SpellingCity Now Speaks with an Australian Accent!

I am a long time user of SpellingCity (way before it was VocabularySpellingCity). I rely on it for help with spelling practice and tests.  Check out this news about SpellingCity and Australia.


And I quote:

For years, VocabularySpellingCity has been popular in Australia and New Zealand.

But despite the heavy usage and rave reviews for VocabularySpellingCity from Down Under, there has been an undercurrent of frustration regarding our accent.  The fact is that our 50,000 sentences were all spoken with a distinctly American accent. Fine for the movies and music, not so good for schools.

I’m pleased to announce that as of January 2018, we have learned to speak in an Australian or a British accent! It’s users choice and activating it is an easy setting adjustment, just 1 2 3!


This update complements VocabularySpellingCity’s built in ability to support multiple spellings of words. Here’s some background info on VocabularySpellingCity’s support of British spellings.

Hundreds of schools and thousands of teachers in Australia and New Zealand have relied on VocabularySpellingCity for years for help with spelling practice and tests.  Starting in January 2018, you can count on us supporting your accent.

More details.  The Australian and British voices are synthetic.  When teachers create their own sentences or add words, they will be automatically spoken with the selected accent. Additionally, if the student writes in either sentence or paragraph writing practice and asks to listen to it, it will be spoken with the selected regional accent.


Homeschooling for Third Grade

I’m now thinking about what the alternatives are. What is this homeschooling thing and how many students or families are doing it.

I’m looking now at the US statistics on homeschooling and I see from T4L that:

The government says that 1.77 million students were homeschooled in 2012, which is an 18% increase since the last study in 2007. In fact, the number of homeschooled children has been steadily increasing each year, and is expected to continue to rise.

The most recent Federal Government study concluded that about 3.4% of the K-12 students or 1.77 million students were being homeschooled in the United States as of spring 2012. The study was performed by the National Household Education Survey Program (NHES) ….

Of course, how accurate are government surveys? Lets assume that it’s accurate. Does this include virtual schooling? Does it include other forms of remote learning where the student is at home?

I was just looking at the Homeschool Directory and  A2ZHomeschooling for better homeschool data and I’m not finding anything that contradicts the T4L data.

3rd Graders: Could they use an old telephone?

In the offices of VocabularySpellingCity which I recently visited, there’s a sign that just cracked me up:

Public Telephone Sign

Public Telephone Sign

I followed the direction and arrived at this classic and beautiful old phone:
“New” Phone in our Office

Also in their offices, they have on display a collection of vintage telephones as found in schools and homes just a few decades and up to a century ago. For instance,  I saw this classic candlestick phone.

Classic Candlestick Phone
Classic Candlestick Phone
There’s this odd Scandinavian phone which weighs about a ton and which I use to have connected to the phone system.  It’s an old dial rotary phone with a very visible pair of bells. Over a decade ago, someone in my house clipped its wires (don’t ask, it’s an xwife story…).
I have this nice 1960’s dial rotary phones made for ATT by its subsidiary Western Electric. It has that nice mid Century modern look.

2nd Grade Curriculum

It’s really important that the grades coordinate so that the curriculum is coherent. It should be mapped out. And while some repetition is good and important, this should be purposeful and not accidental. More importantly, there should not be any gaps where the 3rd grade teachers assume that the students learned something in 2nd grade but in fact, it was not done.

Great area of this is math. So important to have repetition and consistency in learning style. Just read a great article on techniques for curriculum mapping in math to get a better sequence across the grades including communicating test results from teacher to teacher. I’ll pull it up and post later tonight…

Educational Technology for Third Grade

In third grade today, we are very familiar with computers, tablets, chrome books, and soon, VR headsets and other exotica. Historically, here’s a few of the very popular technologies of yesterday:

There’s the classroom record player that was found in every classroom around the country

Record Player

Record Player

Before there were computer-based printers and photocopy machines, teachers made hand outs using mimeograph machines that produced purple-ink funny smelling copies.

mimeograph machine

mimeograph machine

There was also typewriters, the forerunners of word processors.



Lastly (for today), there were the film strips. Played on little film strip projecters, often paired with a record player which is the sound track to the film strip.  Remember the ping which meant it was time to advance the filmstrip?



Martial Arts – Part of 3rd grade Physical Education

I have long wondered about the few schools that I know which have traded their old type PE or gym programs for a modern combination of yoga and martial arts.  How did they do that?  How did they get the parents to buy into it.

I asked an elderly black belt what his thoughts on this were since I knew he was very involved in both the martial arts and formal K12 education.

Q:  What do you think of schools swapping in the martial arts and dropping the traditional PE program?

A: I think it’s an interesting idea but first, I would be clear that the appropriate part of the martial arts for most schools are the kata type materials. I don’t see the sparing or bugo kumite as likely to be popular in schools.

Q:  Understood. What about kata, are they good for school students, especially 3rd graders?
A: Absolutely.  Kata are great exercise and can be done in small spaces. No fields required.

Third Grade Literacy

Most schools in the USA start the high stakes performance testing in 3rd grade. They repeat it in 4th and 5th grade. Sadly, way too many schools have way too many students that fail to meet grade level expectations.  Why?

The National Research Council says that 70% of the problem is due to vocabulary.  So how can we get students to learn and retain more vocabulary?

VocabularySpellingCity’s focus is on improving vocabulary for improved students’ comprehension for stronger academic and career success. The challenge that we see across the spectrum of elementary schools and students is consistent: it’s vocabulary. In some Title I schools and schools with ESL populations, it can be Tier I words. In general education and for everyone, it’s Tier 2 words with content and academic vocabulary. No matter where the school is located or type of students, vocabulary is a problem.

Vocabulary Retention Enabled Through Spaced Practice

The teachers teach ideas and concepts on a weekly cycle. The next week, they need to move onto a new topic and too often, the previous vocabulary lessons and words fade away.

The solution: build a system for revisiting the concepts and vocabulary over three to five weeks that will translate instruction into retention. The key elements for improving vocabulary:

  1. Spaced practice, in which the students encounter these words over multiple weeks in different contexts, greatly increases the probability of retention.
  2. Use a multimedia game-like system so that the students are truly engaged. It’s important that they can hear the words and see them used in context. Play with them. Figure out what they mean. Write with them. There are over 35 different learning activities and games on VocabularySpellingCity, and if the students are going to work on the system every day for a year, this variety is important.
  3. Use a system with reports for teachers, for parents, and for administrators. Use these powerful features:
    • Assign activities and lists, rather than simply letting students play.
    • Look at the recorded data and hold students accountable for both their level of effort and results.
    • Leverage students’ reading by asking them to harvest 10 interesting words and create a list on VocabularySpellingCity. Then you can share the list with other students, and the students can teach the words to each other. (If you don’t know about student-created lists, you’re missing a key feature.)
  4. Don’t just deploy the software, but train the teachers, perhaps using our online professional development or our private webinars and consultations for school and district customers (those with over 300 student licenses), so that they understand how to extend their teaching into vocabulary retention using VocabularySpellingCity. The training should extend to the students so they too understand that the point of the vocabulary study is long-term retention, not just getting through each week’s cycle.
  5. Measure your progress. As you implement a program for increased vocabulary retention, establish a metric for measuring it either directly or through improved comprehension. One of the trends that needs to be refined in schools is to use testing to encourage and guide success. The point should be formative assessment that’s useful, not high-stakes testing that is so brutal and apparently ineffective.

If you’re interested in the research, there’s a downloadable white paper created by VocabularySpellingCity and McREL International.

Best Approaches to Education

Here’s some themes that are become best practices in education and an interesting article about them from an STTR research proposal to the NSF….

This Small Business Technology Transfer Phase 1 project will work with Vkidz’s Science4Us

development to adapt the design and materials for successful implementation in formal K-2 education.

The problem in science education today starts in elementary school where students rarely engage with or

master the basics of science. The goal of Science4Us is provide a compelling and effective elementary

science curriculum that is built for broad implementation through the public school systems at

Science4Us is an online curriculum designed on the Five E model being developed to address the

need for a comprehensive standards-based easy-to-use K-5th

Vkidz, a successful educational game developer that has materials in broad use in informal

and supplemental education. The challenge for Vkidz, and a common point of failure by many

otherwise-successful developers, is an inability to build materials that are successful within the ecosystem

of formal education and elementary schools.

The STTR project will support a series of iterations and refinements of the Science4Us module on

Motion for K-2nd transferred to the Vkidz team. The goal is to research a prototype that succeeds in the school

ecosystem and which cost effectively delivers a solid science foundation to the elementary school “digital

natives.” It adheres to the latest definitions of the Big Idea foundations of science.

science curriculum. It is being built by with the know-how, curriculum, and expertise of the research institute and their schools.

Vkidz is a successfully educational curriculum developer and publisher best known for their online educational service: VocabularySpellingCity, a system for students and teachers to easily practice and assess their progress in learning word lists.

US Science Education

I’ve been reading and thinking about the American angst about their perceived weakness in STEM education.  Is it true? OF course, they could be better. Every country wishes that their educational system was better. Except for Finland.

I ran across a messy little blog about STEM education that got me started thinking about it.  It pointed me towards the idea the kids in the US don’t get any science education in the younger grades. There’s now a new online service, Science4Us, that is providinng online educaiton for the early grades:

They have a webservice and soon a iPad application that covers Elementary Life Science (ie biology), Elementary Physical Science, and Elementary Earth/Space Science.

Their curriculum is built using he 5E Inquiry-Based Instructional Model

Science4Us builds each module of the curriculum using the 5E Inquiry-Based Instructional Model of Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate.  This was in part developed and largely popularized and by Bybee, Taylor & Gardner, 2006. The first stage of the model, Engage, introduces the new concept by accessing students’ prior knowledge and experiences while revealing student conceptions and possible misconceptions. Additionally, the Engage phase sets the stage for future activities and learning outcomes expected of the students.

Following the Engage is the Explore phase where students are provided the opportunity to “play” as they identify and develop their current understanding of the concept while generating new ideas and developing questions.

During the Explain phase, following the Explore, students are provided a clear and concise description of the new concept including any formal labels and pertinent vocabulary.

The Elaborate phase of the Instructional model is meant to provide in-depth learning experiences to enhance students’ understanding of the concept.

The final E phase of the 5E Model is the Evaluate, which is designed to assess student understanding of the concept and progress toward learning objectives.

Teaching Third Grade – Mid October

Third graders are the best.  Unlike the littler kids, third graders have mastered the basics of reading, and arithmetic, and how to behave in school. But they are so totally still little kids at heart that they can be rallied for almost any game, any activity, or any challenge.

This past week was unscramble week.  We scrambled and unscrambled everything.  I had a big set of old business cards from a friend who had changed jobs so I had each student write their first name, one letter to one card (we used the backs). Then, we rubber banded them and passed them around.  They then had to unscramble their friends names.

We took the basics of American history and put them on cards and scrambled them.  I watched each group of four kids try to unscramble the sequence of events in American history: columbus discovering America, Pilgrims visiting, Boston Tea Party, Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War,  writing the US Constitution, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, Depression, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, and 9/11.  Incredibly interesting to see how many groups got most of them right and mostly, to listen to the discussions about it.

Of course, I’d like to thank VocabularySpellingCity for their great newsletter and sorting and unscrambling and building timelines which gave me the idea and, I’ll disclose that I have a financial incentive (free membership, some consulting) in my relationship with VSC.  And I’ll plug their great word unscramble game that my kids have played endlessy on the computer and iPads.