iOS App Recommendations for Literacy

Many fun party conversations have started by whipping out a smartphone and sharing the latest and coolest apps.  However, in educational settings we continually need to refocus the discussion around choosing apps to meet our instructional objectives rather than the other way around.

About a year ago, I published a list of all the apps I installed on our school’s iPads.  I still like that list, however, there are a number of drill-and-kill type apps that see occasional use in  my classroom as well as those that require higher-level thinking and student creation which I use more often.  I wanted to give our teachers options so I gave them tons of apps.  However, my personal toolkit is much smaller.  Here are my recommendations based around instructional needs in the area of literacy.  The specific apps I recommend don’t matter so much as how we they are used in the classroom:

Fluency

Any voice recorder from the free and simple, Audio Memos to the pricier and more advanced, Garageband, can be used to have students record themselves reading.  Data from Escondido Unified which used iPods and Voice Recorders with English Language Learners (back before iPhones and iPads existed) consistently shows that students showed growth.  The key is having students record and then listen to themselves reading so that they hear the mistakes they don’t hear when they’re focused on decoding.

I’ve used Reader’s Theater in my own classroom (find free printable reader’s theater here or see our class reader’s theater movie, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse).  However, you can also use any passages that might target certain spelling patterns or sounds students are working on.

Writing

I like simple.  StoryKit is a free iPhone app that works on the iPad and allows students to write, record their voice, add a photo, or draw on a page resembling kindergarten writing paper.  If you want to publish a whole book from the iPad, the $5 Book Creator is a great option.  Apple’s free desktop app, iBooks Author is even better but it requires both an iPad and an updated Mac desktop or laptop.  With iBooks Author you create the book on your computer and preview it on the iPad.  You can easily import Keynote and Pages files into your final product.   When you’re ready for multimedia, iMovie is a great way to engage even the most unmotivated writers in writing something that will include audio, visuals and an audience.

Apps like Toontastic and PuppetPals are also fun.  However, be careful, Toontastic teaches story crafting via a beginning, middle, and end structure.  If you’re a fan of Lucy Caulkins writer’s workshop and the notion of expanding a single moment with details to make it something bigger rather than structuring a bare bones story sequentially, you will might not be happy with an app that would set you back to an outdated way of teaching writing even if it’s more fun.

Learning Letter Sounds

Apps like the above mentioned Storykit can be used to have students make a book of letter sounds by taking pictures of things that begin with the sound /p/ for example.  Student Tommy would end up with a page with photos of pencils, pictures, paint, and paintbrushes and then record his voice making the sound /p/ on the page.   I know that you can find apps that give students the letter sounds while students passively listen but I’m much more in favor of having students create their own books with the sound in it.  I suspect the learning is more internalized.

What other areas of student early literacy need do you notice?

 

 

 

What Good Teaching Looks Like: Digital Research

As per the Common Core State Standards students must incorporate digital research in their work.  I interpret this to mean that students need a twenty-first century version of book sense.  We used to teach students how to find books in a library, how to determine who the author and illustrator is, and where to find copyright information.  We now need to teach them how to determine keywords, know how to search, be able to determine who created a particular web page and evaluate a page for bias and reliability.

How do you do this and what does it look like in a classroom?

Let me be clear, I’m a fan of digital libraries (LAUSD teachers should check out the LAUSD Digital Library).  However, in addition to putting expensive high quality pre-vetted resources in front of students we also need to be teaching them how to choose keywords and use Google like a pro.

Picking Keywords

Beginning in kindergarten I would be modeling how to pick keywords before entering them in the Google search box and finding results.  For example, let’s say you’re researching where an octopus lives.  Say to students,

“I’m looking for information on where the octopus lives.  What words should I search for?”

With your help, students should come up with something like “octopus home” or “octopus habitat” depending how much academic language  you’ve seeded.

This two minute step would go a long way toward building effective researchers.

Sharon Sutton at the UCLA lab school has compiled and created some resources to help.  Scroll down to the Information Literacy Worksheets, in particular the keywords and synonyms one which asks students to list keywords and synonyms for a research question.

Advanced Googling

Familiarize yourself with the Google Cheat sheet.

In particular, know that using quotes allows you to search for a particular name or phrase e.g. “Mathew Needleman” gives you only people with my first and last name rather than any page with both my first and last name, possibly disconnected on the page.

Also know that using the minus sign “-” eliminates results.  For example, when searching for information about the band, The Eagles, you might search “eagles -football” (eliminating results about the football team).  In this example, you will likely need to add keywords to specify information specific about the band and not the bird.

Bias and Reliability

Students should always check for an “about this page” link.  If there isn’t one, move on to another site.  I’m a fan of the site All About Explorers, it’s created by teachers and gives absolutely false information about famous explorers.  Will students catch the errors or will they report that Columbus was born in Australia?  Students always need to triangulate the data, find information from multiple sources to eliminate inconsistencies and gain depth.

Have any tips to add?  Post them below.

 

Technology in the Common Core: What Do Students Need to be Able to Do?

 

 

 

While there are no isolated technology standards in the Common Core State Standards, technology is embedded across the the grade levels.  Many people are focused on students needing a device to take the assessment and not thinking about what students will need to be able to do with that device.  The assessment will not only require a computer for students to take it, students will actually be tested on their use of their device.

According to the language arts standards here are the three major things students will need to be able to do.

1.  Research

Students will:

Use search tools.

Interpet interactive elements on a web page.

Draw on information from digital sources.

2.  Writing

Students will:

Explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing including in collaboration with peers.

3.  Multimedia

Students will:

Ask and answer questions about key details in [multi]media…

Include multimedia elements…in presentations.

I haven’t separated the standards by grade level.  The same requirements exist at all grade levels with different amounts of teacher assistance and depth and complexity.

In future posts I will suggest sample activities to meet each standard.  If you want a preview, please check out my slideshare presentation, Technology in the Common Core.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Equipment Do I Need to Make Movies?

A reader question:

I’ve always been interested in TV Production and am thinking about writing a grant to start one.   Our school has no funding for this, so I don’t even know where to start. What equipment do I need? How much will it cost?

I’ve learned that nothing goes out of fashion faster than equipment recommendations.  However, here are my best recommendations for today.

Cheapest

Your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch with iMovie installed is all you need to start making movies.  $200-$500.

Better

I’m using a T3i DSLR camera that is excellent for still images but also shoots 1080p 24 frames per second high definition video.  $400-$600

For sound, I use a boom microphone which can attach directly to the camera to shoot better sound.  $100-$350

You will also need editing software, either iMovie (free with any Mac) or Final Cut Pro X ($300).

The T3i shoots excellent video in low-light situations.  However, you may wish to add some lighting to your setup.

It’s Not About the Apps Keynote Now Live

I’m pleased to announce that my keynote presentation for the K12 Online Conference is now live and will be archived indefinitely so you can watch it whenever. In this fifteen minute presentation I share a little bit about how taking photos with my phone sparked something of a creative renaissance in my life and talk about my thoughts on how this might apply to our classrooms. I am very much interested in your ideas as my thinking on the subject keeps evolving. Please leave your comments below.

See the movie here.