Category Archives: Apps


The last couple of weeks have provided a few great opportunities for me to learn, and I would like to reflect on them in this week’s blog posts.


Last Saturday, I attended my third EdCamp ever.  It was EdCampSA, and it was hosted at Churchill High School in San Antonio by the following wonderful people:

  • James Barton
  • Miguel Guhlin
  • Todd Bloomer
  • Mary Ray
  • Marguerite Lowak
  • Jeannine Freeman
  • Roland Rios

EdCamps are also known as “unconferences.”  They are unique because participants have absolutely no idea what they will be learning about until about 30 minutes after they show up.  EdCamp sessions are created by the attendees at the beginning of the day. The sessions are not presentations, but discussions about the suggested topics.

Several of my colleagues from NEISD attended. One of them had never been to an EdCamp before.  At the end of the day, she commented that she had learned more in one day than at many 3-day conferences she has attended in the past.

You can see the sessions that were ultimately created at this year’s EdCampSA here along with the session notes.  There are a lot of great recommendations for everything from iPads in the Elementary classroom to 3D Printing.

Here are some of the apps I learned about that I can’t wait to try:

  • Pirate Cam
  • News-o-matic
  • Apollo by Atlas Learning (supposedly similar to Nearpod)

Pear Deck and are two other resources I would like to check out.  (The latter one is supposedly similar to Kahoot, but can be self-paced and has fun response memes.)

Another idea – how about taking a look at for great non-fiction for elementary students?

Charlotte Dolat, who is our area director for TCEA, shared that we should search for TASA on iTunes University because it has lots of curriculum lesson ideas with technology integration.  (I can’t wait to start exploring that!)

That’s just a sampling of what I learned at EdCampSA.  It was another fantastic EdCamp experience and I can’t wait until the next one!

If you live near San Antonio, Texas, take a look at the upcoming Tech Field Day on November 7th, 2015.  This is another free conference that promises to offer a great day of learning at Cole High School! Dr. Roland Rios, who also co-hosted EdCampSA, is in charge of Tech Field Day – so I guarantee you will have fun and learn a ton!


Ozobot Cardboard Mini Challenge Playbook

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge, Gigantic, ENORMOUS fan of the Global Cardboard Challenge.  Here are some of my lessons learned from last year’s incredible adventure.  And here are some of the reasons I love the Cardboard Challenge so much.

This year’s Cardboard Challenge culminates on October 10th, 2015. You can read more about it on the Imagination Foundation’s website .

One of the companies partnering with Imagination Foundation this year is Ozobot.  For those of you who don’t know, Ozobot is a tiny robot that performs actions based on colored lines.  The latest version of the robot, Ozobit, also has the capability to be programmed using Ozoblockly.

For ideas on how to use little Ozobot as part of a cardboard creation, you can download Ozobot’s Cardboard Mini Challenge Playbook, which has Cardboard Challenge resources and activity suggestions.

You don’t need an Ozobot to participate in the Global Cardboard Challenge – but it sure can bring an additional element of fun to your project!

Image from: BenSpark on Flickr
Image from: BenSpark on FlickrOzo


New Hopscotch Curriculum

Hopscotch has been a favorite programming app of my students ever since they tried it for the Hour of Code a couple of years ago. One of my 5th graders chose to use Hopscotch to create his entire Genius Hour presentation last year.

Hopscotch is now offering a new curriculum for educators and I had a chance to sneak preview it before yesterday’s release.  I am very impressed by the format of the lessons, which were created using the Understanding by Design framework.

There are 6 lessons, about 45 minutes each, targeted for 5th-8th grades. However,  there is a lot of flexibility that allows for modifications for younger and older students.  The lessons include ideas for differentiation and detailed suggestions to include many levels.

Math, Engineering, and Computer Science Standards are included in the lessons.  Videos links are offered for all 6 activities to either use with your class or for the teacher to watch to gain better understanding.  Hopscotch not only differentiates for the students, but also for the teachers by making the instructions very clear for even those who have never used the app before.

I am excited that Hopscotch is offering such an amazing free resource for educators.  This app encourages creativity and problem-solving while teaching logic and many math skills.  Don’t worry if you have never programmed before.  With Hopscotch, you and your students can learn together.

Hopscotch Curriculum


A few months ago I gushed about a Kickstarter campaign that promised to bring one of my favorite computer games ever, Zoombinis, to the 21st century.  Due to the success of that campaign, the Zoombinis app is now available on iTunes and Google Play. Windows, Mac, and Kindle Fire versions will be available later this year.

I was excited to download the app a few weeks ago when it finally became available to Kickstarter supporters. Back when we were allowed to download our own software, I had the game in my classroom for my students to play.  I highly respected the logic skills the game promoted, so when my daughter was younger, I bought a version for her to try at home.

My daughter is now 12, and vaguely remembers playing the original game.  I guessed that she would like the app, but I did not predict the high level of engagement that I’ve observed the last few weeks.

The Zoombinis game is all about logic.  Your goal is to get the Zoombinis to their new home, navigating through perilous puzzles along the way.  Each Zoombini has the following attributes that can be mixed and matched: hair, eyes, feet, and noses.  The challenges are based on those attributes.

For example, the Allergy Cliffs have 2 bridges.  If you place a Zoombini on the correct bridge, the little guy will quickly cross.  If it’s the wrong bridge, the cliff sneezes him or her off.  You have to figure out the “rule” for each bridge.  Only blue noses?  Only the ones with glasses?  Carefully test your theories before too many sneezes make you lose some Zoombinis.


There are several different types of puzzles along the journey. If you aren’t good at one, that’s okay; the puzzle remains on that level until you’ve mastered it. Each puzzle is tailored to your skills, so after a few trips to the end you may end up with different puzzles on different levels of difficulty.

mapOne particular favorite is the pizza puzzle.  You must figure out exactly what toppings Arno wants on his pizza.  Children quickly learn that you need to be methodical because random guesses will end up with a Zoombini or two getting booted off the screen.

Playing Zoombinis together is a fun way for my daughter and I to bond.  It’s also a great opportunity to model problem-solving skills. One of the most frustrating qualities of the game is also one of the best qualities – very few instructions are given.  Watching a child struggle is never easy, but the way his or her face lights up when solving a Zoombinis problem makes it all worthwhile.

The Zoombinis app is $4.99.  This may seem like an enormous amount for an app, but I guarantee that it’s worth it.  It teaches so many thinking skills and sustains interest for a very long time.  If you are a teacher or a parent of multiple children, you will be happy to know that different students can save games on the same iPad so their progress won’t be lost.

This game is cute, fun, and educational.  What are you waiting for? Download it today!


Crowd Mics

Raise your hand if you teach in a portable.

Why aren’t you raising your hand?

Oh, you can’t hear me.  


Oh yes, because of the deafening roar of the air conditioner, which will sooner or later be replaced by the deafening roar of the heater.

No problem.  I can talk louder.


Various versions of the above conversation happen daily in my classroom.  I was spoiled by having a sound system in my last school and I have been looking for a low-cost alternative ever since I moved into my portable classroom 4 years ago.

I think I may have found a solution – at least for those of you who have a couple of mobile devices you would be willing to dedicate to the cause.

Crowd Mics is a free app available on iTunes and Google Play.  The concept is simple.  Download the app on two different devices.  One device will be the receiver, and you will need to plug a good speaker into the headphone jack.  The other device will be the microphone.

Open the app connected to your speaker and create an event as a presenter.  You don’t have to log in, although that is an option. Make a 3-digit password that microphone users will enter when they join your event.  Choose if you want people to use the microphone whenever they want (Open Mic) or if you want to give them permission first (Select Mic).

The microphone device needs to be using the same wi-fi network as the receiver.  Open Crowd Mics on the microphone device and choose the event you created and enter  the 3-digit password.

Press down on the indicated area of your screen and speak.

Crowd Mics

If you have the same good fortune that shined on me, the microphone voice will be amplified so everyone in the room can hear it.

The free version of Crowd Mics will work with up to 5 “microphone” devices. If you are a frequent presenter at large conferences, you might want to look at the paid version for larger crowds.

Some caveats: this won’t work through bluetooth (the speaker must be plugged into the headphone jack) and both microphone and receiver must be on the same wi-fi network.  Also, this will only sound as good as your speakers.  I tried it with one of my small, portable speakers and could barely hear a thing at top volume. When I plugged the receiver iPad into my classroom speakers, however, the magic happened.

This solution is only low-cost if you have the equipment already.  My plan is to have an iPad/microphone at each table so it doesn’t have to be passed around, and other apps can still be used during class. Since construction is about to start right outside my window, I hope this plan works!

Digital Curation Step #4 – Learn a New Code

Okay.  So let’s recap here.  This week we are talking about how to overcome your digital hoarding addiction.  Here’s what has happened so far:

  • Step #1 – Admit You Have a Problem
  • Step #2 – Restore Sanity
  • Step #3 – Examine Your Past Errors (such as thinking one tool would solve all of your problems or thinking another tool won’t help you at all.) My problem was that I couldn’t “Pocket” screen shots b/c they need to have a link.

For Step #4 you are going to learn a new code.  Don’t worry; it’s easy…


IF This, Then That

IFTTT is THE essential tool.  It’s the  Leatherman of the digital world. In brief, it will let you connect practically anything to anything.

I’m not going to spend this whole post shouting out the virtues of IFTTT.  Just go ahead and sign up for a free account and then:

*Note: These steps might be easier to do on a computer than a mobile device.  No worries, though.  You only have to do them once.

  1. Go to “Channels” and search for either iOS Photos or Android Photos.
  2. Click on the appropriate one.  You will need to give information to connect your Photos to IFTTT.
  3. Go back to “Channels” and search for Bitly, and connect that, too (If you did Step #3 yesterday, then you should have a account already.) Connect it.
  4. Go back to “Channels” and search for Pocket.  Connect that one as well.
  5. Next, click on “My Recipes” at the top.
  6. Click on “Create a Recipe.”
  7. Your first recipe will be

IFTTT Recipe #1

Of course, if you have an Android device, choose that instead of iOS. And this, my friends, is how confident I am that you will get IFTTT right away.

I’m not going to show you how to make the recipe. ;)

8.  You aren’t done.  You’ve basically just told IFTTT to make a public hyperlink for any screenshot you take on your mobile device.  Now, you need to tell IFTTT to send the link from to Pocket.


Now, you’re done.  I do need to warn you to give IFTTT a little time to rumble through these new recipes.  After about 15 minutes, try taking a screenshot.  Don’t expect it to show up on your Pocket list right away.  It will probably take another 10-15 minutes.

But when it does, you will see how super cool IFTTT is.  From now, every screenshot you take will be added to Pocket for you.

It will look something like this on your Pocket list (you probably won’t have a bulldog in your screenshot, though).

IFTTT Pocket

Now if you’ve followed instructions on these 4 posts, you should have everything streamlining into Pocket, where you can then search, tag, and curate to your heart’s content.

If you want, check out the other Channels on IFTTT.  You can send things to Evernote if you prefer – or even Google Drive.  I’m not claiming my way is the only way to gather info effectively.

It’s just the only way that has preserved my sanity ;)

Digital Curation Step #3 – Examine Past Errors

Click on these links if you missed them: Step #1 and Step #2.

As I mentioned yesterday, I got thrown a curve in my quest to conquer my digital hoarding addiction.  I thought the Pocket app would solve my problems by putting everything I wanted to save from Tweets and other online sources in one searchable list – until I noticed that I wasn’t always given the option to “Send to Pocket.”  It took me awhile to see my error.  If a Tweet didn’t have a link, I couldn’t send it to Pocket.

Now, I know there are other ways to save things.  I could, for example, take a screen shot.  But that would mean I wouldn’t have everything in one place – which is critical for me.

So, I did a bit more research and discovered a possible “workaround.”  What if I could take a screen shot, and automatically give it a link?  Then Pocket would accept it.  But that would still require me having to find the link and send it to Pocket :(


Ah ha! I found a workaround for the workaround!  Perfect!

Now, you’re going to have to have a little faith here.  For Step #3, I’m going to tell you to create a account.  Don’t worry.  Like Pocket, is also free.  Perhaps you already have a account, and you are wondering how  in the world this is going to help streamline your digital curation.

That will be revealed tomorrow in Step #4 – learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior or, for short, learning a new code ;)