December 13, 2014

Maine Digital Festival - Project Login

Project Login set up the first Digital Festival to coincide with robotics competitions held at the Augusta Civic Center. I volunteered as part of the networking I do with others in the state. I worked with children of a range of ages who were exploring the Hour of Code activities on computers and tablets. For photos and more information, this is the link:

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.

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: 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 The group discussion included ideas about connecting projects to various subject areas.

July 18, 2014

Teaching and Learning with iPads Course at USM PDC

This week I had the opportunity to share my ideas and learn from 18 educators in a new course at USM: Teaching and Learning with iPads. The site for the course is at: This dynamic group brought various experiences and models to the course. Thanks to Laura Girr for coming in to work with a group on the workflow and particular issues related to 1:1 iPads, as well as Kate Parkin for working with a group on the possibilities of having one iPad for the classroom. Alice Barr helped meet with teachers on the workday on Thursday as each person worked on a project to share on Friday. Friday was an amazing experience of teachers sharing ideas that they plan to pursue in their unique school settings this fall. The networking will continue for the individuals and teacher teams who participated in this course.

While the focus was not specifically on apps, some favorites were (these are all free):

June 13, 2014

Year End thoughts about K-1 iPads

Having 20 iPad for the first grades means that they are usually in sets of four in classrooms. The students have become independent on several math apps, spelling apps and others including Kodable and Doodle Buddy. Some of the time that I am in classrooms I have been able to help students work in pairs to access their Kidblogs and add entries (see We met as a first grade team and winnowed the apps that we are keeping on all the iPads to the ones we agree are most valuable. Every few weeks we collect all of the iPads and use all 20 in table groupings in a classroom. The apps we are using most often are LetterSchool, Teachley: The Addimal Adventure, Word Wizard, Montessori Crosswords, Hungry Fish, Know Your Math Facts, Kodable and TeachMe: 1st grade. Sometimes we are able to access Skoolbo, other times it lags and is too frustrating. While some apps are free we have found that many of them are too limited or have too many ads and we have purchased the full versions.

We were pleased to find Addimal Adventure as it teachers the addition strategies appropriate for first grade and allows us to set up all classes on each iPad. It tracks the individual student’s progress and we had access to a pilot that gives us bi-weekly feedback on the class. The app will remain free next year, but the teacher dashboard will be an online feature by subscription.

We have allocated some time when we return to school in August to map out a plan for apps usage in first grade and look for ways to build more independence by students using the iPads for reading fluency practice and creation apps like PicCollage, KidBlog, Voicethread and Storykit.

The Kindergarten teachers received two iPads for a center in each classroom midyear. They started off with these apps:

  • Teach Me Kindergarten-Math and Literacy
  • Montessori Numbers- Math
  • Skoolbo - Math and Literacy
  • abc Pocket Phonics- Literacy
  • Storia - Literacy
  • Book Creator
  • Educreations
  • Explain Everything
  • Bits Board
  • Sight Words
  • 100s board
  • Word Wizard
  • Everyday Math Monster Squeeze
  • LetterSchool

The goal for the Kindergarten classrooms this year was to familiarize the students with a small number of apps and have students use them independently at a station with minimal supervision. They have found that "guided access" is helpful as then students didn't accidentally leave an app while they were at the station. We will be meeting in August to plan what else they want to do next year including story writing and recording for reading fluency.

One of the most informative experiences we have had in developing our plans and uses of the iPads was attending the Auburn Leveraging Learning Institute in November, 2013. We were able to send teams of Kindergarten and First Grade teachers to a day of workshops and learning from other teachers. This is link to the spreadsheet of apps that Auburn Schools have selected to fit with their learning targets and the presentation below explains the goals and rationale for the Auburn project.

June 10, 2014

"How'd you do that??

The setting: twenty-one 4th graders moving through a Scratch Curriculum that can be found on the ScratchEd community site. There are an increasing amount of resources and ideas for using Scratch in the elementary grades including Wes Fryer's Scratch materials.

The backdrop: Last December we use the Scratch online activity to make holiday cards for the Hour of Code. Middle school students came and helped 4th graders with this introduction to Scratch and coding. In May of this year we did some regrouping for math instruction and twenty-one fourth graders worked on Scratch two or three days a week.

What it sounded like: The most common thing heard in the classroom each day was, "How'd you do that?". The spirit of communication, collaboration and creative exploration vibrated throughout the room.

What it looked like: Adapting the curriculum, I created folders of handouts for students to follow. The lessons are described in this slideshow:

These photos and videos were captured with my cell phone as I was working with students so they are of limited quality, but they portray the activity and learning.
We started with the tutorial on the Scratch website as a review for everyone. Then they were charged with the task of "making something surprising" happen and share it.
Scratch learning is designed to support collaboration and students often worked in teams. With parent permission they were able to join the Scratch online community, upload their projects and view the structure of posted projects.
By the fourth class students were becoming experts at "debugging" scripts and moving on to making mazes, games and stories. At the end of each class students volunteered to share their projects and explain their learning.

This series of classes stands out for me as one of the most enjoyable, stimulating teaching experiences I've had. The students were engaged, sharing their learning and making progress from one day to the next. 

This quote from Howard Gardner was one of my inspirations for this Scratch activity:
High time for an example. We turn here to Scratch, a wonderful application created over the past two decades by Mitch Resnick, a valued colleague at MIT, and his colleagues. Building on Seymour Papert’s pioneering work with LOGO— a prototypical example of constructivist education— Scratch is a simple programming language accessible even to youngsters who have just reached school age. By piecing together forms that resemble pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, users of Scratch can create their own messages, be these stories, works of art, games, musical compositions, dances, or animated cartoons— indeed, just about any form in any kind of format. Moreover, users of Scratch can and do post their creations. Others around the world can visit these creations, react to them, build on them, and perhaps even re-create them in their own favored symbolic system. The genius of Scratch is twofold. First of all, it opens up a plethora of modes of expression, so that nearly every child can find an approach that is congenial with his or her own goals, strengths, and imaginations. Second, educational ends and priorities are not dictated from on high; rather, they can and do emerge from the child’s own explorations of the Scratch universe. In that sense, Scratch brings pleasure and comfort to those who believe in the constructivist view of knowledge. Not only are users building their own forms of meaning and constructing knowledge that they personally value, but they are epitomizing the claim of cognitivists that one learns by taking the initiative, making one’s own often instructive mistakes along the way, and then, on the basis of feedback from self and others, altering course and moving ahead.

Howard, Gardner; Katie Davis (2013-10-22). The App Generation (p. 182). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition. 

March 30, 2014

Lego WeDo Exploration

Third graders are exploring the Lego Education materials called "Lego WeDo"during a set of class periods. The Computer Lab provides an open setting for students to work in pairs to select one of twelve projects. Working together they follow the directions to put together the blocks to make the project. Then they connect it to a computer so that the motor or sensor can follow a program students made using the Lego WeDo software.

This video shows the students working on their projects.


March 20, 2014

K-2 Flat Connections - Building Bridges

Once again we have a classroom participating in a global project communicating and collaborating with students across the U.S. and in some international settings. This year Laura Wetmore is participating with her class and they are posting to the project wiki. All classrooms are posting a multimedia greeting (called a "handshake") and a View from Our Window project. The project schools are divided into three working groups to collaborate on a topic, this year the topics will be Sharing Stories and Celebrations. Teachers are communicating via. email as well as a project "ning" and students are using Google Earth to "travel" to the various locations. This is an example of a project that meets the new Global Awareness theme of the updated Social Studies Framework.

This is a map of the schools in the project.

March 13, 2014

Yarmouth Elementary iPad Roundtable

Today was the first of what we hope will be a series of iPad Roundtable conversations. About thirty educators from area schools gathered at Rowe School from 3:30-5:00. Tara Maker, the regional Apple Sales rep., and Jim Moulton, K-12 Education Development Executive at Apple, provided snacks and managed the registration. We had determined three topics for possible discussion:
 • Using the Book Creator app for students and teachers to make books that are read via iBooks - getting started!
• Using 1:1 iPads - what apps work well, what ideas can we share?
• Using iPads at stations in grades K-5

Groups formed around the three topics with some people moving between groups. There were a mix of technology integrators and classroom teachers from grades K-5. I learned some new tips about using any iPad as well as some good app recommendations.

March 8, 2014

EdCamp Maine 2014

There was a terrific energy for the third Southern Maine EdCamp, held at Waynflete school. It was very valuable to connect with innovative educators from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This event and the fall ACTEM MaineEd conference are the best times for me to connect with others and share ideas. The "unconference" model of EdCamp has become more familiar and there were more interesting sessions offered than I could fit into my day. Meal times and the coffee table were also sources of sharing and conversations that gave me many new ideas for working with students and teachers.

My notes from the day are on a shared Google Doc. One very dynamic person was the K12 integrator from the Wilmington, MA schools. Her session on CCSS Nonfiction Resources seemed valuable enough that I shared it with our K12 Lead Literacy teachers and I have referred to it for ideas for teams at YES.

February 18, 2014

ACTEM Mini-Conference

This year for ACTEM offered a mini-conference for a day during February vacation at the newly renovated South Portland High School. I collaborate with Alice Barr on a session on Enhancing Your Classroom using Google Drive and Kern Kelley on Empowering Students with Presentations, and Blogger for the classroom with tips on using Picasa and YouTube to portray learning in the classroom.

This is the updated presentation I included on Blogger in the classroom: