October 15, 2014

Hungry Fish Math App

What makes a good app? This is a question that is often asked, by educators and parents. There are numerous rubrics for reviewing and lists by subject and age. We have found that we focus our use at Rowe School on a few apps that have a range of skills that fit our standards, utilize the touch screen and movement features of the iPad, adjust with the student as s/he learns and supports individual progress through the learning for the many students who share iPads.

This fall we are teaching first grade students to use Hungry Fish independently for building number sense and an understanding of the process of addition. As concrete learners they are building on many experiences of seeing quantities combined and put together to make smaller amounts into larger amounts. The process of memorizing addition facts and moving beyond counting single items is a cognitive development that is a fascinating process and one that takes each child on their own path of accomplishment.

How does Hungry Fish fit into this learning process? A student sees a fish with a total on it and bubbles come onto the screen with numbers on each one. In the screen shown above, the student would use a finger to move the 1 bubble to the 2 bubble (or vice versa) and they blend into one bubble showing the value of 3. The fish pursues bubbles that match the amount shown on the fish or students move the bubble toward the mouth of the fish. The fish responds to being "fed" bubbles by getting larger, if no bubbles are available with the correct amount then the fish gets smaller and smaller until a message comes up asking the student to try again.

There are many aspects of this "app" that make good use of the features of the iPad. The colors are vibrant and appealing, the students are drawn to the friendly looking fish and they like taking care of it by feeding it. There is pleasant music in the background, or in a busy classroom the sound can be off and it doesn't affect the use of the app. The student is making something happen on the screen by combining numbers and visualizing amounts that could be put together. There isn't any timer operating, bubbles appear and fade in a random fashion that keeps students interested. At times I have found that I want to prompt the students to always combine two bubbles to make the "correct" answer. The more I have watched them play I have realized that there is value in combining and seeing the results of the combinations, whether they match the fish or not. The motivation of feeding the fish and moving on to a new fish seems to have an effect all by itself of moving students to match the amount on the fish whenever they can.

One of the goals of our use of iPads is developing independent learners who can use an app and adjust it to an appropriate level for their own learning. Each time a student completes a fish the app moves up in difficulty level. Students learn what the best level is for them to work effectively on the math learning and how to reset it when it moves ahead too quickly. This video clip shows a few seconds of student interaction with the app.


On a random basis the students are given the option to change the colors on the fish when they finish some of the screens. While this may seem like a waste of time during math lesson it is very motivating for students and it encourages them to think about color, design and creative choices. 


The app includes a version of addition that has a fish that is an adversary to the hungry fish. This fish eats any combination that is not a match for the hungry fish and if it gets large enough it eats the hungry fish. This game doesn't appeal to all, but for some it is a choice that adds a challenge of accuracy that they are ready for an keeps them engaged. As they are ready students can move to the other operations: Subtraction, Multiplication and Division.

October 12, 2014

Thinking about 1:1 Laptops and Innovation Learning

I came away from the annual ACTEM conference this year with questions about where we are going in Maine with personalized learning (Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning was published in early 2011 and sent to all Superintendents). The schools that have been piloting standards-based learning and 1:1 iPads are modeling an ungraded, individualized approach to elementary education that is far from the more traditional, whole group instruction going on in most schools. What is best for students? I wonder what direction we will be going in the majority of districts that have not been included in the pilot programs.

Based on the powerful learning opportunities I heard about in some sessions I couldn't help but wish for more iPads and a 1:1 scenario for our early learners, perhaps even through 4th grade. I'm trying to figure out if that is a proposal that we should be putting forward as we think about the next few years of planning and K-12 expenditures for technology. In the meantime I want to push us to make the most use of the the 1:1 laptops we have in the 3rd and 4th grade classrooms.

What does that look like? It looks like using the computers to record reading, take pictures and videos, having kids draw, using online tools like WeVideo for collaborative video, Voicethread, Animoto, and Comic creators. Teachers can use Kahoot!, Socrative and Google Forms for interactions between teachers and students on their laptops.

Upcoming team meetings and times in classrooms are important times for conversations with teachers about these expanded ways of using the laptops. We have an energetic set of teachers who are all using all of our technology resources as part of their instructional process. A challenge I see is putting more of the autonomy on the students to show us how they choose to learn and then to share that learning through writing, drawing, video or whatever medium they find best for expressing their ideas.


October 9, 2014

August 12, 2014

SCRATCH for Teachers at MIT Media Lab

In the beautiful facility on the 6th floor of the glass and metal structure that house the MIT Media Lab I joined an invigorating group of 250 international educators here to learn more about using Scratch in learning settings. Over coffee I reconnected with Maureen Tumenas who always has great ideas and latest teaching explorations to share. I met a 17 year old high school student from Mexico who is a budding coder who also teaches coding to "junior school" students. We talked about the issue of encouraging more girls to explore computer science and programming and apparently in Mexico they offer a girls only option after school which I am doing for the first time this winter.

Mitch Resnick started us off with a keynote on where we've been and where we are going with Scratch. One of his key points was that the concept of learning to code is limited, but the true power is coding to learn. We teach writing as a literacy, how can we teach exploring with coding as a literacy? The 4 Ps he emphasizes are Projects-Peers-Passion-Play.


They are generous with breaks to collaborate and meet educators, so far I have met people from Mexico and Italy, as well as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas and New Hampshire. The weather is drawing us outdoors to enjoy the Boston Skyline.


The morning session was presented by the authors of the newly released Scratch Curriculum Guide which is available from: http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/guide/. They are working on a younger learners' guide as well as a set of student pages. The title "Creative Computing" stays with the theme of the purpose of Scratch being the individual creative element supporting exploration and not just procedures. 

During the session I learned that one of the ways to have students reflect on their program is to add comment blocks into the program and that I can set up a "studio" to collect projects online.

The afternoon session focused on math concepts that can be explained by creating projects in Scratch. The presenter's resources are at http://sites.jcdsboston.org/scratchmath/. The group discussion included ideas about connecting projects to various subject areas.