Smart APPS*

Rocket Math

Rocket Math catches my attention for two reasons.  First, I think it has a lot of imagination.  The player is able to create his/her own rocket in their image.  Also the player is able to choose the rockets name.  Second, the game is also smart. In order to buy attachments for the rocket you have to get money, and in order to get money you have to solve math problems.  Another example is when you launch the rocket into space there are bubbles that have numbers in them and  “you have to get the ones your assigned to like evens or odds”.  Clearly, Rocket Math is one of the best math apps for kids like me playing to learn.

iScroll

iScroll is an amazing reading app for two reasons. One, its organized. It has a bookmark so wherever you left off it puts you there when you start again. Second, it has a store filled with fantastic books.  It gives one book for free and that book is called The Art Of War.  I thought it was amazing.   All in all, IScroll is far though the best reading app I have.

*Smart Apps is a weekly review series that researches and reviews iPad education related applications by Sol Ruiz, a 5th grade student, and Sebastian Ruiz in 7th grade.

Extra, extra, READ all about it!

If ever you’ve educated the young and have tried to impart the joyous importance of reading you know that while even Sisyphus might empathize with you, he does not envy you.

Why Reading Mattersa documentary by science writer Rita Carter, explores the effects of reading on the evolved brain and if multimedia, specifically video games,threatens those evolutionary gains thus far.  Despite not being programmed to read, she explains, when we do, it exercises and strengthens our ability to empathize with the characters of a novel and learn from their past mistakes in order to apply those lessons to real life.  Some scientists argue that video games, in particular, do not exercise the brain enough in that way due to their lack of content.  Though the evidence is inconclusive, I agree; while video games exercise other brain functions like eye hand coordination they do not exercise empathy enough. Even the collaborative qualities of mission-based, multi-player videos games do not develop the narrative and character enough to give us the empathy the real world is so desperate for us to learn.  What do you think?  Does digital media threaten the evolutionary benefits of reading?

For English Language Learners, their educators, and parents this documentary explains why for them practicing reading is even more crucial to academic development.  In part 2 of 6, minute 5, Professor of Education Usha Goswami at Cambridge University validates what most of us who learn English as a Second Language have known all along: English is much harder to learn than any other language!  She asserts that English is so hard that our brains must develop a whole different system to support this function than when we learn any other language.  For educators this is huge, science validates the frustrations of our students trying to learn content and English at the same time.  It is huge for them to know that there is nothing wrong with them nor with us trying to lead them down this rabbit whole.

“…80 percent correlation between being two years behind in reading at the 4th grade mark and dropping out of high school later.”

Holy what are we going to do if we can’t read, Batman?!

Well, according to this alarming statistic, 17% of African-American, 14 % of Hispanic,  and 25% of affluent students will drop out of high school 8 out of 10 times.   Not only that, but most of us also know that “they” also use this same statistic, 4th grade reading, to project funding for prisons.  It doesn’t take a fourth grade teacher to point out those context clues and draw a conclusion.

Luckily,  The Digital Teachers Corps: Closing America’s Literacy Gap policy brief moves on to explain that to combat this impending doom we should create a super teacher work-force that utilizes all forms of technology at our disposal.  Research shows that technology, used strategically, certainly gives students the authentic opportunities needed to develop language, hence, thinking, proficiency.  This could be huge for English Language Learners as well as Academic English Language Learners.  Have a by-gone perusal of the brief (only a nice 7 pages).

I guess I can lay my head down to sleep and know that folks are creating solutions at the public policy level that don’t have to do with replacing me by RoboTeach.

MangaHigh: Free, Standards Based Games for Students and Reports for Teachers

While I don’t want to sound like a commercial for this site, I do want to give props where props are due!

Since I began incorporating MangaHigh into my weekly Math routine, my students have been thrilled to obey my every command.  Buah, ah, ah!  Well, maybe not, but they’re certainly more willing to follow instruction on math content as well as be more engaged during the “boring” direct instruction because they see the MangaHigh light at the end of the tunnel.

As a teacher, MangaHigh helps me keep my students engaged, motivated, and learning the basics.  After learning the basics and getting the exposure and practice at their level on MangaHigh, one begins to see students going beyond the analysis into the synthesis and evaluation pieces in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I upload a whole class list, assign challenges for my students on the standards they need the most practice knowing they’ll get adequate feedback, get reports on their progress toward assignment completion (keeping us all honest), and work with a small instructional group that needs more of my personal support.

Good Game!

eLearn Magazine, Education and Technology in Perspective published What Makes a Good Learning Game? Going Beyond Edutainment in February of this year.  The author,  Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, outlines components in useful buzz words for non-techie educators and the sleek-edu-geeks alike to quickly evaluate the utility of the tons of “learning games” out there when looking for meaningful ways to integrate technology and curriculum.  The buzz words stay with you, and I can see them crossing my mind as I type ready to shoot them down with my semantic knowledge; ready, set, here we go.

1. Substantives – the signifiers and signified – the nouns that set-up the scene,

2. Verbs – the things learners have to do to meet the challenges and get the rewards,

3. Problem-solving – the challenges have to be interesting, and if I may add my two cents, culturally relevant,

4. Rewards – the rewards must definitely be culturally relevant,

5. Feedback – I remember an old mentor always used to say “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.”   So be weary of games that do not offer corrective feedback if the educator is not present., and

6. Alignment – while Egenfeldt-Nielsen doesn’t explicitly say to look for games that are tied to standards or even lesson objectives, I am.  If a game has all the first five components without this last one, you might as well just flush your professionalism down the toilet and admit you’re using gaming to baby-sit your class.

That said, Egenfeldt-Nielsen validates drill-and-practice games describing them as a “sound learning principle”.  I use drill-and-practice games aligned to standards and lesson objectives in order to pull small instructional groups for more support toward mastery. (Boy, o boy, a traveling tablet lab would be nice!)

Both drill-and-practice and mission-based games can be used to get that much closer to the Holy Grail of buzz words in education today individualized and differentiation.  So let the games begin!

Wanna sell mobile technology to your blissful but amazing in other areas administrators?

Here are a couple great articles to back you up:

Trailblazing back in 2005, Swan, van’t Hooft & Kractoski (2005) studied the Uses and Effects of Mobile Computing Devices in K–8 Classrooms.

In addition, Engel & Green’s (2011) Cell Phones in the Classroom: Are we Dialing up Disaster? is a must read.

Now go out and do geekygoodness!!!

To CELDT or not to CELDT?

Despite widely known issues with the reliability and validity of the California English Language Development Test, as well as other standardized tests that assess English language proficiency throughout the nation, California continues to determine the future of 1.5 million English Language Learners according to its results.

Brush up on your knowledge of the issues:

Stokes-Guinan, K. & Goldenbery, C. (2010).  Use with Caution: What CELDT results can and cannot tell us. CATESOL Journal. Retrieved by http://www.stanford.edu/~claudeg/publications2009-2010/StokesGuinan&GoldenbergFINAL.pdf

Would you like more?  Let us know.

Enjoy!