Category Archives: Apps

Prodigy

This year I seem to have a group of students in each of my grade levels who are passionate about math.  Every time I pull out a math activity, they devour it with glee.  It has been a challenge for me to give these students assignments which maintain their excitement for “hard” math without discouraging them with work that is too difficult.  Their classroom teachers are facing the same dilemma.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to see what my 4th and 5th grade gifted students thought about Prodigy.  Prodigy is an online math game that is free.  (It is also available as an app.)  Teachers can add classrooms of students, and can manage the math topics students practice, as well as the levels at which each student plays.  I immediately assigned all of my students to topics above their current grade levels.  After introducing it in class, I gave them their individual passcodes, letters for their parents, and the caution that playing Prodigy was completely optional.  I also notified their homeroom teachers, and made it clear to the students and the teachers that it was completely up to the teachers to decide if the students could play the game in class.

My students say that the graphics are apparently reminiscent of that popular game, Pokemon.  The students create avatars and can battle each other by doing math problems. They can also earn different abilities as they progress through the game.

There is a paid option for Prodigy, where parents can buy memberships.  This allows the students to access a few more features than the free version.  I have one student who asked his parent for permission to get the membership so far; everyone else seems satisfied with the free game.

I like that I can see individual student reports with Prodigy and that I can differentiate for each child in my class.  I am also pleasantly surprised to see how excited the students are about playing the game.  In addition, the privacy aspect seems fairly good, as the avatars do not give away any student information.

Prodigy does not teach.  It is not a substitute for engaging classroom lessons that include higher order thinking skills.  I enjoy using it as a formative assessment as it gives me reports on the strengths and weaknesses of each of my students in the skills they are assigned, but I would be appalled by any teacher who used Prodigy as their only method of assessment or differentiation.

As long as my students continue to be excited about math, I will view Prodigy as one of the many tools at our disposal that supports their learning.  But I will also continue to provide them with real-life opportunities to use math in relevant ways.

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Spatial Reasoning

Some of the tests that students can take in their quest to qualify for gifted services require spatial reasoning.  I am frequently astounded by the performance of some students on these tests as they whip through the pages at lightning speed, ending up with nearly perfect scores.  Spatial reasoning has never been my strong suit, and even the questions on tests for 6 year olds can make me go cross-eyed.

When you think about it, however, we don’t usually practice a lot of spatial reasoning during a typical school day. After all, aside from geometry and map skills, it’s not generally a part of state standardized tests.  According to this article from MindShift, though, we should consider integrating more spatial reasoning into our curriculum.

What kinds of activities can we do to build spatial reasoning skills in school?  Here are some suggestions in an article directed to parents from Parenting Science.

Programming and 3d design also require spatial reasoning.  Creative building projects like you can find on PBS or on DIY.org are also great ways to practice this type of thinking.

Here are some of the blog posts that I’ve done in the past, recommending games and apps to develop spatial reasoning.

I tried some of these Zukei puzzles, and learned that I really need to work on this skill myself.  If you think those are easy, then try the angle puzzles here.

Considering I have to use the Waze app to find my way out of a parking lot, I think I probably should spend a few hours a week sharpening my brain on these types of challenges (or just resort to online shopping for the rest of my life).

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Camelot Jr. – one of my favorite games for pre-schoolers to practice spatial reasoning – can be found along with many others on my Games & Toys Pinterest Board

The Extraordinaires

At the end of last year, right before Christmas, I saw a tweet about The Extraordinaires.  After visiting the site, I was intrigued by the product and ended up buying one of the smaller sets to try out with my students.  Since my 2nd grade gifted students are studying structures, I chose the “Buildings” set.

All of the products in The Extraordinaires line revolve around Design Thinking.  Each set includes Character cards, Design projects, and Think cards.  The sets also include a drawing pad, and at least one pen.  The Buildings Set includes 6 each of the Character and Design cards and 10 Think cards.  Larger, more expensive sets, contain more cards.

Each of The Extraordinaires Studio projects allows you to choose a character and a design project.  For example, one of my students got the “giant” character and “sports venue,” so his assignment was to dream up a place for his character to play a sport.  You can, of course, mix and match the cards, which makes for interesting combinations.  The think cards can be used to help refine the project and add details.

Fortunately, I only have 5 students in this particular class, so the set I bought is the perfect size.  (Some of the larger sets have higher age recommendations.  The company assured me in a tweet that the 16+ noted on the box “only refers to the guidebook and the depth of content,” so this leads me to believe that the cards would still be fine to use with lower ages.)

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My students were extremely motivated by the Character and Project cards.  The graphics on these definitely generated enthusiasm.  Before passing out the cards, we had talked about empathy.  I emphasized the importance of designing for their “clients” instead of themselves.  For about 20 minutes, there was complete silence in the room as the students got to work.

I had already told the students that this was just the beginning, that they would go through many drafts before settling on final designs.  It’s good I prepared them, because I realized that I hadn’t done a very good job of teaching them about empathy.  As they shared their first drafts, it became clear that they drew buildings that were familiar and just added a few details (like kelp, for the mermaid’s house) to align the structures with the characters.

Fortunately, the website for The Extraordinaires includes some resources for teachers.  We will be using the “Graphic Organizer for Getting to Know an Extraordinaire.”  After all, it’s difficult to have empathy for someone you don’t know.  This is actually all practice for our final semester project, for which they actually will be designing something for someone at our school. (More about that in a future post.)

If you like the idea of teaching Design Thinking to your students, and would like some other resources, Jackie Gerstein has a wonderful collection of design challenges here. For a great free Design Thinking curriculum, City X is another alternative.  To see why you should even consider incorporating Design Thinking into your curriculum, this video from The Extraordinaires allows students to explain. (Be sure to watch all the way to the end if you really want your heartstrings tugged 😉

Play with Design
from “Play with Design”

Play With Design from The Creativity Hub on Vimeo.

Atomic

The Kuriositas blog recently featured, “Atomic,” a short video created by students at Columbus College of Art and Design.  The students were tasked with creating animations of some of the elements on the periodic table, and this video is a compilation of some of the best.  Learning about the elements and their symbols would have been vastly more entertaining when I was in high school if I had been given a similar assignment!  In fact, there are a few elements in the video that I would swear I never heard of (dysprosium?), but now I will never forget them.

Head on over to Kuriositas to view “Atomic” for yourself.  Also, if you want more fun with the elements, augment your reality with this activity from Daqri.

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the creators of “Atomic”

Google Expeditions

Like many people, the first time I experienced the Virtual Reality of Google Expeditions, I thought it was pretty cool.  Like many teachers, however, I wondered about the practicality of using it in my classroom.  Getting VR viewers, like Google Cardboard, doesn’t seem to be a big deal.  But getting devices that fit in them (in other words, smartphones) and also that work with our district network turns out to be a bit more of a challenge.  This is especially so for elementary school, where smartphones are not quite as ubiquitous has in many secondary schools.

I was so focused on solving the problem of getting devices that I didn’t realize that we could still use Expeditions in our class without the VR feature.  We have plenty of iPads in our class, and you can actually get some decent 360 degree footage without being immersed in the scene.  It’s not quite as awe-inspiring, but certainly more engaging than still photos in a textbook.

This Smore from Karly Moura has several great links for beginners in case you are planning to embark on a journey of your own.  My favorite link leads to a list of available Expeditions that has incredible details on each tour.  After searching the internet up and down for something like this, I am thankful to Jennifer Holland and Lauren Carroll for creating and updating the document, as well as Karly for sharing the link!

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image from Pixabay

 

That Can Be My Next Tweet!

So, traditionally, Fridays are what I call Phun Phridays – when I blog about something that pretty much has no educational value.  But I’m tired of called them Phun Phridays.  So I used an online Scrabble dictionary to help me find something more realistically alliterative.  The new name is – drum roll, please!!!! – Frivolous Fridays!

For today’s Frivolous Friday Find, I am grateful to The Bloggess, whose site never fails to make me laugh but is definitely NSFW – particularly if the workplace happens to be a public elementary school.

Anyway, The Bloggess shared, “That Can Be My Next Tweet!” which gathers information from your Twitter feed to generate random tweets that could be complete nonsense or surprise you with startling depth.  The best ones are those that do both.  I included a few of the suggestions it compiled from my feed below:

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If you really have nothing better to do, you can also put in other people’s Twitter names. Like famous people.  You know.  Famous people who Tweet a lot.  Here’s a scientific study you could try: If someone always tweets nonsense, does the random tweet generator from their Twitter feed actually make sense?  I’ll let you figure that out…

outthink hidden

Hidden Figures, a movie recently released about the three African-American women who were instrumental in the John Glen’s historic orbit around the earth, is based on a the book of the same name by Margot Shetterly. By showcasing the contributions made by these women, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan – virtually unknown names until now – the book and movie remind us that many people who have significantly influenced our history are omitted from the history books because of racism, sexism, and ignorance.

In an attempt to correct this, IBM has created a website devoted to the movie – as well as to revealing other “hidden figures” in the field of S.T.E.M.  The company’s interest is partially due to the fact that it was one of IBM’s early mainframes that aided the women with their calculations.

On the IBM website for Hidden Figures, there is information about the movie and some video clips.  In addition, IBM partnered with the New York Times’ T Brand Studio to create a free interactive augmented reality app that can be downloaded in iTunes or Google Play. According to the site, there are markers at 150 different locations in the United States that you can scan with the app to learn more about amazing S.T.E.M. pioneers who never got due honors for their work.  You can also find markers in the New York Times.  Don’t despair if you don’t subscribe and don’t happen to live near one of 150 sites selected. After downloading the app (“outthink hidden”), visit the IBM site here, and you can scan the marker online.

Within the app you can search for nearby markers, scan, take pictures of the 3d images, and listen to audio about each included figure.  If you are using the online marker, click on the icon in the top right corner to change the figure who appears when you scan it.

If you are interested in more S.T.E.M. inspiration, one of my Gifts for the Gifted recommendations last month was this incredible book by Rachel Ignotofsky.  I also have a S.T.E.M. Pinterest Board.  In addition, if you are looking for more augmented reality activities, here is my collection of educational apps and lessons.

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Bessie Blount Griffin, Inventor & Physical Therapist (scanned with T Brand AR app)