Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ipod/Ipad App Revew-Math Tappers: Clockmaster

Educators and parents understand that in order to excel at math children need a strong bases of number sense and basic math concepts. In the past most students were chained to traditional drill and practice worksheets or flashcards. While both can be valuable tools for helping children strengthen their math skills, I think that their overuse can help contribute to a dislike for math. Having an iPod or iPad in the classroom can add another option for helping students practice much need math skills. When looking for apps to write about in this blog there are a couple of things I look for. Besides being interesting and engaging, I'm looking for apps that provide for differentiated learning. In other words, can the app be adjusted to fit the individual needs of a variety of students?

In this post I'd like to share the MathTappers: Clockmaster. This app is great for helping children learn how to read an analog clock. Many people wonder why we even need to teach how to read this type of clock but if you look around you will see that there are still a lot of analog clocks around and I think there will be for quite some time. All of the clocks in most schools and businesses are analog clocks. I can't tell you how many times I've said something like, "We'll take a break at a quarter to two" just to have students stare at me blankly or to have the one brave child raise their hand and ask, "What times is that?". The screen shots seen below were taken on my iPhone but I'm assuming that they would look the same on  the iPod Touch and iPad.

One of the things I really like about his apps is that there are quite a few settings options to tailor the practice to students at different levels. This app has both a practice mode and a game mode to help players to become fluent in both reading and setting time on digital and analog clocks. The top area of the app shows a clock face and the bottom shows a time in either numerals or words, depending on how you have it set. The student can practice by either setting the clock to the time indicated or, adjust the words or numerals to match the time shown on the clock face.

There are a variety of ways this math app can be adjusted to fit the needs of a particular student.
-There are three levels of difficulty, easy, medium, and hard. The easy level focuses mainly on reading at 15 minute intervals and hard provides practice at reading and setting the clock to the minute.
-There is a normal clock, the "Top Clock", that shows the hours and minutes on the clock face and a "Broken" clock that is missing the minute hand but shows the minutes around the outside of the clock face. This teaches students that the how the hour hand on a clock moves throughout an hour.
-The Bottom Clock can be set to show either numerals or words. The numerals The words teaching students an understanding of terms like "half past" and "a quarter after".

Another very nice feature of this app is that, since it was created by math educators,  it has an area dedicated to giving ideas for use to teachers and parents. The descriptions in this area are, I think, quite extensive. For the parents there is a rather complete explanation of a child's development of time telling skills and ways as well as some very specific directions on how to have their child progress through the levels of the app. For teachers, there are suggestions of how to have students use the app independently as well as in pairs or small groups.

If you look at the bottom of the image on the left you will see the menu that you can set up the app for students individually. This is done under "Players". The one thing I didn't like about this app is that once you create the setting for one student, those are the setting for any student using the app. You would need to change the setting each time a new student used the app. Older students could easily create their own settings but primary students would probably need some assistance.

On the bottom right corner of the screen you see a menu icon title "Progress". This provides a report that tells you what the student's settings were, how long it took them to get through the activity, and what their score was. By clicking on the "Report" button you can also send this data via email. There is also an option to send it to a second email address so you could send one to the parent at the same time.

Over all, I really like this app. As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm trying to find apps that could be used by a number of students at various stages of learning. I think this app does. I especially like the reporting feature allowing the teacher and parent to keep up with how the student is progressing. The creators of this app have others: Estimate Fractions, Find Sums, Multiples, and Equivalents.  I haven't looked at these apps yet, I guess that will have to come in a future post. This app and the others are all FREE and ad free. Two other great reasons to like them.

Get this app

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blogging With Students

Well, this is the first of what will hopefully be many useful blog posts for educators. First, let me tell you a little about myself. I've been an educator for the past 28 years. For the majority of that time I taught Life and Physical Science to Grades 7 and 8. Five years ago I made a transition to teaching Grade 5. As a Grade 5 classroom teacher has provided me with opportunities to expand my curriculum and instruction development in Reading/Language Arts, Math, and Health.

  I've been fortunate to work in the school district that has seen technology as a priority and has encouraged its staff to explore opportunities to use technology in the classroom. Those who know me know that I love technology and am always looking for great tools and resources that I can use with my class. One of the challenges I've had after transferring to an elementary classroom is the difficulty in finding Web 2.0 tools that my students can use. So many Web 2.0 tools require registration or email addresses and, due to COPPA, this often leaves my younger students on the outside.  So, as I explore tools I can use with younger students I thought I would share what I find. I'm especially interest in finding tools that are free.

That brings me to my first recommendation. Last year I had my students write blogs using What I like about Kidblog is that the teacher sets up accounts for students and provides them with a username and password. The teacher can choose among three levels of privacy for students accounts; private only visible to classmates, semi-private visible to anyone with a login to Kidblog, or open for anyone to see. The teacher also has the option of requiring that students' posts and comment be moderated or approved before they can be posted. Another nice feature is the teacher's option of posting a private comment on a student's blog. This allows the teacher to give the student private feedback on their writing. It may seem to many that moderating blogs would be very time consuming. There is some invested time in setting up the students' accounts and in reading and approving blogs and comments each week. Personally, I found that doing this online was much less time consuming than if I had collected a hand written sample from students each week to assess.

Along with their written posts students can attach media, pictures, and links to their posts. The blogging tools are extremely easy for students to use and my 5th graders needed very little instruction to use them. If students can get online and have some word processing skills they can use Kidblog.

Each week I scheduled about 30 minutes for students to type their blogs. This seemed plenty of time for most if they came prepared with a draft for their writing. Students wrote blogs on topics of their choice or a topic of my choosing based on what we were learning about in some content area. Occasionally they write book reviews to share what they were reading independently. Student blogs gave me an authentic way to assess my students' writing skills. I also thought that it was important that I also blog along with my students as a way to model good writing skills. In addition to assessing language skills, blogging provided opportunities to teach about digital citizenship and technology skills. Most students were motivated about writing their blogs but all seemed excited to comment on their classmates' blogs and receive feedback on their own writing.

You can read more about blogging with students on my website, The Teacher's Cabinet. Here is a link to my web page on Blogging With Students. On my site you can also print out a parent permission slip and rubric that can be used for blogging with your students. I found that blogging was a effective way to motivate students who were reluctant writers. Students love getting feedback on their work and blogging allowed them to receive this not just from the teacher but also from their classmates. Give a try and I think you'll find it a valuable and motivating tool that even young students can use.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ipod/Ipad App Review-Sight Words App

  As educators we understand that the students in our classrooms are just as diverse as the backgrounds and homes from which they come. In education we understand more now than ever that we must differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of the varied learning styles of our students. I believe that in order for real learning to take place three things need to happen:
  1. Students must be able to connect new content to something they have already learned or know.
  2. Students must be able to connect what they are learning to the real world and their own lives.
  3. Students must be invested and engaged in the learning process.
  Integrating technology into instruction can help accomplish these and provide for the differentiation needed to meet the variety of learning styles of students in our classroom. For this reason iPods and iPads have become a teaching and learning tools in many classroom.
  My school district has decided to invest in some devices for teachers to use in the classroom so one weekend I took one home to try out some apps. It was a little overwhelming when I saw the number of apps available under the category of Education making it difficult to know where to start. Each app has a description and is rated but it's really difficult to know if it will be useful unless you actually try it out. So, I have decided to spend some time really looking closely at some education apps and give you my opinion as an educator (for what that's worth :-). My plan is to highlight at least one app a week, hopefully more.

Sight Words app
  Today I want to share with you Sight Words (a Learn To Read App) by Alligator  This app is a set of sight word flashcards, between 40-52 words in each set. There are seven ready made sets of cards for grades K-3. One of the nice features of this app is that there are a variety of settings you can change to tailor it more toward the student's needs. You can change the font size, style, and color. Two choices are give for using the the sight word cards, "Learn" or "Game". Let me give you some information on both.
Learn Mode
   In "Learn" an audio of the word is played as the child sees the word. There are a variety of settings for the speed at which the cards advance or you can set the to manually advance. On the screen there is a "Favorites" button that the child can click to select particular words they may want to review more. The teacher could select the favorites for the child to create a tailored list. Unfortunately, there can be only one Favorites list.
  One of the features I really liked was ability to create custom word lists. In the settings menu you select "Customize Flashcards". This gives you the opportunity to add or delete words in the ready made lists or you can create your own lists. To do this you type in the word and add your own voice recording of the word. There doesn't seem to be a limit as to how many new lists or words you can create. Here are some ways you could use this:
  • The teacher creates a list for word study groups
  • Students create their own list.
  • The teacher or student creates a new word list. Another student creates the audio for each word.
Game Mode
In "Game" between 2 and 6 words are shown (depending on your settings)  and  the child must click on the correct word. The child goes through about 20 sets of cards before stopping unless you change the settings to loop  the card set(s).  You can loop through a single category or through all categories. There is a gentle "try again" message if the wrong word is selected. There is no timing or score on the game. One thing I learned while using the app is that you will want to choose the smallest size under "Settings" if you have any words over 6 letter,s otherwise the entire word doesn't show during the Game mode.
  Ways to use this app:
  • Students practice sight word recognition independently.
  • To test word fluency the student could be timed as he/she goes through the cards. (It would be important to make sure that the app was not set for looping.)
Overall, I would rate this app as a good find and useful for a Literacy Center activity. It could be used independently or in groups. Customizing the word lists would be a little time consuming but I think it may be worth the effort since, once made, the sets could be used over many times. The card sets created are labeled for grades K-3 but this app could be used with any grade since new lists can be created. I think this would also make a great RtI tool.  Another advantage would be that since many word sets could be created the app could be shared between several classrooms. The first grade teacher could have their word lists on the same iPod/iPad as the second grade teacher. Finally, the best part, this app is free.