Dispatches from the K-8 Universe: Apps at CES and SHB

I got a great message last week from Krista Inchausti, one of our school’s Educational Innovation Coordinators. Krista’s role is to help teachers and students in our elementary schools to find creative, innovative educational tools and solutions for their classrooms. This sometimes means offering tips on great technology for the classroom. Here’s a list of killer apps that she recommends for younger students. Many thanks to Krista for sharing her insights!

Inspiration Maps is a helpful visual organizer. We have been unable to print the full concept maps but the maps can be transposed into outlines which print easily.

Notability is useful, primarily because there is no spell check in the iPad version of Google Docs. [edit from PMK: there is now but may not have been before. Anyway, Notability is still amazing.] This has presented a big problem for many of the girls but when they copy and paste their work into Notability they are able to check their spelling without moving to a laptop.

Dragon is improving their speech to text capabilities on the iPad (this app still works better on laptops). HOWEVER, newer iPads have Siri as a part of the keyboard, allowing for quick dictations in any iPad app.

Spell Better is a writing app that provides spelling suggestions to students as they type and will read their writing back to them aloud. We have only experimented with the free version.

Zapreader.com (website that works on iPads) is a speed reading tool, but breaks down text and presents it one word at a time. Speed is adjustable and there are pause and play buttons – just copy & paste text. Some students have found this helpful for getting through dense text.


New Toy: Coffitivity

I say this a lot: if I don’t work in a public space, I cease to believe in the passage of time. Without other people around, I can get sucked into the internet or Facebook or Twitter for hours and hardly notice. It’s not that other people are going to come around and sneer at my latest Wikipedia rabbit hole; instead, there’s something about the energy of having other people around that helps me get work done. It’s like that surge of chatter and movement propels me forward, and I can’t help but be caught up in it. Somehow, that little bit of activity helps me concentrate.

I read about a website today that offers “ambient sounds to boost your creativity!” That’s right, there’s now an app for that.  Coffitivity brings the coffee shop to you. This is great if you can’t be bothered to go find a coffee shop to work in–or, more likely, you can’t get a seat in one nearby because they’re all full of start-up runners using them as office space.

Coffitivity claims to have research that states that a little ambient noise can foster and promote productivity and creativity. Also, in addition to stating that “research shows” the things they claim, they include a link to scholarly research on the subject on JSTOR. This is for real.

The site offers the sounds of nearby cups clattering gently, low conversation, and general white noise. It also advises you on how to adjust your headphones’ music to be just a little louder than the ambient noise–you know, to maximize your creativity.

In all seriousness, I think this is awesome and I’m definitely using it as I work from home right now. It’s really cool and the site’s graphic design is appealing and the community it’s promoting is warm and inviting. Totally recommended.

Check it out here: http://coffitivity.com/


Organizational Tool: Get Ye Done

Raz the Unimpressed is unimpressed.
Raz the Unimpressed is unimpressed.

A young woman attending my EdRev workshop on Saturday introduced me to a really neat organizational tool. It’s called Get Ye Done, and it’s a planning app that allows students to set goals and earn “experience points” for achieving goals and milestones that they set for themselves. The interface and the language is a little more geared toward a middle-school audience, but I think the idea still rings true for high school: it’s really fun to think about finishing schoolwork as a game, because really? it kind of is a game sometimes.

So if you’d like your homework time to have more of a Renaissance-festival flavor, or if it boosts your motivation to earn experience points, then have at it. I don’t want to tell anyone to pick just one organizational tool, because which tool you use is less important than having a tool that works. If this works for you, have at it!

Learn more here: http://www.getyedone.com/

Thanks once more to Azule for the link!

A Day of Apps: What new tools could we try?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m devoted to technology, but I’m lost without my paper planner. On our visits to SDS and MCDS, most of my colleagues tapped away on their iPads to take notes while I scribbled away in my planner. Most of the notes are organized, like during our classroom visits (“6th Grade Math: kids making graphs, sharing with Apple TV, class critiques graph creation and text”), but the messier part is the growing list of apps I learned about over the course of the day. I jotted down the apps that these campuses use that we’re already familiar with (e.g. Notability, Pages, Dropbox, and iAnnotate), but I focused more on new apps that could be worth learning more about.

For your perusal, here is a list of apps that caught my eye during my visit. Feel free to explore!

Singapore Bar Model app: for learning math skills. We saw this in a fourth grade math class and it was incredibly easy to use.

Box: Like Dropbox, this is another app that allows multiple users to upload and access digital files.

CalcChat: this seems like more of an online resource, almost like a message board, that allows students to access information about different math problems online from multiple textbooks. “We use this like an answer key,” said students in the senior multivariable calculus class at SDS.

Pocket CAS: an app that graphs functions, takes derivatives, and integrates. Sounds like a souped-up version of the CalcLab programs I had on my TI-89 in high school. Sheer mathematical power!!

NearPod: a presentation tool that lets teachers share a presentation from their screen with their students iPad screens. The teacher advances the slides, students follow along.

Corkulous: I want to play with this app all day long. It’s a giant cork board where you can pin anything at all–images, text, movies, sounds, etc. It’s a little like Pinterest, a little like a wall collage, and I was inspired to think about how you could use this for brainstorming, for creating presentations (a little like Prezi!), and for generally collecting resources for later use. Super cool and easy to use; probably my favorite find of the day.

Noteshelf: a terrific app for taking and organizing notes. A lot like Notability or Evernote, but a slightly different user interface. It takes a while to set it up the way you want it, but it seems worthwhile.

New App: Dyscalculator

Many thanks to CSH Journalism and Computers teacher Tracy Sena for sharing a link to this fascinating new app! Dyscalculator was developed by the Danish Ministry of Education to help students with dyscalculia, a learning difference that can make reading and speaking numbers difficult. I’m intrigued by several of the app’s features, including text and digit versions of different numbers and keeping all mathematical operations visible on screen at once.

Learn more from the app’s website here: http://www.dyscalculator.com/

View it on the app store here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dyscalculator/id508012847?mt=8

iPad apps for all!

The end of summer is fast approaching, and you may be wondering about new apps to load onto your iPad for the school year ahead. Your most important resource is Ms. Sena’s CSH iPad blog here. I highly recommend that you check out this website and start finding out about the iPad program at CSH, especially if you’re an entering student in the class of 2016.

As for my recommendations on apps: I did several blog posts on this subject last summer, and I still think those apps are good recommendations for you to consider. To find those posts, you can click on the word “apps” in the tag cloud at right: it’s the first link. This will take you to a series of posts that all talk about different kinds of apps.

The big thing to keep in mind is that there is no single app that serves all purposes, and there isn’t necessarily one app that I’d recommend that everyone run out and buy. There are the ones you’re required to have for school, of course, like iAnnotate and Dropbox, but others for productivity and organization have very similar features and no one of them is necessarily the best. It’s all about checking these apps out and deciding what you like. Which layout appeals to you most? Which interface makes the most sense to you? Pick the one that you like and that best supports your learning. That’s the most important thing, and the app that you use as the tool to support your work is less important.

Info In: How I learned to stop worrying and love Zite

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m trying to use this summer to make some thoughtful improvements on my practice. First up: managing how I get information on a daily basis.

I’m a bit of a news junkie. I hit several news sites every morning to get a sense of the day’s headlines and the ways that different news outlets interpret those stories. I wake up to news radio and listen to it on my way to work if I’m on the bus. (I do NOT listen to the radio while on my bike. Because that’s moronic.)

The problem is: I get stuck in a rut. I tend to keep hitting the same sites over and over during the course of the day. This does two things. First, I keep hitting exactly the same stories over and over. (“Yep, the Euro zone is still in crisis. Yep, it’s still raining in Florida.”) Secondly, I limit my exposure to new and surprising content by just letting myself do the driving. If my goal with reading the news it to be challenged and stretched, just reading lots of folks who agree with me isn’t really going to expand my knowledge.

I’ve been looking around a lot for how to make this whole system a lot better, and I think I’ve hit upon two great aggregators of information: Google Reader and Zite. With Google Reader, I subscribe to a bunch of sites for news (like NYT, WSJ, HuffPo, WaPo, LAT, SFGate, and the Houston Chronicle) and for other information I enjoy (including fun silly ones like XKCD and literary sites like McSweeney’s and The Rumpus). The stories come up in my reader in a plain old browser window using Google Chrome, and it’s really easy to customize and navigate. I like Reader because it forces me to get new information: it’s easy to identify which stories I’ve read so I can efficiently move on to exploring new information.

With Zite on my iPhone and iPad, I get several topic-related screens to choose from that offer me personally curated news stories on topics that interest me. I love a lot of things about Zite: most appealingly, it pulls from a lot of sources that I didn’t know about before–and it pulls from a lot of sources in general. Stuff I find on Zite constantly entices me and surprises me. Also, its interface is beautiful: all of their stories get formatted into a font called PT Sans from Paratype, which I adore for its sleek readability.

Additionally, if these two news aggregators aren’t enough, I’m becoming a big fan of the education-related tags on Twitter. Putting in the hashtags for #edchat and #edtech offer a daily barrage of posts from educators worldwide. While some of the posts are a little irritating for their bombast (“The Top Ten Things All Educators Must Know Immediately About Teaching!!!!”), a lot are good reads, and they’re nice provocations for reflection and further blog posts from me.

So that’s the new plan for getting information in on a daily basis. So far, so good.