Sunday, September 18, 2011

A New Horse

When I wrote my professional goals for the current school year, there were two main themes:

  • to increase my knowledge of current technology tools and integrate them into instruction, and

  • to promote healthy, life-long habits for my students, including a greater awareness of healthy food options.

A personal goal was, and has continued to be to explore the many ways I am a writer. I continually try to carve out time for creative writing projects, but when the iPad came my way, it seemed like an opportunity to contribute to the blogosphere and see where that led. So over the summer I posted my musings and the results of my foray into the world of apps.

Now school has started and while I am trying to find ways to incorporate the iPad into my classroom life, what I have been truly jazzed about at the end of each of these first three weeks of school are the cooking projects we have started in my classroom. One co-worked donated some kale, another one brought me a bag of basil (hello pesto!). Another one dropped off a box of pots, pans and other cooking implements along with the offer of a secondhand microwave. A fourth one gave me use of a mini fridge! Best of all, the kids are reading about, talking about, and eating new and healthy foods.

So I am putting this blog on hold and switching horses mid-stream (something my dad always warned against, usually in the context of switching lanes in a traffic jam). You can check out my culinary adventures with a chatty group of fifth and sixth graders at

I may stop in here now and again as I figure out the practical applications with the iPad, but for now, I'm following my blogging bliss. I hope you'll follow me on this new exploration...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A happy surprise at the app store

In late July, I had a friend who works in educational publishing contact me asking me for recommendations of reading apps. At that point, all of the reading apps I'd seen seemed to fall into two categories: 1) early literacy apps that help kids learn about letters and letter sounds in an interactive way or 2) crappy or borderline crappy books with crappy or borderline crappy illustrations that a child can read or follow along while it is read to them. The first category seems relevant and appropriate to early childhood educators, which I am not. The second category feels reminiscent of books my mother used to find at the dollar store. Not damaging but not of high literary/educational quality either.

I started to wonder: am I missing something? Is this all there is out there in reading apps? Then one new app caught my eye.

A Shakespeare in Bits app just came out for Midsummer Night's Dream but also have been available for Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. Each app includes an animated version of the play which you can watch while simultaneously following the text which is highlighted as it scrolls down the right hand side of the screen. There are many other features including a character relationship map, bios for each character, a synopsis for each scene and notes on each scene. Of course a quality app comes at a price; each play is $14.99. Romeo and Juliet is also available in a free lite edition, which I downloaded. The free app has the prologue and first scene of Act 1, so you can get a good sense of the features before deciding to spend $14.99 for the full play. Next year I will be teaching Shakespeare as part of my every other year, multi-age curriculum, and our class will put on one of the Bard's plays in the spring. Once I've chosen which play we are performing, I will consider shelling out for that app.

I hope as I dig around in the app store, I'll keep finding gems like this one. I would love to hear about any reading apps others have found that are worth the time and money.

First week of school

The beginning of the school year is always exhausting. It is so important to be intentional at every turn with a new class of students. The first weeks are all about carefully establishing routines that will (hopefully) carry us through the year. This fall is especially challenging for me: after nine glorious years teaching part time in a job share, my youngest child has started Kindergarten and I have returned to full time teaching. I was so lucky to be able to work in my chosen profession and have time at home with my small children. Now it's the beginning of a new era for me professionally...

We had three days of school this week. I used the iPad instead of an oldish classroom digital camera and took pictures while my class was doing community building activities. I have always included photos in the Friday News I send home each week to parents so taking pictures is nothing new. Given that the camera I was working with would take what seemed like an excessive amount of time to process one photo before being available to take a second, the iPad is a refreshing improvement. I also won't have to deal with batteries that don't hold a charge, etc.

Getting the pictures "off" the iPad was a bit of a drama. I know there are other ways to do it, but I really wanted to stick with strategies I am comfortable with for now and email the photos to myself so I could download them. Also, I like the idea of a student having the ability to email a photo they take or are featured in to their parents so I wanted to work any kinks out of this process. The challenge in emailing pictures came because I switched my email password a couple weeks ago and even though I tried to update it in my iPad settings, the iPad wouldn't accept the new password. From talking with others, this seems to be a glitch with the iPad for unknown reasons. The problem was solved by deleting that account and setting up a classroom email account on the iPad. I had already been planning to do this. Now, if a student gets into the mail app when using the iPad, they won't have access to either my personal email or my school email that may contain confidential info.

In the next two weeks as community building continues in my class, I plan to have students take pictures of each other for an as yet unplanned class display. (Unplanned because I have just switched grade levels. I taught third and fourth grade for the past five years and am now teaching fifth and sixth. The good news is I don't feel locked into the curriculum as I've taught it for the past umpteen years. On the other hand, I can't just pull out what I have been doing and do it all over again.) This will be the opportunity to introduce the iPad to the class and teach everyone how to take photos with it. I would also like to enlist their help taking photos and documenting our year together. First I have to teach the kids how to handle this new gadget and make sure no one is going to drop it on my uncarpeted floors. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 21, 2011


As any teacher will attest, there is the dream of all the things you hope to do during the summer and then the reality of what you are actually able to get done. Our family has made several commitments for the summer that are making it difficult for me to research apps or blog with any regularity. I am also trying to finish up revisions to a novel I started last summer. And I've been spending a decent amount of time in my bathing suit...

So Teacher with an iPad is officially on vacation for the next couple weeks. I had a request that I review reading apps so I will try to take on that topic in mid-August. Truth be told, I haven't been looking in this curricular area, so if anyone has any suggestions for reading apps, please post a comment. I will be teaching fifth and sixth grade in the fall but am interested in any apps that are appropriate for grades 3-6.

Happy summer!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


So it would be no surprise to me if I read somewhere that there are a ton of new apps being released every week.

If I read that I would nod my head.

Yup. (head nod) A ton.

Of course I don't really think there are that many new apps coming out all the time, a ton is just a figure of speech, a reference meaning “a whole lotta”.

Or is it?

Because today, July 5, there were 239 new apps released. Two Hundred And Thirty Nine. I just counted. Yes, you may be saying to yourself, that's all well and good but there were so many new apps released on July 5 because it was the day after a long weekend/holiday. Which is true. There were only 49 new apps released on the 4th. So while it is unlikely that there are 2000 new apps released every week, representing the 2000 pounds in a ton, it's a fair assumption that over the course of a week, there will be 900 news apps. And in the metric world, there are 900 kg in a ton. (I just learned that from Wikipedia) Weren't we supposed to switch to the metric system back in the 70s, anyways?

...Coming soon: an app to count the new apps released each day. Because this will make life more functional...

The point of all this app counting silliness is that there might as well be a literal ton of new apps coming out every week. It's a lot to wade through.

I am trying to get myself in the habit of checking out the top twenty free education apps every so often. When I think of it and have the time, I will also scroll through the newly released apps in all categories.

Tonight I downloaded four apps, (although one of them was a free yoga app, just because I could.) I will play around with the others and report back later.

For now, one scary (to me) observation:

As of right now, ten of the top twenty free education apps are designed for young children. This number is based on a combination of product description and user comments. Some product descriptions list preschoolers as their primary audience, but some promise they were carefully designed for toddlers and babies. ABC Alphabet Phonics says it is ideal for ages 0-6 but “the interface is so easy to use that even a 9 month old baby will delight in using this app.” Balloon Darts Deluxe “allows young children to improve their fine motor skills as they play and enjoy.” The Dress Up Fairy Tale Game teaches colors with six mini-games. And the ABC Sing Along book teaches...come on, you are probably smart enough to figure out what that's all about.

Why not sing the ABC song to your small child, give them some crayons and paper to develop their fine motor skills, and talk about the color of the flowers growing in your neighbors' yards while you take a walk? The marketing of technology to young children is nothing new, but noticing how many top rated apps are zeroing in on young children alarms me. It's only going to increase unless we all choose not to (over)use technology with our children, not to rely on it in place of exposing them to the world the good old fashioned way.

That being said, if you want to give your pre-school or kindergarten aged child a literacy boost, both my children learned to read in large part due to It's free, it's user friendly, and it's all about reading. Technology will be a part of my childrens' world their whole lives, but for now it's my job as “the grown up” to make smart choices about how I introduce them to it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thinking about voicethread

I have starting reading books on the D.C.F. list in the past week. (For more information on this statewide book award for grades 4-8, visit the official site at

During the year, I will probably read one or more of the books on this list to my class during read aloud, but many of my students will be reading these books independently, at their own pace throughout the year. I don't know much about using, but this is a tool I have been wanting to learn about. I am thinking about having students use the iPad to create voice recordings and post them to a DCF voicethread I set up for the class. This may be another way to get dialogue going about the books they will be reading.

Voice thread requires Flash Player 7.0 or higher, but Flash Player is not available for the iPad. Gee, that stinks! Here I was all set with what I hoped was a great idea, but it looks like no dice. (Raise your hand if you knew I was going to hit this snag when you read the previous paragraph. I am sure my two personal tech gurus have their hands up and are probably chuckling at my ignorance right about now.)

Could we create a podcast instead? I have a lot to learn...

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Wonderful Awful Idea

“Then he got an idea! An awful idea! THE GRINCH GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA!” - Dr. Seuss

Yesterday I went to my district iPad training. Most of my colleagues who attended had not yet received their iPads, so the event had a Christmas morning type of feel to it, that buzz of excitement as twenty five or thirty people exclaimed to one another as they fiddled with and explored the devices. For the most part, the training covered the basic nuts and bolts of working with an iPad, a mix of new and familiar territory for me. Our facilitator made some wise suggestions about organizing the apps so the ones the students will have access to are on the first page and gave us some tips about features that might have escaped me: how to bookmark a website and add it to the homescreen, or how to enable toggle voice over so that the iPad reads highlighted selections of anything on the screen to the user. Classroom teachers and special educators alike oohed and ahhed as they worked with the iPads' two cameras, microphone, touch screen and easy accessibility to thousands of apps.

I have been thinking about my reaction to the iPad and how it has differed from my colleagues'. I think in part I am hesitant to get too attached to this nifty machine because I know that ultimately it will be a tool that is shared throughout my school and I may not retain primary possession of it in my room. When our school received grant funded laptops many years back, that clunky hp became “mine” until it wore out and I bought my own MacBook. I don't want to get too dependent on a new piece of technology if I can help it, and frankly I am still more comfortable working on my laptop, so the iPad feels like an add on instead of as essential. Technologically speaking, my life has been going on quite fine without the iPad so its arrival on the scene hasn't felt earth shattering, hasn't made me wonder, “How did I ever live without this??”

That being said, there is a dizzying amount of technology packed into this small apparatus, and when I think about the development of technology in my lifetime, I realize once again that we are living in the middle of a technology revolution that will be studied as part of world history long after we are all gone. I am overwhelmed to realize that my job as a teacher is shifting sand, changing right underneath my feet. How can I possibly prepare my students for what the world is becoming in the midst of this revolution?

Our facilitator has worked with the first generation of iPads in his school district during this past school year, and was able to recommend several apps that have educational potential. My homework in the coming weeks will be to check out these sites and others and think about how they will enhance learning in my classroom in the coming year. One thing I noticed, sitting amidst as many special educators as classroom teachers, is that there seems to be a more immediate, obvious understanding of how the iPad can be used in a 1:1 situation than in a classroom situation where there is one iPad and eighteen or twenty students. Knowing I have one student who is not on a special education IEP but does have some distinct individualized needs, I am planning on trying out the free Dragon dictation app with him in the fall. It is amazingly simple to email the text you have dictated. This student could compose his writing via dictation and then rework the draft in Google docs (already used by fifth and sixth graders at my school) when the rest of the class is typing their writing in our school tech lab. I am not sure how Dragon works when there is the background noise of a classroom, so this is one kink that may need to be worked out.

One other app to mention right now: the top free education app this week is the National Science Foundation's Science 360 for iPad. Using a “unique 360 view” users can choose from hundreds of science video and images. The following exchange got me thinking about the Grinch.

Classroom teacher (not me): How can you search for specific topics?

Facilitator: You can't.*

CT: That's awful!

F: No, it's wonderful.

I see both sides of this short dialogue. It's amazing and wonderful to have so many high quality, engaging videos at ones disposal. The whole world, accessed through the iPad.

But it's awful, too. As a parent (and teacher), I have to be so diligent making sure my children are not spending too much time in front of a screen. At my house, screen time is like a sugary treat, doled out carefully and leaving my children always wanting more. I can imagine how easy it would be to say to myself, “Well, these are educational videos, so it's ok if my five and nine year old watch these.” But for my parenting style, it is so much more important that they get outside, play kickball with the boy who lives down the street, explore the stream out back with their father, go on a bike ride with me. Maybe that's because I know how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole and spend hours on the internet, chatting with friends on facebook, reading the dozen blogs I follow, catching up on email. As amazing as those science 360 videos are, I can see how easy it would be to get lost in their visual dazzle; there will be few situations when I set up a student with the iPad and let them loose on that app, just to see what's out there. It feels very grinchy to have this reaction to such a cool app, but that's how it feels to me; I was glad to hear another teacher see past some of the ooh and ahh in consideration of practical classroom applications.

*And now for the happy ending/postscript on Science 360: you can do a two finger tap and get to a menu that allows you to search the videos by tags. So a teacher could search for videos about amphibians, decibels, or hydrogen bonds. Or any of the other alphabetically arranged tags. This gives me hope for its usefulness in the classroom.