Friday, January 21, 2011

GAK: an Integrated science, math and technology lesson

     I haven't made gak all year.  How did that happen?  Gak has been a staple in my classroom since 1998 since I was introduced to it at the Cooperative Children's Center in Seattle. Yet, here it is, almost February and my students haven't touched the magical stuff.
     I had promised myself and a student that I would make it this week, and by Thursday we'd had a holiday (Thank you MLKJr!), a tired day (thanks to a busy weekend, and a board meeting) a late start (no thanks to you icy roads) and then it was Thursday AM, my chosen mobile mac lab morning.  So- I had a choice, mac lab or GAK?

Well, I decided on a whim to combine them.  Usually I have 23 kids, usually I have a high-school aide or a volunteer at 10 am.  Well, this day I had 11 kids absent thanks to many viruses and bacteria floating around our school.  And my student helper was not available.  So, I decided I could handle a science lesson, 12 kiddos AND the mac lab on my own.  Was I crazy?  No.  It went great, or well as great as any activity with 5&6 year olds can go.  I introduced the materials, water, borax, and glue.  I asked the kids about the substances and we discussed whether any of them could be played with.

I asked the kids to go to their computers and log on, then go to Pages and type up a prediction of what would happen when we combined the materials.  Most predictions were that it would be gooey, sticky, gross or even explode!  (I bet he thought the borax was baking soda and maybe we would make a volcano.  Or he didn't trust my science abilities.  When we cooked gingerbread cookies I did set off the fire alarm and caused an unplanned K-12 fire drill.)

Then, I began to measure out the materials and we combined them (letting the kids help).  They watched in amazement as solid and liquid and heat caused a chemical reaction to make a new substance. 

Then, I of course let them play with the amazing blobs of gak.  Afterward, they added what gak really felt like to their documents and took a picture using Photo booth of them with their gak.  (I actually clicked their photo as I didn't want gak on the keyboards- too risky)

We had fun; we did science, math, and used technology all in one hour and it was relatively painless!

I challenge you to share one of your great but simple lessons with me now!

For those of you who haven't experienced GAK yet (really???)  add literature to the lesson and read Dr. Seuss' Bartholomew and the Oobleck- it's really not gak in the story but close enough.  Oobleck receipe first (no heat necessary)  It also acts like a liquid until pressure is applied.  It is messier than the gak though, really.

Oobleck Ingredients:

Gloopy oobleck
Most liquids' viscosity changes because of temperature. But non-Newtonian fluids' viscosity changes because of pressure. Scientists haven't decided yet what makes oobleck behave like this.

Gak Receipe

Mix thoroughly in bowl A
In a bowl B, mix thoroughly:
  • 1 1/3 cups very warm water
  • 2 level teaspoons Borax
Mix the contents of the two bowls together kneading until it is fully combined. Discard any remaining liquid.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

iPads vs. computers in the K classroom

I use a lot of technology in my classroom.  Yet, you may have noticed most of my blogs are about my new iPads.  Prior to getting the iPads I used 3-5 computers in my classroom on a regular basis.  My students primarily used,, kidpix, and a phonics program on CD. Occasionally I would have them use Word.

I used them during literacy centers (1-2 students at each PC) as an independent center and the kids could use them during playtime).  When I first got the iPads I assumed I would continue to use the computers too; and I have, a little.  However, the iPads are so easy and quick to use that I find I dread the start up, logging on, finding the website/right program, etc. involved in using the laptops.  I still use the mobile Mac lab about twice weekly with my kids so they are still getting experience using computers.

Pro's for iPads:  very mobile (one of my reading groups carries them down to the library on a regular basis) and kids can sit on the carpet, at a table or ? with them.  Starts up in seconds, easy to navigate between programs.  Little to no issues- if they should work they do.  If a kid goes to the wrong application they just press the home button to get back to the choices.  Touch screen- much more intuitive for the little guys.  Using apps rather than websites reduces the chance of kids clicking on a link and going off into internet never never land.   Apps are relatively cheap or free.  Durable; no keys falling off the keyboard.

Con's for iPads:  Cleaning the screen (sanitizing?)  The folders all look the same and my emerging readers can't tell them apart sometimes.  Printing is challenging for me, as well as how to save their original work easily.  Individual profiles are not possible, except for within certain apps.

Pro's for PC/Macs:  They don't cause as much attention or excitement.  Or is that a con?  My volunteers are familiar with them.  The macs have a camera and video built in.

Con's for PC/Macs:  Time to start up and log on.  There is no syncing, so you have to update each computer.  Update, registration and pop up windows confuse my kids.  For some reason the keys like to fall off (or maybe they are being picked off).  Caps lock and number lock confuse the kids.  Programs are costly and internet sites are sometimes hard to navigate or have links to pages I don't want my students on.

The iPads have definitely won out for me as far as ease of use, and the high number of apps that specifically meet my needs.  Instead of just hoping kids will play certain activities within a site or program I can have them use an app to target a skill.  Plus, they are FUN!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Using websites with kids? you need

I have been focusing a lot on iPads, I know, but this is for you laptop/desktop teachers out there!

There are many sites that offer you the ability to create a homepage with your favorite sites. I chose to use because: 1) it was free 2) it was easy for me 3) it is easy for the kids (each link is represented by an image of the site's homepage).

my public tizmos is found at   You can make your own, or use mine.

So, on my student's computers I make this the homepage, or on the macs I have put it on the bookmarks bar.  (Delete all of apple's bookmarks by using the two finger click, then chose delete).  Then when I want my students to go to a new site, all I have to do is update my tizmos (copy and paste a link, that's all) and they can easily find it at school (and home too) even if they can't read yet.

Oo-ooh! Your name's going in the No iPad box!

So I don't have a catchy name for it yet.  I am open to suggestions.  But for now it's simply a rectangle on my board that says No iPad.  There is a name in it.  He who shall remain nameless decided to break the sacred rule of iPad use during learning centers.

"Thou shall only use approved apps (ie. those on the dock) during learning times."

I think it speaks highly of how much the kids love the ipads that I have had them since October and they haven't tested me on the rule.  One other time two little munchkins got off task but it was one of the first iPad uses independently and the expectation had not been pounded into their brains yet.

So, my little darling decided to play around during learning time, just a few hours after I had spent a little while going over new apps and reminding them of our few but sacred rules.  No, he wasn't playing Angry Birds or Blowfish or JellyCar.  He was actually happily playing another educational app.  BUT IT WASN'T on the Dock.  So his name is in the no iPad box.  And he is not happy.  For those of you worried this might happen in your class, rest easy.  This is the same child who choses not to listen 75% of the time, and oh so politely looks you in the eye while he ignores your request to ABC because he would rather XYZ.  We all have one of these occasionally.  He's a sweet, smart and stubborn little guy... but I promise you he will NOT test me on the iPad rule again.

So, his friends will be getting their turns on the most beloved objects in our classrooms next week while he gets to learn with the good old fashioned methods.

Teaching Tools: Digital books

Last week I was obsessing over whether to include AlphaBelch in my books folder on my classroom iPads.  If you have an iPad/iPod be sure to download this book for your kiddo's or just for a good laugh (It was free when I got it in Dec).  If you don't have an iPad/iPod check out these sites for great books on the computer-,,

Now, back to belches.  Or, rather AlphaBelch.  It has great colorful illustrations, reads aloud only if you push the ABC button on the page (it doesn't highlight the spoken word) and yes, it's all about animals A-Z that BURP!  I know, I have the sense of humor of a five year old.  Every page has another button to push that has the sound effect to match the belching animal.  Have you ever wondered what a butterfly or elephant burp would sound like?  Wonder no more!  My boys (7 & 8) and my daughter (almost 2) all love it.

So why was I obsessing you ask?  Well... how would my students respond to this book?  Would they just play the gassy sound effects over and over when they were supposed to be reading?  Would any chance of learning take place with such an appealing distraction available... And, biggest worry of all- what if someone (parent, administrator, board member walks in just to hear burping sounds erupting from this prized and dignified piece of technology?)  Yes, obsessing.

Then I gave it up.  My priority is captivating the minds of these children and encouraging a lifelong love for literacy.  If a belching book is the gateway to reaching those goals, then so be it.  After all, my favorite "real" or "paper" book to read year after year is No, David.  And the kids LOVE it too.  It's always the most read book on the shelf.  Which pages do you think they go to over and over?  Yep, the nose picking and naked bottom running down the sidewalk pages.

So, I now have two "Books" folders on my Dock, full of fun, engaging and yes, sometimes irreverent titles.  Most I've gotten for free, a few I bought (marked with an * below).  I'd like more but my husband would rather have a date night than more apps for my classroom.  Go figure.

I let my kids read out of the book folders during the time before the bell (when I have them reading "real" books, or when they finish work early).  I have stressed that they can NOT play any games associated with any of the books- reading only.  Usually I insist iPads are to be used by 1 person unless playing a multiplayer game, but I let them read together on the iPads,

Try these books:
Teddy's Day
Going Places (special ed app, but a great little story too)
Tommy Tiptoes
What are you eating?
Toy Story* (I got it when it was free but I am not sure if they still have the free version.  Worth it though!)
Pop Out Peter Rabbit*
The Grouchies
MeeGenius (multiple books in app)
Read Me Stories (multiple books in app)
Seuss ABC*
Tales 2 Go* (free subscription through 1/15/11 then $30.  Has audio only, but many titles to listen to).
Miss Spider Tea Party, etc...books *  (have lite versions to try as well as somewhat expensive ones.  The ipod version is only $.99 though)
StoryBoy books- lots of free books
Storychimes has lots of books... although they tend not to be my favorites.
there's a Humpty Dumpty app too...
And lastly (for now) A Story before Bed.  Their books are a little simple and mostly traditional tales/songs but the appeal is you, or a guest reader, or the student can record a video of them reading the books.

Mobile Learning Experience 2011

All the cool teachers and tech geeks will be here:

April 6-8th, 2011 in Phoenix, AZ.

 See you there, I hope!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sign up soon for Tales2go

Free subscription through June 30 for Tales2Go...  must sign up by January 15th!

More info, from Tales2go:

Welcome to Tales2Go!  Thank you for signing up your school; we hope you will enjoy your free subscription.

Downloading the App

If you haven't already, download the app on an Apple iOS device (i.e. iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad).  Upon launching the app, sign in as a new user and provide the email address you designated for your school on the sign-up form.  You will also be asked to provide a password of your choosing to provide security on the account.  Once you've done this, we'll find you in our system and give you your free subscription.

Multiple Devices

If you have multiple iOS devices, download the app a second, third time, etc. and sign in as an existing user on each new device - again using the designated email and password.  Remember, you can add up to five devices per account.

Multiple Accounts

We know that some of you are interested in purchasing additional accounts to support more than five devices.  One way to manage additional accounts would be to name and number them, e.g.,,, etc.  In other words, your additional email addresses do not need to be valid emails; emails are just used to name the accounts.  This way, we will know your accounts are related.  Also, please do not sign up for the newsletter with invalid emails ;)

Finally, know that we are not in the Apple volume discount program. That program does not support in-app purchases, nor subscriptions yet.  Meanwhile, we hope you think $24.99 per year for five devices is a good deal.
Our limited time offer ends Saturday, January 15th.  We've had great response so far, but happy to have you spread the news this coming week.

As always, feel free to reach out to us with questions, problems or feedback

Also, once you've had a chance to try Tales2Go, please consider giving us a rating and/or review on our app summary page in the Apple App Store.  They really help!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Teaching Tools*: Math App "Park Math" and other math apps

How can you utilize iPads as a mathematical teaching tool?  With a few good apps of course!

I really REALLY like Park Math (TT* rating 4.75/5 stars) by Duck Duck Moose.  I think I paid $1.99 and it's worth all 199 pennies.  They have some other apps (mostly songs I think) that are highly rated but I haven't paid for.  Yet.  I may cave in soon.  

I think I mentioned before that I have several great programs and websites I use on PC's for literacy skills (,,, Kid Pix, Phonics Activities- came with my reading program) but hardly anything that worked on math skills without going to websites with too many ads or links to other pages. 

I had hoped to find some really great math apps.  So far I have only found one I wholeheartedly love for my classroom: Park Math HD.    

There are 3 levels of difficulty; and several activities within the app.
counting to simple-20, medium-50, harder- 100  (as a bunny swings, each swing is counted out loud and displayed on a carrot.  I tell my kids they should be counting along.)

Addition (simple 1+2, medium 3+5, harder 9+7)  This part is great- there are ducks on a climber (for ex. 4 on top with numbers 1-4 on their bellies).  the math sentence is on the side 4+3=? with three choices (5, 6, 7).  You can solve right away or click on the three ducks on the ground- they join the other ducks, now there are 7 ducks numbered 1-7.  Press 7 and they all slide down.
Balance- mice are on an unbalanced seesaw.  They have #'s on their bellies- for example 1-8 on the left and 1-3 on the right.  There are more bears on the ground.  You can add or take away bears to make it balance.  
Subtraction- An apple tree has 9 apples on it.  At the top of the page it reads- If 8 apples fall, how many remain?  1,2,3 are your answers.  You can touch and make 8 apples fall off, leaving one.
Sorting- medium level has 6 dogs on a bench.  You drag them in size order from small to large.  Or, in numeral order, or light to dark...
Pattering-  on medium level there is an AAB pattern in a beach scene; duck duck xylophone, duck ? and four choices for the next object.  Next are ABCD and ABB and ABC patterns.
Feed the Hippo- you are asked to feed the hippo a specific # of food items off a plate.  Of the activates in this app I think this is the weakest.  I don't think it's challenging enough even on level 3 for my students.  However, the strength of the other activities make up for this activity's simplicity.  And the kids do like feeding the hippo.

So, altogether there are 7 activities, and three difficulty levels...  and it's a great app for pre-k-1 math practice.  

Another math app I have used in my classroom is Toddler Counting (TT* rating 4/5 stars) -just don't read the toddler part of the title to the kids!  the app icon is 123, and the app is simple.  A certain # of objects are displayed (two difficulty levels- although I have only seen #'s from 2-20 so far.)  I introduced it to my students using the document camera by having them guess how many (estimation skills- just make sure to "flash" the screen then cover otherwise they will count, not guess.)  Then one student touches each object- the number is displayed and read aloud as each is touched.  Then a new group of objects pops up- guess and count.  As I said, this is simple... but some of my kids need to work on 1:1 correspondence and the others will benefit from estimation practice.  I think this cost $.99.    Skills: Number recognition, counting to 20 (at least), 1:1 correspondence, practicing point to count, and more.  

Yes we could do this with the teddy bear counters, but the teddy bears don't count with you or show the number.  Plus... there's one teacher in my class and 23 students who need to practice counting.  7 kids can use my iPads, while I work with another group, and the other groups play math games or use math manipulatives.  I bought this one specifically for my struggling counters/number recognizers.  I think it beats flash cards anyday.

The last "math app" that is dock worthy- again, the apps that I have kids use during centers so I know they are on task and working on specific skills- is 123 Tracer (4/5 stars on my TT* rating scale)- there's a dino on the icon.  This app has a free version, I of course paid for the full once I determined I liked it (did I mention my app addiction?).  Since there is a lite version I am not going to go into detail about this app.  However, the full version has numbers 1-10, 1-25, 1-50, 1-100 that can be done (activities are  writing #'s , counting, addition, subtraction in random mode or sequentially.  It has some place value practice, connect the dots.... and more.  Try the lite version!  

Be sure to tell me if you've discovered a great math app.  Or website that doesn't have ads.  

*Teaching tools should improve traditional learning activities by:
1.)  saving time.
2.)  allow for differentiation to meet each child's learning needs.
3.)  motivating reluctant learners.
4.)  make learning fun.

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