Spelling Skills Take Off with Student-created Website

Son Helps Teacher’s Third-Graders Master New Words

Teacher Mark Pullen helps student Ellie Brandstadt with a spelling challenge

Josh Pullen says he wasn’t exactly a fan of spelling practice and weekly quizzes when he was in elementary school. He muddled through, sure. But when his father told him he didn’t think his third-grade students were enjoying it either, the pair decided to put their heads together to make spelling fun.

Josh spent the better part of the past year creating a website, called Rocket Spelling, that just may launch spelling skills into the stratosphere. It’s already taken off in Mark Pullen’s Lakeside Elementary class.

At the back of Pullen’s room, Will Faasse quickly worked his way through the last section of one level.

“Jill is trying to _____ enough money to buy a computer,” said a female voice. After a beat to think, the voice said “‘Save,’ the word is ‘save.’” Will typed the word correctly, which introduced the next sentence.

Third-grader Will Faasse racks up the points

“It’s super fun because it’s games,” Will explained. “And it’s like a next planet thing.”

Added Arabella Soule: “I really didn’t like spelling before. Turning it into a space thing makes it so much more funner.”

Indeed, Rocket Spelling is designed to teach spelling to K-5 students in a fun way. Users advance through eleven levels — in this case, planets — from tackling short vowels and consonant pairs to compound words, prefixes and suffixes. They earn points, which in turn earn badges. For every planet passed, stars around it light up.

“We started with just asteroids and thought, that’s clearly not enough,” said Josh, a sophomore at EGR High. The space concept is “a really simple thing, but it’s amazing how something so simple can make it so much more fun.”

And it looks like fun means progress. Pullen said in the first three weeks of school, students typically would have been quizzed on 36 or so words. With Rocket Spelling, he said, many have correctly spelled 300.

Lakeside Elementary third-grader Mady Suzio celebrates conquering a reading level using Rocket Spelling, software created by her teacher’s son

Not your Father’s Spelling Exercises … or Is It?

Rocket Spelling truly was a family affair: Mark Pullen provided the words and the objectives, he and Josh worked out the concept for the site, Josh coded every line, and his mother, Becky Pullen, input the sound files for every word that features — you guessed it — her own voice. Josh’s brother Adam, a fifth-grader, helped test the site before it was taken live.

Josh has been coding since third grade. He started on Scratch and led classes for students at Lakeside in August. Rocket Spelling was his first back-end programming project, he said.

“It’s really nice to see kids crushing levels, and hopefully getting a better experience than I did,” said Josh, who visited his father’s classroom recently to see students using the site. “It’s really easy when you’re programming to get lost in the technical side. It’s so nice to see them using it and getting benefit from it.”

Since it launched in August, the site has signed up more than 150 teachers and nearly 1,400 students. Many are from West Michigan, Josh said, but there also are users in Illinois, Texas and California, to name a few.

Rocket Spelling, which usually charges $3 per student to use the site, is giving classroom accounts for free for the school year to everyone in the KISD using coupon code “rocketlaunch.”


Rocket Spelling

SNN Story: Teacher, Math Team Create Buzz of Excitement

Math Games, also Created by Josh Pullen

EGR High School sophomore Josh Pullen, center, with Lakeside third-graders who use his website to practice their spelling
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them.


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