Category Archives: Apps

Augmented Reality Reward Coupons

I confess that this is nothing new.  I offered these augmented reality reward coupons last year, and have been meaning to make some more.  However, that hasn’t happened yet.  Maybe a few enterprising students can make some for me!


My students absolutely loved these last year.  In my classroom Reward Coupons are kind of a seasonal thing, which makes them extra special when I start giving them out.

These coupons, when scanned with the special Aurasma app, will “speak” the reward.  (You need to be following Hidden Forest Elementary in the app.)

If you like these, you might also want to try out the AR holiday cards that I posted last December.

New to augmented reality?  I have an Augmented Reality Page devoted to tutorials, lessons, and apps.  Also, be sure to check out Elements 4D for a great educational way to use augmented reality for teaching Chemistry!

Monty the Penguin

Yes, I’m a sentimental idiot.  Apparently I’m not alone.  I’m one of the many whose heart has been warmed by the new John Lewis Christmas commercial for 2014, “Monty the Penguin.”

In 2013, John Lewis produced “The Bear and the Hare,” which may have been a commercial, but it was also a work of art.  I’m not sure “Monty the Penguin” took as long to create, but it is certainly another top-notch production.

from "Monty the Penguin"
from “Monty the Penguin

I realize, of course, that this is a commercial.  I also am aware that many people do not celebrate Christmas.  It could certainly be argued that “Monty the Penguin” is just another excellent example of manipulative advertising.

But there are lessons in this video much like the ones in “The Bear and the Hare” – the power of imagination, and the value of empathy.  And it’s truly delightful to watch.

It wouldn’t be an advertisement if it didn’t take advantage of merchandising opportunities.  You can buy the Monty book as well as a slew of other penguin paraphernalia.  However, there are many free materials offered as well.  There’s an interactive app and a website.

Educationally, you might find it redeeming to see that there is a link to a World Wildlife Fund page that gives information about the Adelie penguin and an easy way to “adopt a penguin.”  You can also access activities to use with children (ages 3-11)  on the special “Bringing Skills to Life” page that ties in to the Monty story.

I will unashamedly admit to crying at the end of the video (I dare any mother not to), but I’m not going to tell you if I bought a stuffed penguin or not after watching the commercial. There are just some secrets a girl has got to keep.

Scratch Jr. Tutorials for Primary Students

Last week, I encouraged you to participate in this year’s Hour of Code. I know that guiding a classroom of students through an hour of programming can sound intimidating, particularly if you aren’t experienced in it yourself.  The secret is to do as I have – admit to yourself that you know nothing and your students are smarter than you.  Trust me, it makes life easier and a lot more enjoyable ;)

Any grade level can do the Hour of Code. makes it very easy to moderate lessons for all ages and levels of experience.  But there are other resources as well.

Take Sam Patterson (@SamPatue), for example.  He teaches coding to elementary students, and decided to try out the new iPad app, Scratch Jr., with them this year.  So far, he has provided two video tutorials on his blog, “My Paperless Classroom,” and it’s my hope he will provide some more – mostly because they are exactly on my level! The first one is, “Learning about Loops,” teaches about how to have a character (sprite, as they are called) repeat an action.  The second one, “Creating a Dialog in Scratch Jr.,” shows how to have characters interact with speech in a program.  Both are good examples of integrating other curriculum with coding, and were used with 1st graders and 2nd graders respectively.  Sam’s awesome puppet, Wokka, does the video narration, making it even more appealing for young people.

I haven’t had a chance to jump in to Scratch Jr. yet with my students this year, but watching Sam’s tutorials makes me want to try it tomorrow.  It is going to be another creation tool that my classes will be able to use, and I imagine they will think of far better ideas for its use than I ever can!

UPDATE 11/18/14: For even more Scratch Jr. activities and video tutorials, check out the “Teach” section on the Scratch Jr. website.

If you’d like to access some more resource for teaching kids to code, check out my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board!

screen shot from Sam Patterson's tutorial on creating dialog
screen shot from Sam Patterson’s tutorial on creating dialog

Opt for Osmo for Optimum Fun

Woohoo!  Here we go!  This is the beginning of this year’s “Gifts for the Gifted” posts – a series of articles I do each Friday in November and December to give teachers and parents ideas for great toys and games for your children.  To see what gifts I’ve recommended in the past, take a look at my Pinterest Board.  (I also have one for Books for Gifted Children.)



I reviewed today’s product, Osmo, in May, but some of you may not have been readers way back then.  You should definitely check out that first post as it gives some details that I will probably leave out in the interest of brevity in this article.

Put quite simply, Osmo is a set of accessories for your iPad that allows players to interact with real physical objects that are recognized by your iPad within Osmos’ free apps.  My classes (K-5 gifted students) tested the product out last year before it hit the market, and absolutely loved it.

image from
image from

There are currently 3 free apps: Words, Tangrams, and Newton.  The apps will not work without the set that you can currently purchase for $79.99 (free shipping). The set includes a base for the iPad, a mirror to place over the iPad camera, letter tiles, and tangram pieces.

In case you are concerned that your child or students will get bored with the 3 apps, I can assure you this hasn’t happened in my classroom yet.  The company does hope to add additional apps in the future, and they have made significant updates to the current ones over the last year.  In addition, the Words app allows for customization so that you can basically create your own games using photos and words that you load yourself. (See instructions here.) This feature is tremendously powerful in a classroom setting.  You can make Osmo a center to practice certain words, differentiate with several albums, and do class play to review vocabulary by mirroring your iPad on your screen.

There are two reasons that I recommend Osmo: it’s good for kids and the company is extremely supportive of its customers – particularly educators.  If you are looking for a great gift to give a teacher (perhaps pooling money with several parents) or a unique gift to give to a younger family member, then Osmo is definitely a great choice.  You can purchase Osmo directly from their website, or at an Apple store near you.

Hour of Code 2014

It’s not too early to start planning for this year’s Hour of Code!  It’s December 8-14, and you know that November is going to fly by quickly.

Hour of Code is an initiative from with the purpose of getting students around the world exposed to programming skills.  All of my GT students, 1st through 5th, participated last year (and even my Kinder students learned some programming when they started classes with me in the spring).  Every student enjoyed it, and many took it into their own hands to learn more during Genius Hour projects and their own time at home.

Teachers, tap into your growth mindset and try Hour of Code!
Teachers, tap into your growth mindset and try Hour of Code!

Before you click on the “x” in the top right corner or hop to another website, hear me out.  I am not a programmer, and knew very little about computer science before jumping into Hour of Code.  I promise you that you do not need to be an expert in order to participate. provides very easy tutorials that walk you through programming activities.  In fact, you can participate without using any kind of device at all by doing an “unplugged” activity.  This is the perfect opportunity for your students to see your willingness to take risks and try things that are a little beyond your comfort level.  The great thing is watching them rise to the occasion and solve their own problems when you truly don’t know the answer!

If you participated last year, it looks like you’re in luck. is promising new tutorials for this year.  And, you may want to check out their Code Studio that was launched earlier this year.

Here are the resources on How to Get Started.  Need some inspirational videos or posters?  Check these out.

Just in case you aren’t convinced, try one of these iPad apps to see how quickly you can learn coding yourself: Kodable, Scratch Jr., Hopscotch, Daisy the Dinosaur, Lego Fix the Factory, Cargo-Bot, Pixel Press.

Or, try a browser based program: Scratch, Made with Code, Pencil Gym.

Want to go “unplugged”?  Try Robot Turtles or this free activity from Kodable.

I have over 100 pins on my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board if you need more resources.  Also, join the #kidscancode chat every Tuesday at 7 PM CST for tons of ideas and advice!

Periodic Videos from TED-Ed

Last week I did a post on the fabulous Elements 4D resource from Daqri.  Students can learn about the elements and compounds that can be made from some of them by using the free lesson plans now offered on their site.  Combine these plans with the free downloadable elements cubes and the free augmented reality app and you have a formula for success!

To add even more impact to your chemistry lessons, check out this great site that TED-Ed now offers.  In a collaborative project with film-maker Brady Haran, TED-Ed has produced videos to explain every single element of the Periodic Table.  Just click anywhere on the TED-Ed interactive Periodic Table, and take a look at the magical properties of any element!

You not only get to see each element, but demonstrations of them in action, such as the video of a hydrogen balloon exploding when exposed to heat.

Hydrogen Balloon Exploding
Hydrogen Balloon Exploding from TED-Ed Periodic Videos

Many of these are not demonstrations that could easily be done in a typical school science lab, so the videos are a good supplement to a hands-on curriculum.

Even if you do not have the elements in your scope and sequence, you may want to keep this site in mind for students who show an affinity or curiosity for science.  It would be a great resource for independent research or Genius Hour projects.

Team Shake and Other Ways to Group Partners

I love hearing about the clever ways teachers group students in their classes.  My daughter, who is in middle school, told me about using “clock buddies” in one of her classes.  A different teacher gave them each a sheet with pictures on it, and they put a person’s name next to each one.  When the teacher called out a picture, such as, “Eagle!” they would have to find the partner who corresponded to that picture.

I have been using Class Dojo to randomly make teams or select partners, but it isn’t exactly the fastest way to do it.  Last week, I heard about an app called, “Team Shake,” which is so much faster!  It does cost .99, so I just downloaded it to my phone rather than a school iPad.  Once I input the names of the students for a class (or a club), all I have to do is choose the number of groups I want and shake to sort everyone immediately.  Since I have multiple classes and clubs, I am able to save each one separately and load them whenever I need them.

screen shots from Team Shake app

Knowing I would be doing this post today, I did a little research to find some other ideas for grouping students.  I ran across this gem by Genia Connell that has two of the ideas I already listed – plus eleven more!  (And free downloads!)  If you’re getting bored with always using the same method, you should definitely check out her suggestions! (I love the “Synonym Rolls” and the “iPartners”!)