Category Archives: Apps

Canva for Education

I first posted about Canva about 18 months ago when it was in its beta stage.  Since then, this amazing graphic design service has: become a full-fledged website, launched a mobile app, and unveiled its education services (which include sign-in with Google Apps for Education).

I was one of the educators approached by Canva to write some lesson plans utilizing their resources.  (Full disclosure: I was paid for this service.)  You can also find plans from Vicki Davis, Paul Hamilton, Steven Anderson, and William Ferriter.  These plans include many different disciplines and grade levels. In addition, you can access excellent specific graphic design tutorials provided by Canva.

If you are looking for app-smashing ideas for Canva and ThingLink, try these from Lisa Johnson (TechChef4U).  Lisa also explains how to use Canva’s public profile feature in this guest post on Free Technology for Teachers.

One of my favorite things about Canva is how the company has really reached out to educators for suggestions and ideas.  As you will see on their Canva for Education splash page, they have a board of Education Advisors, and I can personally attest that Canva keeps in regular contact with us to find ways they can improve their product.

Canva is free, but it also offers graphics for a fee.  It’s easy to train your students to identify the free images, backgrounds, etc… so their projects don’t end up costing money.  In addition, they can upload their own images, and take advantage of Canva’s free templates to design eye-popping presentations, posters, and collages.

If you have students in elementary school, I recommend that you create one account that your students will all access.  This will allow you to keep track of their projects and, if you are in a school where students share iPads, then this account can stay logged in.

The best way to get started with Canva as a teacher is to open a free account and start using it yourself.  Make blog graphics, picture collages, quote posters for your classroom.  Once you see how easy it is to create something that looks professional, you will come up with your own ideas for ways to integrate it into your classroom.

A six word memoir of The Giver created by one of my 5th graders in Canva
A six word memoir of The Giver created by one of my 5th graders in Canva

 

Please Allow Me to Reiterate

I was feeling pretty clever.

As most of you know, that is never a good sign.

My creative, engaging activity for the day turned out to be one of those lessons that makes a teacher ask the dreaded question, “Should I continue this fiasco or give up and find a video?”

The concept was simple: I wanted to use the idea of Hexagonal Learning with my 3rd graders so they could synthesize what they had learned from our systems thinking book, Billibonk and the Big Itch.  One of the online tools for hexagonal thinking is called Think Link.  This reminded me, of course, of ThingLink.  And I thought, “They can make ThingLinks of their Think Links!”

Technically, the students didn’t use Think Link, though.  Instead I used the Hexagons Generator from ClassTools to print out the hexagons with words that related to the book. The students worked in groups to connect their hexagons in deep and meaningful ways that they could explain in detail using an interactive ThingLink.

Well, that was the plan.

The students quickly arranged their hexagons.  Then they took pictures of the groups and started making their ThingLinks.  They liked the idea of using video to explain each node that connected 2 or 3 hexagons, and started to get creative – using newscaster and professor voices.

Then they started to get a bit silly.

Plus I realized that their connections weren’t exactly deep and meaningful.  And some of them didn’t make any sense at all.

And then 2 groups accidentally lost 45 minutes of work on their iPads.

And the third group finished theirs, but ThingLink stubbornly refused to save it – grimly offering that I could “retry” or “delete” each time I attempted to upload it, but making absolutely no effort to offer the preferred third option, “Start this day over with a little less smugness and a little more planning.”

I looked at my giggly group of grade schoolers and took a deep breath.  Despite having to start their projects over, they were all quite cheerful.  And, the truth was that I had learned a lot from listening to their recordings – a lot that I needed to discuss with them to ensure they understood the text better.

We gathered in a circle and reflected on the day.  We clarified lessons learned.

And we decided to try it all again next week.

Earlier in the day, I had talked about “iterative”  with some of the teachers in the lounge.  We  agreed that it seemed to be quite the education buzzword these days, and I looked it up to make sure I was using it correctly.

This was the first definition I found. (Google’s version)

iterativeNot exactly helpful.

So, without any sense of irony, I looked it up again. (Wikipedia’s verson this time)

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 5.33.55 PM

Next week, we will attempt iteration #2 of the Hexagonal Learning Lesson.

Hopefully, we will get some things right and all of the mistakes we make will be new ones ;)

Makerspace Essentials – Robots

I am frequently asked for advice on what materials to purchase for school maker spaces.  I am definitely not an expert on this topic, but I have gotten a couple of grants for B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) that have allowed me to try out different products.  I thought I would devote this week to sharing about a few items that I have judged to be well worth the money.

(If you intend to apply for a grant for a school maker space, be sure to research your district’s policies on spending grant money.  If you need to use approved vendors, then you should verify that you will be able to purchase the items you propose and that the vendor will accept your district’s preferred method of payment.)

Maker Space Essentials - Robots

We are about to wrap up our robot activities in Maker Club for this year, and I’ve learned a lot about the robots we have in our space.  If you are thinking of purchasing robots for your maker space, there are many factors to consider.  Of course, I didn’t consider any of those factors – just creativity potential.  We were also sent a couple of robots by companies for review.

Of course we have been learning as we experiment with various robots that they each have pros and cons.  Keeping them charged, for example, can be a challenge.  And the learning curve definitely varies.

I thought I would share some of the info I’ve gathered about the robots we have in case you would like to see a side-by-side comparison.  I’ve embedded the sheet I’m using to keep notes on each one.  It is a document I plan to update in the future with some of the other robots we are still trying out.  You can also access it here if you prefer not to have to scroll to see the details.

One thing that I would recommend is that you commit to buying at least 2 of whatever robot you decide on.  It helps for grouping – and when one of them has a dead battery or other troubleshooting is necessary.  For our Maker Club, we have 4 different types of robots, so the students rotated to each station to try them out.  Then, their groups were assigned a specific robot that they are currently preparing for our Robot Olympics.

If you have any questions about the robots, feel free to leave a comment on this post.  For more maker space resources, check out my Pinterest Board here.

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