Thursday, December 18, 2014

Elementary ELL Apps

It is the middle of the school year and you get the message from your school secretary that you have a new student. Your adrenaline starts to rush at this point as you have a mix of emotions with a million questions running through your mind. So much is unknown at the mention of a new student. When the secretary announces that the student does not know English, it adds a whole new element into the mix. This isn't a bad thing by any means, but it is merely a challenge that happens to every teacher from time to time.

Being the technology coach in a 1:1 district (iPads or PC laptops for each student), I frequently am near the top of the list of people the teacher emails about what to do in this scenario. I by no means am an expert, but I've found a few free tools that might be of help on the iPad to help get the student acquainted with the language.

These apps were selected because they are free and not loaded down with advertisements that can be distracting to students.

ABC Ninja (free)
ABC Ninja is much like the famous Fruit Ninja game that is available on almost every tablet. Instead of slicing fruit, you slice letters. The device announces the letter name, and the user must slice the corresponding letter. The app provides lower case and capital letters. It also will do letter sounds. This can be adjusted by selecting on the gear on the top-right corner of the opening screen.

Sight Word Ninja (free)
Sight Word Ninja is much like ABC Ninja. Selecting the gear on the opening screen will allow the user to adjust the sight words according to grade level. If the teacher wants to get more specific, there are arrow options on the right side that allow the user to select/deselect words.

Monkey Match (free)
Monkey Match comes from the PBS show Between the Lions. It is designed for the iPod Touch or iPhone, so the resolution may seem a little off, and you'll have to hold the iPad in a portrait position. The user can match capital and lower case letters, letters to pictures, and sounds to pictures.

 Little Writer (free)
When my school district first started the 1:1 technology initiative, teachers scrambled for apps that helped students learn letters. However, all of the free ones included just a minute part of the app. Leaving the user with only a few letters to practice or only the lower case set. Little Writer came along and changed the game as it provides a complete package. There is also a paid pro version that includes more features.

My Backpack (free)
My Backpack is provided for free by the Waterford program. It contains texts read aloud to students, fun songs, and some math games. It is mostly intended for early literacy learners (preschool-first grade) as many of the apps listed here are. However, a good quality free resource is hard to pass up.

Sentence Creator (free)
This app is great because the teacher can set it to have visual/audio hints. The user can tap on the words to check the sound. As the student becomes more fluent, these settings can be adjusted. "Trick Tiles" are also a part of it as students need to learn the proper spellings of words even though phonetically the trick tiles are accurate. It is also nice because a scorecard shows up at the end displaying for the teacher how the student performed. There is another app that it could be imported into (Bitsboard). However, a teacher could just have the student take a screenshot and send it his/her way via email or other learning management system.

Sight Words by Photo Touch (free)
This app is very simple and easy to use as the user just practices sight words. The lists can also be customized by the user or teacher. The recording tool is of obvious use to the teacher, but the student could create their own recordings of the words as they progress.

Montessori Rhyme Time (free)
Rhyme Time fits students that have no experience with English. The students can tap the images to hear the word aloud. Then the user draws a line to match the corresponding rhyming sound. Again, this app is very primary-student oriented. The user really does have to tap on the picture to hear the word. There were a few items that I had to tap the image to figure out what word it was intending for me to rhyme. :)

Learn English with Lingo Arcade
Learn English is another app that matches audio with images. As the student progresses, new games and more difficult activities are unlocked (see image). As the student progresses, they must identify full sentences that match an image. One nice feature is that the teacher can also setup separate student accounts if you are in a classroom with limited number of iPads.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. So if you have any suggestions of websites/iOS apps that are helpful with ELL students, please feel free to list them in the comments.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Hour of Code 2014: Wayne Center Elementary and Rome City Elementary

The Hour of Code 2014 has come to a close for my elementary schools (Wayne Center and Rome City). I enjoyed receiving emails of pictures and invitations to see Kodable, Lightbot, or Scratch in action. The Hour of Code has certainly come with a polar divide of reviews from students and teachers. It was either well loved or well loathed. Through this experience, I learned a few things:

  • Not all individuals are geared to enjoy coding. Within seconds of entering a classroom I could tell who has the knack for it just by glancing at the vast array of facial expressions and body language. 
  • Educating students about computer science is essential. Students need to know that it is a profession and start working toward it now. Most students I talked to didn't realize how much writing code was intertwined within their daily lives.
I'm excited as students have really started to dig into their activities. I had several teachers that contacted me because they wanted the apps to stay on their iPads longer or they were looking for something to feed the need of a few students in their classroom that desired more challenge. 

Here is a little taste of our Hour of Code week: 

Thanks goes to my teachers who put some time into the Hour of Code this week. My hope is to have materials ready for you each year as this time rolls around to make the experience as smooth as possible. If you want to carry on the experience throughout the year, let me know! 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Kindergarten Padlets

Last week, I attended a workshop with Kristin Ziemke on "Connecting Comprehension & Technology." It was great to hear exactly what I attempt to reiterate with my teachers. Some of the key points include:

  • Get students to be creative with their devices to express their learning.
  • Use a few apps that students can use to meet a wide variety of skills.
  • Technology is going to fail you from time to time; it is okay. 
This week, I proposed one of her ideas to Mrs. Kuehnert (Kindergarten teacher at Wayne Center Elementary). Since the students have been using Hello! Crayons, it made a perfect opportunity for students to draw illustrations and label new things they learn while Mrs. Kuehnert read a non-fiction text aloud. The students were extremely engaged in the activity and were able to demonstrate clearly to Mrs. Kuehnert something they learned. After the students saved their work, the students submitted their work to a Padlet using QR Reader by Scan. (Click here if you are unfamiliar with Here is the breakdown of the activity:
  1. Prepare the students for thinking about what they are going to illustrate and label during the first reading. Have them focus on something new they learned. 
  2. Have a modeled example ready for the discussion after the first reading so that the expectations are set. (I modeled this while Mrs. Kuehnert was reading since there were two teachers present.)
  3. Before you reread the text, have a few students share something they learned that they want to illustrate. 
  4. Reread the text and be ready to deal with a few drawing sounds coming out of their iPads. :) 
  5. Have students save their work by pressing the purple save ion, and then choose "save to gallery."
  6. Pull up your pre-created Padlet on your screen and have the QR code displayed. Demonstrate how to scan the code using QR Reader by Scan.
  7. Have students press their home screen buttons and open their QR Reader. Have students line up as they have the app open and rotate up to the screen to scan the code and return to their places. (The flow is rough at first, but Kindergarten students are good at Follow the Leader.) 
  8. Have students double-tap on the Padlet wall. 
  9. The students need to type their name on the top line in the box that appears. 
  10. Next, the students need to tap on the "underlined arrow". 
  11. A box will appear, and the students need to tap on it. 
  12. Another box will appear and students need to select "choose existing". 
  13. Students then need to select their camera roll. 

  14. They need to find their photo which is more than likely the last in their collection if it was just saved.
  15. Final step for the students is to tap somewhere on the blank wall so that the photo sets on the canvas. This doesn't always seem to be necessary, but I feel it is "better safe than sorry" when it comes to Kindergarten. They need to get a little emotional when technology doesn't work. 
  16. Discuss the learning that took place by looking at the Padlet as a class. At this point, I would recommend having the students press their homescreen buttons so that they do not accidentally add more items to your Padlet. 
My ultimate goal for Mrs. Kuehnert is that this becomes a part of her regular routine; the kids create with their iPad and submit to a Padlet independently by scanning the QR code when they finish their work. It will take some practice and she will have to rely on her expert students (scan masters), but I've made her a believer and she is looking forward to the exciting things students can accomplish on their iPads and her ability to share what the whole class is learning through Padlet. 

Some final tips: 
  • Set the Padlet to be organized into a "grid" so that the items are automatically organized for you. 
  • If you want to share your Padlet with parents or other teachers, change the settings to "can view" after the activity so that no extra items appear on your Padlet. 
Check out our Padlet on Sea Turtles:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

1st Grade Poetry Project - Crayola Photo Mix & Mash

How to Use Crayola Photo Mix & Mash
I love Crayola Photo Mix & Mash. It gives students the ability to add photos, text, and draw on a canvas. This turns out to be a great place for students to express their learning.

The first graders at Rome City Elementary have been studying and creating poetry for the last week. They've talked about different forms and aspects of poetry. This includes the purposes of capitalization, punctuation, and line breaks.

Mr. Yoder's Sample Poem
After discussing poetry and revisiting a few examples they read throughout the week, I shared a poem that I wrote (I'm quite proud of it too). Through the publishing of this poem, the students were able to see some of the quirks that the app has. For example: capital letters when returning to a new line, changing of  text format when re-sizing text boxes, and getting new text boxes changes the text format. One tip for this app that I highly recommend passing on to students is to break text into chunks. That way the author can manipulate where text is located and how it is sized on the canvas.

Using the app in front of the student and showing the "quirks" before they dig in can eliminate quite a few frustrations of primary students. Primary students tend to be sensitive when the technology isn't functioning quite the way they want. This helps them understand that their frustrations are normal and gives them the problem solving skills necessary to accomplish a task.

Here are a few samples of student work:

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Hour of Code and Kidblog

The Hour of Code at Wayne Center Elementary has begun! I've been working with Mrs. Jackson's third graders on getting Kidblog launched in her classroom as she loves to give the students the opportunity to practice writing online in a safe community. I hated to interrupt the flow of things with Kidblog too much, but this week is the Hour of Code. So what better way do both than to have kids blog a little bit about coding? 

I kicked things off with a little discussion of what coding was and how it is involved with their daily lives. Sure I talked about the Internet, Kidblog, and the iPad setting in front of them. (Some even claimed they had coded their own website.) However, nothing caught their attention more than when I asked the question if anyone had ever wanted to make their own video game; the hands shot up at this point! That's when I knew I had their attention. Very few students actually knew that you could get a degree to learn how to make a video game. (Hence the whole purpose for the Hour of Code.)

Today's blogging assignment was to write a quick letter to the maker of their favorite device/website/video game. They needed to write a thank you to the person that coded it. While they were working, I pulled up the HTML code from so that they understood that behind all the images and text, there was real code. (The kids that claimed they had coded their own website retracted their previous statement.) The view of actual HTML code really put things into perspective as students suddenly realized how much time it takes to create something from code. They couldn't believe the amount of text and information just for one blog page.

Here are a few samples, but keep in mind that they only had five to ten minutes to write:

We wrapped things up with a demonstration of Lightbot. The students will get an opportunity to try it out a little throughout the week. I also made sure to explain that Lightbot is not necessarily real computer programming, but it requires similar problem solving and critical thinking skills that is necessary to learn coding. More Hour of Code to come!