Archives for January 2014

Write About This, Common Core!

This is an image of the write about this app logo.

Age-appropriate creation apps for K-2 students can be hard to come by. While it can be argued that many of the creation apps can be used by students of all ages, these apps often do not appeal to primary teachers because they do not feel comfortable using the apps. That’s why I was so excited when a colleague who teaches Kindergarten shared the Write About This app that she uses with her students.

Write About What?

Write About This is very child-friendly and easy to navigate. It provides interesting photos and ready-made prompts for student response. Here’s how it works:

  • In the app, a student chooses a category from the nineteen options provided.
  • Once a category choice is made, a student then chooses a photo. At the bottom of the photo is a prompt.
  • The prompt is written but can also be read aloud by pressing the “voice” button.
  • Students then press the “Write” button where they are taken to a new screen which contains the photo, the prompt, and lined “paper” on which to respond to the prompt.
  • Students can record themselves dictating or reading their written response.
  • Students save their Write About in the app or they can email their creation. They can also save it to the camera roll.

The app includes a “Create Your Own” area. This allows students to create the entire Write About (take the photo, create the prompt or a descriptive sentence, record their voices and respond to the photo in the journal) all by themselves.

I downloaded the free version just to test it out. It’s very limited, but the biggest limitation is that students can only create one “Create Your Own” in the free app. Even if it is deleted, another cannot be created. It’s worth the $3.99 price to open up the full app!

Common Core Connection

Write About This was created by a 4th grade teacher, and it seems to be appealing for K-5 students. While the app has potential with upper elementary and middle school students, it will work best with the more primary students.

Write About This also has a very informative website, which includes the following comments about Common Core:

  • Many of the prompts included in the Write About This app ask students to explain their opinion about a variety of topics as well as provide a jumping off point for both fiction and non-fiction narratives.
  • Creative writing opportunities are also abound..with photos and prompts that will invite children to imagine and add unique details on everything from poetry & prose to lists & letters.

As for the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing, I see Write About This helping students to achieve CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2 and CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4, 5, and 6.

The text of these standards sounds awfully lofty for Kindergarteners through second graders, but when you take a look at the Grade-Level Specific standards, you will see that the Write About This app really does help students build toward these College and Career Ready goals.

Even better, Write About This also promotes Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. Check out the blog on the Write About This website for some curriculum integration ideas.

What Do You Think?

How do you see Write About This helping your younger students to meet the Common Core State Standards? What suggestions do you have for using it in the classroom?





Sums Stack(er) Your Way to Conceptual Mathematics Understanding

SumsStackerSumsStackerTrue Confession: I am mathematically challenged. Throughout elementary school, I excelled in all areas of Language Arts, but I struggled in math (especially with word problems, oddly enough). Struggling in elementary school led to struggles in middle school, and I was finally able to work through some of my issues in high school. But I think I’ve finally figured out what I lack: conceptual understanding of mathematics.

In other words, I have no number sense.

Teaching Number Sense

Conceptual understanding of mathematics, or number sense, is the foundation of mathematical understanding.  Without number sense, students struggle learning the basic facts, and that translates into failing grades when they enter middle school and they are expected to be able to perform complex operations in their mathematics classes. Worse, it limits what students can do after their formal schooling ends.

Number sense isn’t something that is always taught explicitly. It’s embedded. But rather than teaching early elementary students how to do double-digit subtraction using a standard algorithm (bigger bottom, better borrow!) we need to be teaching them how to decompose numbers, start to think relationally, and do these kinds of problems in their heads or by using strategies that make sense to them. As students’ ability to think flexibly about numbers grows, so will their ability to perform more complex operations.

How Sums Stacker Works

Sums Stacker is a great app for supporting the development of number sense. There are different levels, (easy and hard), different modes (solve, infinity, and timed race modes), and different graphic representations of numbers (including numbers in different languages, money, shapes, fractions, and more). There are three columns, and students must make the sum of the dice, fingers, etc. match the number that gets shown on the column. If the student stacks the sum correctly, the items dance and a little jingle plays, and the numbers on the columns reset so the student can play some more. In an effort to help students think carefully and not guess, there is a running ratio of moves to points. The lower the ratio, the better.

I find that the app is best suited toward the younger elementary students— Kindergarten through third grade— but it can be beneficial for all learners of mathematics. It offers a great opportunity to practice for upper-elementary students (and anyone else who needs a little practice… ahem).

Common Core Connection

According to the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics, students aren’t supposed to start using the standard algorithms until fourth grade. This means that the primary grades can really focus on the conceptual understandings and allow students to represent problems in their own ways. Some have argued that this is “dumbing down” the curriculum. I disagree.  I think it allows children to develop a strong understanding of numbers before being forced to do an algorithm that they don’t fully grasp.

Common Core Mathematics is organized differently than language arts. So, to be as specific as possible, Sums Stacker helps students develop their skills in Operations and Algebraic Thinking (CCSS OA.A), which helps them master the skills they will need to understand and ultimately master standard algorithms as they progress in school. In Kindergarten, it’s CCSS.Math.Content.K.OA.A.1.  In first grade, it remains the same standard and extends to CCSS.Math.Content.1.OA.C.6. In second grade, these two standards continue to grow as well as CCSS.Math.Content.2.OA.B.2.  By the time students reach third grade, addition and subtraction should be mastered so that students can start to conceptually understand multiplication and division. Additionally (no pun intended), it can help guide second grade students in developing CCSS.Math.Content.2.NBT.B.5 which deals with base ten operations (although this standard goes to 100 and the app only has students adding to 20).

Cognitively Guided Instruction

It’s only been in the past few years as I’ve been introduced to Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) that I’ve really been able to see numbers in a new way. I wish, I wish, I wish I could have learned mathematics in this way as a child, and I wish this for my own children. Younger elementary students don’t need worksheets— they need to use their intuition and workable objects, and they need to conceptualize the properties of mathematics so that they can apply those properties as they get older and start learning how to do more complex problems. Truly, the best way Ive seen for teachers to help students meet the Common Core State Standards and to fully develop their skills in Mathematics is to become educated in CGI.

What Do You Think?

What experience do you have with the conceptual understanding of mathematics? Do you think that students should have a strong conceptual understanding before moving on to the standard algorithm? Do you know of any other apps (besides ST Math/JiJi) that might support this?

Kids Blog with Kidblog

KidblogBlogging is everywhere these days and it seems like every time I turn around, someone else is starting a new blog, either for themselves or with their students. Blogging gives students the opportunity to start conversations with a truly global audience, and for that reason, teachers should be providing their students opportunities to blog either on a topic of their choosing or as part of a class assignment.

Why Kidblog?

I’ve used a few different platforms for blogging. Without naming them, each had limitations that I found frustrating. Most were way too complicated for students to use, which is why I ended up abandoning each of my initial tries with blogging. That is, until I found Kidblog.

One thing I like about Kidblog is how easy it is for students to log in. A student doesn’t need a personal email address to have a blog. First a student finds the teacher’s class by typing in the teacher’s email address. They choose their class, and a drop-down menu of student names (pre-populated by the teacher) is provided.  Students put in their password, which can also be created by the teacher, and they can immediately begin blogging— the first thing that opens is a blank post. Navigation icons, which are located on the left side of the page, are large enough for students to see, and they can easily determine what each icon means.

As with most blogs, Students can add images into the post by taking a photo from within the app or by using a photo in the camera roll. Video can be added in the same manner.

Another bonus with Kidblog is the privacy features. Teachers have a few different options for privacy. Posts may only be public to those who are logged in, meaning only the people in that particular class can see posts and comments. A looser option is that the teacher allows the public to read the blog posts and comments by the students, but the general public is unable to comment on the blog. The least private option is to allow commenting by the public, but comments can remain moderated by the teacher.

Comment Moderation

Whenever students are blogging, it’s a good idea for the teacher to moderate the comments that are being posted. Some blogs allow the students to determine whether a comment is posted. I prefer to be in charge of that myself, especially at the beginning of the year when students are still learning how to make proper blog comments. I always stress to the students how important it is to use academic and appropriate language and to check comments for punctuation and spelling. I also have them use the Blog Commenting Starters to help focus their thoughts so that they are continuing the conversation in a meaningful way.

Common Core Connection

Blogging is a natural way to bring the Common Core and technology together in the classroom. Depending on the assignment, students can write blog posts for authentic audiences to meet the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing. Also dependent upon the assignment, students can read and respond to others’ blogs, and this helps students achieve the following College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading:

  • Craft and Structure Standard 4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  • Craft and Structure Standard 5: Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g. a section, chapter, scene or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
  • Craft and Structure Standard 6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas Standard 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Blogging also helps students hone communication skills. In my experience, students are more thoughtful about what they are writing when they know it will be on the Internet, and they spend more time revising their work, therefore practicing their higher-order thinking skills. I have them revise their posts with a critical eye, asking themselves whether they have made their point clearly, whether the post is worthy of a conversation, and whether this is a piece they would want to read and discuss.

What Do You Think?

How do you see blogging helping your students meet the Common Core State Standards? How do you use blogging in your classroom?

If you aren’t sure how to start with your students, check out these two blogs: Peeking Into Division 19 by Karen Lirenman’s students, Mrs. Yollis’ Classroom Blog by Linda Yollis.

Where Do I Turn in My Assignment? Digital Solutions for the 1:1 Classroom

TurnItIn2One of the biggest challenges of a 1:1 mobile device program is figuring out how to have students turn in work. Depending on a school district’s policies, students can’t always email their work, and printing work is also not an option unless the teacher has a wireless printer. Teachers need solutions for getting work from their students.

Of course it’s best when every teacher in a school or district uses the same method for delivering assignments to students and receiving assignments from students. However, if there isn’t a system in place, teachers do have options such as:

  1. Learning Management System (Haiku LearningBlackboardMy Big Campus, or the like).
  2. Google Drive to share work with students and have them turn things in. This works best with a Google Apps for Education Domain. Other Google solutions include Google Classroom or having students submit work via a Google form.
  3. Edmodo, a social network for teachers and students that has similar function to an LMS (but is not an LMS)
  4. Dropbox for students to retrieve assignments and upload work.
  5. Evernote
  6. Email

Many of the K-8 teachers I work with are wary of any tool that requires students to create an account using an email address (Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive). I’ve seen teachers work around this in a number of ways, and the most common way to make this happen is to have a shared account that all students can access. I’m not a huge fan of shared accounts because of the implications when a student forgets to “Keep Your Digital Hands to Your Digital Self,” but sometimes it’s the best (and quickest) solution.

No matter what, teachers need support from administrators and parents in order to get digital projects and papers from their students.

What’s your teacher-student-teacher workflow?