Category Archives: Apps

Spaceteam Revisited

It has been about 4 years since I first wrote about Spaceteam, and there have been a few changes since then.  The app is now available on both Google Play and iOS, and there can now be up to 8 people involved in a single game.  What hasn’t changed is that it is still fun!

When you play Spaceteam, everyone playing must be on the same wi-fi network.  Once all of the players get past the “Waiting Room” in the app, each person gets a different dashboard with gadgets that usually have gibberish labels.  In order to get to the next level, instructions must be followed.  However, the instructions on your screen are usually for other players – so you must call them out.  This means you will be shouting out ridiculous sounding directions such as, “Turn off the novacrit!” with the hope that the player who has a “novacrit” will hear you and turn it off.  Not all of the commands are gibberish, however.  It’s funny listening to someone impatiently yelling, “Darn the socks! Someone needs to darn the socks!”

Due to the unusual vocabulary, this game is best suited for 4th grade and up.  The app has a 9+ rating, but I have not seen anything inappropriate pop up on the screens.  The biggest danger seems to be that people might inadvertently pronounce something incorrectly.

Why play this app in your classroom?  Well, it’s a great brain break.  It’s also fun for team building.  In addition, it can be the introduction to a great conversation about listening.  One of the things my students learned was that, when you expect to hear one thing and someone says something else, you may miss it.  (This happens a lot in Spaceteam due to differences in perceived word pronunciations.)  They also learned that little can be accomplished when a lot of people are yelling, and that communication is definitely more difficult in high-pressure situations.

Spaceteam also has a Spaceteam ESL app designed specifically to help English language learners work on vocabulary.  Again, there is a lot of shouting involved, but it beats memorizing word lists.

For many of us, the end of the school year is drawing near.  If you are looking for novel ways to keep student interest, you may want to try Spaceteam.

Snotes

I was reading @chucktaft’s recent blog post on Social Studies Out Loud about his recent Breakout Edu experience, and almost missed a list of new-to-me digital tools near the end of the article (click here to see my blog post explaining Breakout Edu).  Taft offers a few different ways to leave clues for fun Breakout Edu experiences that I hadn’t seen, and one of them is Snotes.*

Snotes allows you to make short hidden messages.  The only way to read them is to turn them certain ways – both horizontally and vertically – which can be done physically or digitally.  There is a Snotes app (for both iOS and Android), which allows you to digitally send Snotes secret messages, and there is a Snotes Quotes app, which is a trivia game.

After trying out Snotes, you can register for a free account, which will allow you to make more Snotes. Or, you can pay $1.99 for a bunch of extra features like an “expanded secret decoder.”  Not really sure what that means, but it might be worth two bucks to find out.

It’s quite possible that I typed “snots” instead of “Snotes” somewhere in this blog post, although SpellCheck seems to have found enough “Snotes” to make that unlikely.

There are some other great clue suggestions on Chuck Taft’s site that you might want to check out.  You could use them outside the classroom, too.  My daughter hasn’t had a Christmas or Easter, yet, when she hasn’t had to solve puzzles to find at least some of her treasure…   (She’ll probably get her revenge on me when I die by encoding an evil message on my tombstone.)

*Unfortunately, the website may be blocked in your district, but you can always create Snotes at home to use for school, or use the app.

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Make a Manifesto with Canva

As our school year begins to wind down, my 5th grade gifted students are attempting to synthesize all that they have learned by determining what they “know for sure.”  While browsing the examples on Laura Moore’s TCEA Hyperdoc website (click here for my original post about her Hyperdoc presentation), I found this “Manifesto Project.”  When I showed it to my students, they were excited about designing their own manifestos. We did a lot of brainstorming and discussion before the students started working on Canva.  The examples I am showing you are just rough drafts (including mine), but I think they are off to a great start!  Knowing the personalities of these students, I am very impressed by how the students were careful to choose words and designs that really reflect their values and beliefs.

I remarked that it might be fun to make each manifesto into a t-shirt, and the students got super excited about the idea.  So, if anyone has done something like that before, please give me suggestions in the comments below!

If you are interested in more ideas for using Canva in the classroom, here is a link to their lesson suggestions.

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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”