Category Archives: Apps

Let’s Move It, Move It!

It may seem a bit paradoxical to be staring at a screen while you are trying to get fit, but there are more and more tools available out there to allow you to do just that.  As you begin planning for the new school year, you might want to check out some of these tech resources for encouraging kids (and adults) to take brain breaks.  Multiple studies have shown that these are valuable for both the mind and body.

  • I’ve mentioned GoNoodle on this blog before.  I highly recommend this free online tool for an awesome way to motivate your students as well as track how many minutes they are spending on “moving it.” Erin Klein just did a great post on GoNoodle on her blog, and is offering a t-shirt giveaway, so head on over there if you want more details!
  • This summer, I found out about an extension for the Chrome browser called, appropriately, “Move-It.”  You can set it to remind you at certain intervals to take a little exercise break.  To use the extension, you need to be in the Chrome browser.  Click on this link, the “free” button, and “add.”  A small icon will appear in the top right of your browser.  You can click on that icon to set the time periods for intervals.  At the set time, your browser will open a new tab, and give you instructions for a short exercise.  It’s a nice little reminder – though some teachers may find it annoying to have the pop-ups. (You can easily disable it by getting rid of the checkmark in the window or right-clicking on the icon to manage your extensions.)  I did notice a couple of grammar errors in the pop-ups that might make for a fun editing lesson while you are “moving it.”

Move It

  • Finally, Collin Brooks has come up with a fun way for students to get moving at home by creating augmented reality fitness task cards using the free Daqri app.  I love this idea, and hope you will take a look at the short video on this post where he explains how it works.

Crystal Fireworks

For today’s Phun Phriday post, I am sharing a great creation by teamLab.  I saw an article about this on The Creators Project, and it really makes me want to go to Japan to participate in this interactive installation in Toyama.  With a touch of your finger on your smart phone, you can ignite simulated fireworks!  Head over to this site to see some amazing video and pics.

image of Crystal Fireworks by teamLab
image of Crystal Fireworks by teamLab

What Happened During Summer Vacation

 

image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/reinvented/9397115956/
image from: https://www.flickr.com/

Not everyone is obsessed with reading education blogs or following Twitter as I am – especially over the summer.  I’ve noticed this blog’s stats have started growing since the beginning of August, which probably means educators are starting to return to work and might be looking for resources.  For today’s post I thought I would do a short round-up of some of the changes and updates that my readers may have missed over the summer.  This is, by no means, an exhaustive list.  It’s just something I brainstormed in the doctor’s waiting room the other day ;)

Socrative – My favorite student response system has now switched completely over to the 2.0 version (and I like it). Here is info on the switch.

Tellagami – The free app is virtually useless now, as there is no longer customization of characters or Text-To-Speech.  For those, you need to purchase the Edu version for $4.99.  You can read more about my disappointment in this change here.

Google Drive – There is a new interface that might take a little getting used to.  Here is one article that points out some of the new features. Here is a Google Drive Cheat Sheet.

Google Classroom – I signed up, but still haven’t delved into it.  Here is a good introduction from Edudemic.  And, here is another resource from te@chthought.

Scratch Jr. – For those of you with classroom iPads who might want to teach programming to young students, this free app, released this summer, is a definite must-download.

Made with Code – Speaking of coding resources, Google launched Made with Code over the summer –  a site specifically directed at getting females interested in this field.

Thinglink Video – Sign up here to participate in the Beta version of interactive video creation with Thinglink. Here is a post on ways to use this great new feature in education.

Padlet – Formerly known as Wallwisher (that’s so last year!), this great online tool has now added a new grid option to better organize all of those notes.  Here’s the lowdown from Richard Byrne.  And it has a Chrome extension (I don’t know if that’s new, but I just found out about it).

PixelPress – I originally posted about PixelPress Floors, an app that allows you to draw your own video game, in June.  They now have lesson plans for educators based on the Design Thinking Process.

Kid President – In case you missed it, everyone’s favorite inspirational politician now has a TV show on Hulu! Find out more on this blog post.

Lego Research Institute - I was so excited about this, I tweeted it out last week!  This Lego set, featuring 3 female scientists, is now available for purchase ($19.99).  Unfortunately, they are currently sold-out online- and I can’t find any indication on the website if they intend to restock.

Voxer - This may just be the next new Twitter for educators.  I haven’t tried it yet, but there has been a lot of buzz about it over the summer. This post includes information about this “live messaging app.” According to Pernille Ripp, these are the reasons you should be voxing.  Here are some uses for Voxer in the educational setting.

DragonBox Elements

I don’t often recommend paid apps on this blog.  One reason is that they are difficult for many educators to obtain for their classroom, as I outlined in yesterday’s post.  Another reason is that I feel that many of the paid apps have features that can be found in other free apps. However, every once in awhile, I run across a paid app that I think is unique and worth sharing.

I was recently given a promotional code for DragonBox Elements, and decided to test it out.  Previously, I had reviewed another app by the same company, DragonBox Algebra 5+, for AppoLearning.  (DragonBox 12+ is also available for older students, but I have not tried that one.) I was very impressed by the app, and have recommended it to parents who have young students with a high interest in math.

DragonBox Elements, like the Algebra apps, is designed to teach math “secretly.”  The Elements version teaches Geometry (I think they should change the name, as “Elements” made me think that it was a science app), and is aimed at students from 9-11.

DragonBox Elements - a Geometry app for ages 9-11 available here
DragonBox Elements – a Geometry app for ages 9-11 available here

The app accommodates up to 4 different players (individually, not at the same time), and has three levels of difficulty.  As advertised, it slowly guides you through basic geometric concepts by playing a game.  After learning to identify different types of triangles and quadrilaterals, the player begins to “prove” geometric characters into existence. For example, if one is given a triangle that shows two congruent angles, then there must be two congruent sides – making it an isosceles triangle.

None of the concepts are explicitly taught.  My daughter, who is 11, had the main complaint that she didn’t feel that she was learning anything.  However, when I asked her to explain her actions on a level, she basically gave me the steps of a geometric proof.

Like DragonBox Algebra, DragonBox Elements is a good app to recommend to parents who want to give their children an entertaining, educational app.  I think it definitely helps if there is an adult who can ask some guiding questions to aid the child in verbalizing what he or she has learned.

All of the DragonBox games are available on all mobile platforms here.  You can also find teaching resources on the site.

Why I’m Upset with Tellagami

I’m afraid that this is going to be a venting post.  I try to use this blog to share resources and to, hopefully, inspire.  But one of the resources that I’ve shared quite a bit on this blog has sorely disappointed me, and I feel that I need to express this.

Some people may have the idea that educators are cheap and that we do not like to pay for apps.  The first part is not true, at least in the case of most teachers that I know.  We spend a lot of our own money on resources for our classrooms every year.  However, it is correct that we do not like to pay for apps.  This is not because we balk at spending a dollar or two here and there.  If I could, I would probably spend at least $100 a year on apps for my classroom.  And that doesn’t even include the iTunes gift cards that I receive from parents. But I can’t.  This is mostly because of the following reasons:

  • Many of us do not control what we can purchase for our tablets. In some districts, teachers must propose an app to a committee and wait for approval.  In many, apps are only purchased if they serve the need of many classrooms – so an individual teacher request is usually not honored.
  • The Volume Purchasing Program is not very user-friendly and, as I mentioned in my first bullet, most of us don’t have access to it.
  • We cannot buy in-app purchases on campus.
  • It is very frustrating to spend money on purchasing an app in bulk, and then find out that it either doesn’t work because of school district filtering or it does not serve the needs of our students.
  • I can only use gift cards on my personal iPad  – which I do.  I let my students use it quite a bit because of this, keeping my fingers crossed each time that it doesn’t get dropped or broken since it has my entire life on it.

That being said, I understand that app developers need to make money.  To be honest, I’m not sure how that works.  There are some free apps that I have been using for years, and I picture their developers eating Ramen noodles every night.  However, there are other apps that started out free and then they weren’t.  And then there are the ones that stay free, but force you to update to a version that is missing most of the features you had before – like Tellagami.

I don’t mind that Tellagami decided to add a paid version to its offerings.  They have even been kind enough to provide an Edu version so that we do not have to worry about in-app purchases.  The Edu version looks pretty great – with a couple of features that Tellagami did not have before.

What I mind is that the free version to which I was forced to update because my old free version no longer worked suddenly has 0 of the features that my students loved about it and made it unique.  They enjoyed customizing the character and background, and they really loved the text-to-speech.  You can no longer do this with the free version.

In addition, the change was made over the summer.  Many teachers will return to school with the intention of using Tellagami the way they did last year and may not even discover the changes until they have an entire class of students trying to use the app.

I also mind that I now need to go back to any of my old blog posts from the last year that referred to these free features and revise them to reflect the change.

I mind that a creation tool that had become a favorite and was used on a regular basis in my classroom last year is now suddenly useless.

If anyone would have asked me (and they obviously didn’t), I would have recommended to Tellagami to keep the free version exactly the way it was with a pop-up offering the Edu version.  The Edu version could offer more customization options and, as it does now, the new features of doodling and extra backgrounds.

Because Tellagami allowed me to use the free version for an entire school year, and then took away practically all of the reasons I had for using it, they have lost my loyalty to their product.

UPDATE: Here is a response that Tellagami has posted to address the concerns of educators.  I still maintain that, by retracting many of the features that were available on the free version, they have betrayed those of us who had become accustomed to using the app.

UPDATE #2: I just ran across another blog post by an educator (Meghan Zigmond) who is also disappointed with the changes Tellagami has made.  She pointed out another reason to find fault with the recent switch to a paid app.  It is $4.99 for educators – and there is no discount for volume purchasing.

 

ScratchJr

I have been eagerly waiting the release of the ScratchJr app for the iPad this summer.  It became available on Tuesday, and I spent part of Wednesday playing around with it.

ScratchJr is a free iPad app that is designed to introduce programming to kids ages 5-7.  It is, of course, intended to acquaint students with the Scratch programming language – a block type programming that was developed by M.I.T. and is available for free at this link. (You can use it online or download the software.)

As school hasn’t started for me yet, I haven’t been able to put this app in the hands of students to see their reaction.  I am curious to watch my younger students who have not been exposed to Scratch explore the app.  Many of them have used Hopscotch, Daisy the DinosaurKodable, and Robot Turtles, so the concept of programming won’t be completely foreign to them.  However, my plan is to give them as little information as possible to see what they discover on their own.

The interface seems fairly simple.  The question mark allows you to find sample projects and watch an introductory video.  In my opinion, the intro video should be broken into parts.  Even though it’s less than 4 minutes, I think young students will find it too overwhelming to watch the entire video in one sitting – particularly if they have never done any type of block programming.

Clicking on the house icon will take you to the project screen, where you can add new projects or edit others you have saved.  The book icon (back on the home screen) gives you information about the program, including guides to the different icons in the program.

ScratchJr screen shot

For more information, you can visit the ScratchJr website.  There are a few materials available for teachers at the moment, and I’m sure more will be added as the project gains momentum.

So far, there does not seem to be a way to share projects created in ScratchJr with an online community as there is with Scratch and Hopscotch.  However, projects can be viewed full screen, and I am sure that you can project them if you have AirPlay or other means of iPad projection in your classroom.

If you are new to programming, I highly recommend the tutorials on the Hour of Code website.  However, do not let your lack of knowledge keep you from bringing it into the classroom.  I promise you that I know very little, and that is actually a benefit.  It keeps me from helping my students too quickly, and they learn from struggling and solving problems on their own.

Also, even if programming is not in your curriculum, apps like ScratchJr are great as a creation tool.  Students can use it to tell stories, explain math problems, etc…  Not every student will embrace ScratchJr, but once you have introduced it to your class, it could be one of many choices for assessment that allows them to use their creativity.

Here are some more resources for Programming for Kids if you are interested.