Minecraft edu:Teaching Social Media & Digital Ethics to Elementary School Students

by Rob Keith

It took a while to wrap our heads around how to use Minecraft with elementary aged children. We were focused on integrating Minecraft into our school’s existing curricula. Although it was easy to imagine the students having fun using the program, the final product for most integrated projects felt like an add-on versus an essential part of the learning outcome. Instead of forcing the square-pegged Minecraft into an existing round-holed project, we gave our 2nd-4th grade students the opportunity to work cooperatively in open-ended creative tasks. Groups of 15 to 21 students built together in the same environment.

To our surprise, we discovered that student behavior in a Minecraft environment was similar to behavior that exists in the social media world. When collaborating harmoniously, groups were able to construct works of wonder. When students chose to go off task, they harassed, annoyed, trolled, flamed and griefed one another. These behavioral explorations, both ideal and contrary, are similar to experiments that students often make when they first have access email, texting devices and social media applications. While it is difficult to explain to an 8 year-old how Snapchat and Instagram will be used and what problems might arise when they turn 13 in five years, these experiences can be explored immediately in Minecraft. Alas, teachers have an opportunity to make concepts that are abstract to elementary school kids, like ethical communication in social media, concrete and authentic.

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10 Great iPad Apps For First Grade

As a follow up to our first blog post, we thought that it would be sensible to share some great apps that we use with our first grade students. Finding high quality apps that are age appropriate, exciting, challenging, customizable and flexible is not easy. The apps below have been reviewed by teachers and tested with our students in morning centers and projects.

Puppet Pals HD Director’s Pass

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Topic: Projects

Puppet Pals HD may be the finest app available for lower school projects. Why? Students can draw pictures or build objects, photograph them, save to the camera roll and animate on the iPad as well as narrate. It’s the perfect screencasting app for elementary project-based learning.

Pros:

– Very easy to use & simple to teach

– Anything students draw or build can be photographed and animated

– Exporting to camera roll is easy

Cons:

– None

Cost:

$4.99 (full price)

$2.49 (20+ copies in VPP Store)

My Talking Pet

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Topic: Projects

Great for biography projects. Photos and drawings can be imported. Students can record and adjust the pitch of the voice. Eyes and mouths are animated.

Pros:

– Incredibly simple to use

– Students find it engaging and hysterical

– Exporting to camera roll is easy

Cons:

– no VPP discount, but very low price

Cost:

$1.99 (full price – no VPP discount available)

Letter School

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Because home and preschool methods of teaching handwriting may differ from what schools use, sometimes teachers must re-train students to write letters. Letter School is a delightful way to practice. It’s beautifully designed, corrective and self-paced. When letters are written correctly, students are rewarded with a short animation reinforcing the writing steps.

Topic: Writing

Pros:

– Students must write the letters correctly to progress

– Teachers may choose D’Nealian, HWT or Zaner-Bloser Style

– App has an easy Reset

Cons:

– Only 3 available logins

Cost:

$4.99 (full price)

$2.49 (20+ copies in VPP Store)

Writing Wizard

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Although this app was not created by the same company as Letter School, it seems related. While Letter School focuses on individual characters, students can write full words in Writing Wizard. As a reward, students are given an animated word to play with once it has been written.

Topic: Writing

Pros:

– Corrective feedback given

– Teachers may choose D’Nealian, HWT or Zaner-Bloser Style

– App has an easy Reset

– Custom word lists may be added

– Multiple users may be added

Cons:

– Entering words is time consuming. Word lists can’t be copied or Airdropped between iPads

Cost:

$4.99 (full price)

$2.49 (20+ copies in VPP Store)

The Counting Kingdom

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This is how addition and subtraction apps should be done. The graphics are beautiful and the gameplay is novel. A wizard must use math spells to defend castles from monsters. From the developer website: “Generative level design means there are multiple ways to solve a problem; kids are are encouraged to engage with the map instead of looking for a single solution.”

In addition, a Mac and Windows version is available now directly from the developer. As of 8/31/15, the application costs $5.99 per user.

Topic: Addition and Subtraction

Pros:

– Multiple strategies are needed to find solutions to addition and subtraction problems

– Above average graphics

– Age appropriate action

– Fun level-ups and new kingdoms to unlock

Cons:

– Only one user login. App must be reset for new students. *In response to this post, the developer explained that a new version for iOS is coming in the next year with this feature.

Cost:

$2.99 (full price)

$1.49 (20+ copies in VPP Store)

Math Bingo

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Topic: Math

Simple and fun. Choose addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. Students solve problems and earn a space on the bingo board. Win bingo, get bingo bugs and get to choose bonus games.

Pros:

– Great price.

– Fun built-in incentives

– Addition, subtraction, multiplication or division may be chosen

– Lots of logins

Cons:

– No variation in equations

– BINGO Bug Bungee is a completely non-academic bonus game. Students can easily get off track from math practice when they aren’t monitored.

Cost:

$1.99 (full price)

$.99 (20+ copies in VPP Store)

Marble Math Jr.

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Topic: Math

Marble Math Jr., and it’s older cousin Marble Math, are excellent apps from Artgig. Children must navigate a marble maze and collect numbers while avoiding obstacles and collecting power-ups. Gameplay is highly engaging with interesting. Although there is no discount for volume purchase, the $2.99 price tag isn’t hefty.

Pros:

– Varied types of math problems and equations

– Interesting power-ups

– Each board / level offers something new

– Customizable skills & levels

– Players have fun avatars

Cons:

– No VPP discount

Cost:

$2.99 (full price – no VPP discount available, but very low price)

Number Run

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Topic: Math

Number Run is a side-scrolling, action-packed math game. It’s great for practicing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Facts can be chosen by the administrator, but the player needs to recall them quickly to enjoy the game. For that reason, Number Run may be better after students have built fact skills.

Pros:

– Great alternative to flash cards

– Super graphics

– Fast paced

– Interesting variation in gameplay

– Selectable skills

– 4 separate player logins

Cons:

– Very mild violence (monsters get zapped off of platforms)

– Not for students that need time for computation

Cost:

$1.99 (full price)

$.99 (20+ copies in VPP Store)

Quiz Dungeon (Math Edition)

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Topic: Math

Students love Quiz Dungeon. It looks like a classic 80s Nintendo game. When a player encounters knights, monsters or treasure chests in the dungeon, they must answer addition, subtraction, multiplication or division problems to proceed. Although the game is repetitive, young students don’t mind.

Pros:

– Great alternative to flash cards

– Easy controls

– Plenty of logins

Cons:

– No variation in equations

– Limited variation in gameplay

– Although number range can be selected, it would be ideal to be able to choose addition, subtraction, multiplication or division

Cost:

$2.99 (full price)

$1.49 (20+ copies in VPP Store)

Fizzy’s Lunch Lab: Hectic Harvest

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Topic: Strategic Thinking

Hectic Harvest is a great RTS (real time strategy) for young students. Because this game is fairly challenging, we usually play this towards the end of first grade. Students have to maintain a farm by planting seeds, watering them and caring for the soil. As they progress, students can purchase upgrades essential for winning higher levels.

Pros:

– Very engaging

– Age-appropriate RTS gameplay (no fighting or zombies)

– Requires and builds strategic thinking

Cons:

– May not have a direct tie-in with academic content

– Only one login, so the game must be reset for other players

Cost:

$1.99 (full price)

$ .99 (20+ copies in VPP Store)

Technology Can Help Introverts Thrive in the Classroom

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In 2012, Susan Cain published the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. In Quiet, Susan delves into what makes someone an introvert, the strengths of introverts (many times overlooked), and how introverts can exist in a world that idealizes the extrovert. The book struck a chord with people and has become a bestseller. In a world of group activities, think-tanks and open offices, Quiet speaks for a large portion of the population that may produce their best work through reflection and privacy.

Cain devotes a section of her book to children and school, which we will explore in greater detail here, but a definition of terms would be helpful before we begin. Though Cain does not explicitly define introvert or extrovert, her basic premise rests on these definitions. An introvert is someone who derives their energy through reflection, alone-time and interactions with a close circle of friends and family. Their energy dwindles and they can be overstimulated in large social gatherings. An extrovert, on the other hand, is someone who derives their energy through being around other people and thrives on social stimulation.

SO, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE CLASSSROOM?

In a typical classroom, ⅓ of the students are introverts. These students exist in settings that have been shaped by a culture that glorifies the “extrovert ideal”. Introverted students prefer lectures, downtime, independent projects, and structured small group collaboration of 2-3 students where each child knows their role (255). Does this sound like today’s average classroom?

In a typical classroom, 1/3 of the students are introverts.

Lectures vs. Group Work
Lecture based teaching is out-of-vogue at the moment. While some amount of lecture will always be necessary, the trend in education seems to be toward making learning social. Think-pair-share, turn-and-talk and other cooperative learning structures are implemented heavily in most elementary and middle school classrooms. In fact, in about half of elementary and middle school classes classes, 25% of class time is spent in groups (77). Today’s classroom revolves around cooperative learning; a style of teaching that reflects the values and atmosphere of the business community.

Physical Layout of Classroom
The move away from lecture is also evident in the physical layout of the classroom. Rarely will you see an elementary classroom with desks all in a row facing the teacher. Instead, you will see desks in groups, facing one another, to facilitate cooperative learning and group work.

Downtime and Independent Projects
Unfortunately, in the public education world, time for these two has generally vanished due to Common Core and high stakes testing.

HOW CAN TECHNOLOGY HELP CREATE A BETTER LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR INTROVERTS … AND, REALLY, ALL STUDENTS? 

Technology can help to bridge the gap between the collaborative classroom and the needs of an introvert.

Group Work
Not all group work needs to be done in person. When the Internet is the mode by which collaboration occurs, both introverts and extroverts can shine. Interestingly, studies done on brainstorming have shown that individuals actually produce better quality ideas when working independently than in groups. The only time the study found group collaborations to be more effective was when they were done online (88-89). Participating in a group online provides introverts with the necessary solitude and time for reflection that in-person collaborations lack. Being flexible and sometimes allowing for online group work, a teacher can help introverts thrive in class.

Physical Layout of Classroom
Laptops and iPads allow for students to be mobile. Let them crawl under a desk or curl up in a corner to work on their project. Working on an iPad or computer allows them to be productive as well as be alone. The screen, in a sense, becomes a privacy shield which can help a student experience a moment of an alone-time oasis in an otherwise social school setting.

Flipped Learning
Another trend in education is the flipped learning model. This allows students to listen to lectures or learn content individually outside of the class. Flipped learning allows students to learn and reflect on material before class. For introverts this time for information processing and reflection is crucial and will allow them to more fully participate in class discussions. Additionally, the flipped classroom model allows for more time in class for projects (independent, please).

Technology can help bridge the gap between the collaborative classroom and the needs of an introvert.

How to Care for Introverts:  Wise Words
How to Care for Introverts: Wise Words“by Joe Wolf is licensed under CC by 2.0

13 Things Every App Developer Should Know Before Creating Apps For Schools

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13 Things Every App Developer Should Know Before Creating Apps For Schools

by Rob Keith & Kathryn Makatche

 

We have reviewed hundreds of iPad apps. We bypass many apps that we would love to use simply because they miss a few key features that are essential for educators and schools. We have been amassing a list for developers creating apps for schools. This is coming straight from the mouths of teachers that manage 150 iPads for our elementary school students.

  1. Talk to teachers. Although it may seem simple to create a basic math or language app for elementary students, teaching children is complex. Teachers draw from years of experience to develop multiple strategies for reaching students based on individual needs. The more your educational app is informed by real teaching, the more likely it will be embraced by a large audience and become a hit.
  2. Game theory matters. This probably goes without saying, because as a game designer, this is your area of expertise. Still, the best apps that we use were planned well. Holistic design matters. Reward scheduling matters. Immediate user understanding matters. Complex systems delivered simply matters.
  3. Incentives and Levels. Always add incentives. Give the students something to win. A new outfit for a character or an animal for an in-app zoo is often the impetus for increased engagement and repeat gameplay. Multiple levels, including bonus games, are fantastic.
  4. Passive or Interactive? Apps that get the students active immediately are more likely to be successful. If the student is not participating and simply watching videos or reading, you probably need to go back to the drawing board.
  5. Make the interactions matter. Some interactions are a distraction. Ebooks are especially problematic. If interactions are pulling students away from the content of the book, chances are you need to rethink the goal of an app.
  6. Engaging activities are more important than fancy graphics. Great graphics are wonderful. However, some apps with rudimentary graphics win because they are more interesting. Children are surprisingly forgiving about graphics. Even old, well designed Atari games hold interest.
  7. Make the settings flexible. Teachers love the ability to choose skill levels based on student needs. Even if your app has a built in pre-test, make the settings customizable. The more settings the better! This will increase the value of your product.
  8. Add a reset button, plenty of logins and the ability to delete & customize players. Even schools with large numbers of iPads love having plenty of logins for apps and the ability to delete players. This doesn’t mean that you will sell fewer copies of your apps. This saves administrators time so they don’t have to pull apps from managed distribution and re-deploy apps simply to eliminate old logins. A simple reset button is also incredibly useful. Be careful to bury this in settings to avoid user error.
  9. Student safety. Be careful when creating apps that allow external interactions. Schools are very serious about safety and, in most cases, want the environment to be as closed as possible.
  10. Offer app discounts in the Apple VPP (Volume Purchase Plan) store. Discount your app when 10 or more copies are purchased via volume purchasing by schools. When apps are discounted, more schools will buy from you. We find that apps recommended by teachers at school are often purchased by parents for home iPads as well. Even at half price, you’d hate to not sell 2500 copies of your app because you didn’t offer a discount.
  11. In-app purchases are a deal breaker. Most schools use managed distribution, meaning we can’t make in-app purchases. You can have in-app purchases, but please make the full version available in the Apple VPP store for education. If your free app is missing key features like export or enough levels to make game play enjoyable, schools will bypass you altogether if the full version is not available via VPP.
  12. Apple updates the iOS at least once a year. Apple breaks everything. Plan to make time to tweak your app for updates. Get your updates finished as quickly as you can. Apple can be sluggish processing updates in the app store. Hopefully, this will improve in the future. It would be a shame to get harsh reviews because you aren’t prepared for the latest iOS.
  13. Create a website for your app. Ask for user feedback. Give users the ability to reach you. Getting negative reviews in the app store because something is broken is unfair if you have a great app with a glitch. However, if users can have direct contact with you, some will not use App store reviews as a forum for communication.

Looking for examples? Here are some apps worth checking out: Mystery Math Museum & Town, Marble Math & Marble Math Jr.

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