Category Archives: Apps

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Bloxels

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.

gifts

I wrote a review about Bloxels back in February after I received my Kickstarter version and let some second graders test it out.  Here is what I wrote:

“Bloxels will look familiar to those of you who have used the free Pixel Press “Floors” app on your iPads.  For that app, you can design video games using paper and the library of symbols provided, scan your design, and play it on the iPad.  The Bloxels kit (made by the same company who brought us Floors) makes this physical modeling even easier by providing a tray and colored cubes to insert to design your games.  With the free Bloxels app, you can take a picture of your finished product and play your game.

Two second grade girls who come to our Makerspace each Friday got to be the first to try out my Bloxels kit.  They absolutely loved dropping the colored blocks in and spent all of their time making their design, so they didn’t have time to actually play their game! The following Friday, they got to test out their masterpiece, and realized very quickly that they had made the game far too difficult to play.    They turned to the included booklet of suggested designs, and picked the first one.  That one, though, was way too easy, according to them.  So they “remixed” it to their complete satisfaction.  As the bell rang for school to start, they both cried out in disappointment, and informed me that they couldn’t wait to make new designs.

To get some more information for this post, I went to the Bloxels website, and was completely surprised to find a lot of support for using Bloxels in schools.  They’ve already created some curriculum integration ideas, and it seems promising that there will be more to come as the site has a link for potential contributors.  There are lesson plans based on the Design Thinking process, as well as recommended activities and a downloadable guide book.  I also love the 13-Bit Builders section that features a diverse group of young game designers.

What I love about this kit is the potential it has for students in any grade level and with a variety of interests to immediately engage. Although my upper grade levels enjoy the “Floors” game, some of them got frustrated when their drawings weren’t recognized by the app because of imprecision, but that doesn’t seem to happen with Bloxels.

The Bloxels app is free, and available on most mobile devices.  You can actually design your games in the app (without the kit), but I think the kit really enhances the experience.  One set is about $50, and there are classroom packs available as well.  Purchase orders are accepted, and you can find more information here.”

image from Bloxels home page
image from Bloxels home page

 

Hour of Code 2016

I think it was three years ago that I signed my classes up for the first time to participate in the Hour of Code.   I was determined that year that every grade level I met with during the week (gifted students, 1st-5th) would participate.  I’m one of those people who jumps into things without knowing enough to be scared – which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the occasion.  In this situation it worked out great.  We tried all kinds of programming I have never done before, and we have experimented with many more ever since. There were lots of moments of frustration, but many more moments of excitement.

I don’t have enough knowledge to claim that I am an expert on any of the programming languages.  But I am known in some circles as a “techie,” so no one believes me when I say that you can participate in Hour of Code even if you have never coded in your life.  When our entire school took the plunge a couple of years ago, there was a lot of trepidation.  After that one experience, however, few people blinked an eye about doing it the following year.  In fact, many teachers waved off any offers of help from the community or skilled students because they knew that Code.org does an excellent job providing resources for all ability levels.

One of my students once said, “Mrs. Eichholz doesn’t let us use technology.  She lets us create with it.”  And that is why I love giving students the opportunity to learn how to code.  Coding incorporates everything I believe in: collaboration, problem-solving, communication, perseverance, growth mindset, and creativity.  Not every student loves it, but every student learns from it and feels empowered with the knowledge.

If you have never participated in Hour of Code before, I am asking you to try it this year.  As I often say during presentations, your students are actually at an advantage if you don’t know a lot – because you won’t help them too much.  From classrooms equipped with 1-to-1 technology to those that have zero computers, Code.org has you covered with tutorials and resources.  And, if you have participated before, note that Code.org has been busy adding new activities so your students can build on what they have already learned.

Computer Science Education Week, December 5-11, 2016, is next week.  Hopefully, you can participate in your Hour of Code then.  If not, the resources are always available and great to use any time of the year.

Here is a link to my Programming for Kids Pinterest Board for more ideas to bring coding into your classroom.

from Hour of Code
from Hour of Code

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Osmo Coding

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.

gifts

Osmo first made the “Gifts for the Gifted” list in 2014.  Since then, the company has continued to push the envelope as it produces more interactive, educational games for children that combine physical pieces with the digital interface of an iPad.  Here is what I wrote about Osmo’s “Coding” game this summer:

It seems like just yesterday when our class was asked to beta test a new product from a company called Tangible Play.  It was a tangram game that integrated physical pieces with an app on your iPad using a special base and mirror.  Our students even got to teleconference with the developers to give feedback on their experience.

Since then, the un-named set we tested has become Osmo, and there have been many evolutions of the tangram game as well as new additions to the suite of games available.  It has been gratifying to see a company that is so interested in education to grow and continue to contribute to educational technology in such a positive way.

The latest Osmo set is, “Coding.”  My students have been trying it out this summer during our robot camp, and I have been watching their play with interest.  The set includes magnetics blocks that look similar to the coding blocks you might see in Scratch or Blockly.  You can move them around and snap them together.  My students particularly like the “play” block with an arrow button to press whenever they are ready to start the program.

On the iPad screen, players have a friendly looking creature named Awbie, who they can direct to move toward different objects in the app while using the physical blocks on the table.

One thing I love about all of the Osmo apps is that they include practically no instructions.  There are some on-screen gestures showing where to move blocks at the beginning, but that’s about it.  The students figure out on their own where Awbie needs to go, and quickly deduce which blocks to use as the game slowly becomes more challenging.

Students from 6-11 have enjoyed the Coding game from Osmo and there is often a crowd gathered around it as the students encourage players to try certain blocks.  It has been a great warm-up activity as kids arrive for our camp each day.

Like all Tangible Play apps for Osmo, Coding is free.  However, you do need to purchase the physical pieces and the set that includes the base and mirror piece if you don’t already have it.  Coding is another great resource to introduce programming to young students.

Osmo Coding
Osmo Coding

GoNoodle Has an App!

My students, particularly those in the K-3 grade levels, have really enjoyed using GoNoodle for brain breaks in our classroom.  The kids enjoy the music, the great variety of videos, and the movement.

Now students can log in to their own iOS devices at home to jump, dance, and sing with their favorite GoNoodle tunes. The iOS app is free, but students will need a parent to sign up and log them in the first time.  Make sure the child has a good place to set up his or her device for viewing while participating (an Apple TV is great for this!) so he or she can have hands-free fun!

GoNoodle is a great way to get the family moving before or after a heavy holiday meal, or after a long car trip to grandma’s house🙂

Download the free GoNoodle app now!
Download the free GoNoodle app for iOS now!

CoSpaces

Joe Tedesco, the man behind SA Makerspaces for Education, posted about CoSpaces a couple of weeks ago.  CoSpaces is available on the web, and as a free iOS or Android app.  My students and are still investigating its features, so I may be incorrect about what we’ve discovered so far.

CoSpaces Example

Using CoSpaces on a computer (desktop or laptop), you can register for a free account and then create projects.  To experiment, I created one account that my students could also use (if you do this, make sure each student knows how to start a new project or collaborate with someone else on one).  There are tools on the web browser version to “build” 3-dimensional scenes, somewhat Minecraft-ish. For those of us who are spatially challenged, it’s good practice for using other 3-d modeling programs like Tinkercad.  You can also add your own images as well as audio files.

The scenes can be viewed on mobile devices as 3d by walking around with or moving the device to explore the scenery.  If you have a VR headset, you can also experience the scenes this way.  The video on this page is the best way to understand how it works.  At this time, you can only create CoSpaces projects using a web browser and experience they are best experienced through mobile devices.

An intriguing detail about CoSpaces is that it already has a link for educators in its menu – and describes the many ways it can be used in school (such as storytelling or exhibiting research projects).  According to the site, there are plans to offer classroom type accounts to teachers.

CoSpaces shows a great deal of potential for use by students to create – which is one of the main purposes for technology in my point of view.  I have a feeling there are going to be some exciting advances made by this company as it evolves, so you should definitely check it out.

https://cospac.es/Alkj

Carve a Pumpkin with Hopscotch

The Hopscotch app (iOS only) has long been a favorite for my student coders.  They have lots of tutorials, and the students who participate in a couple of those often ask if they can code their own projects after learning the basics.  If you have some iPads in your classroom, you may want to let some or all of your class try the “Carve a Pumpkin with Hopscotch” tutorial.

Carve a Pumpkin with the Hopscotch app
Carve a Pumpkin with the Hopscotch app

It’s best if you can allow pairs of students work at their own pace, rather than try to keep the whole class on the same steps at the same time.  Keep in mind that the app has been updated a couple of times since this tutorial was made, so some of the tools may be slightly different.

Halloween Treats That Won’t Give You Cavities

As if American politics aren’t scary enough, the United States celebrates Halloween next Monday, which is all kind of wrong – because spending a day with students who can’t wait to trick-or-treat plus 4 more days after they fill up on sugary candy should not be required of any teacher if you are at all interested in helping him or her maintain a semblance of sanity.

The president I would vote for would resolve to make Halloween on a Saturday for the rest of eternity, but so far I haven’t seen that mentioned in anyone’s campaign.

For those of you who are in the same boat (or should I say, riding the same broom?), here are some resources I’ve collected in the past that might help to briefly engage your students in something other than daydreaming about all of the candy they will need to confess to eating at their next dental appointment:

Check back tomorrow for another virtual pumpkin carving idea!

Click her to get to the free QuiverVision Augmented Reality Pumpkin download
Click here to get to the free QuiverVision Augmented Reality Pumpkin download