Category Archives: Apps

Do I Have a Right?

With Constitution Day approaching in the United States on September 17th, I thought I would share “Do I Have a Right?” from iCivics.  It is free, and you can play it on your web browser or using the iPad app.  The game helps you to learn the rights you are given by the constitution as you assign cases to lawyers based on their specialties.  There is now a Powerpoint extension pack that teachers can use to reinforce what the students learn after they play the game.  The game is really engaging (my daughter and I love to play it together), and only one of many fabulous resources brought to you by iCivics.  If you haven’t used iCivics before, here is a little more information from a previous post.

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image from Pixabay.com
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Leela Kids

The “Wow in the World” podcast from NPR is just one of the many kid-friendly podcasts that can be curated by the Leela Kids app, which is available on iOS or Android. Download the app to your mobile device (search for it under “iPhone Only” in the iTunes store – even though it works fine on iPads), and open it up to see a simple menu that allows you to choose an age bracket (3-5, 5-8, 8-12, 12-15*) and a category (Stories, Music, Animals, Ocean, Space, and Curious).  Once you’ve made your selections, you can then see either a list of specific episodes or the list of shows that provide those episodes.  The duration of each podcast episode is listed under the title.  Some are a minute long, while others can be almost a half hour.

How could you use this?  Well, as a parent and/or a teacher you may know how difficult it is to search for appropriate podcasts.  Now you have a treasury your children can listen to during long car trips or in classroom centers with a set of headphones.  The great thing about this is that podcasts have frequent updates so there is a slight chance that you will never run out of episodes!

If you are using this in the classroom, you can gather student reflections using a response sheet like this one from Chase March.  Students searching for topics for Genius Hour projects may find something that they may want to research further. Another idea is to use the app to find relevant podcast links for class, and embed those links in a Hyperdoc.

As you can see, there are many ways to use podcasts in class, and the Leela Kids app just made it even easier.

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Leela Kids App

*If you teach secondary students, here is an article on “Likewise,” a more robust collection of podcasts that can be used in the classroom.

Merge Cube

The Merge Cube is the latest product to market augmented reality experiences for kids. It is being sold at Walmart for $14.97 – although it looks like it is already out of stock. Beore purchasing it, you should know that you will need a smartphone or tablet to download the apps for the cube.  Merge Goggles can also be used, but are not required as long as you have an app-enabled device.  If you have Google Cardboard, you can use it with the Merge Cube.  However, the Merge Goggles have a special cut-out specifically designed for use with the cube that helps to make the experience more immersive.

I have not used this product yet, so I can’t give you a full review (you can see one here by “Dad Does”).  It looks like it has educational as well as entertainment applications.  According to the website, there is a “Mr. Body” experience and “Galactic Explorer”.  The Merge Cube is being marketed as “the hologram you can hold in your hand.”  It reminds me of Daqri’s Elements 4D Cubes, but it is actually one cube designed for multiple apps – and developers are being invited to submit more.

Merge has several products out there, including its Merge Goggles.  You can visit the Merge Miniverse site to see games and YouTube 360 videos that are compatible.

I like the idea of the flexibility (since VR glasses require phones and all I have are tablets in my classroom), and will be curious to see what other educational uses come out of this relatively affordable product.  Like many ed-tech options, the novelty may attract your students, but it is up to educators to determine if it is a tool that will deepen learning.

For other Augmented Reality Resources for Education, check out this page.

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Wonder Workshop

It has been amazing to watch Wonder Workshop evolve since the days of Bo and Yana  (the original names of the Dash and Dot robots) 4 years ago.  The robots are incredibly engaging for elementary students, and the company has been extremely supportive of educators.  Dash and Dot appeal to students because it is easy to apply personalities to them.  Programming the robots becomes an exercise in imagination as well as logic.  The ability to augment the robots with bricks, such as Legos, increases the potential for storytelling and problem-solving.  In addition to all of this, there is flexibility in programming (in addition to the free Wonder Workshop apps, 3rd party apps like Tickle and Apple’s Swift Playground can be used), which means students from beginners to advanced can code these robots on pretty much any mobile device.

Wonder Workshop is constantly expanding its offerings.  I was excited to visit their booth at ISTE to see some of their new products.

The first thing I got to check out was their idea for using Dash to develop spatial reasoning. Using foam core cut-outs, a course had been laid out for Dash to navigate with a pattern of bricks attached to its head.  With careful programming, students can send Dash under each piece of foam core successfully by making sure its head is turned correctly at the right time.  Wonder Workshop hopes to provide the instructions for creating this course on its website soon.

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Some of the most exciting products that has just been added to the store are the challenge cards and curriculum subscription.  The curriculum offers 22 NGSS & Common Core aligned lessons for classroom integration.  The challenge cards are colorful, leveled activities that match Code.org’s Computer Science Fundamentals.  I personally think the best deal is the Getting Started Curriculum Pack for $99. (By the way, I do not work for Wonder Workshop, but have received some free products for review in the past.)

Wonder Workshop will be sponsoring another Wonder League Robotics Competition this year, but the structure will be different than previous years.  You can learn more here.

I’ve been told that Wonder Workshop has more surprises coming up in the fall, so you will definitely want to keep up with their announcements on Facebook or on Twitter (@WonderWorkshop).

Not a “Math Person”? Wrong!

When it comes to math and mindset, there are two #eduheroes I refer to on a regular basis:  Dr. Jo Boaler, who is a professor at Stanford and the genius behind the YouCubed website, and Alice Keeler, who many know to be a Google wizard but also has a published book called, Teaching Math with Google Apps: 50 G Suite Activities.  You can imagine my excitement, then, when I learned that they would be presenting a session together at ISTE. (Dr. Boaler joined us through Google Hangouts).

Dr. Boaler wrote the book, Mathematical Mindsets.  Not surprisingly, it includes a foreword by Carol Dweck, the leading expert on growth and fixed mindsets.  Dr. Boaler’s main points are that we need to value the different ways that people see math and have more class discussions about math – rather than repetitive questions on worksheets. According to her research, people become proficient in mathematics when their brains have the opportunity to make connections between visual and numerical representations – not because they are born “math people.”  The least effective way to teach math is through lecture, while the most effective is with Project and Problem Based Learning.

Both Boaler and Keeler agree that we need to dispel the myth that those who can do math quickly are better thinkers than those who reason through problems.  In fact, Boaler says, “I’m unimpressed that you worked through it quickly because that tells me that you are not thinking deeply.”

Another controversial topic we all agree on – homework.  Recent studies have shown that assigning elementary students homework is ineffective.  Boaler and Keeler (and I agree) both believe that this is true for all ages, particularly when the homework is a worksheet of repetitive practice.  A better way to think about math is to do an activity like the one below, where students think about one problem in multiple ways.

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When an audience member asked about the problem of spending time on conversing about math when there is a scope and sequence to follow, both Keeler and Boaler expressed the feeling that it is actually a waste of time to “plow through” topics despite lack of understanding.  In Boaler’s words, “Pacing guides are the worst evil in education.” Amen!

Keeler shared several “Googlized” adaptations of activities from Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math, including a nice Slides template for the Four 4’s challenge which includes links to individual slides for students to explain their work.  You can find links to more of Keeler’s templates in her presentation here.

Overall, I was so energized by this session that I was tripping over my words when I debriefed with my colleagues that evening.  I had stayed later just to attend this session, and it was definitely worth my time.  Thank you, Alice Keeler and Jo Boaler!

I want to close this post by helping Alice Keeler to honor her book’s co-author, Diana Herrington, a passionate math teacher who recently passed.  You can read more about Diana and her influence on Alice Keeler here.   One of many great quotes from Diana Herrington on Twitter collected by Alice Keeler is, ““I teach students not math.”

How About Them Apples?

Monday at ISTE began with me frantically trying to find my first session in the San Antonio Convention Center (not an easy place to navigate – especially for those of us who are spatially challenged), only to discover that I needed a ticket to enter.  Fortunately, it was the one Apple morning session that wasn’t full, so I boomeranged between the usher at the entrance and the ticket stand with admirable speed and found myself one of the last people to be welcomed into a hands-on session centered on Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app.

You may recall that I wrote about the iOS Swift  playgrounds app when it first entered the scene, and I wasn’t all that impressed.  It has had four or five updates since then, and there are definitely some areas of great improvement.

I still stand by my original assertion that students need to be pretty adept readers to take advantage of the app, and I wouldn’t use it with students with lower than a 4th grade reading level.  However, the new “Accessories” tab that allows it to be used to control multiple hardware devices may be a game-changer.  For example, my students could now control Lego EV3, Dash Robots, and Sphero, among other robots, using Swift Playgrounds.  The advantage of this over other apps, such as Tickle, is that students will be switching from introductory block programming to more widely used line/text programming.  There are plenty of tutorials within the app to ease this transition.

Another feature that I like about Swift Playgrounds is that it offers a recording function, so students can work on a tutorial and submit recordings of their solutions to the teacher as a reflection. You can also take pictures of your screen within the app, and export the code to PDF. There are hints within the tutorials, but later levels require that you put a little effort into solving the coding puzzles before you can receive any help.  The app is definitely worth looking into if you are an educator working with students who already have some programming experience and are looking for the next step.  Curriculum resources are available here.

My second session also happened to be sponsored by Apple (no ticket required for this one).  In this session, we learned about Apple Clips, which is a video editing app that may eventually replace iMovie.  This app is optimized for mobile use, as well as social media, and it is clear there was a lot of thought put into its development.   Just like iMovie, Clips allows you to take video, edit it, and add music.  But Clips has taken a lot of the manual labor out of video creation.  Music is automatically edited with intros and outros to fit your clips.  Cropping and “Ken Burns-ing” easily become seamless portions of your video, and you can add layers, effects, and titles with taps of the finger.  One of my favorite features is the “live titles.”  This basically allows you to create a closed-captions for your video – adding text to the video as you record in real time.  The text is aligned to the actual timing of your speech, so if you pause, so does the text.  You can also easily edit the text if your words aren’t interpreted the way you intended.

Clips looks great.  Designed for this generation of “on-the-fly” videographers, it could be the ideal tool.  However, I have heard from a few people and read in some reviews that it can be glitchy.  I have not experienced any issues myself, but I was disappointed when my somewhat older classroom iPad was deemed too ancient to be “compatible with this app.”  Like many new products, Clips may need to age a bit (but maybe not as much as my unfortunate iPad) before it takes off, but I’m ready to give it a try.

For some examples of ways that Clips has been used in schools, check out #classroomclips on Twitter.

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Wow in the World

“Wow in the World” is a new podcast from NPR that brings interesting science and technology topics to families.  Hosted by Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas, this weekly show is between 20-25 minutes long, making it the perfect listening entertainment for carpools, short road trips, and family hangouts in the kitchen.  Designed to appeal to adults and kids, the topics so far range from space vacations to hermit crab wrestling.  With its quick pace, fascinating subjects, and (somewhat goofy) jokes, “Wow in the World” is a fun way to integrate STEM into the busy lives of families. You can listen and subscribe here.

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Click here to listen or subscribe to Wow in the World from NPR