Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rainy day Google Earth

What do you do when it's yet another rainy day recess? 

If you are lucky enough to have a relatively new class set of iPads, you pass out the iPads, ask the students to investigate the Google Earth app and see what happens.

Last week, during a rainy day recess, I decided to give the students 20 minutes to use the Google Earth app any way they wanted to.  I didn't have any plan in mind.  I hadn't even used Google Earth myself.  It was just one of those moments that happens sometimes in a classroom that turned into a great lesson with everyone working together to find out where we live on this planet, and then finding other places of interest - historical sites in our country, the White House and Wrigley Field - and in other countries.  There were discussions about Salinas, Prunedale, Hawaii, Colorado, Japan and Ireland.  Some students spent time looking at Germany, Sweden and Denmark since we are currently reading the novel Number the Stars.  There was a student who figured out how to look at the topography of the oceans.

I had read that there is no need to spend class time teaching (somewhat pre-vetted apps) to students because they will quickly learn what they need to know and then teach each other; that was definitely the case with Google Earth.  The class quickly figured out who the experts were (there were many) and students went to the student experts for help.  I was not the teacher, but more of an educational consultant.  I got to spend my time answering questions about how a student could calculate the distance between Germany and Denmark, how to find the spelling of a city in Ireland, or how to learn more about deep ocean trenches.  It was clear after 20 minutes that there was much, much more that we could do with Google Earth, we had only started to touch the possibilities.  Students were finding topics that interested them and things that they wanted to find out more about out. Maybe we can do more of this at school, and maybe they can do more of it at home.  We shall see!

The students received no instruction from me. In fact, I had only downloaded Google Earth using Apple Configurator the night before, so didn't know any more than they did about it.

The students quickly helped each other to find the app and learn how to use it.

The first thing most of them did was find their current home, then former homes.  For some this was easy, for some it was more difficult.  Some had to find landmarks, such as the school, and then find the way they would walk or drive from there.

Here is a picture of the states map on the blacktop at the back of our school.

Then students started to look for places of historical importance, like the White House.

This student found places in Ireland where he had been on vacation.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Virtual Manipulatives - a real winner

For our Fractions Unit, we have been using an app called Virtual Manipulatives! and it's free.  Here are a few screen shots to show what we've been doing in class recently. 

Students can compare fraction strips to find equivalent fractions.  When they want to start over, they press the blue "new" button at the top and the fraction pieces are re-shelved in the tray.

Students can manipulate fractions to add and subtract fractions.  Then can use the whiteboard feature of the app to do the  problem on the whiteboard as well.  The eraser to the far right of the tool bar acts as an "undo" button.

Manipulatives aren't new to the math classroom, but our classroom sets have only 10 tenths, 8 eighths etc, which made working with mixed numbers tricky.  It was hard for students to model 1 3/4 plus 4 1/4, for example.   With the app, students can keep adding as many ones, eighths, tenths as they need.  They aren't limited to the amounts in the tray.

Another big plus with the Virtual Manipulatives app is that the manipulatives are virtual. There are no tiny bits of paper or plastic to clean up after a lesson and there are no incomplete sets of manipulatives with only 8 ninths or 5 sixths in them.

The greatest thing about this app though is something I did not anticipate.  It was hearing, "Can I stay in at lunch and help the students who were at instrumental music?"  and "Wow, can we stay in and do more math during lunch?"

On the day we first used Virtual Manipulatives, several students missed the part of the lesson when we used the app because they had an instrumental music lesson.  When they returned, it was time for lunch.  One of the iTech helpers for the week asked if he could stay in at lunch and tutor the students on using the app.  All of the students who had been out of the classroom happily agreed to stay in.  They not only learned how to use the app (which was easy), but they also caught up on the lesson content.  The iTech helper did all the instruction without any input from me.  He answered questions about the app and about the lesson.  Soon everyone was working together to solve the sample problems.  Everyone was caught up and ready to go the next day.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Woo Hoo -- Day 1 with the iPads

Oh yeah!


Do you see the empty cart and the completed iPad check out list?

In October, we finally got to use the iPads we’ve been talking about piloting since the beginning of the school year.  Most of the delays in our pilot were good ones --  we went from waiting for a few iPads to be ordered and delivered, to waiting for our whole class set, and then for our cart, and then for our covers, but still, we were starting to feel like we’d been waiting to get started for a very long time.
The excitement in the room was palpable when our fifth graders found out the time had come to use the iPads and that only increased my anxiety.  I had hoped that we would be able to afford stout cases, such as the OtterBox Defender, but they just weren’t in the budget.  I am putting my trust in these students to be very careful using these iPads with much less robust cases.  The students were very respectful as we went over the shortened version of the iPad rules they had agreed to in the iPad Use Agreement signed by each student and their parents:

                                                  This is the short version of the rules

Before the students came and got their iPads, they also learned about the iPad cart procedure.   The cart is a great improvement over managing the iPads individually, but it takes some management to get 29 iPads checked out and distributed to the students.  For now, I want a written record of how often we actually use them.  We may find a better way as the pilot progresses.  The students were very careful as they disconnected the power cords and took their iPads back to their desks:

                                                      The students were very cautious

On this first day, our goal was to have the students start to learn to use the iPad tools that they will be using when they start creating content.  The students started taking photos with both the document camera and the face camera. (Thanks to Suzy Brooks for the naming convention.)  They could take as many photos as they wanted, but could only keep two photos of their silent reading book and two photos of their face on their iPad.  Hopefully, the students will learn from the beginning that they need to keep track of what they are storing on their iPads.  As you can see, taking the pictures was lots of fun.

                                                Learning how to use the iPad cameras

Once the students were proficient with iPad photography, they were able to use GeoMasterUSA (free) to practice their states, which is very timely since they have their 50 states test this week.  They were also able to practice their math skills using My Math App (free).  As you can see from the photos, every child was fully engaged in practicing their basic skills with these apps.

                                                      Social Studies and Math Apps

None of us were ready to put the iPads up when it was time to pack up and go home.  The students were asking, “Can we stay after school?”  “Can we do more math tomorrow?”  “ Can I play that app again?”   I know they won’t want to keep practicing basic skills forever, even with these apps, but the honeymoon sure is nice!