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

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

Creating Google Presentations with Elementary Students

Today, I want to talk about one of the most powerful and versatile technologies to use with students: Google presentations. For anyone who just groaned and thought, “That’s all? Google’s version of PowerPoint?” don’t count me out yet! It’s true, Google presentations are a lot like PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.  Except, they allow for seamless collaboration and sharing between students, teachers, parents, and the rest of the world.

That power turns a simple technology — a digital slideshow — into a way for students to teach an engaged, authentic audience as they synthesize ideas, pursue independent studies, compare conclusions from experiments, jigsaw small group learning, and even publish e-books. Continue reading

Blogging With Elementary Students

When I use technology in my classroom, it’s never just for the sake of using technology.  I use technology when it will do a better job of achieving my learning goals than traditional methods.  I have rigorous goals for my students and little time to achieve them.  So we use computers (and iPads, iPods, etc.) only when they give us a greater return on investment.

That brings me to one really smart investment: blogs.  Blogging is all about writing.  To write a blog well, you need to be organized, include details, think about your audience, develop your voice, and edit for conventions.  What makes blogging different from normal classroom writing?  When students write blogs, they can share their writing with the world.  Perhaps “the world” is limited to their parents, grandparents, and other family members.  Perhaps “the world” really is the world, as in, everyone in the world can see what they write.

Blogging is writing with the volume turned up to 11.  Students are more excited to write blog posts than practically anything else they write in the classroom.  And so, as their teacher, I love having them blog so I can take full advantage of that drive in order to teach them to write well. Continue reading

Teaching the Scientific Method to 3rd Graders

The post I wrote about teaching scientific observation skills has been making me think more about the importance of going back to basics with science in our digital age.  We live in a time when kids think it’s better to take digital pictures in the forest than to draw.  They think technology has to be made of circuits and silicon and that every question can be answered with a Google search.

But none of that is true!  Drawing teaches us to see.  Technology includes the buttons on your shirt and the laces in your shoes.  And Google searches will tell us the knowledge of the day, but not the answers we need for tomorrow.

That’s why we have to teach the scientific method.  So students have the tools they need to ask questions and find answers that are factual, verifiable, and provable.  Answers that stand up against critical review and analysis and reveal larger truths about our world.

Continue reading

Making the First Move: Effective Parent Communication

Before I realized that I wanted (maybe needed?) to be a teacher, I worked in the national office of an AmeriCorps program as a “Special Projects Assistant” to the CEO.  It’s well known that I was, and continue to be, very special.  But what I learned was how to develop relationships.  Over time, I’d watch as the founders and staff would build relationships with donors and convince them — we’re talking individuals here, not even corporations — to give as much as a million dollars a year.  Certainly, people gave because they believed in the power of our organization to change the world.  But they also gave because they trusted the founders and the staff.  They gave because of their relationships, not just their beliefs. Continue reading