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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Dinosaur, Kodable, 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.
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.
PixelPress first came to my attention when I discovered its Kickstarter campaign last year. Unfortunately, I came across it after it was too late for me to back it. Then, a couple of months ago, Drew Minock (Two Guys and Some iPads) mentioned that the Floors app was available for a free download on the iPad. I immediately went to the PixelPress site and found the free Sketch Guide and Blank Sketch Sheet.
“What?” you may ask, “Why do you need a sheet of paper for an app?”
Well, my friends, that is the beauty of the PixelPress Floors app. If you have an iPad 3 or above, then you can take advantage of the drawing option. You can actually draw a video game on the piece of paper provided, scan it with the app, and then play the game. No programming necessary.
Don’t fear if you do not have the iPad 3 or above. PixelPress just released an iPhone version of Floors which, along with the earlier iPads, works with a “Draw In-App” feature.
I introduced Floors to my students a few weeks before the end of school. It became the new go-to favorite app for creating in my class. The students loved using the Sketch Guide to create their games, and were eager to play each other’s to give constructive feedback. As they wrote their games and edited them, I could hear a lot of mumbling and discussion about why things weren’t working and how to solve the problem.
PixelPress is very interested in coordinating with the Education community. They have several posts on their blog that show the use of Floors in classrooms. Teachers and parents can sign up for an education mailing list, and can also visit the Education Portal. You can view a recent interview that Drew Minock and Brad Waid from Two Guys and Some iPads did with Katie Burke from PixelPress here. One intriguing use of the game in a classroom setting is to create a graphic novel using ComicLife and screen shots of the game, as you can see on this blog post from Porchester Junior School. (You can see the comic here.
Download Floors while it’s still free (there are some in-app purchases, but there are plenty of things you can do in the free version). Playing video games can be fun – but making them is even more entertaining!
A couple of weeks ago, Adobe released a new iPad app called, “Adobe Voice.” It reminds me a bit of Microsoft’s Photo Story – a free piece of software that allows you to create a video out of images. Like Photo Story, Adobe Voice allows you to add photos, text, narration, and music. However, it does give more options for where you can find your photos. You can do a Creative Commons search, use your own, or even choose from a library of icons that is provided. I imagine the Creative Commons search is where the 12+ rating comes from on the iTunes store. However, my students didn’t run into any inappropriate images during their projects.
The first group to use Adobe Voice in my classroom was a pair of my 3rd grade GT students. They were trying to synthesize one of the ideas they had brainstormed for solving the problems of noise and mess in the cafeteria. After consulting with a couple of “expert” principals, they realized that we were lacking some student leadership in the lunch room, and created this presentation to pitch a proposal to our principal for having student monitors during meal times.
They were under a time constraint, so they did not delve into many of the creative features of the app, but they got their message through quickly and effectively.
Last Thursday, I met with my 5th grade GT students for the final time. Because they have been with me once a week for two years, I wanted to get a sense from them of what they felt was the one “takeaway” they got from being in my classroom. (In Kaplan language, this is called the “Big Idea.”) I gave them full freedom to cull through my Pinterest Board of Favorite Quotations. I asked them to choose one that they thought exemplified the message I wanted them to carry with them for the rest of their lives. Then they were asked to create an Adobe Voice presentation built around that message, giving examples to support it. Here are a couple of their videos (unfortunately, embed codes for Adobe Voice do not work on this WordPress blog):
You can view all of the presentations on our class blog post. I loved the variety, and the multitude of perspectives.
A couple of things you should note if you are using Adobe Voice:
You will need an Adobe (or Facebook) account to login in order to upload your videos.
You can share the videos through e-mail and social networks, but there does not appear to be a way to download the video to your camera roll or to export the file.
In order to embed the video in a blog post, you will need to access it online once it is uploaded, and then get the embed code (also, the free WordPress hosted sites will not work with the embed code).
Check to see if the image search is blocked by your district filter. If so, students will need to have images ready on their camera roll or to be able to take pictures while creating.
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.
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.
I have 2 blogs that I try to post to each day – this one and a class blog. My goal for this year was to have the students take over the class blog posts, but that was only partially successful and will be part of my Epic Fails for the Year series in the near future. Part 2 of that particular Epic Fail was getting people to actually read the class blog. As far as I can tell, only a sprinkling of parents read the posts. But a few did seem to appreciate them so I trudged on.
I included a lot of pictures throughout the year on the class blog. The students rarely looked at them, but were excited when I would take a moment to show them in class. Since I only see most of my GT classes once a week, I must admit that part of my motivation for keeping this up was selfish; the posts and the pics have been helpful to me just to jog my memory every time I do lesson plans ;)
Yesterday was my last class with my 2nd grade GT students. I like them to do some sort of reflection at the end of the year, and we usually spend a lot of time reviewing the events of the past 9 months. (Otherwise, their favorite memory tends to be the very last thing we did.) This year, I decided to try something different.
I showed the students how to access the categories of our class blog so they could view all of the posts for 2nd grade for this year. Then they went through the posts, and chose pictures that were meaningful to them. As they were on iPads, I taught them how to hold their finger on an image to save it to the Camera Roll (fair warning – this is a tricky skill for 2nd graders). After about 30 minutes, I showed them the Pic Collage app. They were allowed to add any pictures that they wanted to their collages. Many added text (and stickers, of course!) They loved the activity. When they were finished, each student had a personal poster to remind him or her of the year in GT. If we had more time, we would have made ThingLinks with reflections, similar to last year.
Of course, you can do this activity without iPads. Canva is a cross-platform online tool that is great for collecting pictures, and there are many others. My favorite part was giving the students the opportunity to choose what had been the most meaningful moments to them during the year – and a creative way for them to display this.