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.

2nd Grade Past Tense Verb Rule Explained

This week we reviewed and learned more verb tense rules. After practicing examples of the rules whole class I asked each student to choose 1 rule. They used Educreations to explain the rule/teach it and give at least 1 example.

2nd Grade Summarizing and Giving an Opinion

This week I introduced my 2nd graders to a website I recently learned about TweenTribune Junior. I asked them to choose 1 of the articles written this week (we did the activity Thursday). The main page has a photo and a couple of sentences about each article so students could quickly glance at their choices. They had to read the "easier" version of the article. These are written at a grade level appropriate for my primary students and are about 10 sentences long. They had the option to click "read more" and read the full article, which is written at an upper grade reading level.

After reading I asked each student to make an entry in iDiary that included a summary of the article, an illustration, and their opinion of the story.

2nd Grade 4 Types of Sentences

Way back in August we talked about 4 types of sentences--telling, command, exclamation, and question. We did an activity this week to review and I'm happy to say everyone knew the 4 sentence types.

First students drew a picture in Drawing Pad. They imported the same picture into 4 different boxes of Strip Design. Then they added a caption to each picture using the 4 different types of sentences.

1st Grade Seasons

As another activity to go with our science weather unit I asked students to compare a scene during 4 times of year.

Students used the Paint with Time app to paint the 4 seasons either on the beach or in the forest. They took screenshots of each of those scenes and brought the images into 4 different pages of Story Buddy. On each page they wrote about the weather, using words from our science unit to think about the clouds, temperature, wind and precipitation.

1st Grade Weather Popplet

Today I asked the first grade students to create a Popplet about winter. I asked them to make 4 boxes, 1 each for see, hear, feel and temperature since that is something we are studying in science. I also wanted them to write in complete sentences.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Accessories Update

It has been about 4 months since started using Cosmonaut styluses and they continue to be fantastic. The students love the feel of them and I am happy to say (knock on wood) that they are very durable. Unlike the little rubber tip styluses or various brands that we tried initially, we have not had any Cosmonauts break.

The GripStands are also working well. The adjustable stand that is part of the case is the students' favorite part. They continue to comment on how well it adjusts to any angle they want. We don't have one for every device, so students are constantly reminded of how the GripStand performs compared to a regular cloth case with a cover flap (that sort of works to hold the iPad at a angle but over time becomes too soft to actually do so). My favorite feature is the charging stand. I love the way the iPads just slip in and immediately connect correctly to charge. iPads that are not on GripStands are still being charged via the cables that come with the devices. For some students it is a challenge to plug and unplug these correctly and sometimes the brute force I see in action makes me cringe. Not quite so perfect, over time some iPads slip out of 1 or more of the corners or the GripStand. We haven't had any accidents yet, but we are all careful to check that the iPad is in securely and if not to re-insert the iPad corner that is slipping out of the case.

2nd Graders Describe a Scene

Like the 1st graders the 2nd graders created a scene with the app My PlayHome Lite. Most chose the kitchen because it had more fun objects to move around, but there is also a living room. I love this app because it really engages students but there is a lot I can do with it related to the standards.

2nd Grade Writing Expanded/Super Sentences

Students used either Toontastic or Story Maker to create a scene with 1 person. They imported it to Story Buddy and wrote a super sentence including an adjective, adverb, where and when.

2nd Grade Hero Cause and Effect

We have read a lot about heroes this week. After reading about Molly Pitcher and Jackie Robinson we practiced finding facts about their life to answer specific questions and we used the Tools4Students app to record facts. As a review of cause and effect each student then drew 2 pictures in Drawing Pad to show cause and effect related to the hero. They imported the drawings to Strip Design and added captions.

1st Grade The Mitten and The Hat by Jan Brett

After a read aloud of The Mitten and The Hat by Jan Brett students completed several digital activities. Using Tools4Students they completed a sequence of events for each book. Next, they used the same app to compare/contrast the stories.  Finally, they used iDiary to write about which book they preferred and why.

1st Grade Skip Counting

We are practicing skip counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s. As a break from workbook pages, students used either Chalk or Drawing Pad (their choice) and created a picture of skip counting by 2s, 5s and 10s showing a sequence of 4 numbers (3 separate pages). Along with each picture they wrote the skip counting and matching addition equation. For students who needed an additional challenge I gave them a number other than 2, 5 and 10 to start with.

1st Grade My PlayHome and Story Buddy question practice

Students started out with the lite version of the app My PlayHome. I love this app because it's so playful that it engages the students, and yet there is a lot I can do with it academically. Students chose either the kitchen or living room and had some time to explore and re-arrange objects. Once they were satisfied with their scene (or I told them time was up) they took a screenshot. They brought the screenshot into Story Buddy and then wrote 3 questions. Later in the day students exchanged books and answered each other's questions.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

1st and 2nd Grade eSpark

I was VERY fortunate to get the financial backing from my school to pilot an app called eSpark. I spent a few hours over the December break receiving PD from eSpark and rolled out the program to students Tuesday. In a nutshell eSpark provides an individual ELA learning curriculum on the iPad for each of my students and ties it to the CCS in reading. Students sign-in to their eSpark account on the app and are directed to watch specific videos and play specific third-party apps that target skills in their reading goal area.

I had to ship off my iPads on Wednesday to have third-party apps installed by eSpark so my students only had 1 day to try the program but so far they are very excited. I think they like the idea that they are each learning something different and it is created specifically for them. On the downside, we have had no iPads for most of the week and won't be able to use them again until Tuesday. On the upside, I am not loading all the apps myself (40-60 per device), that is something that eSpark does for me.

I'll keep you posted on how our journey goes with this program.

2nd Grade Comparing Igneous Rocks

During our rock unit rather than write in science journals I am asking students to record observations in Educreations. The unit we are working on involves a lot of comparing and observing of rocks, not a lot of action. I think that makes it perfect for an iPad activity because in past years students have become very bored by the 4th or 5th worksheet asking them to describe what they see. They have observed various igneous rocks dry, wet rocks, river rocks, and done a lot of sorts. Here's a sample of an Educreations video created after observing 3 types of igneous rocks.

1st and 2nd Grade--December Break Popplet

We had a great first week back at school. Of course we spent a lot of time talking about everyone's vacations, new toys, fun playdates, etc. To give them something to remember their break by, each student created a Popplet of their vacation. I found it interesting that none (!) of my 24 students wanted to include photos or drawings, all of them chose text-only webs.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First and Second Grade Create Their Own Curious George Story

During the week students read various Curious George stories. We spent time comparing and contrasting them (Tools4Students) as well as dissecting them, talking about the pattern of George being curious, creating a problem and the problem being solved.

Next we brainstormed all the ways George could get into trouble if he visited our classroom for the day. Pairs of students each choose 1 of the events from the list. They wrote up part of the story explaining what George did and how he resolved the trouble he caused. We strung the 12 different story events together and created a class story beginning and ending. Students photographed George causing trouble. They imported the photos into Educreations and each pair read their part of the story.

Unfortunately we had to use multiple Educreations segments because we can't email anything longer than 3 minutes. Also, given that we recorded on the last day of school before winter break and before the class party, the reading quality is not as good as it might be--students were not really interested in re-doing or practicing their parts.  However, it was fun and accomplished story writing and cooperation goals.

A segment from the middle of the story, George causes trouble twice

Second Grade Final Family Heritage Project

As a culminating project to our family heritage unit, students created a Strip Design with 8 boxes. Each box included a photo, screenshot, or picture drawn in DrawingPad as well as a caption explaining the illustration. The topics for the boxes were flag of an ancestor's county (found from the Country Flags app), map of an ancestor's country (from Kid Countries app), a family heirloom, culture from an ancestor's country, family tradition, food from an ancestor's country, and facts about a maternal and paternal ancestor.

Once the StripDesign was complete students saved each of the 2 4 box pages as an image and imported them to Educreations. On Educreations they read a paragraph they had written about the 3 favorite things they had learned about their family during the unit.

Overall the project was time-consuming, about 1 1/2 hours, but the finished products were amazing.

First Grade--The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School Retell

At the beginning of the week my first grade students read The Gingerbread Loose in the School by Laura Murray. Then I asked pairs to draw the gingerbread man in DrawingPad, import it into either Sonic Pic or Educreations, and retell the story.

First Grade Haiku Deck

The week before break my first grade students tried Haiku Deck for the first time. I have wanted them to create a presentation, but Keynote has seemed a bit involved. Haiku Deck is perfect. All students were able to create a 3-5 slide presentation in 20 minutes, depending on how long they took choosing photos and their typing speed.

Haiku Deck makes creating slides very easy. There are about 5 fonts to choose from in the free version and about 10 layout possibilities. Students can type in "main idea" and a "detail" boxes and add 1 photo per slide from either the camera roll or photos provided by Haiku Deck (there must be thousands of those). The app is rated 12+ but when I played around with searching Haiku Deck photos I didn't find anything that was inappropriate. I did tell students they had to tell the search term they were going to use before they did it. Animals were especially popular and I asked students to use adjectives to describe the photos.

Students had a great time and were really disappointed when the activity time was done. This is a great go-to app for "showing what they know" in a visual format with topic highlights.

1st and 2nd Grade--Trading Cards App

The week before our December break my students tried the Trading Card app by ReadWriteThink for the first time. They used it in centers and therefore only had 15 minutes before it was time to move on. This was definitely not enough time, 30 minutes would be ideal to get high quality answers in all the fields.  The student example below, done by a 2nd grader, shows 3/4 of the boxes complete with some answers very brief. However, the 15 minutes was enough time for them to understand the app and complete a few of the boxes.

The app has several trading card options, including person, place, and event. I asked students to choose and complete the object trading card. The front and back of the card each have different writeable boxes, which differ based on the trading card. A great feature is that when a student hovers over each box directions pop up that give a guiding question to help them complete the box. This is great because it allows students to be more self-sufficient. Even my first grade students were able to read and follow the pop-ups (although all of them are reading at mid-2nd grade level or above).

This is definitely an app we'll use frequently!