Cat in the Hat Builds That is a mobile app that is based on the PBS series, “The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That.” With a target audience of younger children (Pre-K and up), this free app (available on Android, iPhone, iPad, and Kindle Fire devices) is an entertaining introduction to STEM principles, such as the engineering design process, problem-solving, inquiry, and creativity. By solving different puzzles and demonstrating skills such as perseverance, players can unlock more features in the game – opening up more opportunities to explore and create. They can decorate the tree house that serves as the home base in the app as they collect new objects during their adventures.
For those parents and educators concerned about too much screen time, Cat in the Hat Builds That also gives suggestions for STEM activities that can be done at home with parental supervision. In addition, there is a section for “Grownups” within the app that summarizes the games included, and the STEM concepts being taught within each one.
Although children could certainly play this game independently, I would recommend some parental involvement in order to maximize the learning. Recognizing and verbalizing the vocabulary and concepts will help students to develop habits of thinking that they can apply outside of the game for a long time to come.
Even though the Osmo Words game has been around for a few years, many people probably do not take advantage of its full potential. The Words app is engaging and fun, but can be even more powerful educationally by customizing it.
If adults sign up for a free account at myOsmo, they can add their own albums of pictures and words that can be downloaded to the library on the mobile device being used to play Words. For example, my first graders choose their own countries to study. As we learn about different features of the countries, I add photos to an album in myWords that they can then use to review.
You can find instructions for customizing the Words game here. Using your own albums not only allows you to make the game relevant to current learning topics in your classroom, but also to differentiate. You could use the same pictures in different albums with different vocabulary. Or, you can associate a picture with several words of varying difficulty. For example, a picture of the Taj Mahal may prompt the students to guess Taj Mahal, India, or even tomb.
The online album customization is made even easier with links to UnSplash, an awesome resource of Creative Commons photos. Or, if you don’t want to make your own album, there are many that other teachers have made and shared publicly that you can also download to your device.
I was a bit disappointed and, yes, a lot jealous, when our school wasn’t chosen to try out the Google Expeditions VR program as it traveled to different cities around the U.S. I had tried Expeditions at some technology conferences and thought our students would enjoy the unique experience.
With virtual reality, students wear “Google Cardboard” goggles, which have phones inserted in the front. Once an Expedition is begun by the teacher, the students are basically immersed in the environment as the teacher leads them through a field trip of a place like a coral reef.
The VR experience is great, but most elementary classrooms do not have the equipment to make it a reality. Since only one student can use a pair of goggles at a time, and the goggles require a phone, the logistics are a bit tricky for the standard K-5 classroom.
Google has recently begun to beta test a new version of Expeditions, which is augmented reality instead of virtual reality. No VR goggles are required, and tablets can be used. The AR version is not available to the public, yet, but our school was fortunate this time to be chosen to try this version out. (If you are interested in seeing if your school can beta test Expeditions AR, go to this sign-up form.)
On the day of the beta test, all of the teachers who had signed up at our school attended a 30 minute training with the Google representative to learn how to use the equipment. (Google provides everything for the sessions that day, including routers so they don’t have to use the school wi-fi.) During each 30 minute session, groups of 3 students use Android phones that are on sticks (see the pics below) to scan QR codes that are on papers on the ground. The teacher, who has already chosen from a list of possible Expeditions, leads the students through different images, controlling it all on his/her device. All students see the same image at the same time.
When the first image appears, there are usually squeals of delight as the students realize that they are viewing a 3 dimensional version of a bee, or a dinosaur, or a volcano. They can walk around all sides of the image, and even, for some, go inside. A few students had some difficulty understanding the spatial dimensions, but most quickly caught on. The enthusiasm of the teachers (many who had never used augmented reality) and the students mounted throughout the 30 minutes as they investigated planets, tornadoes, and some human anatomy. Throughout the day, students in K-4 had a chance to try out the technology, and all seemed engaged.
Overall, this technology seems like it has potential for wide-spread use in elementary, since it will be available on tablets (iOS and Google Play) for free. The trick will be to make sure that teachers design pedagogically sound lessons to utilize it rather than depend on the novelty to lead learning. As augmented reality become more ubiquitous, the oohs and ahs will quickly subside if there is no other substance to the lesson. As someone who has been using AR in my classroom for years, I am well aware that it is more important to include technology when it supports the lesson than to depend on the technology to be the lesson.
I don’t want to overwhelm you with all of my take-aways from TCEA 2018 so far, so I thought I would give you a few new tools I’ve learned about with brief summaries and links to the presentations. I am really cherry-picking from the plethora of resources I took notes on, so definitely click on any of the presentation links if you want to learn more.
If you didn’t see my post about Pear Deck, you can click here. This is an incredible new Add-On for Google Slides that can be used to easily get feedback from your audience in real-time. Great for staff-development and in the classroom.
Charlotte Dolat from Alamo Heights ISD (and Area 20 TCEA Director) did a fun session building on the popularity of Insta-pots with her “Instant Tech” site full of F.E.W. apps (Frequently Executed Well). The TextingStory Chat Story Maker is going to be downloaded to my classroom iPads as soon as I return to school. I also want to have my students try out Emaze for a new way to present.
I’ve used StoryCorps before, but the team from Richardson ISD gave me an idea to use with my 5th grade GT students as we read The Giver. Ask them when is war justified, and then show them this powerful video on “The Nature of War” from StoryCorps. Tie that in to a Newsela article on the Civil War, and you will have students making powerful connections.
If you are still at TCEA tomorrow (Friday), I would love for you to join me at my session at 9:15 am in Room 12B. We will be talking about making global connections, and I could use a few extra audience members to drown out the heckling I will have to listen to from my colleague, Angelique Lackey. Also, I will be using Pear Deck so you can see it in action!
Sumaze and Sumaze 2 are free mathematics apps available in the Google Play Store or for iOs. The games and the graphics are simple but elegant. Players start with a number tile, and must move the tile through a maze by flicking the screen in the appropriate direction. As users ascend levels, other tiles are added to the maze with operations and numbers on them. It becomes your goal to not only get your tile to the end of the maze, but to make sure it is equivalent to a particular answer before you try to slide it into the final exit space that will trigger the next level. Mental math and logic are essential to solving the puzzles as multiple operation tiles start sprinkling your screen and you have to choose the operations to use as well as when to use them.
This is not a game with avatars, XP’s, or any other kind of trendy gaming elements, but it is a good game that will challenge math lovers from ages 7 and up. It reminds me of two other excellent (and free) mathematics apps that I highly recommended awhile ago: MathSquared and MathScaled. Students with a passion for math enjoy apps like these – and sometimes those who don’t enjoy math finally discover its appeal.
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.