Saturday, January 26, 2013


eSpark is a paid app service that our class is fortunate enough to be using for the rest of the school year.  They have a math and language arts component, we are using language arts. We started January 7 and so far the students and I are really liking the experience.

I provided the company with data about each student's individual language arts abilities. The company used this information to create an individualized learning path on the iPad for each student.

The topics covered are all align to the Common Core Standards, and each student is working on 1 of the 4 CC strands. The strand they are working on (fiction, non-fiction, phonics/reading skills, and grammar and vocabulary) were determined by me, but could have been chosen with student input. The reason I didn't consult students on their strand is because I wanted to be able to start as soon as we returned from December break. The current strand they are working on might last 12-15 weeks. When students finish the current strand I plan to get feedback from them about their next strand.

Students work on "quests" which are chunks of learning centered around a single topic, such as summarizing non-fiction text. Each quest consists of 1-4 short videos and 1-4 apps. After watching the educational videos and playing the apps (many of which are actually books) students create a video in which they teach me the concept they have just learned. eSpark is a fairly new company and they are also working on adding a pre and post test to each quest. Some quests students are currently working on have these tests already embedded.

All the topics covered in eSpark correlate to topics we are covering in class in language arts. I am using eSpark to re-enforce this learning rather than some of the worksheets students might otherwise be completing. I am very excited about the individualized and interactive nature of this product and the students seem to be enjoying it as well--anything electronic is better than paper and pencil for most of them!

The people behind eSpark have all been wonderful. I had several hours of professional development to walk me through the set-up, organization and implementation of eSpark. I have technical support available 24/7. So far my students have had 2 minor issues, and both were dealt with quickly. In one case a video wouldn't play and in another case one of the apps on a quest kept crashing.

In addition to the academic component of eSpark, students sign-in each day and rate their mood. This quick check-in gives me a great way to gauge how even my quiet students are feeling. It allows me to tap into emotions students might not normally share and I am able to meet individually with students who are feeling lonely or sad but haven't mentioned it verbally.

My students are using eSpark about 3 times a week in blocks of about 20 minutes. Most of my iPads are shared by 3 students. I meet with the whole class and we discuss and go over assignments then students rotate through 20 minutes of eSpark time on the iPad and 40 minutes of time on paper/pencil assignments or other activities. That way in a block of 1 hour everyone has had their turn, and it is all individualized so I don't have students complaining they are bored or don't understand and I don't have to create a separate lesson plan for each of them.

In addition, the video teaching is wonderful. Most of my iPads are iPad 1s so students are creating their videos on some iTouches I have rather than in the eSpark app itself. It took a couple conversations but students are now really understanding the idea that they are supposed to teach their audience what they have learned. They are also enjoying the chance to express opinions about what they like and don't like about the videos and apps. For me it's more telling (and fun) than correcting dittos.

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