Monday, January 17, 2011

iPad Apps for Kids in the Classroom

My sister and her family came home with an iPad this weekend. So, when she mentioned that my 9 month old nephew loved playing the piano app, I had to see how little Brody interacted with it. Today when he came to visit, we handed him the iPad and he started playing and singing. I think it is pretty amazing after having interacted with it for just a day.

This had me thinking about adding apps to my iPad and iTouch for my kids at school. My students have different needs and interests so I have found a few that I am thinking will help kids with specifics they need to practice. I have also found some universal apps that work for young kids in general.

Fine Motor Needs: I have a few students who are still mastering the fine motor capabilities needed to form letters correctly. I like the app iwritewords. It is an app that truly focuses on letter formation (handwriting). It has uppercase letters, lowercase letters, number or word options for kids to practice. Once an option is chosen, a small crab appears on the screen with a series of bubbles following that prompt the student to touch the screen and follow the path of the letter. The letter name is announced and some type of praise (not a huge fan b/c gets a little annoying hearing "good job" and "that's great" over and over again) After tracing the path of the letter, it becomes a little square that you can help dance to the bottom right of the screen before another letter appears. Here is a video of a kiddo playing with the word option. I think teaching kids to draw and write about things that happen to them is best practice for emergent writers, this app is an option for my kids who need fine motor practice.

Word Practice: ABC Magnetic Alphabet: This app is like a small blackboard that you can drag magnetic looking letters onto. My fifth grader can't get enough of it as I am typing. He has written silly notes to his brothers and is using the picture icons to write silly sentences. I am thinking of using this as an option for practicing the high frequency words we have in our study.

Letter Play and Learning: Interactive Alphabet I think is my favorite. It has entertained everyone in my family (young and old). My first impression was that it was just a bunch of abc flash cards but to me it feels more like a game. You can begin with any letter and each letter has something for you to play with on the screen. The music is upbeat and inviting and each page is read to you. For example: "N is for Noodles, /N/ Noodles."
Then, you can touch the chopsticks on the screen and move the noodles up and down. Once you play with one letter, you want to know what you will find with the next one.

Really, great stories (at a good price) would be the most universal and loved app for young readers in the classroom. Stories with pictures and narration support the literacy needs of all our kids. Here are a few options I have found...

Tales2Go: This app allows kids access to many categories of audiobooks. It is filled with classics including The Gingerbread Man, The Three Billy Goats Gruff and Caps for Sale. I am using it as an option for my students as they come in to read in the morning. Having the fairytales at their fingertips has been a great as small groups of my students are performing fairytale plays for one another this month. They can re-listen to the tales their friends have performed .

Josh and Emma Go To the Beach: This app is the story of two kids who spend time finding treasures at the beach. The story is filled with questions that guide the reader to play with the pictures on the pages. At the end of the story, the reader can touch the treasures and count them back into the bucket. The book has an auto-play and speech option.

Wheels on the Bus: This app has probably been the most popular with the kids who have picked up the iPad this week. It can be sung to you in many languages and also has the option for you to record yourself singing or reading it. I think the interactive part of this app is most inviting. You actually use your finger to make the bus move, open the doors, move the wipers an touch the people to move up and down.

Kids are interested in new, fun and interactive learning. The iPad is all that and more. I have been bringing my family iPad in to share with my students and they are loving it. Wouldn't it be nice if every classroom could own at least one?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Trying to Know Ourselves

I've been thinking about how important it is to know yourself. Or maybe, it is more the importance of being able to think and reflect about why we do the things we do. Then I started thinking, why am I having these thoughts? Maybe it is because I have some people pleasing flaws that steer my mind to obsess over if what I said or did in a situation. I sometimes overly worry, was I too harsh or hurtful? Most of the time my words/actions aren't overly anything because I am often harder on myself than I need to be. Maybe it is because of a conversation I had today with a friend who is trying to figure out how to be more balanced. As she shared her thinking, I thought about how I am often stopping to evaluate my priorities to feel more balanced. I have to weigh what I need with what my family needs with what my students need with, yeah, the list goes on... Or, maybe it is because I am trying to write about word learning in the classroom and I can't stop thinking about how important it is to share assessment data with kids. Sharing what I find out about my students from assessments even in the context of a simple conversation can help my kids become more aware of what they know (or need to know). All of these thoughts (I am hoping) connect to the story I want to share next.

Last night we visited old friends who have younger children, a little boy (Jonah, 4) and a little girl (Reese, 5). Before walking in their home, I reminded my two boys (one son was at soccer) who are 8 and 11, about how big they might seem to the younger kids. I asked them to give the younger kids some of their time and to play with them. After hearing a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos finish up, I decided to see how it was going in the play room. As I was walked in, I saw little Reese look up at my oldest son, who is towered over this petite Kindergartner and say with the sweetest voice, "Can you read?" I watched my son's eyes connect with mine first confused (because the 11 yr old was thinking, duh, of course I can read) then as I smiled he got it. He looked back at her and at the twinkle in her eye able to wisely smile back appreciating her amazement. "Yeah, I can." he said. In that moment I was amazed at little Reese and her appreciation for reading. She knows its possibilities and that she wants to be a reader. I know this because I could hear the wonderment in her voice and knew she understood the magnitude of reading just in the mere fact that she asked this deep question.

This little one is beginning to ask smart questions that will help her know herself and what a good habit to be in. She reminded me of how important it is to keep asking questions of myself and of others when it comes to trying to know myself each day. In first grade, we also have been in the habit of trying to know ourselves. We end the day with time to think and elaborate (if time) on a question that you might want to reflect about. "What went well for you today?"

(photo from Creative Commons by Ken Bosma)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Game Night

Over the holiday, we spent lots of time playing games. Our new favorite is Quirkle. I think it fits our family because the kids and adults can play independently (this is nice because in the past our second grader has had to team up when he isn't understanding a game). While it is a game of pattern building with either color or shape, to win it requires lots of strategy to acquire the most points. It takes a little under an hour to finish the game. I also like the game because we are not sitting on the laptop, touches or ipad all night. Don't get me wrong, I love to be on line reading and the kids love their music and apps but this is helping to keep us talking, thinking and laughing with each other too.