While most parents struggle with limiting their kid’s daily screen time, there are educational advantages to playing digital games. In fact, the Comal Independent School District’s superintendent, curriculum director and teachers promote a few digital application/web-based learning tools above the rest.
“Kids are already spending time on their devices,” said Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim, “why not have them spend that time with educational programs that will improve their overall learning experience and academic aptitude.”
Studies have shown that engaging teenagers in digital games is a great way to encourage learning without a classroom, teacher or peers. This is where learning can be fun and relevant at the same time.
One in particular is vocabulary.com, a web-based program that kids and adults can use to increase their vocabulary in a game format. Used by Comal ISD teachers for the past three years, vocabulary.com may be downloaded as an application for a fee or played through the website, which is free.
Students can play at any time with their Comal ISD credentials (student identification number), and if any of their teachers choose to use the program, students can access teacher lists such as word lists and participate in the vocabulary.com challenge which tracks a user’s progress.
Fifth-Grade Teacher Marie Bennett began using vocabulary.com when it was first introduced to teachers at Comal ISD. During the most recent school year, most of her students were interested in the program.
“Students wanted to have contests to encourage its use in class and at home,” said Bennett, who has been teaching for 17 years and currently teaches at Indian Springs Elementary. “I assigned word lists which might go with a book we were reading in class, a unit the students were studying in science or social studies, or just a challenge list. Students were allowed to work towards 100 percent mastery for a week at home, before school and during certain times in class.”
Bennett saw a growth of two to three points on the vocabulary portion of the district’s assessment scores in two of her three classes from the fall to the spring.
“Additionally, kids would encourage each other and join in games with one another on vocabulary.com, sharing their learning and experiences while having fun. This is a program I definitely recommend to other teachers, and I will continue to use it with my students each year.”
Used primarily for secondary students, vocabulary.com is geared to older students with a more straight-forward design. While fourth and fifth-grade students use it, the program is intended for middle and high school students, says Comal ISD’s Director of Curriculum Ronessa McDonald.
“Any teacher from any content area can use vocabularly.com, and every student can benefit from it as well,” McDonald said. “Students can use it in two ways. First, they can take the challenge or play the game on their own; then, they can study their teachers’ lists which can be based on a subject.”
The game challenge side of vocabulary.com is adaptive to each player and meets them at their own level. In order to master a word, the player must get the correct answer in four different contexts, seeing it 30 to 40 times before considering it “mastered.”
Teachers use the program to make assignments and set up quizzes, but they also use the challenge part to spark a little competition since vocabulary.com gives points to those who play.
For those campuses who took the challenge, Canyon High School was ranked number nine in the state of Texas and number 55 overall. The top teacher from CHS was Jose Zepeda with 21,525 words mastered. CHS had 1,666 active students on vocabularly.com last year.
For middle schools, Pieper Ranch Middle was ranked number 35 in Texas. Marci Anton was the top teacher with 1,548 words mastered, and it had 781 active students; ISES was the top elementary school in the district, ranked number 125 in Texas with Bennett as the top teacher with 898 words mastered.
“The most exciting aspects of Vocabulary.com are its overall benefits,” said McDonald. “While students are engaged and having fun, they also are building strong vocabularies which in turn helps them improve and gain strength in all aspects of their academics from listening and speaking to reading and writing.”
Other academic programs recommended by the district are Imagine Math and Accelerated Reader.
Now, go start playing!