07 Jul

Using Me Books in the Classroom

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Being asked to try apps and ideas in school is always fun, but it’s rare that it works so well in the classroom… Me Books, by developer Made in Me has fitted in beautifully!

First of all, as I have discussed on this site, a big focus this year has been on reading, and particularly Guided Reading – see here for more information. The focus for us has been on the response to texts, children creating content and demonstrating their understanding. The iPad is a brilliant tool for that, allowing the children to choose a number of ways to respond to a tasks in creative and collaborative ways.

However accessing quality texts (whole books) and reading for pleasure is not so easy. Teachers can be put off by the sheer choice (and rubbish) on the iBook store, and pupils are not impressed by badly written or dull looking books. Conversely some of the interactive book apps, which I’ve written about here can be too exciting for independent work during sessions – too distracting!

Enter MeBooks – and what looks like a standard shelf app becomes a very useful tool for exploring and creating. As a declaration of interest here, I should mention that I have been given several free accounts to use from Me Books, and have shared these with the teachers I work with.

The app lets you download a book to individual iPads with seperate accounts. For the purpose of this project we were allowed multiple downloads to each account, and I know the developers are currently looking at straightforward ‘paper based’ ways school can order books for their accounts, so you can order 20 copies of the same book for your iPads for example.

The beauty of the app though is within the narration – and the sound ‘buttons’ – take a look at this screenshot.

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Those red splodges are in fact sound bubbles, which means that when these areas are tapped an appropiate sound is played. Also allowing the children to have a go at creating their own sound effects. These ‘custom’ versions can then be saved, alongside the original book. The original narration is usually beautifully acted (often by a recogniseable actor!) and really brings the books to life. The illustrations are normally faithful to the book – and yes that is a Ladybird Classic you see on the header image!

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The ability to record your own words and to choose where to place sound effects has a few surprising effects in the classroom. As you would expect there is a lot of fun to be had – give the children a purpose and it becomes about voice and audience. Ask them to record a version for the younger years and you have them working in groups to entertain, listening back to the clarity and checking their expression!

Then take this screenshot – here there are a number of characters. What are they thinking? Well exactly, the pupils can quite literally give the characters a voice. They have plenty of fun putting themselves into the characters shoes. Thinking about what is happening in the story, demonstrating understanding, asking questions and characterisation.

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Me Books has fitted in very well with our guided reading session at our schools, but it has also been a hit at other times. The Digital Leaders for examples, have really enjoyed recording their own versions of stories and sharing them with the younger children. They even created a mini guide to the app – take a look at their work here. I have started a project with some parents, looking at how they could offer some narrative in a native language, again giving the children a voice.

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Follow @me_books on Twitter for more information!

08 Jun

Creating Games

This half term we are giving a trial run to some of the game creation apps that are beginning to hit the market. We designed a 4/5 week plan, looking for opportunities for the children to collaborate, experiment and develop their confidence when coding.

I chose a few programs that the teachers and pupils were already familiar with. There are also some great ideas in the Digital Leader Network site.

Thanks to an excellent Code Club, some of the pupils were already familiar with the programme Scratch (and indeed more and more teachers are becoming familiar with this). However in order to ensure that something could be created from all pupils we are also using 2Simple’s 2DIY and a really great app called SketchNation. Other programmes, such as Hopscotch and Game Salad are available, and we’re currently trying them out! My advice – have a play with these programmes first, but importantly learn with the children! Many have great tutorials, and examples you can play with.

The aims of this unit?

An engaging unit which will pull in work from many other subjects to create a genuine project based learning.

The literacy work is easily tied in, character creation, story telling, language of evaluation and opinion are all developed. In fact an excellent unit was planned for comic book creation anyway, so choosing a segment of the story and developing characters is all tied in!

Sketch Nation has a great in app designer for simple characters, or sprites!

Sketch Nation has a great in app designer for simple characters, or sprites!

Art and design also planned in easily, you could mimic an art style if you wished, or develop and play with whatever the chldren are interested in. Creating characters on the computer can be explored, and to facilitate this using squared paper to create would help.

Maths can also be used – a really interesting lesson is exploring how scoring works within games, both on their designs and finished games. For example, what does a ‘multiplier’ do? How can they tweak the scoring system in an already finished game within Scratch? Does it affect your enjoyment of the game?

A rough outline of the weekly overview is as follows: ( tap on the image for a larger view)

Overview of the Weeks

Week 1 – which involved looking at what a ‘game’ is was very interesting! The children tried various games then collated a table of key descriptions, thoughts and ideas as well as a rating system. They did this groups and we developed some interesting ideas!

What makes a good game? Ideas to get discussion started!

What makes a good game? Ideas to get discussion started!

I would love to hear any thoughts! And I’ll keep you informed as to how it’s going!

19 May

One

This post is some short guidance for those teacher who have been given iPads to use in the classroom.

I created a rough guide to the apps that I find useful, and how I use them, as well as a Haiku which I have tried to embed below… If it’s not working the link should take you there.

http://www.haikudeck.com/p/QDpZ54eond

The key apps I use are here:

One iPad in the classroom?

It’s key to remember that the iPad is a tool and before you even think about apps you have a video camera, a microphone and access to the internet, word processing in one handy tool.

Connect to your whiteboard and you can share work and display photos, then begin to use apps and it soon becomes a key classroom tool.

I have split this into 6 key areas :
Share – which includes the vga adapter and using Airserver. Other apps, such as Reflector also work well for this. Apple TV is a slightly more expensive option.

Sharing is also about the using the iPad to share your pupils’ work – and it can be done very quickly by taking a photo and sharing it to the whiteboard. I create private You Tube accounts for schools so that video can be briefly stored there rather than on the school server.

This leads me on the next category Record – apps such as Notability and 2 Simple Early Years allow the teacher or the Teaching Assistant to take photographs and to annotate them. Many teachers use the camera very effectively and then a file organising app such as Dropbox or Evernote to keep, collate and possibly even print evidence.

Personalise learning is where the iPad can really come into it’s own though, and by this I mean adapting learning so as to appeal, enthuse and engage your pupils. Besides the content that is available from the web, there are some apps that really support giving your pupils a personal perspective on learning. You will be able to record their achievements, ask them to record their achievements, a TA can record your lessons or their explanations and it can then be shared with the rest of the class.

Share work and model editing using Explain Everything.

Share work and model editing using Explain Everything.

Organise is the next key areas – integrating email, calendar and a note taking system such as Evernote has been a brilliant time saver. Dropbox is also a huge help, and if the school has a Dropbox account can means the pupils can access resources that you have prepared at home.

Connect
Updating class blogs, and sharing good practice has never been easier! Most blogs have an app that updates both words and pictures easily. I have introduced Skype into the classroom using my iPad and Airserver – and the school now has a twitter account which can be used by teachers.

Finally I would say explore! – I began by using my iPad for sharing presentations – now when teaching I often let the pupils use it to record their evaluations of the lesson. Or a Teaching Assistant to support a group (Explain Everything works amazingly for Maths.) I some lessons I choose a ‘chief researcher’ who has the challenge of both creating and answering questions around our lessons.

 

One last thing to think about as well is how the settings on the iPad can be used in the classroom – You can make the iPad ‘Speak’ text on the screen, or make the visuals high contrast. You are able to make the text larger, or to change the language that it speaks in. ‘Guided Access’ is a useful feature for allowing the user access to one app only.  Other accessibility features can be seen here.

Thanks for reading this – it is a whistle-stop tour, but I hope you have found it useful!

20 Mar

Skype – One Big Adventure

 

I wanted to find a way that I could really start to connect our pupils with the world around them. Schools in London have a wealth of geographical experience in their classrooms and I thought a great way to harness that would be Skype… 

Our skype adventure began with me browsing the Skype in the Classroom site...

This really great site linked me immediately to lots of people all over the world.. I had some pretty big dreams, you know – the explorer going up Mount Everest, the Astronauts and so on. However, I began small….

I set up the school Skype account, and then tested it on locally. The school has iPads, and I used those. I made sure not to leave the app logged in on the pupil iPads however. In fact, I got the Digital Leaders to remove the app from some of the iPads.

Then we set up a Skype date – a school in Qatar, and a teacher who contacted me initially over twitter.

(Big thanks to Mr Allen – @peandme)

We decided to set a theme – and as World Book Day was looming we went for a Book theme. Our Year 4 class was primed to talk about their book, and the teacher in Abu Dhabi, UAE prepped their children for their talk.

Once connected the debate was quickly lead by the children. Their excitement could felt in the room! We had to rehearse some questions and the children could, some of the time, stick to a script! However, with a class of 30, it was tough for them to do. It was nice to let them lead the questions though – and this was helped by having the skype display on the interactive whiteboard through AirServer.

This led then to the Digital Leaders writing up the experience for the parents and teachers to see.  See our school website here.

Year4SkypeMarch

So what worked?

  • Well the chat certainly did, and both schools were impressed…
  • The children and teacher are now sufficiently motivated to read the book they were reading and report back at the next chat.
  • The one session has been enough to make other staff ‘think big’ – and I am busy setting up other skype meetings!

Warnings: (or what I would do differently!)

  • We have had some ‘dodgy’ connections with one of our other classrooms… Have a back up plan!
  • I have been inundated with schools – don’t bite off more than you can chew! I was amazed at how many schools want to give this a go.
  • Think about the time difference – sounds silly, but it has a real impact on what is possible.
  • For the main skype session I prefer a fixed webcam and microphone rather than an iPad – the connection feels so much more solid!

 Future ideas? 

  • The motivation for writing, speak and listening are obvious… the children are able to see a purpose to what they are doing.
  • Speaking and Listening – sharing ideas and crossing a language barrier!
  • Topic based work? Specific and shared learning intentions? Sharing teachers?

Resources

Skype in the Classroom – a good place to start!

Ways to use Skype – Teach Hub

Interesting article from Time magazine – What Teachers Are Using Skype For

An Author in Every Classroom – Messner, Kate (2010) School Library Journal  – abstract – This article discusses how Skype and other video-conferencing software have become a staple for teachers, librarians, and authors who want to get kids excited about reading. The past year has brought a huge increase in the number of schools and libraries using Skype to connect classrooms and bring in experts to talk with kids. And with cuts in school funding limiting traditional author visits, meetups via Skype have grown even more popular. All of the authors interviewed in this article agree on one point: it’s important for teachers and librarians to prepare students for a Skype visit in advance. Reading at least one of the author’s books, either together or as a read-aloud, is a must, and kids who prepare questions in advance are generally more comfortable speaking on the day of the visit.

17 Feb

eBooks in the Classroom

Binary Books

It’s a common question. Is there a place for book apps alongside traditionally printed books? How should teachers make use of this new media?

Why should we use interactive books?

Always begin with this question, why are you considering buying eBooks? Do you have devices in school already that will make use of them? Have you considered purchasing costs? Are you buying copies of treasured books or working with new authors?

I think these questions are important because they will have an impact on the kinds of books you buy. How many iPads/devices do you have? Are you looking for textbooks for a 1:1 project? When will the books be accessed?

iBooks is easy to search and most books are dowloadable as samples first!

iBooks is easy to search and most books are dowloadable as samples.

Options are plentiful:
Web based services allow books to be accessed on screen, often compatible with many operating systems, but not always downloadable.
Britannica e-books is one such service.
Scholastic also run services where books can be accessed online, often through themes or authors focus.
More and more books now will come with digital copies, which are perfect for displaying on whiteboards.
Kindle runs as an app on iPads, online and within Kindle readers – great for regular access, though not as whizzy looking as ios apps. (This is changing as Kindle readers become full colour!) Kindle can be cheaper and as the app is android as well, very accessible to parents as well as teachers.

If you are looking for textbooks, use the iBookstore but also take a look at the DK range of apps. All very high quality.

I often get asked about book apps for iPads. My advice is to choose books that link well within unit teaching and make most of their interactivity. It is also a good idea to let the children choose themselves occasionally! Perhaps a project for school council or digital leaders? Here is a quick run through of some of the best book apps I’ve seen. Make use of creative apps for activites, see my guided reading apps for ideas.

Great for inference and problem solving!
Often find the children running through books or furiously swiping the screen? Try Bartleby’s Book of Buttons This book is one of the best I have seen. Each page poses a problem, with the solution hidden within the page. For example he may have a ticket with the time to leave on it, and the reader has to change the clock to that time before they can turn the page. Great illustrations and loads of options make this one you really should try. Perfect for inference and encouraging those higher level 3 readers to pay attention to the text!

Bartleby's Book of Buttons poses a problem, and solution within each page.

Bartleby’s Book of Buttons poses a problem, and solution within each page.

Great for character and dialogue.
Two things in book apps will really support young readers with character and dialogue. Firstly the quality of the voice acting, and secondly the ability to record the narrative themselves. Using book apps as a chance for drama, speaking and listening and creating characters is the perfect enhancement. For this, I found it tricky, many publishers are now warming to the idea of a record your own narrative feature. An example would be Ocean Media Houses’ Dr Seuss series. Some are put off because of the voice acting, (though what else would Dr Suess stories sound like?!) However the chance to record your own narrative changes that. Suddenly the possibilities are endless! A very special mention should also go to the Nosy Crow series. Their gorgeous looking apps are not only brilliantly narrated but tapping the characters in the story reveal more of their thoughts. Very useful for when you want to encourage discussion about dialogue, or encouraging children to sequence stories.

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks, brilliantly narrated and excellent for whole class storytelling.

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks, brilliantly narrated and excellent for whole class storytelling.

Other stories which are great for dialogue include Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and Cosmo. These also include some great activities, such as sequencing stories which can be useful.

Reading for Pleasure.
The other great thing about eBooks, is that it can motivate some children to read where they otherwise may not do. Ofsted recently saw a guided reading session where a group was using iPads and commented that the children were incredibly engaged, especially the boys. Purchasing some key texts, whether from iBooks, or as an app, could really support reading in the classroom. Try some of the comic apps as well, Comics4Kids offers some great comics, which are very child friendly. Some iBooks, such as David Walliams’ Gangster Granny offer video from the author, and reading aloud of the text. Try searching for ‘enhanced’ books in the store.
Special mentions should also go to Atomic Antelope’s adaption of Carroll’s Alice, which comes in an abridged and full version and has amazing visuals.

Atomic Antelope's adaptation of Alice will be a hit with Yr 5/6 readers.

Atomic Antelope’s adaptation of Alice will be a hit with Yr 5/6 readers.

Meanwhile, for younger readers there are many options, Collins Big Cats have a range of apps which allow the reader to completely rebuild and then share their own story!

Searching for non-fiction and topic books will yield some gems, such as this Bobo and Light.

Searching for non-fiction and topic books will yield some gems, such as this Bobo and Light.

Finally, another great thing about eBooks is that they can make use of the whiteboard in the classroom. See the link here for linking iPads to the whiteboard. Books that the children have copies of in the class library that can also be displayed for more focussed literacy work. The Heart and a Bottle deserves a special mention here as it is an amazing story and the app is delightful, with brilliant voice acting. However do search the iBookstore for your favourite authors, many of them are adapting their stories for the big screen!!

I will continue to add great book apps as I find them. Do please add any gems you’ve found in the comments sections!

10 Feb

iPad and Guided Reading

Many teachers have been using iPads to develop reading in the classroom. This post looks at how they can be integrated into guided reading, however the apps we recommend are versatile enough to be used across many teaching reading contexts.

For grouped reading: Ideally the teacher and the iPads would be in different groups –  iPads are brilliant for encouraging independent reading, and activities which allow the children to explore books, character, plot and so on by themselves. Producing at the end of the 20min / 30min session something which can be saved either to a webdav or dropbox or which can be shared to the rest of the class.

It is important that texts chosen and activities selected are appropriate to the level of the children, and usually when reading something new the teacher should introduce an unfamiliar text to the children first. For this reason the iPads and activities are often used on a two week rotation.

So, what are the apps that work really well in these sessions?
A summary of the apps teachers have found popular during guided reading.

Guided Reading Apps

Exploring Text

Allow the pupils chance to explore some of the texts on the iPad, perhaps even comparing the differences, and forming opinions about ebooks vs books. However I would always be wary about merely replacing texts; there is so much more to do!

Great books are coming into iBooks all the time, so keep searching, especially when planning units. There are also lots of great story book apps in the app store, and I would give a very special recommendation to The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore – but there are some others on the picture above.

Non-fiction reading. There are some excellent book apps out there that link beautifully to science, and other topics. (Such as Bobo & Light) – If you want to check understanding you can always leave them some questions, but many of these apps have excellent activities built in. The Britannica Book Apps are also brilliant for this, lots of activities and well pitched for Y4 up. A quick search on either iBooks or the app store will quickly turn up some excellent non-fiction books.
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Want a group to sequence, retell or adapt a story that they have been reading?

How about letting them re work it into a comic strip? Strip Designer is perfect for it’s ease of use and myriad of features but there are others, such as  Comic Life.
The children could use a basic four box comic strip to retell the story, adding text or speech where appropriate. They can retell their favourite part of the story, or explore a larger question connected to a text.
Save to dropbox, or as a PDF on WebDav




Billionaire Boy - What friend would you buy?

Billionaire Boy – What friend would you buy?

Retelling a story can also be achieved through animation and voice acting with Puppet Pals HD – an excellent and extremely popular app for all ages (I have used it very successfully with Year 2 during Guided Reading).  Put simply – retelling a story can be achieved by children creating their own ‘puppet show’.

Other apps are available for animation work, such as Sock Puppets – which has proven popular with our teachers.

Vocabulary and Sentence level work
There are other activities which the iPad is well suited to. Focused work on vocabulary and grammar can be managed easily, even if the children don’t have 1:1 access to an iPad.

For Key Stage 1 there are many phonics and spelling apps – experiment with these to find ones which fit with your schemes (and the english you want!)
Montessori Letters and Sounds – Phonics apps seem to be everywhere, but I really enjoy working with the Montessori apps as the sounds seem the most accurate. Though Pocket Phonics works very well too. The children enjoy the quiz and games, and even the older children are content to rehearse the letter sounds. I think this has more to do with the novelty of the iPad, but it works!
Lakeshore apps have a range of phonics games such as Tic Tac Toe – which allow the children to play in pairs. These apps are free for a limited time so do check them out, they are a great way to fill in gaps with the older children.
Sentence Builder is extremely useful, children struggling with tense or verb/noun agreement can rehearse these skills using picture clues.

Sentence Builder

Sentence Builder

Spelling Apps – it can be very tricky (and dull!) to ask children to rehearse spellings without supervision, apps can do this very well. Squeebles Spelling is excellent, providing you can create lists (although children could do this themselves). It also allows 4 pupils on one iPad, you can save the profiles so that they can earn points and collect ‘Squeebles’. Simplex Spelling has levels which the children work through – giving praise along the way. There also many apps from the same developer aimed at different phonic requirements, use the ‘related’ button in the app store…
Try the iPad groups with just 5 minutes on an app such as this, prior to reading or to other work.

Book Creation
Whilst many of the apps and activities mentioned above can be adapted for all levels, Book Creation is one that is truly all year groups. Ordinary Book Creating where the children have blank paper or template to complete can be incredibly rewarding and this experience can be repeated on the iPad with the excellent app Book Creator.  Do check this out if you get the chance. This app could be a blog post all by itself. (And it may be!!)