My Favorite Use of Wikipedia

Do your students just love Wikipedia? Do they love competitions? Do you want to see how much they know about a topic before you start and are sick of pre-tests? Are you looking for opportunities to further challenge your students that finish their work early or who are ready to move on while others in the class need another round of review?

If your answer to any of those questions was yes, then this is the blog post for you! Once again, this is not my original brain child. I don’t remember exactly where I heard about this, so if it was you then thanks. There are so many ways that you can use this technique and your students will find it strangely addicting.

I call these Wiki Relays. The idea is to get from one Wikipedia page to another in as few links as possible. Seems simple enough, right? The trick is you have to go in ahead of time and make sure there are no direct links between the two pages. This forces students to think about which links they should click that might take them in the right direction.

For example, if the task was to get from the Wikipedia page on dogs to the one on elephants:

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Here’s the page on dogs. There are no direct links you can click to take you to the page on elephants. But maybe you click the link to “Mammalia”….

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There’s no text/word link to elephants… but students might figure out that the pictures are links too! And what do we have here? A picture of elephants! CLICK.

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And in 2 clicks, here we are on a Wikipedia page on elephants. That would be the shortest number possible.

You would think that the more students know about a topic, the shorter the number of clicks because they should know which ones will lead them in the right direction. But sometimes the link they think will get them there doesn’t… and around and around they go. They get frustrated, but can’t stop. It can actually be quite entertaining to watch. And what the kids don’t see is that you are watching their every click in the name of formative assessment! Have them write down every page they click on so that you can see who did it in the shortest number of links and give that student a prize, but also so that you can see their process. Are they just randomly clicking links? Do they have any idea what the connection between the blood and iron is? Do they know a lot about that connection and can’t decide which link will be the best?

Added bonus- you can introduce students to the Ctrl+F function (also known as how I got through graduate school). Instead of reading (change that- skimming) the entire page, if they think they know a word that might connect the two pages they can just use Ctrl+F to search for it! It’s such a valuable tool that hopefully they will take into other digital research assignments too!

Have you used Wiki Relays in your classes? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by! =)


Velcro Vocab Folder Puzzle Thingies!

Last summer, my (then) 3 year old went to nature camp at our local forest preserve. As a warm up activity, they had the kids match pieces of butterfly pictures that were velcroed to a manila folder. Brilliant!

Though I thought my high schoolers might appreciate the simplicity of butterfly pictures (and maybe they’d actually appreciate the brain break), clearly I would have to make them more challenging. And what’s more challenging than scientific word parts?? So here’s what I created:

I printed out a bunch of scientific words split into two parts with the meaning next to each word.

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Then I cut them all out and glued the first part of each word to an old manila folder (I had a ton laying in a drawer from activities I no longer use and I just couldn’t bear to throw them out…. ). Then I laminated the folder and all the loose pieces.

I bought a roll of Velcro that’s sticky on both sides and cut it into small pieces. Then I attached all of the loose pieces and their matching Velcro to the folder.



Yes, I see the wrong definition is attached to the last one… but it’s already summer and they’re at school so you’re not getting a new picture. 😉


I tore off all the velcroed pieces and stored them in the folder (make sure you paper clips the sides shut so they don’t fall out and get lost).


I made 20 of these. You can hand kids a folder as they walk in the door to get their brains going. I have the pile sitting in a spot students can get to if they finish their work early. It’s so simple. The kids are not intimidated by it. If they get one wrong, just peel it off and fix it. Teaching kids scientific word parts is tough because they are so detached from the words. But the more they use them, the stronger their vocab skills become.

My next step- make another set for my A&P students with medical terms! You could use these Velcro folder puzzles in just about any class: English with characters or details from a book, math with numbers and have the kids create their own problems, chemistry to balance equations…

*UPDATE: I used the words from my B1 Word Parts power point. I just copied/pasted. We go over these words in class and students write them all in the notebook, so they’ve seen the words before (or at least will before the end of the year….). Feel free to use the power point!

How would you use them? Comment below with your thoughts! Thanks for stopping by! =)

Bringing in the Big Guns

This post has nothing to do with actual guns. Sorry (or you’re welcome). I’m talking about the “big guns” of information. Yes; real, live human beings that are experts in their field.

I’m a huge advocate for field trips. Any time that you can get your kids out into the real world and let them experience something for themselves outside of the classroom, do it. But I’m also a huge advocate for reality. You can’t take them on field trips for every unit of every class (man, wouldn’t that be awesome though??). Field trips take LOTS of planning, and can be expensive, and when you teach in the middle of no where (like I do) you tend to spend more time on the bus than at the intended destination. Not to mention that when you take the kids out for one class, they’re missing out on the rest of their classes. But I still love field trips.

I also love guest speakers. When you choose the right speaker (trust me, not everyone is cut out to entertain a large group of teenagers…), they can really enrich your curriculum. The kids trust that this person must know what they are talking about and therefore trust what they’re saying (dare I say as much as they trust Google?). Having a live guest speaker gives students the chance to interact and ask questions as they come up with them. It also lets students see that whatever it is they are learning about in class is also a real thing outside of your classroom! But again, there are downsides. I teach 3 or 4 sections of freshmen bio (depending on the year), and they are never back to back in the day. So it is usually not realistic to ask a speaker to stay for all 4 sections. Instead, I combine all my kids into one hour to hear the speaker. But this means they’re missing other classes again. Plus, teaching in the middle of nowhere makes it tough to find speakers that are willing to make the hike all the way out to us.

So while I still use field trips and guest speakers once or twice a year, I’ve found a way to bring in experts much more often: YouTube Live. Depending on the unit we are studying, I find 2 or 3 experts in the field. Honestly, one of the best ways to find these people is just to ask around on social media (“anyone know an oncologist?”) and you’ll be shocked how many of your friends have useful connections! Added bonus: you get to talk to speakers from all over the country/world, not just the ones that are in your school’s area (I teach in IL and have recorded with people from CO, NY, FL, and IN). video shot 3

While my kids are working on their unit project, I have them do some initial research and then give me all their questions. I tell them to ask anything that they don’t know or read, but don’t understand. Then I compile those questions into 3 to 5 categories or over-arching questions and record a Google Hangout through YouTube Live with my experts. They answer their questions in terms that my students can understand and I can ask follow up questions for clarification. I have to admit, I really love these opportunities for my own learning, too! I can record the video whenever is convenient for the experts (usually at night, though sometimes you get lucky and a zoologist wants to record while they’re working like the one seen below!) and then my students can watch it whenever is convenient for them. Think of it like a personalized, way more reliable Google search.

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You should definitely give this a try! I set my videos to “unlisted” so you can’t search for them on YouTube, but I can send my students the link. And setting it all up does take some time to learn, so I suggest trying out some dry runs with your friends or family. Make sure you’re in a space with reliable, strong internet (otherwise the sound will get…. wonky) and set your camera up at eye-level (or at least check for bats in the cave.).

Like anything else, some kids really love these expert videos and get a lot out of them. Others can’t be bothered to care. But the more in your arsenal (metaphorically, of course), the better!

I’d love to hear how you use this technique in your classroom… don’t forget to comment! =)

My Journey to Techiness…



I make no claims at being tech-savy, but I’m not afraid to give something new a shot. The tech in my classroom is completely trial and error (of course, the kids think I’ve got it all under control). This post is basically what I’ve learned over the last couple years as far as integrating technology…. Feel free to ask questions and make suggestions in the comments!
My district gave me a set of iPads last year. I spent a LOT of time finding ways to use them, both for myself and the kids, that were actually enrichment and not just something cool to look at. What we discovered was that the iPads weren’t the best option in our situation. I know a lot of teachers use and love them, but they just weren’t what I was looking for. They weren’t easy to manage (always needing updates that we had to on a device-by-device basis), expensive (comparatively speaking), and NO FLASH! That was the deal breaker for me. I have friends who work in the tech world and are die-hard Apple fans who tell me no one uses flash anymore. That may be true, but so many of the simulations and games that I love the kids to use DO run on flash.
So now my district is all about Chromebooks. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of experience with them yet since I still have a PC laptop in my room. But the kids are using them, so that’s where I’m getting my opinions from. They are fast to load up and login and seem pretty easy to use. There’s no page-up or page-down buttons, but I guess the can live with that…
What I feel like I’ve learned the most about is Googledrive. Most of you are probably pretty familiar with it by now (seems like most schools are using it), so I’ll finish this post with my thoughts and suggestions about Googleforms. This is what I’ve been using to do my tests and quizzes online instead of on paper. It is a function of Googledrive, just create a form instead of a document.
Pros: 1. It makes grading quick. I use the add-on “Flubaroo” and that will grade it for you (but it’s not perfect, see below). 2. The kids like getting to use the computer whenever possible. 3. It saves trees! 4. It helps them prepare for all the online testing the is undoubtably coming their way.
Cons: 1. Flubaroo only can grade an exact right or wrong answer. It works great for true/false, multiple choice, or fill in the blank (as long as they spell it right, but you can run spell check on their answers prior to grading if you want). Anything else you still have to grade yourself. 2. God help you if the Internet goes out. I usually have a paper copy on hand just in case and make someone go run to the office for copies last minute. 3. You cannot copy and paste whole questions from another source. So you have to basically rewrite your entire existing test. That takes forever.  4. My kids only negative feedback is that they can’t circle a question to come back to later, which some like to do.

In my opinion though, the pros outweigh the cons. And I feel it’s going to be a requirement soon anyway, so may as well work out the bugs now.

Here are my final tips on implementing online assessments using Googleforms.
1. You have to email them the link to take the test. They have to check their email, not Googledrive.
2. Make sure you uncheck the box that says “include form in email”. This way once they are done they can’t pull up the email and show it to someone in another class. They will have to actually click a link to take them to another page (which you can shut down once they are done).
3. Change the theme on your form to something colorful. This way it is very easy to see who is on the test and who is on another page. I sit in the back of the room with a clear shot of all of their screens until they are all finished. The picture at the top of this post is what my room looked like during a final exam.
4. Have the “Responses” page open on your computer while they are taking it. You will be able to see their responses coming in to make sure they all come through before they log off. Once in a blue moon someone’s gets lost in cyber land and if they’ve already shut down, they have to redo the whole thing.
5. I usually will hand out a paper word bank too. Most of them say it’s helpful to be able to cross the words out, which you cannot do online.
6. Once they are finished, go back into your form and change it to no longer accept responses. If they take it multiple times, it will tell you. But you don’t want them showing it to someone else when they’re not supposed to.

I hope this has been helpful. Like I said, this is all a learning process for me and I’m still figuring it out. There are tons of great add-ons I’ve heard about and hope to use soon. Give it a try for yourself!