Throwing a kid a Facebook account as their first experience of a social network is irresponsible, it’s akin to giving an eighteen year old a driver’s license without them taking any driving lessons.

It’s hard to bring up the topic of Edmodo without talking about Facebook. I’m a little sick of talking about social networking at the moment to be perfectly honest. It seems to be something we constantly need to revisit at school, particularly with our senior grade six students. Put simply, kids who are too young to be getting into Facebook, are into it. It’s such a powerful tool in the hands of children and they really don’t know the extent to which they can cause harm. They really have no idea. All the education in the world can’t prepare students for something which only real-life social experiences can provide.

Having said that, if we stand back and fail to provide the right education in the use of social networking, then things could get a whole lot worse.

So in steps Edmodo. Edmodo is a social networking web site for schools. I’m taking a look at the site and the iPad app here in this post and I’ll talk briefly about how I’m currently using it in my class.

Edmodo looks a lot like Facebook but it acts a little more like Google+.

As a teacher, you create an account – an easy process – and start a group. This group is assigned a code which you then pass on to your students. This is the first step in controlling the usage of the site. If you don’t have the code, you can’t join the group. Even if you somehow manage to come across a code, if the leader of the group doesn’t accept you, you won’t get in. It’s a safe social-networking site. The best part about joining Edmodo is that the student does not need an email address.

So they join the group and can begin contributing to discussions.

So how does this prepare students for a future life of social networking? Put simply, they need to crawl before they can walk.  But not all parents see this. Just because ‘all the other kids are doing it’ doesn’t make it okay.

By using a safe social-networking site like Edmodo under the guidance of a trained professional like a teacher, we can do a few things. Firstly we remove the novelty of the social network before they get to Facebook. Second, we teach them appropriate ways to communicate to each other online, without the repercussions that a public space like Facebook can bring. Thirdly, we put a purpose to the communication, we show the students that we network socially for a reason, not just to combat boredom.

This post is under serious threat of going somewhere it shouldn’t. I don’t mean to harp on about Facebook, so I’ll stop right there.

Across my year level, I’m running a special program designing and building longboard skateboards. We run our special programs in the final term of the grade six year to maximise engagement in what is usually a tough time to engage kids on the verge of entering high school. I have an interest in both longboarding and woodworking and the only boards I’ve ridden are the ones I’ve made myself. I’m super-keen to pass these skills on to any of my students that want to learn. Turns out there’s quite a few of them.

The way we communicate and collaborate as a group when we’re not together in the same room, is through Edmodo. They’re all members of the group and they all contribute willingly to discussions, some more than others. They post their ideas for designs and links to longboard videos and pictures of boards they like, and then they all comment on each other’s finds and ideas. Unbelievable, especially considering that the program doesn’t start for another two weeks.

This is what responsible social networking should be about at this early age. They become familiar with the environment and they learn to be positive with each other’s posts, or they don’t say anything at all. Who’s to say whether or not this will assist in shaping these kids for the social-networking future that lay before them? At least, in this environment, it won’t do them any harm.

This leads me to the Edmodo iPad app. There’s not a lot I can really add to be honest. It’s virtually a replica of the web site, which is a shame because I’d thought they’d make it a little more iPad friendly; bigger buttons for the touch screen to begin with. The only thing I have found it’s no good for is uploading media of any kind, this will need to be done at a computer. With any luck, the people at Edmodo are paying attention to the iPad phenomenon and are working on something. I guess at this stage, they’re probably just happy to have an iPad ‘presence’.

More Edmodo posts to follow as we work our way through our longboard program.

I love finding little gems like Stick Math HD. They’re innocent, well-made, simple and best of all FREE. Stick Math’s premise is fairly simple. Move one match stick to make an incorrect equation correct.

How would you use this in the maths classroom? I used Stick Math last week when we had 20 minutes of spare time available and it filled that time nicely. I’d also look to use the app for early finishers who love a challenge.

The emphasis isn’t completely on maths believe it or not; the equations are very simple, it’s the problem solving skills that get a good workout. A timer runs alongside your progress as you work your way through the puzzles and you’ll find the kids not only getting competitive, but also helping each other out.

I don’t have a lot more to add to this review, other than to say, this one’s another no-brainer. You’ve got nothing to lose, add it to the list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stick Math HD (iTunes link)

One of our most beloved pets is Dropbox. Until Apple release their iCloud service, this is the best way we find of setting up documents for the kids to access. As it stands, you can save PDFs to the bookshelf in iBooks, but there’s a few steps involved and not an entirely convenient process – definitely not one that reluctant teachers would want to get involved in.

So in steps Dropbox, a hugely popular cloud storage solution. We’ve signed up for the free package which allows us 2GB of data storage – plenty if you’re only really needing to store documents and some photos perhaps. There’s an upgrade option available for a price, but after six months of use, we haven’t yet hit the 500MB mark and won’t this year.

How do we use it exactly? All of the year level teachers (my direct colleagues, the ones teaching with the iPads) have Dropbox installed on their laptops. It shows up as a shortcut in their Finder window or on their Windows desktop. We simply drag and drop files into the designated folder, it’s as simple as that. The Dropbox app was downloaded from the App Store and is on every iPad. So every time we want to give the students a file to access – perhaps some questions, a worksheet, instructions, whatever, we drag and drop and almost immediately it’s there on their iPad for retrieval.

For added usefulness our interactive whiteboards also have a Dropbox link on the desktops so we can access the files on the big screen if we need to teach to the document. Brilliant, simple, amazing, beats the pants of moving everything around on USB sticks and syncing 26 iPads.

I love you Dropbox. And did I mention it was all FREE?

Dropbox web site link to download application.

This is one beautiful app and until this week I’d never thought of it as a maths app, but it so definitely is. It behaves like a children’s storybook, popping up out of the screen with amazing colour. But it wasn’t intended to be a maths app, it’s a fun, spot-the-difference game.

The premise of the game is simple; you’re given a set time to distinguish the differences between the left side of the pop-up book from the right. There are twenty levels, each getting harder than the last and a little story to go along with it. The differences come in the form of certain objects not being reflected.

We’re currently doing a maths unit on tessellations, reflections, translations etc. So as a fun little activity as a lead-in to the lesson, the students played a few levels of Headspin Storybook. It encourages them to pay close attention and look at reflection, developing a good understanding of the concept.

It’s not much more than an intro, or an early finishers activity, or perhaps a station in a set of rotating activities. But I love it and the kids loved it too and for 99c it’s a no-brainer.

Headspin : Storybook (iTunes link)

The iPad has managed to replace a bunch of old teaching and learning resources. Like a wrecking-ball it’s gone in there and cleaned out my classroom. Dictionaries – GONE. Atlases – GONE. Tables charts – GONE. Stopwatches – GONE. Calculators – GONE. You get the picture.

The latest causality is the audio book reading station. You know the one; the stereo linked to a massive unit with a bunch of tangled, oversized headphones plugged into the side. Cassette tapes, scratched CDs, limited catalogue, that kind of thing.

We’ve recently been listening to audiobooks via the iPad and boy oh boy, do I love it. The first book we’re tackling is Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman. Great story, amazing story actually and the kids are right into to it also. I synced a copy of the book to each iPad so every kid has access to their own copy so if they fall behind they can catch up easily without having to hinder anyone else. It’s a much more convenient model than the old share-station. At our school, we’ve added headphones to the students’ booklist, so every kid has their own set and they take them out whenever they need to use the iPads. It has been great to see the kids grab their iPad, their headphones and find a quiet spot in our open-learning environment and tune-out everything else that’s going on around them.

The only negative with the audiobooks that I can identify is when an iPad is shared and their place in the story is lost. The student MUST note down where they are up to in the story. They’ll have to develop a new set of habits to stay organised, but that’s alright, that’s life and we learn to adjust to new things.

As with any sort of reading, you’re going to witness kids lose focus. With an audiobook, this doesn’t change. Instead of using their eyes for the book, they use their ears so their eyes are vulnerable to wandering. I’ve attempted to address this problem a couple of ways. I gave the students an activity to do while they were listening to the book. The activity needs to be basic so as not to take away too much of their concentration. They’ve been keeping a mind-map on the Popplet app, tracking the personality traits of all the characters in the story, so if they observe a character showing courage, they’ll flick over to Popplet and add that to the mind-map. It’s simple, but it’s enough to keep them focused on the book, it also has merit as a reading or discussion activity later on. Another activity might see them open an app like Penultimate and have a free scribble time where they can illustrate the part of the story they’re presently listening to. You should also try having the students move to a part of the classroom where visual distractions are at a minimum.

So where is the best place to get audiobooks? Well the easiest and most convenient option is iTunes, but this is not always the best option. The other main option out there is Audible which is owned by Amazon so you know they’re going to have a half-decent library (85,000+ books). iTunes is convenient obviously because it’s connected to your iPad library and there’s pretty much nothing to do once the download has been transacted. Audible on the other hand requires a subscription which is roughly $15 each month. If the subscription model isn’t an issue, then by all means, go for it and start building an audiobook library. If you signed up for a year for around $200, you’d get something like 20 books. I’m using crude figures here, I apologise but there are a lot of variables to take into account. iTunes has no subscription model and you pay for what you want.

I did a little price comparison on a couple of titles…

Of course, the prices vary from titles within the series and often you can pick up sales. It’s also worth noting that you can sign up to a free Audible account and get your first two books free, then cancel if you’re unhappy with it; this may be your best avenue in to the audiobook world.

Thankfully the iBook store in Australia has finally been populated with some half decent books. Up until recently, we’ve seen nothing but the free offerings of the classics. Quality writing no doubt, but not really what the kids are into these days. Unless Treasure Island has some secret vampires that I wasn’t aware of there’s a version of Winnie the Pooh with a bundle of fart and vomit jokes that I’m unfamiliar with, I needed something else, something more appealing to my students.

So enter the iBook store and welcome to the few titles that are in there. I must say, for a limited batch of books, there’s plenty to choose from. I wasn’t intending on discussing the books that we are reading, more so looking at how the iBooks app works and using an ‘eBook Reader’ in general (I wish they’d settle on one label for these this method of reading).

We’ve been reading a couple of different books; Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Cat on the Mat is Flat by Andy Griffiths. Both books are highly entertaining and the students are really enjoying reading them, I would love to see more titles available sooner rather than later.

As far as the general logistics of reading eBooks… there are some serious mistakes you’ll make, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Positives:

  • Purchase one copy of the book, put it on all your devices and you’ve got an instant class set of books. We now have 26 copies of The Cat on the Mat is Flat for under $10.
  • eBooks take up no shelf space.
  • There’s no going to the library to borrow a bunch of books, no late returns and no angry librarians complaining about yoghurt stains on the books.
  • It’s a sign of the times, so get on board.
  • Initially the kids are absolutely excited about reading.
Minus:
  • Book lovers love holding books, there’s none of that. There’s nothing warm about an eBook.
  • If you share the eBook with other readers sharing the same iPad, there can be confusion relating to the page you’re up to. Sure there are bookmarks, but as soon as someone changes the font or the font size, the page numbers are thrown out of whack and it becomes very difficult to get back on track, often taking minutes for your group to get ready to start.
Interesting:
  • Does it make kids more or less interested in reading?
  • Come up with strategies to deal with the above problems. My students take responsibility for their reading and note in their own diary the page number they’re up to. They also know to make sure their font and font size just in case it gets changed.
  • Personally, I don’t get the infatuation some people have with physical books. Picture story books I get, that’s a different matter, but novels with nothing other than text, not sure why…
eBooks can be one of the more controversial areas surrounding the introduction of iPads into the classroom. They’ll prove difficult for many of the older generation to get their heads around. Don’t let that get in your way. Remember, we’re preparing our students for their future, not our past.

This here is a winner of an iPad app.

Maths apps could effectively be categorised one of two ways; those that drill students with sums and exercises, and those that engage them and encourage them to learn and understand. This app falls into the latter category.

Motion Math HD ($3.99) is all about fractions; common fractions, decimals and percentages. The UI is nice to look at and the game runs smooth. The player is required to tilt the device to guide a falling star/ball/thing onto a blank 0-1 number line according to the designated fraction. If the player misses the spot on the blank number line, an arrow guides them in the right direction. If they miss again, the line becomes segmented and if the player misses once more the fractions show up on the number line making it even more obvious where to direct the star.

The levels progressively get harder and harder and as an adult/teacher I found myself thinking carefully about some of the less common fractions like 18ths and it became a genuine challenge for me.

In the grade six classroom, this app was a hit. They enjoyed playing and it easily occupied them for the opening and closing ten minutes of the lesson. In an ordinary week where we were studying fractions, I might make it the focus app and use it as a class opener each day and compete for highest scores.

So who would this best suit? Grade 4-6 would be well comfortable using this app and I’d say it would stretch even further and challenge younger high school students. Like I said, it challenged me, but the UI is clearly aimed at the primary level.

Well done Motion Math, please can I have more where that came from?

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