary’s extensive collection.  Social Studies teachers in particular will love Flocabulary’s “Week in Rap” videos that bring current events into the classroom in a fun way.

To get a taste of what Flocabulary’s videos are like, check out their Youtube Channel.  Or, for a quick taste, watch the video below, which focuses on figurative language.  Is it just me, or is virtually every line of that song pure genius in terms of how it explains and then immediately demonstrates various writing techniques?

Suggested Resource: FracTrack

Each year at this time, I introduce the concept of fractions to my three classes of third graders.  In past years, one of the trickiest parts of teaching fractions for me has been helping students to understand the relative positions of fractions on a number line.

This year, I’ve found an excellent new resource to help me in that endeavor: The FracTrack. This sturdy, colorful manipulative is designed specifically to give students a hands-on representation of fractions on a number line.  To differentiate for more advanced students who are ready to work with improper fractions and mixed numbers, there’s also a FracTrack Plus.

When using the FracTrack or FracTrack Plus to work with fractions on a number line, students randomly select a fraction card and then attempt to approximate that fraction’s location on an unmarked number line.  To check their estimates, students can simply flip over their FracTrack to see how close their estimates actually came on a labeled number line.

FracTrack devices could be used in a one-on-one situation, in a small group or center, or in a whole-class environment.  In addition to the game I’ve described above, an instruction booklet that comes with the FracTrack contains several other game ideas that teach topics like comparing fractions, finding equivalent fractions, and working with decimals.

As a teacher who has sometimes struggled in the past with students’ misconceptions about the relative sizes of various fractions and where they would fall on a number line, I’m excited for my third graders to get to use the FracTrack!

To see a brief example of the FracTrack in action, please watch the video below:

If you teach elementary math and employ paper/pencil timed tests, you’ve got to check out offers online timed tests that are automatically scored and differentiate easily to meet a wide range of students’ needs. Instead of giving all of your students the same mad minute or 5-minute timed test on paper, then wasting precious classroom time (or your evening) scoring them, you can have your students working precisely at their ability level and receiving instant feedback about their progress. There is also a virtual trophy case that celebrates both students’ efforts and their accomplishments. Check it out!

Standardized Testing for Kindergarteners

The state of Michigan is currently experiencing an all-out crisis in terms of standardized testing.  Last year, the Michigan Legislature suddenly and shockingly voted to back out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which it was set to utilize for the first time in the 2014-2015 school year.  Despite outright protests from the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan Legislature forced the Department of Ed to hurriedly craft a new one-year test, the M-STEP, which was from its inception meant solely to be a stop-gap measure designed to placate the feds until we could decide on a standardized test to stick with for the 2015-2016 school year and beyond.

The M-STEP, which is set to take place this spring, has already been off to a chaotic start.  Just this past week, for example, an announcement was made that the M-STEP would no longer be a computer-adaptive test, as promised, but rather a fixed-form test.  High school testing obligations have also been changed mid-year, and the entire situation has been such a disaster that the Dept. of Ed is asking that this year’s data not be used in any substantive ways (other than to fulfill federal requirements to keep federal education dollars flowing to our state).

In light of that, it was especially surprising and concerning to hear Michigan Governor Rick Snyder promote entrance testing for kindergarteners going forward.  Why, with an already-impending standardized testing disaster coming for 3rd-11th graders this spring, would the governor want to expand the use of standardized tests to now include 5-year-olds?

“It would help us assess how well that huge preschool investment is going, what schools (students) went to, how they’re doing,” Snyder said, adding, “That would give us a benchmark to see how effective that is.”

Of course, to see how individual preschools are actually doing, you’d have to have data that tracked the students before they got to preschool.  Then you could try to assess the preschools using the ubiquitous “Value-Added” model so prevalent these days.

But wait.  Let’s think about what we’re really discussing here.  We’re talking about creating a standard assessment for kids who are just finishing preschool and are preparing to enter kindergarten.  What kinds of standards would even be assessed?

Well, it turns out that the state of Michigan has a list of desired preschool outcomes —  exactly 100 standards in all — that might well spell out what could eventually be included on a kindergarten entrance exam.

The problem with all of this is simple: many of Michigan’s 100 standards for preschoolers cannot genuinely be measured by a standardized assessment.  These include standards like the following:

“8.3.3  Shows growing independence in hygiene, nutrition, and personal care when eating, dressing, washing hands, brushing teeth, and toileting.”

“6.4.3 Progresses in responding sympathetically to peers who are in need, upset, hurt, or angry; and in expressing empathy or caring for others.”

“5.1.1 Participates with increasing interest and enjoyment in a variety of music activities, including listening, singing, finger plays, games, and performances.”

…and the list goes on.

Some standards, on the other hand, are much easier to measure through a standardized assessment.  These include standards like:

“2.5.3 Identifies at least 10 letters of the alphabet, especially those in their own name.”

“3.1.3 Develops increasing ability to count in sequence to 10 and beyond.”

You can already see where this is going: this kindergarten entrance exam, due to time and budget limitations and the general realities of what types of standards can reasonably be assessed, is going to focus exclusively on the more academic, easy-to-measure preschool standards on the list.  Things like the ability to get along with others, music, physical education, self-control, and a desire to learn will not be on the test.  Things like reading and math will be.

What is tested becomes what is taught.  Our preschools will be forced to move more and more toward an academic model, not a model that focuses more on the child’s whole development as a person.  An entrance exam that was designed to provide information about how Michigan’s preschools are doing will end up, completely inadvertently, causing great harm to those very institutions.

To Governor Snyder and everyone in the Michigan Legislature: Please, keep your standardized tests and their unintended consequences away from our five-year-olds.