Thursday, August 16, 2012

Build A Word

I’ve been having a blast testing out apps this summer for my first grade students!  I have found that there are a number of apps which I believe would enhance the curriculum in my classroom and provide the children a wide variety of unique learning experiences.  The first app that caught my attention is Build a Word by @Reks: Educational Applications

One of the most significant aspects of this app that I like is that there is an option to choose the kind of word list you would like the children to work on.  There are lists for all of the following and more: beginning blend sounds, double consonants, short vowels, long vowels, Dolch word lists for grades preprimer to third and 1-3 letter word lists all the way to 6+ letter word lists.  This feature really allows for differentiation within one classroom while it also enables teachers to use this app across the grades as well. 

The other feature I think is beneficial about this app is that when you tap the letter, the exact letter sound is given.  This is wonderful repetition at all ages and helps build letter-sound correspondence in emerging readers without a teacher needing to sit with each child individually.  I really like that only the letter sound is given such as “d” verses “da” for the letter Dd.  It is also not over-congratulatory and doesn’t take much time away from the actual work whether the child is right or wrong.  There is an opportunity to learn the “rule” (aka long a) for each list, then to practice it and finally to take a test.  In both the “learn” and “practice” stages of this game the player cannot put the wrong letter in the wrong spot and continue on.  In the “test” portion, however, the player is completely on his/her own to sound out the word and spell it correctly.  If the child gets it right, he/she will simply get a smiley face and sad face for getting it incorrect.
What I’d like to change:
What I wish I could do on this app is have more flexibility in the lists themselves.  While there is a wide array to choose from, I would like the option to mix lists together at once.  For instance, if we are working on long vowels and the children should have already mastered short vowels, I would like to include both word groups on the list.  I would also like to have the option for some accountability on the children’s part.  It would be helpful for them to somehow show me all the lists they have completed and have some way of tracking their progress.  Without this step, it is difficult to know how effective this app truly is.    

Friday, August 10, 2012

Integrating iPads into a Kindergarten Language Arts Program

Last September both kindergarten classes introduced iPads into our rooms. Throughout the year we found that many iPad apps were well suited for supporting our language arts program. As our students’ reading and writing skills progressed from September to June, we used iPads to reinforce and extend various learning objectives along the way. Below is an overview of how our kindergarten class integrated iPads into our language arts program in the fall, winter, and spring.

Early in the year we focus on strengthening letter-sound correspondence, as well as developing handwriting skills. We initially taught these skills through a series of teacher-led group lessons (without iPads) as well as practice with handwriting books. We then reinforced these skills with iPad apps that we carefully tested out and selected. The iWriteWords app reinforced letter-sound correspondence, gave children valuable practice in letter formation (without worrying about pencil grip), and ensured that each child progressed to the next letter only after forming the target letter correctly. As the children were ready to apply their letter-sound knowledge to word-building, we began a unit on making words from the letters in our names, using letter tiles. We then used the Spell Blocks app for extra practice with word building, particularly targeting those students who were struggling with our letter-tile activity.
In the fall we also develop comprehension and storytelling skills through wordless books. For the first several weeks, the children looked through wordless books and practiced telling the story to a partner. Then they were ready to write their own wordless books! The children did all their work with paper, colored pencils, and crayons, and we put their published books on the shelf. We decided that publishing the books on the iPad would add significant value. We used a story-building app (like Book Creator) to photograph each illustration, and then matched each picture with a recording of the child’s voice as he/she told the story on each page. The time it took to take the photos and record the narration was well worth it because the voice that accompanied each picture added another dimension to the work, and students often sought out the iPad books at choice time.

New apps are constantly being developed for the iPad, and our team of teachers frequently tests them out to see which ones meet our criteria. In the winter we discovered a fantastic app, Letter School, which met our students’ need for continuing reinforcement in letter formation and letter-sound correspondence. Also, by switching to a new app we were able to keep children interested and motivated. Students were drawn to Letter School’s engaging approach and they often requested to work with it. We noticed that their handwriting skills were improving significantly with all this additional practice. We also discovered the Montessori Crosswords app for additional practice with word building.
Different apps are useful at different times of the year, depending on children’s development and readiness. In the middle of the year our students are developing reading strategies for independent work with books at their level, and the Bob Books apps gave children beneficial additional practice in applying reading strategies to figure out words in a text. We gave our lowest-level readers ample opportunity to work with these apps.
Also, in January we visited a local recycling center and toured the facility. The students then worked in groups with a teacher to make an iPad book about our trip, using Book Creator. They selected photos from our trip for the book, and added words as well as voice narration. We shared our book on the Smart Board with the other kindergarten class.

In the springtime we focus on developing students’ writing skills and understanding of story structure. Each student wrote a personal narrative on paper. While the iPads can add valuable new dimensions to storytelling, kindergarten students still need plenty of opportunities to write their stories down on paper. After we published our personal narratives, we used the iPads to extend their increasingly sophisticated storytelling skills. Students worked in small groups to tell a story of their choosing, using Book Creator. They added pictures by taking photographs with the iPad, and they incorporated text as well. Other students worked in small groups to tell a story with the amazing iStop Motion app. Using blocks, toy animals and people, or math materials, students progressively changed the structure or the scene to tell a story. They created the stop-motion effect by using the iPad to photograph the scene each time it changed slightly. The students extended their facility with storytelling by using the unique features of the apps as well as working collaboratively.  

As we look ahead to the new school year, we will include many of the apps that served us so well last year, and we are excited to test out new apps and build on our experience from the pilot year.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Slice It!

My family and I have recently discovered an app that we can’t stop playing! 
Slice It! (paid version) or Slice It Begins! (free version) by Com2Us is fantastic.  The point of the game is to slice various shapes into equal pieces.  In the beginning, the shapes are simple enough so the player can understand what to do in the game.  As the player progresses, the shapes and the slices become more challenging.  The directions are simple to understand and each page gives the player a “tip” at the bottom. When a shape is sliced, the player can get from 1-5 stars and the app encourages the player to try again to get 5 stars.  If the player fails to slice even pieces, the follow up page shows why the first try was incorrect.  When the player earns 5 stars on a shape, he or she earns a bonus “hint” to use in the future.  Hints can be used if the player is stuck and not sure how to proceed.

What We Like

·         Simple directions

·         Explains mistakes; encourages player to retry

·         Music can be turned off

·         Shows percentage of each piece sliced

·         Shows player that equal pieces can be different shapes

·         Challenging, yet not frustrating

What We’d Like to Change

·         Only keeps track of one player; would be nice if multiple players could track progress

·         Ability to move lines without having to “undo” (a drag and drop)


A few weeks ago someone told me about Mathemagica by Remarkable.  My sons and I have since spent some time exploring this app at various levels.  In the introduction, the app says that it is for those who want to challenge themselves as well as those who need more practice as it is a genius tool that will adapt itself to your level of play.  While the app is a good idea overall, we have all found it to be very frustrating at times. 
Each player can customize their level of play by choosing specific skills or all the skills at a particular grade level.  We have all found that when all the skills are selected, the app does not randomize well.  The player will be given similar problems, sometimes even the exact same problem.  It doesn’t seem to matter if the player solves the problem correctly or not.  The player is not given a practice space to compute, all computations need to be held in the players’ mind.  While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be frustrating for the player that needs practice and repetition because they are not secure with a concept.  The worst part of this app is that it does not allow the player to make mistakes.  Once a mistake is made, the app shows the solution and then moves on.  This is not helpful.  In fact, this made both my sons want to stop playing.  There also seem to be time limits on some problems that are quite short.  If the player does not complete the problem in time, the solution is shown and play moves on.  There does not appear to be a way to turn this timing function off.  Again, this is not helpful to the player who needs to practice skills.  “Awards” are given at odd times. For example, when the player solves 25 problems correctly overall, the player receives a reward.  However, since this is overall, it could be after the player completes one problem in a session.  After the next problem, the player could get a reward for solving 10 questions in a category correctly overall.  These interruptions are very distracting.  Finally, there does not seem to be an end to a session.  The player can just keep going.  There is not a natural stopping point.  Overall, I feel that this app has potential, but there are multiple things that need to be fixed.  It is certainly not for someone who needs to practice skills.

What We Like

·         Player can choose specific skills to practice

·         Skills are grouped by grade level, however a player can choose from multiple grade levels

·         App can track up to three players’ progress

What We’d Like to Change

·         App does not randomize well; sometimes player has to solve exact same problem even if solved correctly in the past

·         App does not allow player to make mistakes; shows solution after one error; not helpful to players that need to practice skills

·         No space to compute; player has to hold computations in head

·         Time limits on solving problems

·         Awards are given at odd times; can be very distracting