Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spell Blocks is “good” and “fun”!

Or so say our students.
First off, Spell Blocks is an app for spelling words not building words. We do a lot of word building activities in our class, usually with magnetic letters and letter tiles.We have been looking for an effective app that would give our kids opportunities for further practice in the building of words and we came across this one.

Though it does not involve the building of words, we also teach sight words and so we wanted to try this one out.With this app, children can practice the spelling of common sight words from preloaded word lists.

As the very nature of sight words inhibits their instruction via a purely phonological approach, it makes sense that as you tap on each letter, the letter name is given and not the letter sound. The settings offered include controlling the background music, the sound effects, adding extra letters, automatic progression to the
next word, the use of flagging and random words. The word lists levels offered are: pre-primer, primer, first grade, second grade, and third grade levels.
A setting called “flagging” is offered but I am not sure what that is for. It also appears that you can get a “final” score for a given round to determine which words were spelled correctly and which words were not.

We tried this app out at the Pre-Primer level and the First Grade level. Children are given blank squares and an assortment of letters (this assortment can be the needed letters out of order OR the needed letters +extra letters if you choose that setting). We opted for only using the needed letters. There is no need for extra letters to confuse our already confused students.

The concept is simple and the children figured it out quickly. A word is said and you drag the letters one at a time to build the word. It will not allow you to drag a letter out of order (say, filling in the “a” in “can” before placing the “c”. It will also not allow you to place an incorrect letter in a spot. As one of our students said, “It won’t let you make mistakes!” I asked her if that was a good thing and she answered in the affirmative. As you move each letter, the name of each letter is said.

A score keeper is visible at the bottom of the screen. For every correct move or placement of a letter, points are earned. For every incorrect attempt, points are deducted. Overall, our students stated that they like this feature. Some in fact, were a little obsessed with it.

As you complete the word correctly, small fireworks go off with some congratulatory audio. The children I asked said they liked this “reward”. The next word will automatically appear if you sent that up (settings) or you can manually flip to the next word. We set the automatic next word setting.

Overall, this app is simple to use and pretty effectively does what it should do. As a replacement for using letter tiles, it is useful only for the teaching of the given words. By using the preset word lists, you can reinforce the acquisition of sight words. Since you are not able to add your own words, you cannot use this app to teach “word building” through familiar word families or patterns. Again, it is only good for the practicing of common sight words.

Suggestions for improvement: I would like for the colors of the letters to be coded. At the moment, they are colored randomly. I would prefer a color for vowels (say, red) and a color for consonants (say,
blue).Although the children overall liked this app and said that it was “fun” and “good” (somehow I think they would say that about all the apps), several commented that they wanted it to be more “challenging”.
I would say that those comments came from our “readers” group.

Nonetheless, a suggestion to make this challenging for our readers could be to encourage the use of the words in context somehow-perhaps after all the words are spelled, the user could be asked to use the various words to fill in a blank in a given sentence.

A suggestion for our non-readers or those more unsteady in their grasp of letter sounds could have a setting that allows some letters to be preset in a given word. In that way, the user has tighter parameters to work within.

In sum-we will be using this app in the future...until something better comes!

Hungry Fish!

Motion Math Hungry Fish has made a big splash in kindergarten!

It's a simple concept - there is a hungry fish and he needs to be fed some bubbles that add up to, or are the same amount as, the number on hungry fish's belly.

Kindergarteners love this app! If you don't combine the bubbles (add the numbers) to equal the needed food number, the fish won't eat it and more bubbles will appear. If the fish doesn't get food, a hint will appear after some time. Eventually, without food, the fish dies and offers the student the chance to try again.

This is a Motion Math app so there are multiple levels and each level has varied degrees of difficulty. There are also some bells and whistles to make it fun - changing the color of the fish, creating new fish, and even caves and Mad Fish eating wrong answers!

This app fits nicely in our program - offering children a chance to explore numbers and an appealing way to practice addition.

I like this app "side by side" with:
* kindergarten addition using physical math manipulatives
* creative group thinking about a real world math application

What I might change... I would like to see the number sentence at the bottom of the screen each time I add bubbles together. Also, Hungry Fish only offers in-app upgrades which makes it difficult to manage bulk purchases in an education setting. (This is also true of Motion Math Zoom.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

iDevBooks Math Apps

The math apps created by iDevBooks  can provide good reinforcement for students familiar with standards-based math curricula, such as Everyday Math and Investigations. There are apps for students to practice partial sums, partial differences, partial products, and partial quotients (and even lattice multiplication). While many math apps are formatted to be “games,” these apps present themselves without bells and whistles, gimmicks, and cute creatures to offer students straight-forward practice.
All the apps can be adjusted to an appropriate challenge level. For example, when practicing partial sums students can work with two or three digit numbers and if they make an error, the ‘movement’ simply stops until the correct sum is chosen.  There is a logical progression to finding each solution, starting with the largest place value first. Students are given an array of choices from which to choose the correct sum. Scanning the choices takes a moment but the choice is then reinforced with an equation, e.g., 100 + 200 = 300, as the 300 takes its position in the partial sums stack.
In the case of partial products, the app has the students start with the ones. The digits are highlighted to it is clear. The problems have a variety of numbers, including those that often throw students off, such as 50 x 80.  The partial quotients app could be improved. While it asks the students to “estimate how many times” the divisor goes into the dividend, for a student just beginning to use partial quotients, it would be better if they were somehow directed to round that dividend before they made that estimate because the beauty of partial quotients is in picking numbers that are easy to work with. For example, in considering how many 3s go into 649, the student is best off first considering how many times 3 goes into 600. Since in this app, there are not choices given, and student must actually type in his or her estimate, it seems the student’s learning is not being supported as well as it could be since many students new to this way of dividing will try to chose numbers they can’t actually multiply in their head. To follow the last example, if the student was somehow prompted to think about how many 3s go into 600, they most naturally would answer 200 and after 600 was subtracted from 649 be prompted again to think about how many times 3 goes into 49. Again, at this point, the students need to be encouraged to choose an “easy number,” that they can multiply in their head, such as 10 or 12. In the end the answer, if it has a remainder as in this example, is presented as a whole number with the remainder written following an upper case R. If the app is to be in keeping with Everyday Math and other standards-based curricula, it would better written as a fraction. This is the natural connection to understanding how those “decimals” appear when dividing on a calculator!
Overall, these are good apps to reinforce classroom work. They don’t teach but they are clear in their presentation and allow students another way to practice on a different medium.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Criteria for app Selection

In a nutshell:

We look for three basic qualities in an app (listen up app developers):

*must do more than one thing
*needs to have a settings option so that we can change/personalize it
*should not be over congratulatory (no wild applause/cheers)

Beyond that - we are looking for apps with a dynamic quality so that creativity, thinking, and problem solving come into play. We don't want to apply technology simply for the sake of applying technology.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Hooray for Motion Math apps

Motion Math Zoom

This simple app is fast becoming one of my favorites in the classroom. It is a simple and intuitive number line that helps reinforce place value. The students need to move the number line in order to find the space for a particular number that floats down in a bubble. The number line is moved by sliding a finger. To get larger numbers, the student pinches or un-pinches their fingers. Larger numbers are represented by larger animals such as a rhino or dinosaur while smaller numbers are dogs or frogs.

This app has an even more advanced option as numbers can get as small as amoebas (thousandths) and can delve into negative numbers. I especially like the real representation of the animals in addition to the numbers.

My students have been working primarily with the first three levels. In addition to introducing this glimmer of an idea about place value, the students have really been reinforcing number ordering skills and number recognition.

As in all of our favorite apps, this one is self-correcting. It has really nice and appealing graphics and the sounds are not obnoxious or over praising. In addition, this app has scaffolding and support for students who are struggling. The app offers some "clues" if a particular puzzle is not solved in a certain amount of time.

This is a great app for use:
*partnered with learning / filling out / recognizing numbers on a hundreds chart...
*when you are teaching numbers that are greater than or less than...
*once you introduce numbers greater than 10...