Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lock it down! or at least stay in this area...

The other day I attempted to squeeze in a quick run on the treadmill with my 3 year old in tow. I rarely give her the chance to use the iPad, but I was feeling a little desperate. I opened up one of the drawing apps and sat her down in the corner as I started my warm up. She stuck with the app for a bit but quickly began to meander throughout the IPAD, opening up app after app. In this circumstance, my only "learning objective" for her would be sustained distraction so that I could continue on my run.

Yet it did cause me to ponder the idea of being able to "lock down" or limit a student to a given app. In our classroom, the students use the iPads in a pretty structured and supervised way. They are told to use a specific app for a period of time. We have not had a trouble with students wandering off to explore the other reaches of the iPad.

I can however, see that there would be a certain advantage to being able to restrict a student to a given app or perhaps a range of like apps-just like you would restrict/limit internet searches to particular sites or content. Maybe it is as simple as creating a folder for related apps and having the ability to limit navigation to that single folder-say, group all your number recognition and counting apps. Of course one could always "enforce" the desired range but there are times when complete supervision is more challenging and kids are quick and apt to it a fail-safe option!

On a related note, it would be helpful to have some sort of way to keep track of the apps that our students use, how long they used a particular app, and how many attempts were made to complete a given task. Certainly we could go low tech and create some sort of checklist that we could attach to a clipboard but...
Perhaps some sort of interface that students would be required to log in/out of-  why not!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Word Wizard

We have been using Word Wizard in our classroom for a little while as I continue on my personal quest to find the best word building app. As may be obvious from my review of Spell Blocks, I have a weakness for magnetic letters and letter tiles. I like the tactile nature of such materials and we have even recently purchased some Unifix cubes with letters on them-very fun.

Interestingly, when one uses the (real) magnetic letters and tiles, our emergent learners still have the tendency to swipe away all the letters when they move from one letter to the next, say, from cat to mat. Instead of moving just the first letter (even when you tell them!), the most emergent word study learners will then proceed to move around all the letters! I am interested to see if the digital format changes anything. One might assume that the with an app is that there is a greater opportunity to demonstrate a sense of word “permanence”.

Back to Word Wizard-
In the Word Wizard app, you are presented with two options straight off: Movable Alphabet and Spelling Quizzes. With the Movable Alphabet, you have a blank grid and you can drag color coded (red for vowels, blue for consonants-love that) lower case letters to build letters of your choosing. You are not prompted to build any particular word. I suppose if you wanted a more guided activity, you could provide your students with a word list. In Spelling Quizzes, there are are built-in Word Lists. Examples: CVC words, Dolch words, 1000 Most Frequently Used Words, Numbers, Colors, Animals, etc.

We chose the CVC words.
The children are verbally prompted to spell a given word: “Spell: Cat”. When you spell “cat” correctly, the “Voice” will affirm your efforts by reading the word.
In Settings, you can even choose the Voice: You can choose between US and UK inflections: Heather(US), Tracy(US) and Rachel (UK)
This program will allow you to place the letters in the wrong order: atc,or allow you to spell another word then it will read it to you that way, so you can self-correct.  Another note, some of the words are difficult to understand. For example, it was difficult to hear the difference between “can” and “cab.”  Yet it should be noted, that it is worth noting which children (or adults!) have trouble discriminating between letter sounds.
Using their preset word lists, the “flow” from one letter to the next is not ideal: cat-bad-can-bag. I would prefer that the letters “flow” in a more logical manner, say, cat-can-ran, etc. When more than one letter changes, it is more challenging and does not allow children to see the word pattern.

In sum, Word Wizard is a suitable app-probably best used by giving your students your own word lists and watching how they move from one word to the next.

To that end, I wish someone would create an app using the lessons from Making Words (Dorothy Hall and Patricia Cunningham) and especially the excellent Words Their Way (Donald R. Bear, Marcia Invernizzi, Shane Templeton, and Francine Johnston). Fingers crossed!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Use Real World Math Problems to Engage Your Students

I highly recommend checking out Bradley Lands’ blog.
Like Dan Meyer, he believes in connecting math to real life applications! (I had the chance to hear Dan Meyer present at the AIMS conference in Baltimore this fall and he was inspiring.) Lands lists his favorite 25 Math resources on his blog.  While connecting to real world applications can involve complex math appropriate for upper and middle school, there are ideas to be gleamed for the elementary level.
 Just last week, my colleagues and I used data from the Yummymath  website to conduct data lessons on Ground Hog’s Day and the Super Bowl. Needless to say, the Super Bowl data was popular. Today one of our third grade teachers (Maurice Tome) made up a series of Super Bowl problems based on the data from last night’s game that immediately had the students’ attention.  Teasing out the various structures for addition and subtraction problems, Mr. Tome had the students check off a category in a box  next to each word problem indicating whether they were determining the (a) Whole/Total (b) Missing Part or (c) Difference.  Building on their work with open number lines and Singapore Bar models, the students compared the total yards thrown by Quarterbacks Manning and Brady during the playoffs and the super bowl solving a series of problems.
It takes a little creativity to write your own problems using names, places and situations that will resonate with your students but it makes math relevant and engaging for them.  By checking out the links Land’s blog provides, elementary school teachers, as well as middle and high school level teachers, can be inspired to make math more meaningful for their students.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Creator

These past few weeks have been all about Book Creator in the classroom...

Book Creator is a wonderful and student friendly app for creating books with audio.

Last week my students shared their thoughts about Romare Bearden's artwork Home to Ithaca using the See Think Wonder Thinking Routine (we love Project Zero Making Thinking Visible - Thinking Routines). After studying the artwork, we first discussed what we See (a boat, water, trees, a person). Then we tackled what we Think (this might be Odysseus, the shield shapes might be very old, the person might be a man). Finally we shared what this art made us wonder (are any of the buildings a fortress, is the boat coming or going, did this village really exist).

Normally, our students illustrate their own version of the art and through shared writing, we note what everyone has shared.

Last week, we added an extra step.... The students photographed their illustration and we created a See Think Wonder book where everyone had a page with an illustration, their photo, and then an audio recording of their contributions. (a few pages from the book are below)

This week we went further. For the writing task the students each picked a class "job." Yesterday they wrote simple, step by step instructions for the job. Then they picked up an iPad and took two pictures around the room that best demonstrated the job. Today the students each started their iBook instruction manual. With very little demonstration the kindergarteners quickly picked up the basics. The only typing they most did was on the cover page where they added the book title and their name as author. Then they selected photos for the two pages which would help explain their job from start to finish. Some students found they wanted to use a picture that we hadn't taken so they slipped into Draw Free and created what they wanted - then slipped back to their book and inserted the drawing. A couple of kids staged new photos to insert into their book as they found some step needed alternate explanation. (a student example for the Door Holder job is below - including a drawing that illustrates where in the line the Door Holder should stand)

This second student book was created for the Snack Helper job - using photos and three audio recordings that break the job down into three steps.

The highlight was recording the audio. The students quickly realized that the best audio was captured when they spoke loud and clear. (Great practice for articulating thinking, creating complete sentences, and speaking with emotion) Some students recorded their audio all at one time - under one "audio button" and some made many buttons so that they could record their job step by step.

What I'd like to change.... I would like the add a page feature to either ask for confirmation before adding the page or that it be located away from the edge of the page. The kids added many extra blank pages as their finger hit the button while they were trying to resize or move a photo. I also would like the option of selecting an alpha order keyboard in addition to the qwerty.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

In Search of Tangrams

I love our kindergarten unit on tangrams so I was eager to explore some of the apps that support that type of spatial learning. As a teacher who uses the Grandfather Tang book by Ann Tompert, I would love to find a program that begins with the shapes from that story. We use those templates of the fox, lion, goldfish, etc., in the classroom and the students love to solve the puzzles again and again. So far, I haven't found an app with those shapes or one that ties into that story (and is appropriate and fun for five and six year olds).

I began exploring with My First Tangrams HD. In this app, there are four levels of puzzles. The first level is very simple and each tan is outlined so there is little room for error. The second level shows a tiny picture of the finished puzzle and only one piece is outlined. In order to solve, the user needs to figure out which piece goes where. It goes on to two more levels, one of which is open for free tangram designs.

Ideally, an app would show an outline of the puzzle and leave it to the user to decide how to fill the puzzle with the seven tans. I think the My First Tangrams HD app is too guided. It leaves little room for flexible thinking. One of the great things about the traditional tangrams puzzles is that students need to struggle with the spacing of the tans to complete the picture rather than have a finished puzzle to copy. This only allows them to polish their duplication skills rather than the added spatial math component.

One other challenge with this app is that often a tan appeared as a much smaller version that needed to be placed off center to make the iPad accept completion. For kindergarteners (or anyone) this would become frustrating.

I am still on the search for a better tangram app - I am discovering that many of the apps for children don't have a "snap to" feature for the tans and need precise placement. The apps also don't offer something more than can be achieved by working with the actual Tangrams.