Smart Apps For Kids with Free App Friday

I made a great discovery today! It’s a website called Smart Apps For Kids and each Friday they offer “Free App Friday” where they give away a select number of educational apps for free! Today, they’re giving away Montessori Letter Sounds HD, which I’ve been wanting to try for quite some time. I keep seeing it recommended on some of the different blogs I read, but it’s usually $4.99. Today, it’s FREE! They’ve got 11 other free apps today, and you can even sign up for their free app alert so that you’ll know about any of the free apps they are offering.20130215-103505.jpg

 

Why Blog?

pencils found.  ransom sought.

So yesterday was the first day that I really started  telling people about this new endeavor of mine, blogging.  For someone who is somewhat private and reserved, opening myself up like this made for a rather overwhelming day.  This is all a bit of a stretch for me, even if it is more of a professional endeavor more than a personal one.  As I shared my plans with different people, I got a lot of different responses and affirmations.  One of the best questions I got though, was “Why?”  “Why are you starting a blog?”  So as I sit here a day or so after telling all the world (or at least what feels like all the world!) about my blog and I am feeling just a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, it seems a good time to examine the question of “Why?”

*I want to dialogue with other educators. I know there are other people out there that are trying to use technology with young children, particularly ipads, but they are hard to come by with just a quick internet search.  There’s a lot of trial and error involved in this whole process and I think it is helpful to figure this out with others who are experimenting in the same realm.  I know that if I get involved with the educational blogging community,  it will be easier to find those people that are trying to accomplish the same goals as we are in our program.

*I want to grow as an educator and the kind of self reflection that happens with blogging encourages that. One of the first people I told about this blogging experiment was our technology coordinator.  When I asked for her advice she sent me several articles about blogging in education. They expressed something that I hadn’t really considered before: writing is a form of self reflection, and self reflection leads to growth. I was only a few posts into this blog when I realized that indeed, writing about which apps we’d used or what our management strategies had been, had caused me to consider them more carefully and then find ways to improve them.  Even if no one ends up reading what I write, I think the way that we use technology in our classroom will still be better because of the time I’ll have spent writing about what we’re doing.

*I want to help other people who find computers confusing and overwhelming to perhaps understand them a bit better.  I consider myself lucky to have grown up with computers. I can not remember a time when our family was without one. I started watching my dad build them when I was a toddler and still enjoy helping him when “we” (really he) replace a motherboard or get my wi-fi situated. Technology has always been such a big part of my life that I forget that it’s still very new and intimidating to some people. I like helping people make sense of technology. It is fun for me to find ways to simplify seemingly complicated programs so that technology novices can master them.  Of course there’s still plenty for me to learn too. I’d be hard put to replace a hard drive, and am quite the novice when it comes to blogging, but I do know more than some and I like to help.

So I think those are the main reasons I’ve started this blog. And I think they are good reasons. Reflecting on them has helped me feel a little less anxious about the fact that I am sharing so much with potentially so many. So hopefully now I’ll experience a little bit of that growth I mentioned above.

Using Pinterest as an Educator

How to Use Pinterest as an Educator
What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is the social networking site that has swept the nation, quickly rising in rank to stand alongside long time players Twitter and Facebook. People, particularly women, are drawn to the very visual interface.

How does Pinterest work?

Pinterest is a collection of ideas. It can be used to store and organize your own ideas, or it can be used to find new ideas. The ideas are represented initially in picture form, but the pictures often link to information on a website about how to implement the idea. A Pinterest user will have a collection of bulletin boards that are organized by category. The user can then “pin” any ideas they encounter on the internet to a board of their choice. Users can also browse other users’ boards and re-pin any pins that they find interesting. Pinterest is similar to Twitter in that one user is “followed” by another user. A follower sees anything that the user “pins.” A follower can then “re-pin” anything they see that strikes their fancy.

What do you do with Pinterest?

I have a personal Pinterest account where I follow any of my Facebook friends that have Pinterest accounts. Most of my friends pin things like recipes, craft ideas, decorating ideas, and fashion ideas. We pin & re-pin one another’s ideas. If I want to branch out, I can click on “Everything” at the top of the Pinterest page and see things that other people besides my friends are pinning. I’ve tried countless recipes, and more than a few decorating ideas that I first discovered on Pinterest.

How do you use Pinterest as an Educator?

I also have a professional Pinterest account. This is where I pin all of my teaching ideas. All of my “boards” are like file folders you might have in your drawers. I have one board for every subject and theme we teach in our class.

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When I find something that fits a category, I “pin it” to a board. I made a special effort on my teaching account to only follow other teachers. In fact, I know very few of the people I follow on this account in real life. Often, I simply stumbled across their posts when I was browsing Pinterest using the “Everything” button and liked what I saw. I then visited their Pinterest page so that I could “follow” their boards about teaching. The other way I’ve found people to follow on my teaching Pinterest board is by reading teaching blogs. I follow close to 30 teaching blogs on my “Reader.” (More on how to use a blog reader in another post.) I follow many of the bloggers from my Blog Reader on Pinterest. Following all of these other early childhood educators ensures that whenever I open my professional Pinterest account I will see lots of posts relevant to my field and that there will be lots of things I want to pin.

In addition to simply browsing Pinterest for ideas, my teaching partner and I also use the “search” function a great deal. For example, when we were studying “spiders” in the fall and needed spider related activities, we simply entered “spiders” or perhaps more specifically “spider activities” in the search bar and pinned anything that looked interesting. As a result, we now have 23 spider craft ideas on our “Spiders” board. We’ll be able to refer to our spider board next October when our spider unit comes around again and we want to change things up a bit.

The third way I use Pinterest is when I’m browsing the internet, or reading teaching blogs. Pinterest has a “Pin It” button that you can add to your computer. When you find something on the internet that you would like to add to one of your pinterest boards, you can click the “pin it” button and choose a picture to represent your pin. Then you’ll be able to find that same idea on the internet again just by looking on your Pinterest board. I interact with Pinterest in this way least often. In fact, I know there are many Pinterest users who never pin anything from the internet. They simply repin things that are already on Pinterest.

Implications

In all honesty, I’m surprised by how much Pinterest has revolutionized our teaching and planning. Finding new teaching and learning activities that are relevant to our themes and age group has never been simpler. Current ideas and best practices are flowing into our Pinterest feed and we’re discovering things we might have overlooked before. Have you discovered Pinterest yet? Are you using it for your teaching?

We’re gonna need headphones.

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So here’s the thing about working with young children: you can’t depend on them being able to read directions to complete a task, even with a fancy schmancy device like an ipad. The majority of four and five year olds need verbal instruction to succeed. One of the things I’ve been looking for is an app that will offer that verbal guidance and instruction. Another of our hopes in using ipads in the classroom was that it would help us individualize our instruction so that we could better meet each students specific learning needs. We used an app today that I think will really help us meet both goals. Teach Me Toddler allows each kid to progress at their own pace, which is fantastic. Additionally, it is really good at giving verbal instruction to students, also fantastic. Where we ran into trouble was when we had 3 different ipads talking to three different students about three different tasks. No one could hear a thing. I turned around to find one student with both his hands over his ears. Another student had his eyes glued to his neighbor’s ipad, not his own. Unless we made some quick changes, the ipads were not going to be the engaging instructional tool that they had been yesterday.

As a quick fix for today, we moved one of the three students to an empty table across the room and moved the other two to opposite ends of the table. Honestly, they were still sometimes distracted, but they were better able to maintain their focus. As we move forward in this ipad project, we’re going to have to think about what kind of headphones will be most practical as well as whether we want kids to use headphones all of the time, or just some of the time.  Despite the fact that there were three ipads going at once, I was getting useful information from listening. I could tell when a student got off track and found his way to the app store and I could hear when another student was struggling with the content.

Review of Math is Fun 4/5

math is fun

Math is Fun for Ages 4 & 5 has a lot going for it.  After trying the “free” version, I upgraded to the full version to use it with the kids. There are a variety of games to choose from, and all of them require just a bit more skill than number identification. It required more complex thinking.

It was also easy for my young students to navigate.  They quickly learned to use the “house” button to go back to the main screen if they wanted to change games. It did not however, offer any verbal instructions.  This meant I had to sit with each student to explain how each game worked.  It was a little time consuming, but do-able because the games were not complicated, and only needed to be explained once.

While there are no overt, obnoxious ads, there is a small bar at the bottom of the home screen (see above) that offers links to the developer’s other apps.  As a teacher, I liked being able to find other apps by this developer, but I know this will be distracting for some of my students.

There was not much redirection when children made mistakes.  Objects will “bounce” back when they are incorrect but I watched one child try to drag the same object to the same wrong square at least 10 times, and then become frustrated.

I do think we will continue to use this app in our learning centers.  It is one of the better apps we’ve found for this age group.

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Using the ipad at Centers for the First Time

DSCN6909Today we officially used our ipads as a part of our Learning Centers. I chose two math apps that I thought would be challenging, but not too hard.  I picked Hungry Fish and Math Is Fun 4-5.  I had noticed that a lot of the apps were full of ads or opportunities to upgrade. These two seemed free of ads and the material seemed appropriate.  Math is Fun was perfect for my pre-k kids. I plan to review both apps in a later post.

I tried to think ahead a little in how I was going to manage the ipads. Last time we’d used them informally, I’d had a student ready to download Angry Birds from the app store within 30 seconds. He was just waiting for my password! I wanted to avoid that this time so I put the two apps I wanted to use into a separate folder and told the children that they could only use the apps that were in that folder. My Angry Birds fan still managed to find his way to the app store, but I think it was a function of pushing the home button too many times. (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt! 😉  ) I’m realizing that for children this young, I’m going to need to find a way to either limit their access to parts of the ipad, or teach them to only use certain parts of the device at certain times. I’m wondering if I can dedicate one of the home screens to apps we use in the classroom and keep the rest of the apps on another page to help simplify things a little.

We had two ipads in our center groups today.  Right now, we have 2-3 kids in each group so it was perfect for one group, but for the second group, a couple of children had to take turns. A 1:1 ipad ratio definitely works better.  The children who were working independently were able to get more practice time in. I had the children who were sharing an ipad take turns. One would play the game while the other watched.  After one “round” they would switch.  This really wasn’t ideal. The two boys working together had different skill levels, both in terms of math and technology. One boy was feeding math answers to the other. At the same time, the boy with the  technology skills (my angry bird fan) was able to help his friend navigate the app when it was time to change games. I am looking forward to next year when we’ll have one ipad for each child.

Over all, I think the ipads were a success. The was lots of individualized learning and the children were really motivated by the opportunity to work on the ipad.

New ipads

In January, our school’s technology coordinator knocked on our door with two brand new ipads.  The idea was for my teaching partner and I to become comfortable with them so that we could find the best way to integrate them into our Junior Kindergarten curriculum.  Honestly, while I have always loved technology, I’m not an Apple person,  so I knew that learning to use this new system would involve a bit of a learning curve for me.  I decided to start this blog to record my experiences as I unlock the mysteries of Apple and its ipad, explore new apps and figure out how to introduce them to my four and five year old students.Image