Google Maps in Education

I’m attending my local Melbourne TeachMeet tomorrow with a focus on Google Apps in Education. I have put together a quick Keynote presentation regarding Google Maps in Education that I am going to share. Below is the presentation for you to view in PDF format.

Google Maps in Education

Using Padlet (f.k.a. WallWisher) across the curriculum

Over the last few years, I’ve been looking for ways to make interactive whiteboards actually interactive. Despite the hype around them, iWBs still promote stand at the front content delivery and the interactivity is limited to the two students/teachers holding the pens. Everyone else is still pretty much a passive observer with regular doses of disengagement. With the recent creation of iPad mirroring software like AirServer and Reflector, the whiteboard has become more interactive with the ability to project multiple iPad screens onto the board. This is still a limited solution as only so many iPads can fir on one screen. In recent times, though there has been a proliferation of Web 2.0 collaborative tools that have the potential for full class interaction. My favourite at the moment is Padlet.

Formerly known as WallWisher, Padlet started out as an online pinboard where unlimited users could post notes on topics being discussed en masse. It allowed for everyone to have a voice in a discussion and provided teachers opportunities to save and store brainstorming and discussion sessions online for later review. As WallWisher, though, that’s where its functionality ended. It was pretty much an unlimited post-it note space ( correct me if I’m wrong – it may have allowed for some media posting. I can’t remember). Now, with a major upgrade and name change, Padlet has morphed into a full blown online interactive whiteboard, collaboration, presentation, lesson management system with massive possibilities for teaching and learning. Before demonstrating how I have used Padlet in the classroom in ways I couldn’t have in the past, I’ll give you a quick(ish) tutorial in how it works.

Access.

One of the benefits of Padlet is that it doesn’t require registration if you just want to create a board for quick use. You simply go to the website, click on the Build a Wall icon and create a wall for immediate use. I would recommend teachers create an account, though so you can store all of your created walls for repeated use. Students never need to create an account so the Under 13s can happily use this tool without any fear of breaking any user policies (as long as you ensure they don’t reveal any personal info!)

Padlet has a wide array of sharing tools to make your wall accessible. Check out the screenshot (left) for more detail. You can embed it into a blog, where it is fully active within, email a link or subscribe to it, post it to a number of popular social network sites and my favourite – create a QR code for instant access with a QR Code Reader app. In all my lessons using it this year, I have saved a lot of login time having the QR code in the room for students to scan and go straight to the wall on the school iPads. They are now around their classrooms so they can return any time.

It is best used on a computer for full access to all features but, other than attaching files, works very well on iPads and, I assume, other tablets.

Creating a Padlet Wall.

In creating a wall, you have options to add a background, a title and title image, modify privacy setting. choose between two layout options, create a custom website address and choose notification options. This can all be done within minutes before sharing the wall for others to interact with.

Modify address Add background  Privacy
   
 Layout  Notification  Title

Adding content

Padlet is extremely easy to use. Just simply double tap the screen and the multimedia note appears. The screenshot below shows how it works.

That’s pretty much it. The true value is in what we do with the app. Below are two walls I have created in the last fortnight. The first is a Maths lesson involving surface area, volume and algebraic thinking with my Extension group.

I created the  3D ‘sculptures’ using the Think 3D Free iPad app, took screenshots and imported the shapes straight into the wall. Titles and information was added easily. I then added the problem to solve and added a screenshot of a table to support the problem solving phase of the lesson.

To begin the lesson, the students scanned the QR Code with iPads to go straight to the page. Having direct access to the problem through Padlet rather than looking at a screen from a distance had the students engaged from the start. They were able to get straight down to working at their own pace in tackling the problem. The benefit of Padlet was soon apparent as each pair of students were given one sculpture to find the volume and surface area of. As soon as they had the answer, they were able to add their results to the Padlet wall for the rest of the students to access. This is in contrast to having to wait for everyone to finish and add to the board in a traditional sense. Let me note here that the measurement aspect was not the main focus of the lesson so quick calculation and sharing was important.

Once all the measurements were shared on the Padlet wall, the students were ready to create their tables to start looking for patterns in the pricing. The rest of the lesson wasn’t dependent on Padlet from this point but its next benefit was in collecting the students’ work to feed back to their classroom teachers. Having all of their working out, answers, collaborations, tables ( not all on there at the moment – still a work in progress) collated in Padlet means the teachers have access to what they did with me. On top of that, the students were able to embed their work on to their personal blogs for their parents to see what they were doing.

The second example below was used for an Inquiry workshop focusing on Asian Immigration to Australia. Over five sessions, all of the Grade 6 students worked with me using this wall. I wanted them to have access to a range of data that I hoped would generate questions and discussions. As I was not going to have a consistent role in the rest of their Immigration investigations, I wanted to use a tool that could collect all of their wonderings that their classroom teachers could access during the ensuing weeks to develop further. Padlet supported this greatly.

I was able to take screenshots of graphs I made in Excel and add them to the wall. A great feature of Padlet is that you can resize your content to fit in a small area for an overall view but by simply tapping the image, it enlarges to full size for easy view. This allowed the students to see the graphs in detail in their own time if they wanted to go back to make their own observations. This is in contrast to having a single view on a whiteboard that can become inaccessible to children working at their own pace.

As you can see from the wall, the students were able to add all of their observations and questions directly on the wall. Note that as the wall filled, dragging a comment to the edge of the wall created more space for as many comments as they could add. This is a stark improvement on the limited access they get when they have to share real post it notes or a limited sized sheet of paper or take turns to add their thoughts. Using Padlet allows the students to be fully involved in the thinking process at all times. The follow up to this is that common questions can be grouped together on the Padlet wall adding to the collaborative process.

What I have also achieved in building this wall is pooling together a large number of resources in one easily accessible online space. The graphs, the videos, the PDF documents are all stored in a common place and can be viewed at full size at any time. The QR codes are sitting on the classroom walls, allowing the students to access this information at any time.

In using Padlet in both of these lessons, I loved that the students had personal access to info at all times, were able to contribute to the wall at their own pace and could view what others were contributing in real time. At the teacher level, I loved being able to collate all of the resources in one space, resources that can be enlarged for useful viewing when needed. I love that in a collaborative teaching environment, I can collect student group work to share with their classroom teachers. I love that I can now have a truly interactive whiteboard that keeps all students involved in the learning process.

These are two examples but Padlet offers many opportunities for engaging teaching and learning across all curriculum areas. If you have used Padlet, I would love to hear about what you have used it for. If you haven’t tried it before, give it a try. Easy to use, many possibilities.

Maths Maps – an engaging way to teach Maths with Google Maps

It’s been around for a few years now and had plenty of interest from around the world already, but Mr G Online has only just discovered Maths Maps. From first impressions, I am absolutely blown away by the idea. The brainchild of leading UK educator Tom Barrett, (now based in Australia), Maths Maps uses Google Maps as the launching pad for Maths Investigations.

Barrett’s vision was for teachers around the world to collaborate on building Maths Maps, examples of some seen in the screenshots on the left. Here is a brief description of how it works from the Maths Maps website.

Elevator Pitch

  • Using Google Maps.
  • Maths activities in different places around the world.
  • One location, one maths topic, one map.
  • Activities explained in placemarks in Google Maps.
  • Placemarks geotagged to the maths it refers to. “How wide is this swimming pool?”
  • Teachers to contribute and share ideas.
  • Maps can be used as independent tasks or group activities in class.
  • Maps can be embedded on websites, blogs or wikis.
  • Tasks to be completed by students and recorded online or offline.

The collaboration aspect worked like this: ( again from the website)

How can you contribute?

  1. Explore the maps below for the ideas already added, follow the links to open them in a new window.
  2. Send me details of which map you want to edit and your Google email address and I will add you as an editor, follow the link from the email invite.
  3. Click on EDIT in the left panel.
  4. Zoom close to the city and it’s surroundings. (Don’t forget Streetview)
  5. Find some TOPIC ideas you can see.
  6. Add a placemark (use the right colour for the age group it is best for – see purple pin)
  7. Explain the activity in the description.
  8. Change the title to show how many ideas there are.
  9. Send out a Tweet or write a blog post to highlight this resource andencourage others to contribute.

For those of you who have never edited a Google Map before, you need a Google account to do so. Here is an annotated screenshot that shows the basic layout of the Edit stage. I know I say it a lot to colleagues who don’t believe me, but it is very easy to do, like most Web 2.0 tools.

I’m not sure I could handle the world wide collaboration long term but I think this would be very manageable at a school level if you could get together a team of teachers willing to contribute. To me, it is a great way of presenting worded problems in real life contexts. On one level, with the emphasis on teaching children how to analyse questions for standardised tests, this would be a more engaging way of presenting the problems to the children. On a more creative, engaging level, it provides opportunities for linking Maths to real problems, not just questions out of a textbook or practice test sheets.

Beyond the question level, it provides opportunities to investigate all Maths concepts as you can see from the screenshots above. Adding the investigations to an always available Google map means students can access the problems anytime, anywhere and can work at their own pace. I always see tech solutions for recording work for students to complete as a benefit, not extra work. Instead of photocopying or getting children to copy down unfinished problems in a rush before leaving, the work is stored online. It means it can be shared with other classes as well.

The image here shows how Maths Maps was set up to add problems and investigations for all grade levels so collaboration can take place across levels, allowing for differentiation possibilities. Barrett just colour coded the placemarks to match a grade level.

If students have access to Google accounts, it is a great opportunity for them to create their own investigations, taking it to a higher thinking level for them. Students in higher grades could create maps for lower grades to investigate or for their fellow classmates. If nearby schools wanted to join in, they could and, of course, you could go the Maths Maps website route and find some schools outside your area to collaborate with and learn so much more about the world.

Of course, there is no reason why it has to be limited to Maths. You could do the same investigations with geography heavy novels, historical events, geography investigations, anything you can link to real locations. It’s certainly open to a lot of possibilities and, while I know it’s easy for me to say, it doesn’t have a huge learning curve and, with collaboration, shouldn’t take too much time to create. If you are going to type out some questions and print out on paper anyway, it will not take much more effort to create this far more engaging option instead.

Here’s a direct link to one of Barrett’s embedded Maths Maps, 27 Measures Activities in Madrid. You can explore this in detail and get a greater sense of the range of real world Maths you can find in real geographic locations.


View 27 Measures Activities in Madrid in a larger map

And, since I’m one teacher who always has to practise what I preach rather than just post ideas from others, here’s my first attempt at starting a Maths Map around Melbourne – unfinished and early days but might test it out with a few of my colleagues and the Grade 5/6 students.

View Measuring Melbourne in a larger map

3 iPad apps for volume and surface area investigations

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This week, Grade 5 began a unit on Volume, Capacity and Surface Area. On a weekly basis, I take combined groups from the 4 grades consisting of the higher achievers, while the classroom teachers concentrate on the mainstream group and students needing more individual instruction to achieve success. I made a conscious decision this week to focus on using iPads with my group to explore both volume/capacity as well as surface area.

I chose 3 apps to assist me in this learning experience – Think 3D ( free version) and Skitch, which are both free apps and Numbers ($9.99- $4.50 through the Volume Purchasing Program if 20 or more bought). Note: you could substitute the currently free CloudOn app, which is basically a server based Office app, or Google Spreadsheets, a free component of Google Docs/Google Apps for Education.

In the past I would have run this lesson using a limited number of connecting blocks and would have asked the students to record their observations in their exercise books. In using the iPads and the selected apps, I wanted to trial how this type of investigation could be enhanced and improved upon by using technology rather than traditional tools.

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The lesson began with the following premise. Each pair of students ( didn’t have enough iPads for 1:1; would probably work in pairs regardless to encourage collaboration and discussion) was to create a cuboid or rectangular prism with a volume of 72 cubes using Think 3D. In the past, students would have used a limited supply of blocks and would only have had enough to make one model. Using the iPad app, they were able to explore multiple ways of making a 72 cube prism with a limitless supply of cubes with a simple touch of the screen adding or deleting  a cube to the prism each time.

Another advantage is that, while there are many benefits in physically seeing and touching a real 3D object rather than a 2D representation of one on a screen, the ability to rotate the prisms on the iPad to view the different surfaces with a simple swipe made for easy investigation and no chance of the object falling apart and needing to rebuild, thus saving time for more analysis.

Using Reflection on my Macbook ( also available for PCs), the children were able to mirror their iPad screens on our interactive whiteboard and share all of the possible prisms and cuboids. This allowed for easy comparison and discussion without having to move our models around as we would have in the past.

The next step was to save the models as images in the Photo library on the iPad so that we could import them into Skitch, (an annotation app linked to Evernote.) As you can see from the image below, the students were able to clearly label the dimensions of their prisms and record surface area measurements as well. The use of this app enables easy collection of data for assessment rather than the rather difficult alternative of taking photos with a camera and writing notes about each photo. It also makes it easy for the children themselves to keep records of their work and thinking, an improvement on the lesson for both teacher and student. They were also able to swipe back to Think 3D to manipulate the prism to investigate the dimensions closely during the annotation stage.

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We then opened up Numbers to systematically record and calculate the measurements using spreadsheet formulas. Being capable students, they already knew how to use the L X W for area and L X W X H for volume formulas. I wanted to skill them up in using spreadsheet formulas to make quick calculations so that more time could be used for analysing the measurement data and the 3D models.

The spreadsheet was laid out so all possible dimension combinations discovered by the students were recorded. We then inputted a volume formula to verify each prism had a volume of 72 cubes. We then used formulas of our own creation to calculate the surface area of each prism. Once one formula was created, we were able to copy and paste that formula for each prism to calculate each prism’s surface area. Once we had all of the volumes and surface areas, combined with the 3D models, students were then able to make informed conjectures, observations and proofs about why certain prisms of the  same volume had varying surface areas.

While I am not saying I haven’t taught this lesson successfully in the past, using these apps and the iPad allowed for more direct and focused engagement from all students. Previously, the recording of data would have been a whole class event, which I always feel has the potential for disengagement as children watch others do the work. Having limited resources in terms of blocks, early problem solvers are left waiting for others. With the use of Think 3D, they were able to continue on with their own investigations rather than waiting for another pair to make an alternative model.

With today’s lesson, the children were actively involved in all aspects. They had opportunities to explore as many options as they had time for, they inputted all mesurement data, they annotated all of their images, which enabled them to consolidate and record their thinking more efficiently. The technology used also enabled them to save a permanent record of all the work they did today, whereas in the past, it was lost once the cubes were packed up. I  think this is a good example of how technology, and the iPad in particular, can be used for greater engagement and deeper thinking in Mathematics. Yes, all of the steps in the lessons could have been done without tech or iPad specifically, but I don’t think it is as effective.

What are you doing to make Maths real in the classroom?

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spikedmath.com

Mathematics – you either love it or you hate it. There seems to be very little middle ground in this area of thinking. The lovers can find something fascinating in any challenge involving the world of numbers, statistics, shapes and measuring. The haters switch off as soon as you announce ” Please get out your maths books” and go into a quivering near foetal position at the mere mention of the word ‘algebra’.

So where have we gone wrong? Is it just that Maths is too hard for some people? Or have we failed to make it relevant so the doubters just switch off? If we did a better job at showing how important Maths is to real life – that it doesn’t just exist within the confines of a lifeless text book divided into 12 chapters and 120 Exercises of mind numbing practice drills –  would we, along with an injection of teachers who truly love and understand Maths, finally produce a generation of mathophiles (if thats even a word)?

What are you doing to make Maths real in the classroom ( and beyond where it should be)?

  • Are you taking advantage of the simple beauty of Lego blocks to teach arrays, number patterns, counting and  visualization?
  • Do you rely on all those exercises in the textbook or do you show how Trigonometry and functions can be used  to build ramps, staircases, find out slopes;Test and adjust the water flow of a slope on a roof or a pipe; discover The effect of a ramp’s slope on the distance of a jump; work out whether throwing a ball on a steeper angle increases the distance it travels; test the physics of Angry Birds and other similar games?
  • Are you using ratio to alter recipes to cook for more or less people or for changing the taste of a sauce?
  • Do you just learn about the properties of different shapes or do you explore how different shapes fit into a space more efficiently and how this can impact design?
  • Are you buying all of your class/school supplies or getting students to organise surveys to find out parent/their preferences, do research on costing of supplies, table or graph results, compare costs of home purchases versus school purchases, investigate savings and what money could be used for instead?
  • Do you organise school events or have you thought about students working together to organise the costing of events like graduation parties, excursions, transport options, fundraising events?
  • Does your school block or encourage free fantasy sport online competitions which develop money management skills?
  • Do you go on excursions to local shopping centres to buy resources and look for the best prices and possible discounts?
  • Do you use worksheets about statistics and percentages or do you keep statistics about school sports events as real data to monitor performances?
  • Do you use Maths text books for examples or do you collect infographics from newspapers, news programs and websites so children have relevant, recent data to analyse?
  • Do you just serve up pages of algebra exercises to complete or do you demonstrate how algebra can be used as an efficient way to solve real problems, create formulas for simplifying work practices or show the usefulness of algebraic formulas in spreadsheets?
  • Are you still making graphs about favorite colors in the junior grades or are you teaching them that graphs can represent information from questions that make a difference to their lives ( that doesn’t have to be as deep as it sounds)?
  • Are you teaching students how to manage budgets, are you showing them how interest rates impact on their spending? Do they understand credit card debt?
  • Are you involving them in every mathematical possibility in a school day from helping out in the canteen, collecting and counting fundraising money, being timekeepers, sorting out notes in the office, conducting daily surveys of relevance, cataloging books, tallying fines or costs of replacing lost books in the library, helping the PE teacher measure results in athletics carnivals or repaint the lines on sports and games fields out in the playground?
  • Are your students building resources that involve accurate measurements like puppet theaters, book boxes and doll houses for the junior grades? Do you just draw plans to scale or let the children build scale models of real objects they measured?
  • Do you let your students take control of the layout of your room so that they can apply location strategies learnt in class?
  • When considering guest speakers to come to your classroom, do you just think authors and campaigners or do you think about builders, engineers, businessmen or others that can share Maths in the real world?
  • Do you see that organising collaborative discussions with classrooms around the world provides an opportunity for teaching time concepts?

The list can go on forever. I would love to hear from you about what you are doing in your classrooms to make Maths real, relevant and exciting. One idea would be sufficient or more if you want. I’ll add your ideas to my list ( and give you credit of course). Maths is too important to be feared. We have to show our students its worth. Join the conversation.

Maths Extension – engagement with nrich and Edmodo

Earlier in the year I wrote a post titled “Maths Extension/Enrichment with Edmodo“, outlining my plans for an enrichment/extension program for high achievers in Maths at school. It took longer than anticipated to get started but from the start of Term 3 (July), I met with 5 Grade 6 students, 8 Grade 5 students and a couple of very bright Grade 4 boys on a weekly basis for an hour. ( Another teacher does the same with Grade 3 and 4 students ).While we can argue that research suggests mixed ability groupings are more beneficial ( for the rest of the week, these children work in that environment), I am in no doubt that the program has been a resounding success and a great sense of engagement and enjoyment has been felt by all involved, including the Maths teacher!

Whether it is enrichment, extension or a mix of both, which was a point of contention with some readers back in the original post, I am not sure. Regardless, some great mathematical thinking is taking place every week between an enthusiastic, engaged group of students.

The weekly lesson itself takes no time to plan. I simply upload a problem to the MEP (Math Extension Program) Edmodo group at the start of the week so the students can check in for some preparation time before we meet. Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly what I want out of the lesson when I select the problem and I send a post lesson report to the classroom teachers outlining what we did. The beauty of what we do, though, is that we don’t know what will result from the lesson until it is over. There is no chalk and talk, no pre-task explanation of what to do, no expectations that we have to solve it at the end of the hour. What you will see is a group of mathematicians sitting around together, sharing strategies, discoveries, questions verbally, through demonstrations on the whiteboard or via iPads or by posting on Edmodo.

What has improved throughout the term has been their problem solving skills, collaborative discussions, use of technology aids to organise and simplify the process ( Numbers on the iPad  has been a real winner, using formulas to test and monitor conjectures, as has Explain Everything to record ideas and share via the whiteboard) and most importantly, their ability to articulate their thinking and learning, both their successes and failures ( something they haven’t experienced much beforehand).

A great example of the whole process is our last learning experience, which lasted over two weeks. Most of our problems have come from the well established Maths Enrichment website, nrich. ( another worthwhile site is New Zealand Maths ). The beauty of nrich is the incentive to have your solutions published on their website, giving bragging rights to those who succeed, either partially or fully ( more on that later) Our last problem before the holiday was Summing Consecutive Numbers. The problem is presented via an introductory video that explained the nature of the  task. Each student had their own iPad ( its only a small group – we could have used the laptops) so watched it independently. After a two minute debrief to make sure everyone understood the task, we went straight into solving the problem. Beforehand, though, we made a pact that we would publish our solution on nrich, which always had to be posted by the 21st of each month, which just happened to be the last day of Term 3 ( we had previously missed deadlines or solved old problems, so this was our first chance.)

What was great about this particular problem was that the task itself was simple to start with – just adding numbers – but discovering and proving patterns and formulas was a real challenge that need real arguing and collaboration. During the first hour, the students were so focused on discovering patterns. Every idea they had, no matter how small, was posted on Edmodo. This proved to be an important step as the following week we were able to refer back to all of our discoveries. LEt me interject here and state that I was an active part of this as well. Before the lesson started, I was none the wiser about the solutions so I became an authentic learner with my group, making conjectures and testing theories side by side with them. (I talked about the importance of being a learning role model in a previous post). Some children used Numbers spreadsheets to arrrange the numbers into common sets as we investigated, others jsut used pen and paper while others used Explain Everything to brainstorm every idea they had. At the end of the sessions, we had over 60 posts on Edmodo and had made some amazing progress and they continued on over the weekend and into the following week determined to meet our deadline.

The following week, we met with all of our discoveries articulated on Edmodo and we were ready to write our Proof of the Summing of Consecutive Numbers. The final result was exceptional and is published below for your viewing pleasure.
Consecutive Numbers Proof
I showed their classroom teachers and my fellow MEP teacher and they were blown away by the depth of articulation and understanding in the submission. I merely guided them through the process of writing the proof but it is all their work (some sentence structures needed some modelling). To a person, they all requested a copy to put in their blogs and digital portfolios and now wait excitedly for the news it is posted on nrich’s website next month. Regardless, I am going to showcase their effort at the School Assembly, much to their satisfaction of being recognised for being mathematicians.

Being such a successful and rewarding experience, I then started thinking – should this just be the domain of the MEP group? Why can’t the other students in their grade follow the same process? It’s not as if they don’t do problem solving based tasks. This task in particular could have been entered into by ALL the students at different levels and the MEP students could have worked with the others to extend their thinking. The more I work with my group, the more I realise this model of collaborative problem solving should be done more at school. Sure, some of the less able students would not have arrived at the sophistication of thinking these high achievers attained but they could have contriubted to the adding and would have discovered some of the lower level patterns.

I think we have to stop thinking that not all students can enter into these tasks. Nrich is full of problems for all ability levels. Its my new goal to attack at school. I still think these MEP students deserve their time together to work with like minds. But I also think everyone deserves the experience they are getting. It’s what a differentiated curriculum is all about.

Essential Paid iPad Apps for Schools

I’m not a big fan of Top 10 lists but after a year of experimenting with apps on iPads at school, it’s getting to that time when decisions need to be made on what apps we will invest heavily when the App Purchasing Program comes into full effect in Australia, hopefully soon( Yes, rightly or wrongly, I have been running multiple copies of apps from one account for testing purposes, waiting for Apple to release its Purchasing Program so we can be 100% legit. If they had it in place from the start, I would have done it from the start.) So I’m starting to put together a list of what I think are the essential apps that are worth spending the money on for bulk purchasing.

In making my choices, I’m considering multi-purpose apps that can be used across all curriculum areas, apps that take advantage of the multimedia strengths and apps that can help us use technology in new and innovative ways that can change the way we teach, not just do it the same way with a different tech toy. Some apps are needed to handle the shortfalls of the iOS in a shared network setting and others are chosen because they can make the iPad interact with other tech in the school.

I understand that for some schools the cost for a large number of apps for a 1:1 iPad setup may become prohibitive but in our setting of sharing small numbers of sets, the price is controllable. I’m also from an era where we spent (and still do ) $1000s on Microsoft Office licenses that restricted us to using 3 programs with creativity limitations or $1000s on licenses to use a couple of CD-ROMS that quickly became obsolete. For far less and with free upgrades, we can buy a wide array of apps that offer great creativity options for different learning styles. So here are my essential paid apps, in no particular order. Feel free to agree or disagree. (Prices are in Australian $, similar but sometimes slightly  more expensive than US prices, despite our dollar being higher!?!) Get an app like AppShopper to keep track of sales – I actually bought a lot of these apps at discounted prices. Also, even though I haven’t had access to it yet, my understanding is that The Apple App Purchasing Program discounts prices when apps are bought in bulk.(These prices are current as of August 22nd, 2012. Prices do change.)

FileBrowser ($5.49)- effective access of school network for transferring files through open in… command, transfer of picture/video saved to photo library, views a large range of files. Here is a post I did earlier on this app, including video instructions. It’s the best solution I’ve found for working with our school’s network and is an effective way to get a lot of work created on our shared iPads onto individual student’s folders. It means we can delete work on iPads when they are completed, freeing up space for others to use.

iCab Mobile ($1.99) – full featured web browsing with great downloading capabilities( especially video) and sharing functionality . Great for capturing clips of the internet that could then be imported into iMovie to make documentaries. The collaborative research possibilities are endless with the range of sharing options. I wrote about this app in this post on Safari alternatives.

Notability ($0.99) – Low cost word processing (if you don’t want to spend money on more expensive word processing apps more compatible with Word) with sufficient formatting and image importing and labeling. Its main function is as a  full featured note taking app with-

  • in app web browsing and web clipping ( great way to collect websites and quickly access them
  • note synced audio that links audio to specific notes automatically – great for reviewing presentation notes
  •  simple drawing capabilities including graph paper backgrounds for creating hand drawn graphs and charts
  • efficient filing system for sorting and organizing notes including search. In a 1:1 iPad environment, this can enable Notability to replace multiple exercise books, with each subject having its own category for all related notes.
  • Good file transferring setup with automatic syncing to Dropbox and other options.
  • Can save as native Notability file to open on another iPad or as PDF or RTF ( which can then be edited in Word if necessary. )

GoodReader ($5.49) – my favourite PDF annotation app because of its extensive file system and sharing options. Can link to all major cloudservers, mail systems, WebDAV, etc. for sharing files with other students or staff. Save a truckload of paper by avoiding handing our photocopies ( that then get lost or damaged ). Set up folders in your favourite file servers that students and teachers can download PDF versions of anything you want them to read and work with. You can create Folders for arranging and storing files. A great range of annotation tools for taking notes on PDFs, including highlighting, multiple shapes, text annotation, underlining and arrows/pointers.

Explain Everything ($2.99)
This screencasting app is one of my favourite apps for use at school. There are free alternatives but they are linked to online accounts or lack saving options or advanced features. If you can afford this app over ShowMe or Educreations, get it.

  • Useful across all curriculum areas
  • Alternative to PowerPoint for Slideshow making (instead of buying an extra app like Keynote)
  • Great way for creating tutorial videos for flipping classroom
  • Can be used to record student work in any subject, including audio recording of the student’s thinking and explanation accompanying all of their drawing, writing, working out, notes
  • Can save as videos to photo library which is not an option in some of the free screencasting apps

SonicPics($2.99) – A really simple to use app for any age group ( Grade 1s have used it at our school ), SonicPics is a great way to collect photos together into one file and add commentary. Because of the portability and multimedia capabilities of the iPad, you can take it on excursions with junior grades, snap some photos and record the students’ comments right on the spot. Of course, you could come back and do the recordings in class. The fact that all you have to do is import photos and swipe from one to the next while the audio recording is operating makes this a breeze to operate. Great for language experience, oral language practice, recording ideas for writing, reflecting on and reviewing Maths experiences,working with children with special needs who may not be able to write but can talk about the pictures in front of them. a simple, must have app for me.

Strip Designer ($2.99) – I believe in the power of comics as a communication tool. This comic creation app is easy to use and offers a great range of creative options to allow children to plan, tell and retell stories, record reflections and brainstorms, organise explanations and procedures across curriculum areas, make posters… the list can go on. I love the Comic Life app too, especially the Mac version, and in some ways it looks more polished, but Strip Designer is cheaper and has more options. Features include:

  • basic drawing tools to create your own artwork for your comic
  • lots of photo editing and filter options to alter the imported photos
  • Multiple page creation to make a full scale comic book using a large range of comic panel templates
  • Text editing ( reshaping, resizing, colour)  to make graphic Titles
  • Highly editable speech bubbles and text boxes for recording ideas or narrations
  • “Stickers”  add graphics that enhance the comic’s story telling capabilities
  • Exporting options include iCloud, Dropbox, email, Facebook, Flickr, PDF export, emailing or export to iTunes Strip Designer file to edit on another iPad and save to Photo Library as image ( one page at a time)

iMovie ($5.49) – it’s not in the same league as its Mac Desktop companion but coupled with the built in camera and audio capabilities its a great, quick way to put together an edited video with basic titles, sound effects, back ground music and transitions. It’s easy to use once you work out its idiosyncracies ( it has a good help section that explains each function in detail). In a 90 minute class today with Grade 5 students, all students were able to record, edit and publish videos in one session with a five minute overview of features at the start. The students were absolutely absorbed in the process ( the grade tends to be a noisy bunch in general). Students from Grade 2-6 at our school have created iMovies this year with iPads in Maths, Religion, Inquiry, PE and Literacy. Multimodal texts are an important part of learning today and being able to create them, not just view them is essential. iMovie on iPad makes it easy for young students. I’ve just started investigating Avid Studio on iPad – it has a lot more features which I will probably find more useful, and older students might as well – but for simplicity and expediency, I think iMovie is worth the cash.

Creative Book Builder ($4.49) and Book Creator for iPad($5.49) – I put these two apps together as they both create ebooks – Creative Book Builder has more features and a workflow more suited for older students ( late elementary/primary or middle school); Book Creator can be used even by Kinder/Prep students. I think both (or either) of these apps are essential in today’s classroom where we are trying to make writing more authentic by providing an audience to our students. Students at my school from grade 1-6 have already published ebooks across a range of curriculum areas and seen their publsihed books being read by other students in other grades on the iPads. It’s a great incentive to the writers to see other people read their books. We can even email the books to parents to read on their iDevices at home. Both apps allow text, photos and video to be included in the books. Creative Book Builder lets you include weblinks, glossaries, tables of contents, charts and tables in your books. This allows students ( and teachers) to create complex non fiction texts.

Numbers ($10.49) – Apple’s iWork apps are all useful but a little costly buying all three. Notability can do a good enough job as a word processor, Explain Everything can be a Keynote substitute. Numbers, though, as a spreadsheet app is necessary. It’s not a perfect spreadsheet app and is no Excel in terms of overall features but then I’m talking about students not office workers or adult professionals. Spreadsheets are underused in Maths classrooms often because Excel is full of functions that make it too complicated. I love Numbers’ simplicity. I’ve been using it a lot with my extension Maths group recently to support problem solving and modelling using graphs. They have been absolutely engaged in using the app and love how they can easily make several separate charts for related tasks on the same page. The touch screen workflow seems to come easily to them as was dragging graphs and spreadsheets around the iPad screen. Having easy access to an app that can quickly create data and graphs for analysing in all curriculum areas is a big advantage. Critics of Numbers have to stop evaluating it at an adult level when talking about its use in education. I think its a winner, especially in Primary and Middle School grade levels.

Wolfram Alpha ($1.99-drop in price recently from $4.49) – A powerful app for searching for information. Click here for more info about this app – it has too many features to explain. For Maths, though, I find it indispensable.

Garageband ($5.49)- As a Music teacher among other things, I love this app. But it can be used for so much more. Students have used it to create Radio programs, mixing different recordings of news, interviews, competitions, talkback, music ( created in Garageband or imported in). The drag and drop UI of Garageband makes this process so easy. Other students have used it to record songs they have written as creative responses across subjects, adding voice and music. Other uses have been Readers’ Theatre recordings and recording children read for assessment and feedback purposes. And yes, I have also had students create their own multi instrument musical masterpieces in music workshops. For  creative purposes, Garageband is a must have.

SplashTop (Currently $7.49 but was $0.99 last month – keep an eye out for price drops because it regularly changes) - A great app for wirelessly accessing and controlling a computer from your iPad. Great for moving around the room and letting  students control what’s on the interactive whiteboard your computer is connected to. Needs the free Splashtop Streamer installed on computer

Reflection/AirServer - Not  iPad apps but an app to install on your whiteboard-connected computer. This is a much cheaper option that Apple TV. It allows you to project any iPad screen in the classroom onto the whiteboard. Students in my grade have loved showing their work on their iPads with a simple swipe and click on the Airplay button. More info on their websites. ( click on the links at the start of this  paragraph.)

These are my must haves. I love Art Rage ($2.99) for realistic artwork and Snapseed ($5.49 now but I got it for free – watch for sales) for easy photo editing if you want other creative options. I’m sure different teachers have different favourites and I’d love to hear about other essentials from readers. Technology is not cheap but sometimes if you want the best, you have to pay for it. ( Total cost of listed apps at current prices $64 – with an eye on sales you can get much cheaper). I wouldn’t go into an iPad classroom without these.

COMING UP – Essential Free Apps.

Teachers need to be learning role models

One thing I miss most due to my new part leader/part mentor/part member of teaching team role this year is a full time relationship with students. I get to play cameo roles teaching mini units to focus groups, taking extension groups in Maths and helping children use ICT effectively in their learning. What I don’t get to be, though, is something I believe in deeply – being a role model in learning.

With the shift in emphasis to independent, student centred and driven learning, I think sometimes we drop the ball as teachers in showing students how to be learners through example. I believe teachers have to jump out of the comfort zone of providing guidance, developing rubrics for students to follow, working on samples of work created by other authors and other pre-prepared lesson plans and ideas and get involved in real learning as an example for their students to follow. While I’m not a full time class teacher anymore, these are some examples of how I was a learning role model over the previous years that I think are important for teachers to do.

READING

I read to my class a lot. When I did, I showed joy in sharing the stories I read. I was, and still am when I can be, a performer. Asking children to read with expression but then reading to them without passion does not encourage them to make the effort. Use character voices. Accentuate emotion. Model getting involved in the story. Vary the pace to match the mood. Show them how to respond to written text. I have worked with teachers who always passed responsibility to reading class novels to the students, saying it was important for children to practise reading to an audience. Agreed. But the students won’t know how to if you don’t model how to. If performing is not your thing, modelling the struggle to “sell the story” becomes a teaching moment in itself.

Respond to texts in the same way you expect students to. We often bemoan the lack of detail and quality in our students’ text responses. Sometimes the blame has to be placed on us. We rely on textbook annotated models that break down a response into a series of soulless sentences that follow a structure. For me, I always thought it was far more beneficial for me to write my own reviews, character descriptions, book reports and answered the questions they were expected to answer too. I wrote them at an adult level to show students what could be achieved if they pushed themselves. They didn’t reach my adult level but they wrote some great responses because the bar was raised and the example was set. Teachers need to write, not just tell students to write by following a pattern.

WRITING

Clearly I have embraced blogging and I write for an adult audience for a specific educational purpose. Alongside this blog, though, I have another less visited blog that I set up to be a model for the writing we expect our students to write. I haven’t maintained it as much as I want because I haven’t been involved in students’ writing as much as I had hoped. As a full time class teacher, though, I see genuine writing as a vital component. I don’t see all teachers being as passionate about being writers as they should be. How can you assess a student’s ability to write a narrative or a poem or an exposition, if you can’t show you can do it yourself? I have a problem with children being expected to meet the requirements of rubrics created by teachers that follow ideas from writing textbooks but the teachers don’t write themselves.

Not only should we be writing during class time to model writing behaviours ( and sometimes we may struggle to meet the standards, modelling how difficult writing can be and what we might need to do to achieve some success ) but we should be writing independent of class time to show that writing is a genuine, meaningful activity. Teachers can’t expect students to set up Writers’ Notebooks and Writers Gifts or blogs if they don’t have their own and maintain their own. I love writing. My students have read my stories, plays, poems, songs, reviews, reports, explanations, persuasive and argumentative texts and used them as models for their writing, rarely meeting my standards but pushing themselves ( not all of them, obviously) to achieve a high standard. They’ve also critiqued them and I have accepted some of their advice ( and knocked back plenty, too), modelling the whole conferencing and editing process. Again, some teachers may not find writing as easy or enjoyable as me, but students can learn just as much about the struggles of writing – my blogs are littered with half finished or initial ideas as an example that not all writing ideas work ( I keep them to show not finishing is part of a writer’s life).

MATHEMATICS

We rightly push the importance of problem solving. Modern maths teaching methods revolve around multiple strategies. If we are genuine about this, again we need to be role models for  contemporary maths thinking. Again, ( I know I sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet) I find Maths easy at the primary/elementary/middle school levels I work in but I am very careful to model the varied strategies I want my students to use. As a student in the 70s and 80s I went through the era of pure procedural calculation. I could do it easily then and can easily do it now. By being a role model, though, I have actually improved my Mathematical thinking and understanding by using various strategies and maintaining their consistent use.

I don’t have a problem with procedural algorithms; sometimes they are the most efficient method. What I have a problem with is teachers working so hard in a 4 week unit on mental computation and multiplication strategies in Semester One then undoing all their good work by falling back into their comfort zone of algorithms and times table tests in Semester Two. We have to maintain the rage, easy or not, and keep being role models for mental strategies. I repeat, I have improved my mental computation over the years through sustained use of multiple strategies. Students will too, if we keep up the pressure. If we aren’t good role models, they will follow what they think is the “best maths” and use algorithms when they don’t need to.

Problem solving is the same. Students need to see us trying to solve problems and not problems we find easy. I believe as Maths teachers, we should be modelling the struggle involved in problem solving by tackling problems we don’t know the answer to. No shame in getting others to help you too. That is good role modelling too. I like to work on problems in front of the students. I like investigating with the students. We need to show we think problem solving is relevant and useful by doing it, not just setting the problem and showing them how to solve problems we have the answers too.

INQUIRY

I love learning. A lot of my colleagues think I’m a weird freak ( in the nicest possible way!) at Trivia nights and constantly ask me questions to find out quick answers, often in front of the students. I make the mistake often of telling them the answer. They shouldn’t be asking me the question. They should be inquiring themselves. We expect our students to do the research. We should be role models here as well. The reason I know so much is not just because I grew up in the educational era when you were actually expected to remember stuff, not just “Google” it. I know stuff because I am interested in learning. I investigate. I show interest. I experiment. I do this in front of my students. I have a genuine interest in their topics and want to find out more. I ask probing questions to show how they can go further with their questions because I actually want to know what they are researching. When my classes research, I research. When my students do projects, I do projects. Why wouldn’t you if you really believe in the life long learning mantra we spruik in our policies and mission statements. Again it’s about being genuine. I don’t copy and paste so the students know I won’t accept copy and paste. I want deep understanding so the students know I won’t accept superficial answers to research questions. We have to be good role models as inquiring learners.

It might sound like a lot of hard work. Sometimes it is but I enjoy hard work if the result is learning. But sometimes the work actually make teaching easier. Less planning involved for literacy if you just model what to do. Don’t go looking for books on how to teach narratives. Just write a narrative and share your work with the class. Learning will happen on the job. Don’t spend days making up a poster outlining the research process. Just start researching with the class. Be a role model. Don’t tell them what to do. Show them how it’s done.

Digital Portfolios – is Blogging a good option?

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

A couple of things happened last term. My school finally took the plunge and allowed the Grade 6 students to replace their file books with digital portfolios as a means to collate their work to share with their parents at home and during parent/teacher interviews. The other thing was that a small group of teachers dipped their toe into class blogging. By the end of the term, we ended up with two problems – How do we create the best Digital Portfolio and Do we want to really blog?

Let me explain.

During my ‘Techie Brekkies” before school, I introduced blogging to a group of interested teachers. They had lots of questions and not all were answered but we ended the couple of sessions with setting up blogs, but apart from one grade level who used their blog for Camp updates and reflection, not much happened after the meetings. Then I introduced Edmodo and it seemed to be a more useful and easier to set up option. Edmodo now has full adoption across all Grade 5/6s as a collaboration/work sharing/assessment and class organisation tool. It was seen as more relevant than having a class blog at this stage in the development of the teachers involved. ( Note: the whole “Techie Brekkie” thing went into hiatus during report writing season and so there was no follow up to blogging session. We’ll pick it up again next term).

In terms of the Digital portfolios, there was a push for them last year in the 5/6 area but because they were just an add on to the  school wide  file book/work sample policy, they were not fully embraced by teacher or student. In 2012, however, change came about and the Grade 6 students moved from paper based file book to digital portfolio. They adopted Powerpoint as the platform ( not my personal choice nor my decision to make) and then last term decided they would  export them over to Sliderocket so that they could be accessed via the internet at home. It was soon apparent, though, that this was a fail as a workflow as the export experience didn’t upload attached files or links. This was compounded by SlideRocket’s sudden policy change which locked the children out of accounts ( hence my recent posts about Web 2.0 for the Under 13s).

When this happened, I started thinking of alternatives. The teachers initially decided to stick with PowerPoint but start a new portfolio ( the originals quickly became bloated, growing to unmanageable sizes that took forever to load over wireless networks – need to invest in video compression software!) I started thinking of blogging.  From reading about blogging over the last year, however, from the likes of Kathleen Morris, Linda Yollis and Langwitches Blog ( who seem to respected in the field of class blogging) and reflecting myself earlier in the year in this post (and here as well),  my quandary is that I may be blurring the lines between blogging and digital portfolios. Am I rushing the students and teachers into blogging by attaching the importance of the official digital portfolio to it without going through the process of preparing them for blogging as outlined by the aforementioned “experts”?

Nevertheless, today, I am pushing ahead with a “Pros and Cons” list to help me decide what the best choice might be from my point of view. Obviously, I would like feedback from you, my readers, on what you think is the best option. It’s a work in progress and would like to hear suggestions from you for both the pros and cons. 

PROS FOR BLOGGING AS DIGITAL PORTFOLIO

  • “Anywhere, any time access” to their work for composing, editing, publishing and sharing with their parents. One of my problems with the whole twice a year file book access is that parents aren’t kept informed on the progress or quality of their children’s work. With the blog as portfolio option, the child’s work is more transparent and because the parents can see the work during all stages of the year, children may be more motivated to work at the standard Mum and Dad expects of them.
  • A bigger audience for greater purpose and motivation. Opening up their work to a wider audience puts the responsibility of quality back on to the students. It should also motivate them to publish quality work as well since it is being viewed by others.
  • Feedback and collaboration. Through moderated comments, parents, friends and the wider world audience can provide feedback, encouragement, praise and advice. With access controls, individuals can be invited to collaborate on posts under the supervision of the teacher to ensure collaboration goes smoothly. Shared posts can be linked to each others’ blogs so that the work can be shown to both students’ parents and audiences.
  • Controlled environment and ease of communication between teacher and student. With student blogs linked to a teacher blog, teachers and students can control the level of privacy and access to their work. Students can save their work as unpublished drafts and teachers can review their work before they go further. Students and teachers together can make decisions about which posts go public and which remain private. This gives a student control over what he/she wants to publish to a wider audience while still being able to show their parents all their work.
  • Wide range of publishing options available through uploading, hyperlinks and embedding published work from other web tools. One of the time wasting tasks I have seen through the PowerPoint Digital Portfolio option is organising file storage, folder structures, hyperlinking to files, linking to work published with software not available at home and the resulting broken links when all of these tasks are completed effectively. An online version with links controlled by the blogging platform and a central storage area coupled with the ease of linking and embedding to work that exists on the internet, not in random folders spread across the school network is a more user friendly option. Having the online option may also encourage students to try out more web tools for composing and publishing their work. It may move them away from just typing words out in Microsoft Word and onto Prezis, comic strips, slideshows and audio presentations that can easily be embedded in their portfolio blog.
  • Purposeful blogging. I’ve checked out a lot of student blogs in my research for setting up blogging at school. While there are some outstanding examples from very talented student writers, there are also a lot of blogs out there that don’t meet the standards and guidelines outlined by the blogging experts above. Like a lot of technology, many teachers never progress their students past the experimental stage and we are left reading unedited “my Favourite……” posts by the truckload. Using the blog as a digital portfolio gives a consistent purpose to what is being posted and students won’t spend time wondering what to write next.
  • Part of whole school program, not an added extra. A digital portfolio blog would include work from all areas of the curriculum and would encourage publishing of work in the Arts, Sport, Mathematics and other subjects besides Literacy which can dominate a blog as the “writing subject”. Hopefully, this would encourage the use of technology for reflecting upon and showcasing learning in the non text based subjects.
  • Consistent, purposeful reflection across all curriculum areas. By using the blog as a digital portfolio, students will have an accessible place to store their reflections on learning side by side with the actual work they are reflecting upon.
  • Easy to use publishing and organisational platform. Thoughtful tags to identify each post, organised in Portfolio categories ( subject areas ), pasting the embed code or link from work done on another web tool – and we’re done. A simple to organise workflow that allows easy access to all files with a simple click on a link.
  • Home/School Link. On top of the connection between school and home available to the parents through the blog option, the maintenance of the blog becomes purposeful homework in all curriculum areas.
  • Teacher Accountability/future direction. Access to student work is soon to become part of our Educational landscape in my system. I can already access individual files of my own children’s work, albeit work that is uploaded and commented on by their teachers in their own time. Having the blog as a digital portfolio easily accessible by parents places some onus on teachers to be consistent and up to date with their assessment and feedback, which helps with teachers planning for children’s learning and improvement.

CONS OF BLOGGING AS DIGITAL PORTFOLIO

  • Rushed process without preparing for the responsibility of online publishing. This is not a problem with blogging itself. Rather it’s more a problem with moving straight into using it as a Digital Portfolio platform without having already having experience in blogging. When we adopted Edmodo, there were plenty of teething problems with getting the students to use it appropriately ( that is now ironed out). Morris, Yollis and Langwitches all emphasise the need to for a gradual release of responsibility and training in posting and commenting. Having said that, as a Digital portfolio, the work that is published on the blog will be controlled in some way.
  • Maintaining feedback. There is a danger that teachers will find it too difficult to maintain the same level of feedback and commenting over the duration of the year, considering the public nature of the blogging platform.
  • Negative feedback. How students react to possible feedback of a critical nature is something to consider. Does the digital portfolio component of the blog remain separate from other posts through privacy settings?
  • Separation of Teacher/Student/Parent Comments during the composing process and once published. How do we manage the situation of comments from teachers at the composing/editing stage being misunderstood by parents? Does the student want their classmates’ comments being seen by parents or vice versa? Should the teacher comments be privately viewed?
  • Making a blog “all work and no play”. When you look at successful blogs, they’re about building relationships with audiences, being free to publish posts of your own choice, having fun with the layout, plug ins etc. By making it the Digital Portfolio, you run the risk of sucking the joy and freedom out of blogging and making it all about school work.
  • Access/Connection issues. 90 students simultaneously trying to blog at school can play havoc with the wifi. We run the risk of making the students’ work inaccessible during high traffic periods. Not all students have easy and regular access to the internet at home.
  • Quality control/Teacher accountability. Keeping track of 30 student blogs is no easy task. If students have publishing rights, unchecked work might slip through to public viewing and cause concern for teacher responsibility. Teachers who aren’t confident with technology may find the blogging platform difficult to manage.
  • The linear blogging structure. While tags and categories can make linking to individual post simple, the scrolling, back dated, linear structure of a blog is not always the best way of presenting a large body of work.

I personally think my pros outweigh my cons, although their are some definite issues to address. But I’m a prolific blogger and a confident user of web tools. That doesn’t make it the best choice for everyone. I know there are alternatives but I haven’t experimented with them as much as blogging. As I said earlier, I would really like some feedback from others who have used Digital Portfolios with their students. Do you use blogs or something completely different? What have been your issues and challenges? Please leave a comment and join the conversation. I’d really appreciate it.

Hands On Maths with the iPad

Earlier in the year, I wrote a couple of posts on the iPad and Maths Apps. I questioned whether there were apps out there that went beyond number facts drills and calculation games. One of my readers of those posts, Melissa,  let me know about a group of apps called Hands on Maths. This set of apps provide a range of digital versions of hands on manipulative tools that are needed to develop important Mathematics concepts and skills. I am in no way suggesting that they replace the physical tools entirely but they do provide always available, easy to manipulate tools that are linked to independent investigations generated by the app itself.

These apps include digital versions of geoboards, counting charts, Base 10 blocks, attribute blocks, fraction strips, grids, coloured tiles, abacuses and other maniuatives that support the development of basic number and spatial concepts.They would be particularly useful in supporting individual and small group learning plans for students who need visual aids and teacher aide intervention. Each app is customisable and allows for different skill levels and different types of tasks within the same app through a simple user interface. The settings are changed through the “cog” icon, the activities are accessed via the arrow icon and there is a home button to return to the beginning. There is also a tutorial included to explain the use of each app.

What follows is a brief overview of some of the Hands On MAths apps available on the iPad used on how I have used them. For a more expensive look at the apps before purchasing them ( each app is $1.99 AU or the equivalent in your country) the company Ventura Educational Systems has an excellent website providing detailed information about all their apps, including downloadable PDF instruction guides. I wish other app creators would provide this much information about their apps so that you could make informed decisions about purchasing.

BASE 10 BLOCKS

 Hands On Maths:Base 10 Blocks is a virtual mamipuative app that allows you to explore both whole number and decimal place value using the familiar base ten blocks, known in some countries as MAB. It also allows for addition and subtraction of numbers with and without regrouping. It is limited to 3 digit numbers from 100s through to hundredths. It works through simple dragging and dropping of block into a work space and the values are automatically generated as you build the numbers. A useful feature is built in that allows for groups of smaller values to automatically transfer into the higher value accompanied by an arrow that shows where the values transfer to. ( e.g when you make 12 tens in the tens place, it will change 10 tens into a hundred and leave the remaining 2 tens intact). this works in the decimal format as well. As I said in the introduction, I’m not suggesting we do away with the physical block usage as many younger mathematicians in training need to manipulate physical models. Where digital virtual manipulative excel is in instant feedback, quick turnaround of use, instant access and reuse and unlimited resources ( we often run short of blocks in whole class settings). Together with discussion with a teacher on a one to one or small group basis while manipulating the virtual blocks, I see this as a good tool for working with at risk students. I like that the app allows for the use of decimal place value as well, even though here is a school of thought that we should use different models for decimal place value. Me personally, I like to maintain the link between the base 10 system across whole and decimal numbers to show the consistent relationship.

INTERACTIVE HUNDREDS  CHART

The Hands On Maths Interactive Hundreds Chart is a counting board which you can set up starting from 0 or 1 and use to investigate, explore and discover number patterns and sequences. Users can mark out multiple counting sequences using different tools including crosses, ticks, circles and squares( transparent, opaque and solid) of different colours. Using these tools, students can discover patterns, common factors and multiples, predict the next few numbers in the sequence by studying the pattern show so far. They can create their own or follow sequences given by the teacher or other students. Used effectively, much discussion can be generated about number sequences as a precursor  to Algebraic patterns through visual representation. Again the advantage of the digital tool is the quick turnaround in exploring patterns and the instant reuse of the board.

INTERACTIVE COLOUR TILES

Hands On Maths Color Tiles has a huge range of options for developing important Mathematical concepts. The tiles can be used to create arrays for exploring multiplication and division. Addition and subtraction can be explored by adding or subtracting tiles by dragging on or off the workspace. These operations mentioned are supported by a built in pad that supports the calculations being done with the tiles. This pad can be customised to show fractional. decimal and percentage proportions of tiles on the workspace as well. There are also built in grids that can be used to support calculations or be used as graphs or co-ordinates. Symmetry can also be explored through symmetrical grids that create duplicate reflections vertically, horizontally or both as you place tiles on the grid. By exploring this app you will find more and more applications for the range of tools it provides. Read the PDF guide that is available on the website listed above. It gives further ideas. The moe I explore it the better opinion I form on this app. Check it out.

OTHER NUMBER BASED APPS AVAILABLE IN THE RANGE

There are a number of other apps in the Hands On Maths Range that address number concepts. I’ll provide the links here and direct you again to the company’s website so you can check out for yourself what these apps offer.

Number Sense provides ways for exploring whole numbers, fractions and decimals

Number Balance can support the introduction and development of equality, equations and algebraic thinking by providing a balance tool that enables you to crate equations that equal different value combinations on either side.

Tangle Tables and Multiplication Toolkit both give many opportunities to explore basic multiplication concepts in a hands on, concrete way.

Hands On Maths also has a number of apps that support the teaching of geometry and other spatial concepts. I’ll discuss them in a later post.

When I first discovered these apps, I thought they were nice little activities for the juniors to explore. As I explore them deeper, though I can see their applications in higher grades as well, used creatively and in context. In tutoring middle/high school children on the side, I get frustrated by the lack of hands on explorations of concepts by teachers in these schools. I can see a place for some of these apps in the right  context.  I recommend that certainly elementary/primary school teachers give these apps a go. Even if you don’t buy them, check out the company’s website ( I have absolutely no affiliation with them – I just discovered the site today file researching for this post). You might find some great applications for using the real versions of these virtual manipulatives that you can use to improve your maths teaching.