Category Archives: K-5

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.

 

 

Osmo

A little background for those of you new to this blog: I teach Gifted and Talented students in Kinder through 5th grades.  I have been teaching for 23 years, and a parent for 11.  I love educational technology – but I love my students and my daughter even more.  I only endorse products that I think will benefit children and are of good value.

Screen Shot from PlayOsmo.com video
Screen Shot from PlayOsmo.com video

It seems like a simple thing. Set up an iPad vertically on a sturdy base.  Place a small mirror over the iPad camera, and pieces that are on the table in front of it are instantly recognized by special apps designed for this purpose. Suddenly, the tangible and the digital interact in a way that few have imagined.  And, just like that, you have Tangible Play’s Osmo - an educational learning tool that will transform the use of mobile technology in the classroom.

Instead of students working in isolation, they gather around Osmo to collaborate. Instead of silently concentrating on trying not to slam a bird into a pipe, students discuss strategies and brainstorm ideas. Instead of mindlessly consuming images and information, students creatively interact with each other and this set of iPad games that require problem-solving and higher order thinking.

The evolution of this game is a testimony to how developers and educators can work together to create a product that is a valuable learning tool.  From the beginning (and I was fortunate enough to get in on the early stages), the Tangible Play developers sought out educators to beta test their project.  They created a Google account where teachers could give feedback and suggestions.  This interaction, and subsequent changes made to the games, showed that those of us in the classroom have an important voice and our experience can be a great asset to developers of educational technology.

Some examples of changes that I’ve seen:

  • The Tangrams game originally had a “Cheat” button. Due to teacher recommendations, this was changed to a “Hint” button.
  • The Words game began as a Red Team vs. Blue Team game.  Now, there is an option for a cooperative game

Numerous other revisions have occurred in the games – and they have all been for the better.

Osmo currently has 3 apps that can be used with the set: Words, Tangrams, and Newton.  The Words game is the hands-down favorite for my students.  I am partial to it, as well, because it allows you to create your own sets of pictures.  As any teacher can imagine, this opens up a world of possibilities for content reviews and teaching new concepts or vocabulary.  It also makes Osmo an asset to a teacher for any age group or subject, as you don’t have to rely on the Words game provided (though it’s awfully fun, too).

I love how the Tangrams game scaffolds for students.  It allows them to start with simple puzzles, and then choose more difficult ones as they work through it.  They also have to earn points in order to use any hints.

Newton is pure fun and has great potential for creativity as students try to think of tangible ways to keep the digital ball on track.

I am recommending Tangible Play’s Osmo for 2 reasons.  Number 1 is that it is good for children.  I can personally attest that it fosters collaboration, problem-solving, and creativity. The second reason is that the company behind this product is genuinely interested in getting it right.  When I first received the kit, the developers did a Google Hangout with my students and me to help us set it up and answer any questions we might have.  (Of course, once the game was set up, the students were no longer as interested in chatting as I was!)  Since then, they have been in regular contact through e-mail and Google Plus.

Osmo officially launches today.  They are currently accepting preorders at a 50% discount until June 22, 2014 – to be shipped in the fall. Discount price will be $49 for the base + Tangram, Words and Newton.

For teachers – even if you only have 1 iPad, this is FABULOUS for centers or even for projecting on the big screen.  For parents – my 11 year old daughter and I love playing this together.  It’s easy to make it into a fun family game!

I cannot recommend this product highly enough.  I have been using the free beta test version, and I am still purchasing more, if that tells you anything!  Watch the video below to see this amazing educational set in action.

If you choose to purchase an Osmo, please use this referral link.

Alternatives to Showing the Movie Frozen for the Next 14 Days

You know how it goes.  Grades are turned in.  Textbooks have been collected.  The computer lab is shut down.  But the activity level of our students has gone up.  What’s a teacher supposed to do?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been trying to get my students to reflect on the year.  Using our class blog as a reference has helped tremendously.

Yesterday, with my GT 1st graders, I also asked them to look through the blog posts for their grade level.  They used a simple printable I found from Laura Candler to write their favorite moments of the year.  Here are some examples:

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Using divergent thinking for activities like the Squiggle Challenge and S.C.A.M.P.E.R. were very popular with this class.  Speaking of S.C.A.M.P.E.R., here is what some of them did with a page from my Summer Pool Party S.C.A.M.P.E.R. packet – Put an inflatable pool cushion to another use. (By the way, all of my grade levels, K-5, love doing S.C.A.M.P.E.R. drawings!)

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One of the blog posts the first graders “re-discovered” as they reflected was this one.  Try showing the Kid President video at the bottom of that post, and see if your own students can add to the list.  We used Padlet, but old-fashioned pencil and paper works, too!

Here are some other ideas from past posts for making the last couple of weeks fun and engaging:

I would also recommend checking out the Not Just Child’s Play blog by Joelle Trayers for ideas.  That woman always has creative suggestions that can be modified for any elementary grade level!

GoNoodle

Go Noodle
GoNoodle

It’s time for state-wide testing in my neck of the woods.  Even though we are not allowed to have computers on during the test, you might want to consider using GoNoodle after the test, particularly for students who have been sitting for awhile. They also recently added a feature called, “Flow,” which helps with stress.

I mentioned GoNoodle a while back in a post I did on “Physical Ways to Survive the Week Before Winter Break.”  Shortly afterward, I started meeting with my new Kinder GT students twice a week.  On Fridays, they miss Kinder Cafe (when the students go to the gym once a week to dance to different songs) to come to my class.  Last year, the students didn’t seem to mind.  But, this year I nearly had a mutiny on my hands. Even though, they only meet with me for an hour on Fridays, and we barely sit down the entire time, it was clear they needed a “Brain Break.” So, I thought I would give GoNoodle a try.

GoNoodle is free.  You can register your class (no individual student names necessary) and then get started.  It’s a fun way to gamify being physical for your entire class.  I usually choose a student randomly with Class Dojo to pick that day’s GoNoodle activity. (“Let it Go” and “Everything is Awesome” are huge favorites.) There are lots of videos to choose from – some including more physical activity than others.  Go Noodle keeps track of the time spent on the video, and gives the class points toward the next level.

The students enjoy the goofy looking characters and the silly pieces of trivia they offer.  But, of course, they enjoy the music and dancing the best.  Admittedly, not a lot of dancing goes on with “Let it Go.”  It’s actually more of a sing-along with dramatic magical gestures :)

If you are wondering about the appeal to older students, you might want to check out this post from @TechNinjaTodd about the way he uses GoNoodle with 5th graders.

Note: If you are in a district that blocks YouTube, you may have some trouble accessing some of the videos. Our district allows us to log-in, but the first time I tried to go directly “Be Happy” through GoNoodle without logging in, I had a group of very disappointed Kinders!

a selection of the GoNoodle Brain Breaks
a selection of the GoNoodle Brain Breaks

Spring S.C.A.M.P.E.R.

Ms. Trayers (@jtrayers) at Not Just Child’s Play and I are always on the same wavelength!  I tried a new S.C.A.M.P.E.R.  activity for spring this week, and she posted about an Easter one that she did with her students.  I absolutely love that she had her students write their justification for the partners they chose for the Easter Bunny.  They are fabulous!

I need to add more writing to my curriculum and I am going to definitely use it more with these S.C.A.M.P.E.R. activities.  Usually, I just have the students do an illustration as a fun warm-up activity, but I like her idea to add a little more “depth” to their drawings.

The one I chose to do this week was from my Spring S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Packet, which you can find on my TPT site.  I asked my 1st grade GT students to imagine that a mother bird’s eggs hatch, but the last one is a huge surprise.  What is it?

There were a couple of Easter Bunnies, but then there were two that were opposite extremes of each other.  One student drew a baby hippopotamus, and another student drew a tiny little fly!  I asked them to identify what other S.C.A.M.P.E.R. piece they used to come up with these ideas, and they correctly named the “Magnify/Minimize” one.  And then there was the very cute, upside-down, walking baby cactus.  Talk about imagination!

Here is a free copy of the page that I used if you are interested.  You can find the rest of the packet, and other themed S.C.A.M.P.E.R. packs in my TPT store.

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Using Origami to Foster a Growth Mindset

origami

Have you ever tried to teach origami to a large group of first graders?  It can be a challenge, to say the least.

Every year, when my 1st graders study Japan, I attempt an origami project.  Every year, I do it differently.  And every year I berate myself for doing it wrong.  No matter how slowly I give instructions or how many times I demonstrate under a document camera, there are several students who end up frustrated while other students grow increasingly bored with the repetitive instructions and having to wait while I help others make a valley fold.

Last year was a little better when I let the students use iPads and sites that showed videos of origami folding so they could work at their own pace.  But many of them immediately chose projects that were too difficult and gave up after finding themselves overwhelmed.

You’re probably shouting all kinds of helpful teacher advice at the computer right now, including, “Give up the origami project, you fool!  It’s not like they need to know that as a real-world skill!”

That is very true.  But perseverance can be a good skill (until it becomes stubbornness).  And learning from mistakes is a good skill.  Being aware of your own ability level and how far you should push yourself is a pretty good skill, too.

As I’ve been learning about the advantages of a growth mindset this year, I’ve been trying to share this with my students.  It’s become part of our daily vocabulary in some of the grade levels, but I haven’t approached it that way with my younger students, yet.  I decided to use the origami lesson to help me do that with my 1st graders. (Here is a great growth mindset chart that you might like to include in your classroom.)

Last week, I asked the 1st graders to think of an activity that was easy, medium, and hard for them.  For each activity, they drew a picture to represent it.  For example, if reading is easy for a student, she might draw a book.  If math is hard, he might draw a multiplication sign.

Then we all made a simple origami rabbit.  I asked them to think about how the activity compared to the ones on their “Levels of Difficulty” sheet.  We talked about how it was easy for one student because he has a lot of experience with origami, and that it was perfectly fine that it was hard for another student because this was her very first time doing origami.  We stapled their projects to their sheets.

This week, I read Your Fantastic Elastic Brain to them (which they loved – perfect level for them!).  We related it to the origami experience and discussed how important it is to stretch your brain, and not just stick to the things that are easy for us.

Then I gave them some origami sites, and they worked in partners to do whatever project they chose.  I reminded them that if they should choose a project based on their experience.

“If you’ve done lots of origami before, should you pick an easy one?”

“NO!”

“If you’ve never done it before last week, should you pick a hard one?”

“NO!”

I told them that I was not going to help them, that they would need to figure it out on their own, unless they needed help with a word.

I let them go, and held my breath.

“This one is too hard,” one of the students said after a few minutes.

“Let’s keep trying,” his partner said.  “I think we can do this.”  They unfolded and re-folded several times.  After 10 minutes, they did it.  They were so proud!

A student working by himself nearly did cartwheels around the room once he figured out his project.

Similar stories played out all around the room.  There were some sighs of frustration, but no giving up and no tears.  I was able to walk from table to table, giving encouragement, praising perseverance instead of frantically trying to get everyone to the same place.

At the end of class, the students couldn’t believe time had passed so quickly.  There was a unanimous vote to continue working on origami next class.

In a way, I felt like I’d just completed my own origami project. It only took me about 5 years to finally get it right.

Origami Elephant created by Sipho Mabona, picture from My Modern Met
Origami Elephant created by Sipho Mabona, picture from My Modern Met