Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tan Zen Lite vs. My First Tangrams

My 6 year old really enjoys tangrams and has loved playing with "TanZen Lite". We have both found it much better than "My First Tangrams" which are not actual tangrams, they are just block shape pictures. While he has enjoyed playing with both, TanZen pieces are actual tangrams. They do not "snap" into place, but this is a feature that we both like since it makes it more like playing with physical tangram pieces. When completed, the puzzles pieces can have some space in between them, which is more like using the real thing. You don't know if your placement of the pieces is correct until you have completed the whole puzzle. It is a great app, and I can see it being used in a classroom.

"My First Tangrams" is fine for a block picture design, but it is not a tangram program. Also, you can put blocks on top of each other so a larger block will hide a smaller block, therefore the finished design will not look like the picture, but the program tells you it is correct. This can be confusing to younger kids. I don't know how useful this would be in the classroom.


My 5 year old opened Alphatots. The letters of the alphabet appear on individual cards at the top and the bottom of the screen when it first opens. The last card has musical notes on it. If you press this, you get the ABC song. Hold your finger on any letter and you learn the sound of that letter and a word. Each letter has a task for the user to perform. It was quite entertaining. My daughter went through the entire alphabet and then wnet back to her favorite ones. This could be a used a quick review of the alphabet. You can also change the letters on the card from capitals to lowercase.

Question: My 5 year likes to have the pad sitting upwrite for this type of program, but it kept tipping over when she touched the screen. Would there be a stand available for students who prefer to work with the ipad upright?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Teacher Planning Day - A Jumping Off Point for Summer Explorations

Thursday the four Kindergarten teachers, our Learning Specialist and I met all day to begin to focus our thinking about how iPads will be integrated in the classrooms this fall. Here is the agenda for the day:

Planning Day - iPads in Kindergarten

  • Reflection on what's working so far
  • Questions, issues, concerns
  • Demonstrate updating apps on iMac
  • Review Apps Review Framework, add more comments if available
10:00   Brainstorming:
  • All the uses for iPads in the K day
  • How to use them in small groups?
  • How would they be used in a center?
  • What additional equipment should we have?
  •      headsets
  •      stylus
  •      keyboards (for teachers)
Plan a lesson using the iPad
1. Purpose 
     Why use the iPad
2. Intro
     "How to"
     iPad procedures
3. Student work
4. Follow up

12:00 break for lunch

Teacher iPads
Brainstorm uses:
  •      note-taking on students
  •      digital portfolio
  •      Demonstration during conferences
  •      Photo collections
  •      Fuzzy clock - type uses
  •      Drop Box
  •      Evernote
Envision the ideal app
     Begin to develop the requirements
     This summer, continue to write notes when you think of the perfect app.

Partner planning
The structure of this day worked very well. Inevitably, there were teachers who had not fully engaged with the iPad yet, and others who are already advanced users. We brought people along, shared our experiences, and I believe ended with everyone close to the same page!
Here is the result of the morning work, brainstorming classrooms uses:
6 iPads for Small group work or Centers
  • number and letter warm up
  • reinforcement for letter sounds
  • phonics listening center - sounds reviews
  • Listening center - stories
  • Forms for listening responses
  • Create a page for each child - to trace and practice
  • independent math work - practicing concepts as review
  • Dictating stories - story apps that involve telling or choosing from the list
  • Writing stories - personal narratives related to photos from daily events or field trips
  • App that allows kids to write by hand to tell the story, but also has a voice component and possible writing.
  • Photo app for journaling based on photos.
  • App that allows drawing and has lined page for writing
  • Set up form with reading responses as another way for readers to respond to their reading.

Create a selected apps folders for either:
     Groups - by name of students
     topic - using familiar terms in your class
Students sharing iPads:
  Take a photo of the four children assigned to that iPad and set it as a background.
  Write the names of the students using a drawing program and set it as a background.
    Use a plastic bin that can handle six iPads. Place them next to a power strip and charge    when needed. Lock in closet at all times.

In the afternoon we discussed how iPads could replace the perennial clipboard our teachers use for notetaking, and how they might serve to display student work in parent conferences. Here is the result of that brainstorming:
Teacher Productivity possibilities
  • Evernote:
  • photos of student work or student activities tagged, labeled, synced to our main computers or emailed.
  • Record voices of students as they read or talk and tag and save. Keep a portfolio of reading all year.
  • Create a Google doc - word or spreadsheet - for notekeeping - replace the old clipboard
  • Popplet to collaborate with mind-mapping.
  • Pen-based programs using stylus for handwritten notes - Penultimate, PhatPad
  • Decided that we should get the full version of Popplet and Puppet Pal
The teachers will continue to blog and post reviews of apps on our framework (linked to the list of resources on this page) all summer. We meet again in August to finalize lesson plans and organizational issues in preparation for the start of school.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Motion Math

As suggested by our Technology Director, I put the iPad in the hands of my children and let them play for a while. After exploring for a while, my older son found Motion Math to be a fun app. I watched him play for a while, and then talked to him about the game. This is a fractions game, geared for older kids (maybe 3rd grade and up). You have to be fairly accurate when placing the fractions, and if you are off, the app gives you hints on where to place the fraction. The hints get more and more directed if you continue to place the fraction incorrectly (I asked my son to test this). I liked that the game kept changing the task, to keep the player involved and interested. However, the game has over 20 levels, and yet there wasn't a stopping point between levels to show the players progress. You can pause the game, but you can also just keep playing. To get to the end of the game can take over 20 minutes. If used in the classroom, I can see that as a problem, if you want several kids to be able to play. Overall, this might be a fun review game for 3rd or 4th graders after a unit on fractions.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Math apps Don't Make the Cut

I've tried out some of the kinder-friendly math apps and the results have not been all that good...

Here are some that wound up in my discard pile:

Piggy Math - a pig walks around and things fall into a basket on his back. If he catches them, a voice counts. You can't see how many have been collected so there is no visual correlation. This app does not meet our criteria for classroom benefit. We can do this better with math manipulatives and hands on activities.

Monster Squeeze - I was optimistic about this app since it comes from Everyday Math. The intent is nice, practice with comparing numbers. However the intent does not match up with the game. A kindergartener will enjoy tapping the monster's tentacles to move him, but the numbers piece gets lost. It ends up more silly pointless game and less math practice.

TanZen Lite - Too sophisticated for kindergartners or any early elementary students. Requires adept and very specific manipulation of tan gram pieces in order to solve puzzle.

...still searching

Launching the iPad Summer User Group

This week I prepared the ten student iPads for their test drive with our "Summer User" group. Initial enrollment in this group was as simple as responding to an email inviting interested parties to try out iPads for the summer. I was seeking a broad spectrum of users, so I negotiated with a few people to round out the group. My goal for the Summer Users is to learn more about the ways in which this technology could be effectively integrated in different aspects of our Lower School curriculum. Therefore, at a minimum I wanted every grade level represented, along with a range of ages and experience levels. I was also seeking some specialists to help imagine the potential.

The group includes teachers of first through fourth grade, our music teacher, our learning specialist, our Chinese teacher, science teacher, and early childhood resource teacher. This range of roles should be a good test to see where we envision iPads going in the future.

My summer user group met to receive their orientation during the last week of school. The participants range from active users of technology to those who only try things if they have been shown how to first. Any user currently familiar with iPhones and iPod Touches were immediately comfortable. Others needed step-by-step help to understand the start button and how to move between apps. While they were anxious about receiving only one session, I suspect they will be surprised by how quickly things start to make sense.

My expectations of this group were clear:
  • Test drive the iPad with yourself, with children, with others. Use it all the time and notice what you are thinking about it.
  • Join this blog and record your observations, whether positive or negative.
  • Add your reviews to our apps reviews framework
  • Don't lose it!
These rules seemed to worry some of the group, but they all have agreed to do their best to try apps, review them, and to post to the blog. I am looking forward to what comes out of this!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Montessorium Intro to Math


*nice pace - not allowed to rush
*clear verbal instructions - for the most part
*naturally increases in difficulty
*clean and interesting graphics


*number writing is messy
*location of main menu button is awkward

I handed over my iPad to a couple of my kindergartners to see what they would do/how effectively they would use the Intro to Math app by Montessorium. I figured it would have some merits after I discovered it was created by actual educators.

At first glance, I was disappointed by the number writing practice portion. The numbers are much farther away from the HWT system we use and there is too much room for error. If the creators of this app plan to release an updated version, they should change that feature so that if a student goes off the number (even a little) they would need to start over with a cleared number to trace.

I first handed the iPad to a learner in one of our lower groups. He began with the top activity (there are five from the top of the screen to the bottom.) My student had to shake the iPad to scatter boards of varying sizes and then drag them back into order from longest to smallest. He wanted to order them the opposite way so it took a few moments to make sure he understood why it wasn't working. The app should have included verbal instructions to that end. Once he got it, he got it. It is similar to an activity we do with Cuisenaire rods except that these rods are all the same color. I could see his mind working and he was very deliberate. A great practice for reinforcing ordering/sorting skills.

This same student continued on to the second activity which he also found engrossing. This time, he had to listen for a number and then select a rod with the corresponding amount of sections. Great for number sense. The app alternates between activities for this which kept him going and intrigued.

As he moved to the third activity, he was beginning to rush. This activity asks the student to trace numbers and as I mentioned, it's the weak spot of this app. My student made a big ole mess of the handwriting part. Because he didn't have to start over, the numbers ended up with a whole lot of scratches and marks as he kept picking up where he went out of the line. However, it was worth getting through that portion to get to the number selection portion. Several sectioned rods appeared and he had to listen for a number and then select the corresponding one. It was a challenging and worthy activity - for him and for one of my higher math students who picked it up from there. This new student spent time and made some errors, yet kept going until she had completed the whole task successfully.

My student found the 4th activity to be a bit more challenging - matching numbers to rods that are mixed up. A little spatial reasoning component in the manner that the rods line up - made it more challenging for her to sort and match numbers with rods. She reported that it was hard, but fun. One additional challenge is that the button to return to the main menu is on the bottom of the screen and so her hand would brush it and kick her back to the main menu. At that point, she had to start the activity from the beginning again. (another good change for the next release of this app - move the button to the top of the screen)

She continued on to the 5th activity which was a step up from the 4th. She shook the iPad to mix up the numbers from 1-10 and then reordered them. Then she was shown a number and had to drag the equivalent amount of chips onto the middle of the screen. Another nice activity. The final part of this activity involves the voice in the app showing and naming numbers and a corresponding grouping of chips. She tells the student whether the number is odd or even (which I like) and then asks them to draw a line down the middle - showing that odd numbers will cross a chip while the even numbers can be split by the line into two even groups. The problem is that she will allow the line to be drawn anywhere on the screen. This part needs a little more strict oversight.

We'll plan to use this app in the fall - it reinforces number sense in a way that fits nicely into our current curricular plan.