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Reviews

Wonder Workshop’s Amazing Dash

Education has many disruptors–3D Printing, AR and VR, 1:1 technology, STEM, and STEAM–but a recent and wildly popular one is robotics. These automated humanoid bots often interact with users, require critical thinking and problem-solving, and grab the imagination of students in ways that makes everyone want to learn. One I discovered this summer is Wonder Workshop’s collection of three robotsCue, Dash, and Dot. I’d love to review all of them but that post would be way too long so today, I’ll focus on my current favorite: Dash.

Before I dig into Dash, let me tell you about his creator, Wonder Workshop.

What is Wonder Workshop?

Wonder Workshop is a STEM-based interactive early learning experience that introduces coding to K-5 learners and provides everything teachers require to teach coding and robotics (see below under How to Use Dash in Your Classroom). Every day, classrooms around the world demonstrate the collaboration and hands-on learning that the Wonder Workshop robots–Dash, Dot, and Cue–inspire in students. Through these robots, students learn what to many is intimidating and abstract and impossible to learn: coding,

What is Dash?

Dash is a squatty, friendly critter designed for ages six and up. It is a pyramid of spheres on wheels with a head that turns, a voice that responds to you, lights that flash, and sensors that interact with the environment. He is charged via USB and programmed via an app (iOS or Android) to move, spin circles, dance, sing, draw, or any number of other actions. It all depends upon what its child handler wants it to do.

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Great App for Future Readers: Word Zoo

Reading is defined as “the action or skill of absorbing written or printed matter silently or aloud.” Sounds dry, maybe even boring, but the ability to read has been credited with exercising the mind, saving lives, bringing people together, and predicting success in school. It alleviates boredom in the bits of free time that pop up between soccer and dinner and it can be done alone or in a group.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends…”
― Charles William Eliot

So when I find an app that organically encourages reading, I get excited. But I’m fussy. Here’s what I look for–the red answers are how this mystery ready app sized up:

  • Does it have advertisingNo
  • Is it intuitive? Yes
  • is it user-friendly? Yes
  • Does the web tool differentiate for types of students and their unique needs? Yes
  • Is the web tool compatible with most browsers? Yes
  • Is the web tool free? No–but it’s affordable ($1.99 at the time this was printed).
  • Does the web tool encourage higher-order thinking? Yes
  • Is the web tool or app error-free? Yes
  • Does the web tool have educational applications? Yes
  • Is the app private? Yes

I’m excited to share with you a new low-cost app I found called Word Zoo Learn to Read: (more…)

Categories: Reading, Reviews | Tags: | Leave a comment

What’s all the buzz about Messenger Kids?

When preteen kids see parents and older siblings thumbing away at social media accounts, they want to do it. They don’t understand when told they are too young. There have been a few efforts to extend social communication tools to younger kids but mostly, kids don’t like them so end up on apps designed for teens or adults, like Snapchat or Instagram.

Until the iconic Facebook platform came up with what they call Messenger Kids.

What is Messenger Kids

Messenger Kids is a free video calling and messaging app designed for kids under thirteen to connect with others from their tablet or smartphone. These are the kids who love digitally chatting on parent cellphones (or other digital devices) but aren’t old enough for the nuances and maturity required of popular 13+ messaging platforms. Messenger Kids provides them with a safe, free environment to chat with friends who have moved away, stay in touch with family who doesn’t live nearby, and get questions answered by parents they aren’t with at the moment.

Here’s what it’s not. First and foremost:

Messenger Kids is not a social media app. It is a messaging app.

Here’s a peak into the app:

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Categories: Reviews, Social media | Tags: | Leave a comment

Tech Ed Resources for your Class–Digital Citizenship Curriculum

digital citizenshipI get a lot of questions from readers about what tech ed resources I use in my classroom so I’m going to take a few days this summer to review them with you. Some are edited and/or written by members of the Ask a Tech Teacher crew. Others, by tech teachers who work with the same publisher I do. All of them, I’ve found well-suited to the task of scaling and differentiating tech skills for age groups, scaffolding learning year-to-year, taking into account the perspectives and norms of all stakeholders, with appropriate metrics to know learning is organic and granular.

Today: K-8 Digital Citizenship Curriculum

Overview

K-8 Digital Citizenship Curriculum–9 grade levels. 17 topics. 46 lessons. 46 projects. A year-long digital citizenship curriculum that covers everything you need to discuss on internet safety and efficiency, delivered in the time you have in the classroom.

Digital Citizenship–probably one of the most important topics students will learn between kindergarten and 8th and too often, teachers are thrown into it without a road map. This book is your guide to what children must know at what age to thrive in the community called the internet. It blends all pieces into a cohesive, effective student-directed cyber-learning experience that accomplishes ISTE’s general goals to:

  • Advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology
  • Exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity
  • Demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning
  • Exhibit leadership for digital citizenship

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Categories: AATT Materials, Digital Citizenship, Reviews | Tags: | Leave a comment

10 Books You’ll Want to Read This Summer

Summer is a great time to reset your personal pedagogy to an education-friendly mindset and catch up on what’s been changing in the ed world while you were teaching eight ten hours a day. My Twitter friends, folks like @mrhowardedu and @Coachadamspe, gave me great suggestions on books to read that I want to share with you but first:

A comment on the selections: I did get more suggestions than I could possibly list so I focused on books that were positive and uplifting rather than dark and foreboding. Yes, there is a lot wrong with education around the world but I wanted a selection of books that would send me — and you —  back to teaching in the fall with a can-do attitude for how to accomplish miracles with your next class of students.

Having said that, here’s a granular list of teacher-approved books to keep you busy this summer:

Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times

by Eric C. Sheninger

Digital Leadership defines a strategic mindset and set of behaviors that leverage resources to create a meaningful, transparent, and engaging school culture. It takes into account recent changes such as connectivity, open-source technology, mobile devices, and personalization of learning to dramatically shift how schools have been run for over a century.

Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns

by Clayton M. Christensen

Selected as one of Business Week’s Best Books on Innovation in 2008, Disrupting Class is filled with fascinating case studies, scientific findings, and insights into how managed innovation can unleash education. As important today as it was a decade ago, Disrupting Class will open your eyes to new possibilities and evolve your thinking. For more detail, read my review, Disrupting Class.

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Categories: Classroom management, Reviews, Teacher resources | Tags: , | Leave a comment

5 Favorite Apps for Summer Learning

summer learningSummer has a reputation for being nonstop relaxation, never-ending play, and a time when students stay as far from “learning” as they can get. For educators, those long empty weeks result in a phenomenon known as “Summer Slide” — where students start the next academic year behind where they ended the last.

“…on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning…” (Brookings)

This doesn’t have to happen. Think about what students don’t like about school. Often, it revolves around repetitive schedules, assigned grades, and/or being forced to take subjects they don’t enjoy. In summer, we can meet students where they want to learn with topics they like by offering a menu of ungraded activities that are self-paced, exciting, energizing, and nothing like school learning. We talk about life-long learners (see my article on life-long learners). This summer, model it by offering educational activities students will choose over watching TV, playing video games, or whatever else they fall into when there’s nothing to do.

Here are favorites that my students love:

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Categories: Reviews, Web Tools | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

3 Favorite Webtools for students (and teachers)

favorite appsI subscribe to lots of technology-in-education forums (here’s a list of my trusted education advisors) and attend as many webinars as I can. In this way, I push outside of my bubble, away from my comfort zone, and along the way, discover some pretty amazing tools that I can’t wait to use in my classes.

Here are three that I found just since school opened. I’d love to know your thoughts on these:

  • Scholastic W.O.R.D.
  • Peergrade
  • Mission US

Scholastic W.O.R.D.

Scholastic’s W.O.R.D. (Words Open Reading Doors) is an independent K-5 learning resource that is committed to the principle that all kids should understand the words they use, how to use them to express themselves, and that doing so powers their lives. With this web-based program, kids learn to understand the high-utility word families that make up 90% of all texts. Since the number of words in the English language is far more for anyone except a bibliophile would be interested in, W.O.R.D. gathers them into manageable learning groups. Using a game-based format, students receive repeated exposure to high-utility words in multiple contexts and authentic ways that seem natural and age-appropriate. Learning objectives include homonyms, synonyms, expressions and phrases, picturable words, tenses, affixes, compound words, analogies, idioms, derivatives, and more — all broken down by grade level. They are introduced via themes to spark interest and keep students engaged. These include All About Me, What is a Hero, Blast from the Past, and more.

In W.O.R.D. (which by the way, is fee-based), students start with a placement test to determine their comprehension level and be sure they are challenged by assignments without being frustrated. They are introduced to words in their “zone of proximal development”.  Teachers can monitor progress on the teacher dashboard, broken down by class and student. Robust reports are available to identify opportunities for enrichment, deeper dives, or additional support while providing feedback on which word skills students have begun and completed.

W.O.R.D. is pushed out to students in flexible twenty-minute sessions at a recommended pace of two-three per week. Lessons fit into most existing literacy programs. This is perfect for either a focused lesson plan or for students to play independently as part of a literacy center.

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Categories: History, Reviews, Web Tools | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Here’s the Easiest Way to Check for Plagiarism

plagiarism checkOne of the biggest problems facing digital natives as they grow into adults is understanding how to maneuver the vastness of the Internet ethically, safely, and to serve their needs. It sounds simple–log on, search, enjoy–but let’s equate this to a shopping mall. You enter the wide, inviting front doors, find the store with the product you need, and then must pay for it. If you don’t have money, you can’t get the product. Even if you could sneak it into your purse, you don’t because that’s stealing (and besides, someone might see you).

The concept of ‘buy’ and ‘money’ are often blurry on the Internet but the idea is the same: If you can’t follow the website’s rules to acquire the online product, you can’t have it. If you take it, that’s plagiarism and–like stealing from a store–carries drastic penalties.

Me, I don’t want to cheat anyone so when I acquire resources from the Internet, I want to do it legally. That’s why plagiarism checkers are important to me. There are many to choose from but one I recently discovered is PlagairismCheck.org. It requires no installation, is quick and intuitive to use, and covers everything I need at a fair price.

What is PlagiarismCheck.org

PlagiarismCheck.org is an online plagiarism checker that uses a sophisticated algorithm to check content for different types of plagiarism. It can operate as a stand-alone web-based tool or be integrated into an LMS like Google Classroom or Moodle. When you set up an account, you tell it whether you want to access it as a teacher, a student, or an individual owner. Each provides different tools. For example, teachers can collect assignments through PlagiarismCheck.org and track student submittals while checking for the authenticity of assignments. Once you have your account set up, you get one page for free, to see how PlagiarismCheck.org works. From there, you purchase packages depending upon how many pages you’d like to check. If you are purchasing a school subscription with roles like students, teacher and owner, you won’t need to purchase packages as individuals. You’ll pick from two subscription models:

  1. per page. School purchases pages for all its members, and members are using pages to run checks.
  2. per user. School purchases licenses for users, giving users unlimited access to the software (no page restrictions apply).

The goal of PlagiarismCheck.org is not to catch students plagiarizing (though it does) but to help them succeed in their academic ventures. It’s a subtle difference in interpretation but a big difference in attitude and results.

One more note: PlagiarismCheck.org is an excellent tool not only for students but for writers, entrepreneurial businesses, and teacher-authors. For the purposes of this post, I’ll concentrate on teacher-student uses.

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Categories: Digital Citizenship, Reviews | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Kid-created Games That Teach

gamification of learning

It’s discouraging to all stakeholders that annually, about 1.2 million students fail to graduate from high school. And “Pathways to Prosperity” reports that just 56% of college attendees complete a degree. Fingers point all directions but nothing changes the stark truth: Something causes kids to hate learning so much that they’d rather face their future without the knowledge or skills to do so successfully.

Solutions to this problem abound but one of the most popular with K-16 educators — because it works — is to gamify learning. Wikipedia defines “gamification” as:

“an educational approach to motivate students to learn by using video game design and game elements in learning environments. The goal is to maximize enjoyment and engagement through capturing the interest of learners and inspiring them to continue learning.”

Games remind kids of days when they chose their own seats, worked at their own pace, and responded to their own interests. Through childhood games, they learned social skills, problem-solving, sequencing, and a whole bunch more while they thought they were doing a puzzle, building blocks, or playing dodgeball.

Fast forward to formal schooling. As early as Kindergarten, kids are stuck into classrooms where play is replaced with rote drills, repetition, and growing boredom. It’s taken the experts decades but finally, the value of applying gameplaying characteristics to learning is being recognized as a formidable approach. I’ve written much about the use of games and simulations but today, I want to focus on the student as maker, where they create the game, troubleshoot problems, and refine the end result — exactly the traits valued by coding and programming.

Here are some of my favorite game creation tools for students:

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Categories: Games/Simulations, Reviews | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Engineers Week — A Must for High School

Next week, February 17-23, 2019, is DiscoverE’s Engineers Week. Their tagline:

“A week-long event, a year-long commitment”

Do you wonder why anyone would be passionate about engineering? Forbes published three good reasons:

  • The U.S. has approximately 1.6 million engineering jobs that pay $42 per hour in median.
  • Job growth from 2010 to 2014 was in the double digits in several engineering occupations.
  • Since 2007, the number of engineering grads nationwide has shot up 33%.

What is Engineers Week?

For those not familiar with DiscoverE, sponsors of Engineers Week, they are a volunteer-driven online coalition of over one-hundred organizations committed to promoting engineering to the K-16 community. This includes the provision of resources, programs, in-person presentations, classroom assistance, training, activities, videos, books, technology programs, and more. The purpose of Engineers Week is as much to celebrate engineers as to increase public dialogue, in that way bringing them to life for kids, educators, and parents. With the national call for STEM resources and the popularity of programs such as Hour of Code, the talented professionals of DiscoverE are more in-demand than ever.

“93% of DiscoverE educators think an engineer’s presence helps STEM students.”

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Categories: High School, Reviews, Science, Websites | Tags: | 1 Comment