Category Archives: Apps

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).

camelotjr
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.)

Photo Jan 23, 10 04 34 AM.jpg

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.

atomiccreators
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)

 

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