Category Archives: Apps

A Dash for Treasure

Full disclosure – our class received a Dash and Dot package from Wonder Workshop for review.  

Last month I posted an article about the new additions to our classroom, Dash and Dot (and Fitzgerald).  Since then, the school Maker Club, our Robotics team, and my 1st graders have been learning more about the features of these robots.

My 1st grade GT students are learning about different countries around the world.  Before digging into that research, I wanted to make sure they understood the difference between countries and continents, and had a general understanding of their locations.  We have a giant map of the world on our wall, but I thought Dash and Dot might be able to help us by taking their own virtual trip around the globe.  I ordered this vinyl map for the floor from Amazon.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 6.55.38 PM

My daughter helped me to write an adventure for Dash that took him to every continent. (Yes, she came up with the idea for the Shoe of Honesty in the story – which the students found quite hilarious!) As I read the story out loud, the students took turns programming Dash at each juncture using the Blockly app.

A Dash for Treasure

The synergizing and problem-solving were phenomenal.  They took their task of guiding Dash very seriously.  They learned about angles and programming logic.  And, in the meantime, they learned their continents and compass directions.

dashworldmap

My daughter and I deliberately stopped the story before the end. When we got to Dash’s “uh-oh” the students were in complete suspense.  It took practically no prompting from me to get them to write their own endings and to illustrate them.

You can see the endings the students wrote below. (Click on the image to see a larger version.) Don’t be confused if you see “Fitzgerald” in some of their stories.  We have 2 Dashes, so one is named Fitzgerald.  The students are very attached to both, and get upset if all of the robots are not included!

If you are interested in downloading a copy of the slide show with the story and programming prompts, click here.  Here is the PDF of the writing page the students used.  Thank you to Susan Prabulos (@fabprab) for the awesome graphics!

Free the Zoombinis!

Games have their place in education, but my students know that I tend to emphasize creation rather than consumption – especially when it comes to technology.  Few “education” apps pass muster for me, but I have a feeling this particular one will be on my “Gifts for the Gifted” apps list this December.

I first discovered the magic of the Zoombinis decades ago in my 5th grade classroom.  My students were enamored with the cute little creatures who needed to be guided to their new home through various levels in the TERC/Broderbund game, “The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis.”  Not only was the game fun, but the logic and problem-solving that it demanded were scaffolded extremely well, allowing students of different levels to feel successful when they played.

To be completely honest, I bought a personal copy of the game, and spent many nights with my young daughter (and without her) trying to advance through the different challenges.

Unfortunately, as technology advanced, the Zoombinis disappeared from my classroom.  We can no longer install our own software in our district, and I’m not sure the few games still available through online retailers would work on our newer operating systems.

I was thrilled, therefore, to see a Tweet yesterday that the Zoombinis have launched a Kickstarter!  TERC is teaming up with Fablevision and Learning Games Network to release an app for tablets as well as newly designed desktop software later this year. The Pizza Trolls, the Allergic Cliffs, the Fleens, the Lion’s Lair – they are all coming back with graphics optimized for today’s devices.

To learn more about the Zoombinis Kickstarter project, click on the image below.

zoombini

Reflections on our GT Twitter Chat

A few weeks ago, a few of the teachers in our district participated in a Twitter Chat.  The topic was to S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Education.  You can read more about the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. chat here.

After the chat, a few of the GT teachers suggested that it might be fun to try doing the same chat with our students.  So, last week, we decided to try it.

I’m not sure how many schools ended up participating in the chat, but I believe there were around 13 classes.  Some of us had the students respond to the teacher who then tweeted out the answers, and some of us allowed our students to group up and use various devices.  It was not smooth-sailing.  Here were some of the glitches:

  • Twitter and Tweetdeck are blocked under student sign-in in our district.
  • Tweetdeck kept refreshing and losing columns at the beginning of the chat in my classroom (maybe for other people, too).  We surmised that this might be b/c more than one device was using the same account.  However, after we refreshed the page on the 6 laptops it seemed fine.
  • Some of us couldn’t see each other’s tweets because some of our accounts are private.  We made sure we were all following each other beforehand, but that still didn’t seem to help everyone.  Fortunately, everyone knew the questions ahead of time, so even though they couldn’t all see them, they could guess by the responses which question had been asked.

Overall, it was an eye-opening experience for the teachers and the students.  Most of my students (5th graders on that day) had never used Twitter and finally understood the use of hashtags.  Many of them saw ideas that were new to them and got different perspectives on the topics.

For example when we went over the questions before the chat, one of my students was adamant that we should eliminate art from the curriculum.  I told him that he would probably find that many people would disagree and that he would have to be able to support his viewpoint.  Sure enough, others strongly argued that art is vital. This exchange turned out to be an excellent lesson on multiple perspectives as well as social media etiquette.

A student from another school suggested getting rid of free time – which caused a public outcry in my classroom.  However, a few minutes later the writer explained that he or she disliked all of the time wasted when students finish work early and are just “told to read a book.”  Again, another lesson on how important it is to ask people to explain themselves instead of just immediately condemning their opinions – also a lesson that the brevity used in social media can sometimes distort the message you are trying to communicate.

After all was said and done, I asked my 18 students to complete a reflection about the experience.  (Yes, we did old-school handwriting b/c some of their typing can be painfully slow!)  When I surveyed them, most of them gave the chat a 2 or 3 (3 was the highest).  However, there were a couple of 1’s.  Understandably, those students found the whole procedure to be too chaotic and fast.

Would we do it again? Yes, I think seeing different points-of-view is really helpful for my students. I’m still debating the importance of keeping our account private.  I also am considering giving students the option of participating or not.  Those who opt out can consider the topic in an alternative way.

If you are interested in doing the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. chat in your district, here is a link to the document Kimberly Ball (gttechguru) made for us to use to prepare the students for the chat.  And, if you’re not ready to do Twitter, check out this great Google Tweeter Template from Tammy Tang that will help you to simulate the process!

 

 

TeacherLED

This week I am going to dedicate my posts to sharing resources I learned about at TCEA in Austin last week.  I think packing too much info into a blog post is overwhelming, so if you are craving more, feel free to check out my notes (which are not finished yet!) here.

At her “Fabulous and Free” session at TCEA, Shannon (@SweetBlessShan) offered a lot of neat resources.  You can visit her website to get all of the links here. If you have any time after reading my post, I highly recommend you follow her on Twitter and subscribe to her great blog, “Technology Rocks. Seriously.” (She currently has some free Valentine printables!)

Since I try to just feature one resource, or a small group of related resources, each day, I had a hard time choosing from the notes I took on Shannon’s session.  But TeacherLED is one site she mentioned that is “good to go” in the sense that you don’t have to register or put any work into using it ahead of time.  It has neat Interactive White Board Activities for all sorts of subjects.  Also, it looks like most, if not all of the activities, will work on mobile devices.

Being a GT teacher, I was immediately drawn to the puzzles.  This site isn’t all about games, though. There are math interactives, geography activities, and ELA games.  You can see the full list here.

Some of the resources on TeacherLED aren’t necessarily curriculum-based, but they are definitely fun.  I think I actually heard “ooh’s” and “ah’s” when Shannon showed us the “Quiz Buzzer” which will allow you to know right away who answered a question first!

The Quiz Buzzer available on TeacherLED
The Quiz Buzzer available on TeacherLED
One of the many interactive puzzles available on TeacherLED
One of the many interactive puzzles available on TeacherLED

Tech Stuff I Love

First of all, a big shout out to the awesome ladies I met at TCEA from Lamar Consolidated School District yesterday – @spletkalcisd, @KBoneGT, @imrielee and @StacieQuarles!  Meeting them absolutely made my day!

Based on yesterday’s poll, here are the things I hope to share at TCEA on Thursday morning:

made with Canva
made with Canva

Canva

An awesome free web tool (and iOS app) for creating graphic designs in many different formats.  Disclaimer: I recently wrote lesson plans for Canva’s Teaching Materials section in their Design School.   

Augmented Reality

Click on the link above to go to my Augmented Reality Resource page, which is full of ideas for lessons, activities, web tools, and apps. It also includes links to tutorials for Aurasma and Daqri, two of the best tools for creating auras.  Here are a few of my own lessons:

Cubelets

If you have a Maker Space or any room for creativity in your time with students at all, I highly recommend these robots from Modular Robotics.  You can click on the header link to learn more.  Put this at the top of your list for any grant application.  They are pricey, but well worth it.  I have seen so many creative combinations from the students as they put different cubes together to make robots that move based on temperature, distance, and light.  They’ve made drawing robots and spent twenty minutes figuring out how to combine every Cubelet we have to make the robot in the video below.  There are Lego Adapters to add, and really there is no limit to the imagination with these fun cubes that connect magnetically. There is even a Bluetooth one so you can control your robot with a mobile device.  Don’t forget to check out the Lesson Plans! (Ironically, this is the one product that I’m hawking that will cost you money – yet I have no stake in it at all!)

By the way, this may be a spoiler if you read it before our 10:30 session – but don’t skip!  There are several other people presenting, and they will have more awesome things to share!  Plus, I’m bringing some of the toys to play with in case you want to try them out before or after the session :)

I Forgot How to Count to Two

So I am currently at TCEA in Austin.  TechNinjaTodd graciously asked me to join his team of Ninjas on Thursday morning as we share a couple of apps and/or webtools with the crowd.

“Sure!” I said.  As you can tell from my blog or Twitter account, I have no problem sharing – though I’m not so good in front of a crowd.

“Anything you’re excited about,” he said when I asked what I should present.

No problem.

Wait.  Just a couple of things I’m excited about?  Hold on.  Let me look up “couple” real quick.

Hmm. That might be a problem.

I started a list.

It got long.  “Long” does not appear in the dictionary definition of “couple.”

This is me trying to decide what to share.  Okay.  It's not really me.  It's just what I would like to look like while I'm trying to make a decision.  Calm and thoughtful.
This is me trying to decide what to share. Okay. It’s not really me. It’s just what I would like to look like while I’m trying to make a decision. Calm and thoughtful. And young.

I don’t want to be one of those people.

You know – the one who has 5 minutes and takes 30.

I also don’t want to be one of those people.

You know – the one who promises to tell you about something new and bends your ear about something you’ve known about for two years and you’re sitting in the front of the room so you can’t politely leave the session but you are dying inside because it’s a total waste of time and so you start surreptitiously paging through your conference program so you can make sure you choose your next session a bit more judiciously.

Kind of like the way you’re probably feeling about this blog post right now.  Except no one but you and the CIA will know that you ditched it before you got to the end.

So, I should get to the point.

Help!!!!

If you were going to this session, what would you want to hear more about?  (Choose all of the topics that interest you.  You can even come back and vote again.  I figure if you’re that passionate, then who am I to stop you?)

Visualizing Tweets

I’ve been playing around with a couple of different ways to organize my firehose of a Twitter stream, and these are some of my recent favorites.  I wouldn’t necessarily use all of these “live” with my students, as there is always a chance of having something inappropriate suddenly appear.  However, you might want to save some images or screen shots to share with them.

First of all, my absolute favorite way of participating in a Twitter Chat is to use Tweetdeck.  Even though you can use it on mobile devices, I like it best on my laptop or desktop computer screens because I can add several columns to follow at the same time.  I can also delete the columns quickly to clean up my screen or add new columns.

Tweetdeck
Tweetdeck

Another way to look at a Twitter stream, whether it’s your own or a particular hashtag, is to use TweetBeam, the self-described “pretty way to display tweets.”  TweetBeam might be a bit disorienting, as it creates a collage of profile pics in the stream.  You can roll your mouse over the pics to see recent tweets.  Or you can just leave the wall up on your screen and tweets will pop up.  As far as I can tell, TweetBeam is browser-based only.  You can add filters and specific search parameters to limit what shows up – but I frankly don’t have the time!

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 8.14.58 PM
TweetBeam

Visible Tweets (also browser-based) has a few interesting ways to display tweets.  You can show them one at a time letter-by-letter or rotating.  Or, you can also create a word cloud.  I don’t really like the word cloud, but the other two animations would be fun to use if you are presenting at a conference.

Visible Tweets
Visible Tweets

I did find a free word cloud app for Twitter that I really like.  In fact, I wasted about 30 minutes last night just playing with it.  It’s called Tweetroot.  It’s currently an iOS only app.  You can search people, hashtags, and user mentions.  There are color, font, word count, and other options.  Here is an example from our #neisdpln chat:

Tweetroot
Tweetroot

And, finally, if you want to summarize a stream of tweets from a particular person or hashtag, then Storify is a handy tool.  You can see an example of a “Storified” chat here.

So the next time you get overwhelmed by a fast-moving stream of words, remember there are lots of alternatives!