Friday, June 29, 2012


by Doodle Panda Studio


I started using this app in the classroom with a small group of  kindergarteners to see if they would be able to figure it out. Several of the boys had become addicted to the Big Seed app by Mind Research Institute, and I wanted to see if they would find Bumpling equally challenging and interesting. I introduced the app to a group of six children, three girls and three boys and we began to test it out. They were able to quickly catch on and start playing the game on their own. What is nice about having several children figure out an app together is that they talk a lot about what they are doing and how they have figured something out. With Bumpling they were able to work together to figure out how the spinners, v-turns and others obstacles worked and how to get their bugs to avoid or use them depending on the situation. What I like about this app is that it works to develop children's problem solving skills and strategy. They have to be able to figure which is the best move to make and plan ahead so that they can get all the bugs off the screen.

When the second group of children began to play the game we discovered a small glitch in the system. Since children in the classroom often have to share the same iPad, we need to have apps that can accommodate multiple players. We wrote to the developers and they were immediately responsive and have now added a multiple player feature to the app.

Options and Special Features

Sound - I love the fact that you can completely turn off all the sound. The music does not provide anything essential in order to play the game, so it is not necessary. With no sound, children do not need to use the head phones and allows for more collaboration as they go through the different screens.

Themes - You can choose from a variety of different themes for your screen, with different animals (ladybugs, frogs, etc) which can make it a little more interesting.

Hints - If you get stuck there is a hint option that you tap which will tell you how to make the next move. If you use the hint button too many times it affects your overall score but you can still keep playing the game. One child figured out that he could keep going through the app by hitting the hint button first rather than testing out different possibilities. Since he was not concerned with his time or his score he just kept using the hint button to speed through the different screens. In this particular case, the hint option took away the thinking and the challenge and defeated the purpose of the game. I wonder if the hint option could make the bug wiggle to indicate which would be a good choice for the next move, rather than to provide the arrows which indicate the exact path the bug should take. 

Time - After you complete one board, a screen pops up to tell you how long it took you to complete the board. While this is a great option for some, I don't really see the need for it in the classroom. I would prefer the focus be on the completion of the task rather than how much time it took to complete. After the children worked with the app for a while, the conversation turned to the speed at which different kids were completing the levels. There is already so much emphasis on speed when it comes to math related activities that it can sometimes turn children off. The children who were able to continue quickly with the different levels really enjoyed the game, but those who were not as fast began to lose interest. It would be great if the time option could be one of the things that you could turn on or off depending on how you wanted to use the game. 

Overall, I really liked using this app in the classroom and will continue to use it during the next school year. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Challenge is On! Can iPads provide as rich a learning experience as laptops?

One-to-one laptop programs commonly begin in upper elementary or later for most schools. The introduction of iPads and the rapid creation of apps with educational intentions has caused many of us to venture into the world of 1-1 or at least 1-2 computers in the youngest grades. This year our school will have one iPad for every two students in kindergarten and first grade. Our fourth graders will be one-to-one iPads, replacing the netbooks they previously had.

Gary Stager of, and Shelly Luke Wille, head of The Chadwick International School in South Korea, shared their experiences with laptops in first grade during the ISTE 2012 conference. Seeing the wonderful work young children were doing on MacBooks, Gary made some strong arguments for giving younger children computers that are the most powerful and flexible, not the least. Seymour Papert's vision of children and computers is that the child should program the computer, not the computer program the child. The greatest learning occurs when the child can freely create, program, be an engineer, design video games, make movies, and generally get control over their world. If we give them computers that aren't flexible enough, or capable of handling their vision, we are missing a great opportunity. As Gary said, "The computer you buy for kids should do everything they want to do on it, so you need to be sure it has that capacity."

So the gauntlet is thrown. Is the iPad flexible enough, and does it have the capacity to allow kids to do everything they want to do on it? At our Connections Conference in Washington, DC last week, we held all day hands-on workshops, one of which was focused on designing curriculum for students using iPads. In this workshop we shared experiences from this year, and discovered that our teachers, and the teachers at Flint Hill School where iPads are 1-1 in every primary class, were most excited by the projects their kids made from photos and videos they took, with stop motion animation, and by "mashing up" apps in such a way that they could make their projects to be exactly what they envisioned.

While it is true that apps must be found and often purchased that offer this type of flexibility, it is also true that programs must be purchased and installed on computers. The interaction between apps is not the user's choice, but rather, the app developer's choice, but kids found their way around that with screen shots, or by uploading work and downloading into another app. No doubt we all want our kids to feel the agency over the device that leads them to intuit work arounds without asking or being taught to do so. This was one of Gary's expectations, that the computer gives agency to the learner.

The additional factor is form, flexibilty, and classroom storage. There is no doubt the iPad has a lead on that scale, especially for the younger users.

So the jury is out. Weigh in if you like, and help decide the argument!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Let Students Lead, iPads Follow

Chris Lehmann led a session on inquiry yesterday at ISTE, and it got me thinking about a phenomenon that has puzzled me when I work with kids on computers. Chris asked us think about a lesson we have taught that could be improved by being more student-centered. Immediately many lessons came to mind, particularly those that involved teaching students to use software, or to navigate through a sequence of web-based baffles, such as logging into a website. I always begin these lessons in a top-down mode, wanting to get through the instruction in the interest of time. The result is inevitable: the kids expect me to walk them through every minute step every time. They don't seem to transfer any of their previous experience, even asking permission to do the obvious, "Should I click here?" "Should I open this program?". Nothing brings a slew of sarcastic responses to mind than those moments. The only thing I allow myself to say is, "And what will happen if you don't click?"

These experiences make me wonder why these so-called "digital natives" are so inhibited about making decisions in my classes. Chris talked about the value reaped by the 11th and 12th grade teachers at Science Leadership Academy from the step by step scaffolding in guided inquiry that the 9th and 10th graders are thoroughly immersed in. Guided inquiry, or as the Responsive Classroom folks call it, guided discovery, is such an obvious way to redesign lessons, that it's almost embarrassing that I haven't done it myself. At Flint Hill School, Melissa Scott uses guided discovery to introduce new apps on the iPad. She shows them the app, and allows them time to try to learn everything they can about it. They have the rule that you can't ask the teacher a question about it until you have tried three different ways to solve it yourself, including getting advice from a peer. At the end of the time, students share what they learned. Inevitably, the teacher learns something she never knew as well!

Chris's warnings about engaging in inquiry-based learning also applies here. Time and content can both be an issue. In my short sessions with students, I will have to allow for more time before the lesson is introduced and less time on the task. On the other hand, if they become confident, and knowedgeable about how to figure out and solve problems on their computers, they will be more efficient and self-confident as they work. The culture of collaborating and sharing knowledge will be strengthened, which will also enhance the classroom experience. Overall, it seems like a win-win situation to me!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

LetterSchool - iWrite Words

I think that one of the easiest places to start using iPads is during handwriting times.  You can hand a kid an iPad with a handwriting app and they can practice fairly independently.  It may not be the area that showcases any of the best reasons to use iPads (fostering creativity, allowing for problem solving, encouraging persistence) but it is an easy, safe place to start.  (perfect for tentative teachers who are not sure how they'll get iPads into their program or those who are new to this technology and need to wade in - not dive in)

Here's what we do:

We start with iWrite Words by gdiplus.  It is easy to use, has pleasing and simple graphics, and gives both the letter in stroke order, but also offers the option of spelling words.

We add on LetterSchool by Boreaal.  We love this app!  Just like iWrite Words, LetterSchool is easy to use and has really sharp graphics.  LetterSchool adds a little extra.  It offers three steps to learning each letter.  First, the student follows the starting point for each stroke.  Next, the student needs to drag their finger along the letter outline in stroke order.  Finally, the letter disappears and the student must write the letter unaided.

What we like:

*both apps are guided and self correcting - in other words, the app won't let the student write anywhere outside of the letter shape - you can't use the wrong stroke order or scribble

*neither app is over congratulatory and both have a nice little "payoff" after correctly writing a letter - a little interactive piece that doesn't drag on too long

*since we use Handwriting Without Tears, we like that iWrite Words is similar to that font and we love that LetterSchool lets us chose from HWT, D'nealian, and Zaner-Bloser fonts

*both apps allow for lower case, upper case, and numbers

What we'd like to change:

*I'd love to get a choice of fonts on iWrite Words

*I wish that there was an easy way (right on the home screen or on one of the corners of the app) to reset progress - this helps in a classroom setting where we often have students sharing iPads

*I wish that iWrite Words would add a phonics component - perhaps a word that features each letter and its sound

Why we really love these handwriting apps:

It's so difficult to find an app that can do something better than the teacher can.  These apps do just that.  I can't stand over 24 students and simultaneously know that they are using proper pencil grip and stroke order.  I only can know that about the 1 or 2 students that I can see at any given time.  If students are working on an app that won't let them practice their letters incorrectly - then I can be assured that good habits are being reinforced and not just for the one student that I happen to be watching.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


We love to share stories in kindergarten!

We read stories, share picture books, and tell oral stories just about every day.  One topic that seems to frequently pop in our story repertoire is that of the constellations.  We particularly love to share the stories from Greek Mythology that describe the origins of different constellations and stars.

Just for fun, we added a little iPad research (that's right, it's science time) to these story times.  Usually, the stories require some thinking.  They follow a pattern or there might be a moral to be learned.  We often use the stories to get the kindergarteners predicting such things as what happens when characters start boasting (it never ends well)...Other stories illustrate that it is often preferable to use your thinking cap rather than your charms...

How do the iPads fit in?  StarWalk!


 Here's what we do in our class:

*Share stories both verbally and from picture books - (check out these books:  Dot to Dot in the Sky - Stories in the stars by Joan Marie Galat, Kingdom of the Sun by Jacqueline Mitton, The Planet Gods by Jacqueline Mitton, Zoo in the Sky by Jacqueline Mitton)

*Draw the stars on your white board and as you share the story connect the dots to outline the picture in the constellation.

*Ask the students to make predictions, to find similarities/connections between stories, to share why they think the story turned out as it did (this is the flexible thinking part)

*Hand a pair of students an iPad and let them explore the sky - it helps to write the names of some of the constellations that are not so speller-friendly (Cygnus? Cetus? Bootes?).

*Listen to the exclamations as they find the constellations and personally connect to the stories...

We love this app! (Check it out at night - point it at the sky and it will tell you what's up there!)