8 Indispensable iPad and iPod Apps for Elementary Education

Solar Walk: one of my 8 indispensable apps for education

Solar Walk: one of my 8 indispensable apps for education

If you’re like me, you might feel a little overwhelmed by the hundreds of apps you could be using your classroom. You might even feel guilty that you’re not up on the latest and greatest from the iTunes store. I sure felt this way, and then I realized that I already had over 150 apps on my school’s iPods and iPads… many of which I had rarely — if ever — used, and some of which just plain didn’t work.

So, in a bout of New Year’s cleaning, I culled through my collection and deleted everything that wasn’t worthy of my students’ time — or yours.

And here — drumroll, please — are all the apps that made the cut.

Not content to stop there, I whittled the list down further to just eight apps that would benefit almost all students in grades 2-4. Not passing fads, if these apps were physical books, I’d have to tape their spines to keep them from falling apart. I hope you find them as useful as I have. Continue reading

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Results Count: Homework That Really Works

This morning, I read that French President Francois Hollande has proposed that his country eliminate homework in elementary and junior high school. From the article on NPR’s website, it appears that members of the French government believe homework places too great a burden on children, especially children with difficult home lives. And because of the centralized nature of the French school system, there is little room for teachers to innovate and try new strategies.

I wouldn’t presume to offer an opinion on the French approach to education. However, here in the United States, we have the same debate: what is the real value of homework for young children? Is is possible to design homework that increases student learning and motivates kids after a long school day?

My answer is yes, and I have results to back it up.
Continue reading

Using Nets to Develop Children’s Understanding of 3D Shapes

Rectangular Prism Geoblock

Rectangular Prism Geoblock

It’s the first day of our study of 3D shapes. I hold up a rectangular prism Geoblock, and I ask my second graders what they notice.

“It’s a rectangle!”

“It’s a 3D rectangle!”

“It’s a rectangle block. It’s like a rectangle, but taller.”

And one student with a great memory for vocabulary adds, “No, it’s not a rectangle. It’s a rectangular prism.

I ask the class, “Where on this block do you see a rectangle?” One student notes that there is a rectangle on the front face of the block. “How do you know that’s a rectangle?” The student responds, “because it’s just like the rectangle on the paper. It has two long sides and two short sides.” (We’ll get to squares, rectangles, and right angles later.) Another student points out that there are rectangles on the ends of the block. Students continue to volunteer until they’ve identified all six of the Geoblock’s faces as rectangles.

Understanding the difference between a rectangle and a rectangular prism is a difficult job for many second graders, who often label 3D shapes with 2D shape names — or see 3D shapes as merely 3D versions of 2D shapes. Continue reading

The Strengths Mentality

I started reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman (high brow stuff, right?  I know you’re impressed).  It was witty and wildly imaginative, but man, was it giving me the most bizarre dreams.

So now I am sticking to the safer choice, Count Me In!  Including Learners with Special Needs in Mathematics Classrooms by Judy Storeygard (summary here).  (And my husband, who is, literally, tired of my sleepless nights, has told me I’m not allowed to read before bedtime.)

One point that resonated with me in Count Me In! is the way Judy describes the “deficit mentality” children and parents often face.  She shares the experiences of parents of special needs children whose parent-teacher conferences are dominated by discussions of their children’s needs, but never their strengths.  An autistic student, for instance, has many math-related skills.  He’s great at solving puzzles, building with legos, and remembering directions.  But, his teacher’s expectations of him in the math classroom are very low.  Frustrated with hearing about her child’s limitations, his parent asks, “How can his skills be used to build math knowledge?”

This reminded me of one of my first-ever parent conferences.  I’m gonna say it plain: the student was a pain in the butt. Continue reading

Summer Reading!

Because I just finished reading the vampire novel The Passage by Justin Cronin for the second time (don’t you judge me), and because it’s August, when I get back to thinking about school, I’ve begun an excellent new book called Count Me In!  Including Learners with Special Needs in Mathematics Classrooms by Judy Storeygard.

You should stop reading now and order it.  I’ll wait.

All set?  You will love this book.  It aims to fill a huge gap in education literature.  We focus a lot on helping children with special needs in reading, but what about math?  How do we help kids who – whether they have ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, a Nonverbal Learning Disorder, or no label at all – struggle to make sense of word problems?  The kids who get so lost in their steps they can’t finish their work?  The kids who have difficulty using language to express mathematical ideas?  And so on. Continue reading

Mastering Math Facts (At Home)

I see parents as my partners in their children’s education.  The obvious reason is that parents are absolutely the most important people in their children’s lives.  They know their children better than anyone else, and they are an essential resource for information and problem solving.

And philosophically, I think it matters to kids when they see their parents and teachers working as a team, supporting them.  When I was a kid, my mom and my teachers were friends.  My mom was always involved — president of the PTA one year, making talent show sets the next — and school felt like an extension of home, a place where I belonged and was cared for.

There’s a practical component to this partnership, too. Continue reading

Effective Effort: Key to Girls’ Success in Math

It seems every year, I have at least one girl in my class who says, “I can’t do it.  I’m no good at math.”  These students believe that math comes “naturally” to other people (and not to them) and that there is little they can do to become strong math students.

Nowadays, the words “I’m no good at math,” just get me fired up.  I hear them, and I think, “that’s a student who is going to have a transformative year.”  Because I know that effective effort + time = success, and soon, she will, too.

I’m far from the only one who thinks this way.  Check out this research summarized in the most recent Marshall Memo (9/14/09): Continue reading