As a part of our school’s tech team I am often asked questions that begin with, “Do you know any good apps that…?” So here are some early learning apps that I use in my class regularly for literacy and numeracy centres. Now, I don’t really like recommending apps because I know that apps can be learner and teacher specific. What works for me and the learners in my class may not work for you and your learners. Most of these do not cost that much (with the exception of the first one that I talk about, but it is so great that I can’t not talk about it!). So, play around and keep an open mind!
Smarty Pants School allows you to assess students’ reading abilities then opens up fun activities for them to do related on areas that they need extra practice in. This app focusses on letter recognition, letter sounds, recognizing sight words, and spelling sight words. You can enter many students in the app and it saves each of their progress. Levels are not opened up until students master the level before it.
Endless ABC is a charming app that was created by the creative team at Callaway Digital Arts. It introduces children to the meaning and spelling of fun words like bellow and flop. As you drag letters into their appropriate spaces, the letters come alive and repeatedly speak their sound.
Syllable Awareness Animals is a simple app that flashes animals and asks you to tap out how many syllables the animal name has.
Word Wall HD encourages word recognition and word building through simple games that highlight word families. This app allows you to set up the games for different reading levels.
Bugs and Buttons is another app that covers many areas and can be suited to varying levels of abilities. Visually stunning images encourage users to practice skills involving sorting, patterning, number recognition, subitizing, problem solving, and basic ipad gestures.
Friends of Ten: There aren’t many apps out there that use ten frames at an early learner level. I found this app does a good job of providing practice using ten frames for counting objects to ten, subitizing, counting on from a higher number, partitioning of objects to make 10 and recognizing more and less.
Adding Apples is a motivating app that provides practice solving addition questions from 1+1 to 9+9 and counting from 1 to 18 both visually and verbally. Students can earn trophies for the number of equations they answer correctly.
Animals Counting Writing Game is a very simple app that students can use to practice writing numbers, counting, and recognizing number words. There are many apps that do this, but I liked that this one had the number word associated with the number.
It seems like everyone has a blog now. In addition to CanTeach’s blog I have also been writing a class blog since September. Almost every week I add a post related to the exciting things that are happening in our classroom and school. I have wanted to create a class blog since the word blog started popping up. Blog, blog, blog, blog, blog, I kept hearing it everywhere… the pressure was on.
I hesitated, though, trying to make sense as to what its purpose would be. Would anyone read it, would it really be worth the effort, would it make any difference in my teaching, would it be as great as those already out there? Well, 5 months later, the results have been much deeper than I ever expected.
First off I knew that photos of my students and their work was a priority. Personally, as a parent to a Kindergarten student this year, I truly understand how it is to feel disjointed from my child and the place that he spends so much time in. I do not get to drop him off every morning, visit his teacher, observe how he behaves around his classmates… and how his classmates behave around him! I knew as a parent I would appreciate visuals, so I sent out a permission form (I based mine on an excellent one that Karen Lirenman drafted and posted on her blog) outlining all the work we would be doing with technology this year and had conversations with parents explaining that this blog will be my main way of communicating to them. I only had one parent refuse photos of their child being posted, but they did agree to her work being posted and her name being referred to.
I was so excited when my first post went up. I’m sure all you bloggers did the same thing… refresh, refresh, refresh! As I saw my page views slowly creep up, and I mean SLOWLY, I was saddened that no one was commenting (and was it only my refreshes that was raising the page views?!). More people visited but no comments. So, I went to Google and typed “how to get more parents to comment on blogs”. There are so many ideas out there from requiring parents to post with their children for homework, having a post contest, asking specific questions and making parents answer through posting…. on and on and on.
Then it hit me as after the weekend – parents began one by one telling me how they loved the blog. One mom emailed me and expressed how thankful she was because the blog allowed her to take a look into her son’s classroom that, because of her full time job, she was never regularly going to be able to see. After Thanksgiving I noticed another jump in my post’s page views… more people were looking at it than I had students. I discovered that parents were sharing the blog with their family members and friends!
So, I picked up my heart from the ground and began writing my blog with purpose. This was an opportunity to bring parents in mainly through posting photos, videos, and sound recordings. I realized it was not so much the idea of them commenting on the blog that held importance to me than the face to face conversations and emails that I received. Those meant so much more.
As Christmas holidays approached, the usual gifts and cards appeared on my desk. The difference this year, though, was the scale and significance of comments of gratitude and well wishes that were written in those cards. These cards were just as personal, if not more than the ones that I received from my own friends and family. I owe this to the blog.
Just because my parents were not commenting on the blog did not mean they were not reading it and getting a lot out of it. Parents are referring to the blog in our conversations about the day to day extreme cuteness of Kindergarten, the nitty gritty learning outcomes, the achievements of their children and the things they need to work on. As well, the students are talking about the blog and ask daily, “can we put this in the blog?” and are giving me permission, “you can put this in the blog if you want Mrs. Khan”. Now how awesome is that?!
Using gimicky tactics to increase the number of comments to my posts may have resulted in a massive number of comments, but it may of also created a pile of insincere and unproductive comments. I was looking at it the wrong way, I thought that the blog would be successful if parents posted comments… and really, think about how much courage that would take for many parents to do that!… The blog has been successful because it has encouraged more meaningful conversations safely in person and through email.
Our class blog has ended up being an amazing way to frequently show how much I care about my students and show to parents that I care about them, too. It has been one of the most important things I have done this year!
My school this year was lucky enough to receive a grant where we have been able to buy 40 iPads, and a projector for every wing in our school. Wow, has this ever transformed my teaching. This is why CanTeach, once again was put on the back burner. I have immersed myself in creating and collaborating. I kept thinking, I should add my thoughts to CanTeach!
My district has been so supportive with offering workshops and bringing in wonderful guest speakers like George Couros (http://georgecouros.ca/blog/) and Bill Ferriter (http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical/) who have inspired us to use technology as a tool to encourage 21st Century learning.
As a result of all this support, I have been able to do so much. I haven’t immersed myself in technology since first starting CanTeach in 1998! A lot has changed to say the least! It has been a huge learning curve. I can even sync 40 ipads and give them all a iOS 6.1 update… and when it fails, I know how to fix it! If I have been able to do it, you can do it too!
I am so excited about what these new tools has done to my teaching and the connections I have been able to make with my students, parents and colleagues. This year has been the best year yet! My students are engaged, I am making more use of the time in the teaching day, and I have been able to make some deep connections with parents.
In future posts I will share apps that I have discovered for early learning and all the messy things we have been playing with, but for now I’d like to share a video I made with one second video clips. I shared this on our class blogs to show how print rich our classroom is and how we are loving learning how to read and write.