Qwizdom OKTOPUS Software

Best Practices

Game-Play Leads to Learning Benefits

Choose the best answer to the following question:

On a Wednesday afternoon, a math teacher asks his class of 6th graders, “Who wants to play a game?” What is the most likely response from the class of students?

  1. A few students raise their hands while the rest of the class shrugs their shoulders with indifference.
  2. About half the class raise their hands enthusiastically, and the other half of the class nod their heads in resignation.
  3. About half the class raise their hands straight up, a fourth of the class raise their hands with some enthusiasm, and the rest of the class shrug with indifference.
  4. The entire class raise their hands so high that their bodies are practically ejected from their chairs, all while yelling, “Me! Me!”
  5. None of the above. You teach a classroom of robots.

Playing games in the classroom has often been seen as a reward for great behavior or completing classwork on time, a keep-‘em-busy activity for rainy days inside, or as a time-filler on a Friday afternoon when the weekend is this close. How do you use games in the classroom? Do you use games?

Incorporating games in an educational context can be tricky, especially when considering video games. How will the game work with a class of 30 students? Will the younger students understand how to play? What is the time investment in using video games to learn a new concept or skill? Is it even necessary to do so?

There are the adventurous few who use video games as an integral part of their teaching day and have found success in doing so. These educators find that there are incredible benefits to incorporating game play, such as:

  • Increased student motivation and engagement
  • Greater variety of active learning opportunities
  • Immediate feedback reinforces learning
  • Repeated practice with new skills for mastery

But, are all video games conducive to learning? Besides research (search “What games do 5th grade math teachers use?”) and reading through user reviews, it is important that you play the video games yourself. As you do, reflect on the following questions:

  • What is the goal of the game?
  • Is the game simple to understand?
  • What is the purpose of the game?
  • Are there different levels to the game?
  • Which students would benefit from the game?
  • Will students get feedback on their game play?
  • Is this a game my students would want to play?

You may have other questions depending on the makeup of your class, such as language and maturity level of the game, game support that students can independently access (i.e. a Help link or FAQs page for general game play information), and student accessibility during the school day (i.e. Can the video game only be played as a whole class? Can it be played in small groups on one device?). It is clear that the use of a game played on an interactive board, laptop, or tablet needs more research than simply, “What looks fun and is free?”

There are features of a video game that can answer many of the questions you may have about a game, especially its relationship to effective learning:*

  • Motivation: Does the game motivate students because they are able to work through and solve a problem? Once the problem is solved, are there more to solve so that they feel a level of mastery? Playing a game that motivates a student to continue through learning and advancement is certainly a plus.
  • Competition: Is there a degree of healthy competition involved? Gamers tend to enjoy the competitive piece of video games and this can be appealing in the classroom setting.

While, yes, there are many aspects of a video game to consider before including it as a learning resource, it could ultimately be the change needed to engage even the most reticent learner. Again, a simple search of the internet can lead you to research articles and white papers on the benefits of game play for learning, including those that explain how this can be done successfully.

Read more about how games can be incorporated into a traditional multi-step lesson plan in the blog Learn Using Games for Interactive Whiteboards. If you’re still unsure, a number of education-focused companies offer free trials of software that include learning games, such as Qwizdom OKTOPUS. OKTOPUS has Math and Language Arts games as a collaboration feature of their software. Watch this video to learn more:

OKTOPUS also has the GameZones app for interactive boards, with subject-specific games for practicing concepts and skills learned in the classroom. To learn more, watch this video to learn more:

The next time you ask your class, “Who wants to play a game?” do so with the assurance that the games you’ve chosen are the ones they need to boost their confidence, increase active learning, support collaboration with peers, and motivate them to keep trying. Who knows? You just might see 100% hands up in the air.


*Gee, James Paul (August, 2006). Are video games good for learning? [article]. Retrieved from http://cmslive.curriculum.edu.au/leader/default.asp?id=16866&issueID=10696

Cloze Activities for Interactive Boards

Can you correctly complete the following sentence?

____ sentences have ____ that students need to fill in with the correct _____.

Correct answer: Cloze sentences have blanks that students need to fill in with the correct answers.

Cloze activities can be applied to a wide range of topics with a variety of objectives that include accurate spelling, learning new vocabulary words, and reading comprehension. Most often, cloze activities come in the form of fill-in-the-blank sentences with either single correct answers, or appropriate answers that contextually make sense.  For example:

A cloze activity can also be used for comprehension and vocabulary building in any subject. Display and read aloud a short passage for the students. Then remove some words that are key to understanding the content or story, including new words that were frontloaded prior to the reading. Students can work individually or with a partner to fill in the blanks. For example:

To help facilitate different cloze activities for instruction, Qwizdom OKTOPUS (annotation and collaboration software for interactive boards) has the Word Vault tool. From text created in OKTOPUS, highlight and click/tap a word to store it in the vault. Words collected here can be dragged out into the blank created in the text. If the word is correct, it will appear in its original form.

You can also add custom words to the vault in activities where the students need to choose the correct word from a list.

The Word Vault is essentially a drag-and-drop tool that can be adapted for multiple uses such as categorizing, labeling, sequencing, and filling in the blank. Watch the video to see a few ways Word Vault can be used:

Cloze activities with the OKTOPUS Word Vault can help to:

  • increase student participation and engagement in their learning,
  • support peer interaction and collaboration through review of content and ideas, and
  • strengthen retention of key vocabulary and concepts across multiple subjects and topics.

Facilitating cloze activities, augmented by annotation and collaboration tools like Qwizdom OKTOPUS, can lead to success for all involved in the learning. Can you correctly complete this sentence?

OKTOPUS offers a ____ trial and ____ tutorials to help get ______ started in your _______.

Math Workshop – Your Students Will Thank You

Math has been the bane of my educational career, starting from kindergarten (“Count what?”) to when I was studying to get my teaching credential and had to take an Educational Foundations of Math class (“There’s a difference between concept and skill?!”).

Teaching math was always a challenge because I was mostly transferring how I’d learned math (memorize, memorize, memorize) to my students, regardless of their understanding (with the attitude, “It worked for me!” although it really hadn’t worked for me). Fortunately, through my years as a Math Instructional Coach, math curriculum writer, and math tutor, I’ve learned quite a few strategies that have helped me. In particular, the Math Workshop Model (similar to the Readers Workshop and Writers Workshop models) encourages engagement, higher order thinking, peer to peer support, and an understanding of the learning goals. Use visual models, interactive boards, annotation and collaboration tools, and learning games to enhance the workshop model. Hopefully, then, math becomes a block of time to look forward to instead of to avoid (for all involved!).

It’s hard to imagine that all of the interactivity described can happen in a 1-hour math period. But, implementing Math Workshop allows for flexible groups, differentiated instruction, active participation, and using problem solving as a jumping-off point for teaching new concepts and skills. Generally, Math Workshop includes:

Opening with the whole class (10-15 minutes)

The opening is a mini-lesson in which you provide direct instruction on the target concept or skill. Create anchor charts using your interactive white board to record questions, key points and vocabulary, processes, etc. that students can reference. These charts can later be combined as part of a digital math journal. Share and update the digital journal as needed.

I’ve found that using the “think aloud” strategy when introducing and modeling a concept or skill is helpful. Incorporate math language and vocabulary in your “think aloud.” I have even ‘made a mistake’ and talked my way through correcting a step in a solution process. As students work both independently and collaboratively, you may hear similar “think alouds” from the students. This gives you great feedback on the clarity of your instruction and the depth of their understanding.

Practice, independent (15-20 minutes)

Students will practice what was taught or modeled in the openingIf students have a math notebook or journal, all work should be done here. You can use the work in these journals as a means of formative assessment to guide lesson planning and modifications. If using collaboration software with 1:1 devices, you can view the work of specific students (i.e. students who consistently have difficulties learning math concepts and skills, students on an IEP, English Language Learners, etc.).

Be warned: students may struggle during this period! Students are applying what they’ve learned in the mini-lesson, so you will see some “deep thought” as they do so. As you walk around and observe how they approach the problem(s), you are learning more about each student’s abilities, understanding, and misconceptions. These personal observations are also helpful for the closing and future lesson planning.

Discussion and collaboration, with a partner and/or in small groups (15-20 minutes)

During this block, students work with a partner or in small groups. A few things can happen:

  • students engage in discussion about what they’ve done in practice, clarifying for one another any misunderstandings about the concept or skill
  • students work together to solve word problems that require the application of the concept or skill taught in the opening
  • you can pull individual students or small groups for reteach, language support, or provide augmented activities for those who show clear and advanced understanding of what is taught

This is also a good time to listen to how students discuss what they’ve learned or explain how a skill can be done. Encourage their use of math language in discussions. This language will be used in their math journals or when they share out with the rest of the class at closing.

At times, the use of learning games can support what has been learned while also adding variety to what is routinely done. Being flexible and adaptable to all situations and learning levels is integral in a truly active learning environment. Games can offer students another means of accessing the learning that may be difficult otherwise.

Closing with the whole class (10 – 15 minutes)

On your interactive white board, display a problem that requires the skill taught in the lesson. Choose a student to explain how to find the answer, using an annotation tool that can record the work as it is done. The student can be one that showed understanding and successful application of the skill or one that used a different successful strategy to solve the practice or discussion problem(s).

You may also choose to give a short quiz on what has been learned, using a collaboration tool that collects student data to provide immediate feedback. Share the feedback with the students (an anonymous class list will prevent embarrassment while still giving you the data needed for planning the next lesson) so that they can see their own progress with the learning. This can be incredibly powerful for both you and the student. This will also contribute to “next steps” in lesson planning.

I have found that the Math Workshop Model can be adapted for different classroom “personalities” and needs, a variety of tools can be incorporated, and each block can be shortened or lengthened depending on need. Ultimately, the goal of any effective math lesson (regardless of the model of instruction) is that students feel confident as they successfully apply new learning. Maybe, just maybe, math time can bring on feelings of excitement instead of anxiety! Believe me, your students will thank you.

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