two min. tech. tip #10 – Symbaloo – a tool for curating content for students


Traditionally as teachers, before we start a new topic or theme with our students, we collect a variety of educational resources (activities, worksheets, games, posters, models, songs etc.) to share in lessons or provide as resources in the classroom. Using technology, we can also provide multimedia and other interactive materials like graphics, slideshows, videos, files, websites, social media accounts, hashtags etc. to enhance learning in our classroom and perhaps beyond. It would seem then that collecting a variety of traditional and digital materials would be an effective strategy to differentiate learning for students and appeal to our classes full of “screenagers” but not quite teenagers.

One online tool that I found useful for collecting and sharing digital materials is a web-based application called symbaloo. This app allows you to create a webpage of links (as symbols) to sites on specific theme or topic. (I find that the more specific, the better; (Grade 2 Time rather than Math.) Your symbaloo can be shared to students (or parents) as a link through email, LMS (Moodle, Blackboard etc.) or  Twitter etc. Your symbaloo page might be filled with links to websites but could also include links to graphics (from Google images), videos (from YouTube), even files (I used a link to a file in Google Drive) or any material with a specific URL.

Below is a link to a symbaloo for my grade 4-6 students to practice their keyboarding skills using a variety of tools. (Unfortunately, WordPress has blocked some the embedd feature from symbaloo but if you click the link below you will be able to access all my clickable keyboarding links.)
keyboarding symbaloo

Feel free to create a symbaloo for your next topic, assignment or theme and share with students or parents through email or blackboard (You can embed the symbaloo directly in a blog or LMS using html code but that is a tip for another day, I think my two minutes are up!)
Let me know how you get on.

Level Up your Typing: a game-based approach to keyboarding for elementary students

Untitled picture
Why teach keyboarding?

Our students today have a variety of input devices (touch, stylus, voice?) but I still find that the QWERTY keyboard is the fastest and easiest input device. (I often feel pretty self-conscious talking to the computer (or tablet, sorry Siri!) when not alone, perhaps that is just me:) In my experience, writing recognition software is still clumsy and more miss than hit with emerging handwriting skills. Therefore, I find that the keyboarding remains the most reliable input device and  a significant part of a good ICT curriculum for elementary students in 2013.

When do I start introducing keyboarding to children?

Starting in the middle of Grade 2 or early Grade 3 (aged 7 or 8) seemed to be the best time  to introduce formal keyboarding  as most students progress toward longer forms of writing. Some students might be ready earlier but in my experience, a significant majority, if not all, demonstrated the necessary dexterity and readiness for more formal typing lessons by the middle of Grade 2. I found this article from Lisa Nielson very useful and comprehensive on this topic.

“Can I level up, please!” Or How I “gamified” keyboarding lessons.

Introducing keyboarding to our students in Grade 2 is rarely a tough sell as they are keen to emulate older students or adults in their lives. However, typing, like most skills, requires dedication, encouragement and practice. For these reasons, I decided to experiment with a “games-based approach” to see if it would help our junior students remain motivated during the long road from novice to fluency.  I decided to start with students in Grade 4, 5 and 6 and created a scale of achievement where students “level up”  after achieving a specific WPM (words per minute) and accuracy (95%). As they “levelled up”, I also offered them the opportunity to “unlock” access to a greater variety of typing games and websites during class time. I also separated the idea of the “levelling up” from academic achievement by putting emphasis on effort and improvement for these relatively novice typists as the main source for marks. i.e. A student who still remained on Level 1, might still be able to receive a “A” if they were putting forth an excellent effort. (So far, this has not happened as all students who all showed dedication found increasing success and “levelled up” their typing.)

Here is a copy of my “levelling up” scale. This is version 3.0. Any feedback is welcome.
Leveling up your Typing 2013
Leveling up your Typing
Current resources:

Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (Grade 2 and 3 students)

mavis screenshot


  • Lessons are clear, supportive and linear
  • Includes 3 levels (beginner, intermediate (timed lessons) and advanced)
  • Games are very student friendly and good for 7 and 8 year olds


  • Not web based
  • Account structure is not ideal
  • Cannot customize at the beginner(i.e. skip student ahead if needed)

Custom Typing  (Grade 4 and 5 students)



  • Two modes (self-guided and computer-guided)
  • Many differentiated resources for students
  • Excellent reporting system
  • Students can choose activities, lessons, and games and work in a non-linear fashion
  • Teacher can assign specific lessons to a students, class or specific group


  • Students repeat the same lesson twice in the “computer-guided mode”
  • The “self-guided mode” can be overwhelming for students
  • Only four typing games
  • The “self-guided mode” could be more kid-friendly

Here are the additional typing sites that can be “unlocked” by  “levelling up” during lessons. I posted this symbaloo on our Learning Management Software (Blackboard) so they can try them at home. (Each “symbaloo” links to website for students, normally one click takes you there, but click my screenshot below to reach the “clickable” symbaloo page.)

symbaloo keyboarding sample

Recording their progress

I use two resources:

1. a simple wall chart with the student’s name, class and level. They give themselves a checkmark when they level up. Not very private(!) I realise but it is SO useful to easily keep track and monitor their progress during the hustle and bustle of keyboarding lessons in the ICT lab.

2. During keyboarding lessons, I display a Class Dojo page on the SMARTboard for them to see and reward themselves with a  +1 typing point. When reviewing, assessing and analyzing student progress, I love that Class Dojo records the date of when the point was achieved. What a great tool for reflection and analysis. “Wow, look how you achieved 2 levels in 1 month! All that time practicing in our custom typing site really paid off!”

+1 typing
Overall, the best part is that I am spending more class time celebrating student progress and achievements. A quick thumbs up, nod, high five or encouraging word from me and students seem eager to independently record their progress on a wall chart and on the SMARTboard though Class Dojo.


When setting up my levels, I started with 4 and had to expand to 10 within a couple of months as some of my Grade 4’s progressed quickly! Initially, most students were keen to “level up” to gain more choice of games and activities. This increased motivation made them increasingly receptive to tips and tricks to improve their speed and accuracy. Although I remained open to feedback, l found that students appreciated the clarity of the system. If they came up a little short in their speed, they almost always responded well when encouraged to try again, complete a different activity,  or to return to the typing assessment when ready.

A funny thing happened at the later levels, I was afraid that some of the students might unlock their favourite game (e.g. the popular Type Racer!) play that game regularly and then have their skills stagnate. However, once the majority of the students began to level up they seemed determined to past the assessment benchmarks. It was a complete reversal as I was now the one offering them the opportunity to play a typing game while they were more keen to complete assessments. It seemed that the process of “levelling up” gave them a tangible achievement goal and they were motivated to keep going. (I guess that is why I had to expand my levels from 4 (version 1.0) to 6 (version 2.0) to 10 (latest version 3.0).

Overall, the benchmarks seemed pretty clear and I was able to tweak my requirements to ensure that the difficulties of each level increased at a appropriate rate. Custom Typing,  Mavis Beacon and seemed to be pretty good resources for typing assessments although you should be aware of the ads at the site. (Although students seem to be too focused on their test to see them!) I hope to update and refine this approach each year. Thanks in advance for any feedback.

Questions for further study and analysis

What place does keyboarding have in the 21st Century ICT curriculum?
What age should student start to learn about keyboarding?
Should keyboarding be expanded to include tablets and mobile devices when appropriate?
How much time should we devote to keyboarding in the primary, junior and senior curriculum?
What tools or software do we need to run a successful typing programme?
Should I add/replace or Mavis Beacon with the web-based QWERTYtown software?

3  influencial articles and resources

Lisa Nielsen’s article-

Bryan Miller’s article tackles one of the questions for further study, introduced me to QWERTYtown and gave me another excellent perspective on this topic.

Keith Ferrell’s EdTech blog provided me with keyboarding resources and ideas that I shared with students.

How I “gamified” my ICT class

Whether it is on a field, court or computer screen, games have been a huge part of my life. My classroom is no different as games-based activities are a perfect compliment to my lessons and activities as a teacher. Not surprisingly, students love games and well-designed games help students easily measure their success (and failure!) and use that information to motivate them to a higher level of achievement.

I recently applied game theory to our typing practice and experienced an amazing boost in student achievement and motivation. For the last few years, students have used a web-based software called Custom Typing to complete tailored lessons, activities and games to improve their typing speed and accuracy. This year I integrated the idea of “leveling up”  when they reached a specific goal (i.e. 15 WPM and at least 95% accuracy). When students achieved specific goals, they “unlocked” access to more games and activities both on the Custom Typing site and beyond. Some of our favourite keyboarding sites and software included Mavis Beacon,, and Typing Racer. See my keyboarding page for more resources.

Students enjoy improving their typing because they immediately see its practical application and can easily measure their progress and achievement. This game-based approach “leveled up” my teaching too as students were even more motivated to practice and receptive to guidance and teaching. They were keen to “level up” and earn access to more activities and games. Recently, when I was away on the Grade Four school trip, students in Grade Five were so keen they emailed me screenshots of their progress too! After some feedback and tweeks, I am ready to build upon this year’s success by creating a “leveling-up” system that is clear, progressive and fun. After all, this is an area of the curriculum that demands practice and dedication.  Game theory took this learning to a new level and was  more fun, progressive and motivating!

List of other games and simulations from my class
1. Cross Country Canada 2 – A simulation game where students become a truck driver and deliver commodities across the country. This was an excellent way for my Grade 4 students to learn Canadian geography. Crossing my fingers for app version of this favourite game!

2. Ice Cream Trunk – A simulation game where students sell ice cream for profit. Our Grade 3 students learned about profit and addition (and subtraction when business was bad!) and our Grade 5 students learned about spreadsheets and graphing profit over time.

Other similar titles include Hot Dog Stand: The Works, Concert Tour Entrepreneur and The Canadian History Game (based on the popular Civilization)

Finally, here is a link to the BrainPop Game Up site with a variety of professional and student created educational games that address many topics and activities.

Game on!