Monday, March 31, 2014

Thing 22: Discovering Apps

I love Apps Gone Free and I have been a fan for quite a while. This is a great way to try out apps you have heard good things about but aren't ready to pay for, or just a wonderful place to search for apps.

I have this advice for teachers looking for educational apps. Apple has provided many lists of apps for teachers in the App Store. However, they have hidden it very successfully. Here are the directions to find the lists, along with some tips to make your searches easier.

Begin by going to the App Store, selecting "featured" from the bottom menu and selecting "More" in the top menu. From the drop-down menu choose Education.

You will now see many wonderful educational apps, and could do your searching from here, which would give you only apps from the education category.

However, look down and you will see Educational Collections. These are excellent, and are in logical categories like:

  • Special Education
  • Kickstart Your School Year
  • iTune U
  • Astronomy, Stargazing and More
  • Learning Made Fun
  • Painting & Drawing
  • Calculators
  • Apps for Writer
  • and so on
Click on any set of educational apps and you can look through all of the offerings. 
I have found this to be a wonderful way to explore apps that are educational.

Please note that not all apps here are free. In fact, many are quite expensive, but the selection is terrific!

A few other helpful hints to make sure you find all the best apps:
  • Sort the apps by cost, relevance, ratings and more.
  • Add apps to your wish list, so when you do have access to an iTunes gift card you can use it right away on apps you really want. 
  • Keep your eye on blogs, journals, announcements, emails, and any other place you might see recommended apps. 
  • Even if you can't attend a conference, check out the handouts and links attendees receive. These have wonderful app suggestions!
  • Talk to people ALL THE TIME. Share your favorite apps and have people recommend theirs to you. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Thing 21: Free For All

There are times when a person must listen to something over and over before actually hearing it. This is true of me and the incredible app I want to share: Nearpod. Yes, I had been told that Nearpod was a great app. I had been told that multiple times. But did I try it out? No. I did put it on my iPad, created an account, and even logged in a couple of times. But did I watch the video, try out the tutorial, or give the app a try? Nope. I was an idiot.

Until now, that is.

For now I know that Nearpod is one of the greatest apps, especially for those teachers who want to use their iPads to teach a lesson but aren't quite sure how to manage it all. They want to engage their students, but they just don't really know how, and controlling a group of students, all of whom are perhaps listening, but just as easily are texting, surfing, playing games, or any number of things, frankly, overwhelms and terrifies them. Nearpod is truly a gift for them.

Nearpod allows you to share content, open a whiteboard where are students can illustrate, take a poll, give a quiz, show a video. Do I have to say more? And to top it off, Nearpod is EASY!

The very best way to experience Nearpod is to grab two devices of any kind. Seriously, any kind! Smartphone, iphone, ipad, Android tablet, laptop, desktop, you name it. Use the app or use the website - it all just works! There is a perfect tutorial to start with. Simply sign up for your free account on one device and then go through the tutorial on it, with the other device as your "student". You will truly experience every activity and see how seamless it is. And any device can be the "teacher" - so if you want to project on your SmartBoard as well, you can do that through your computer. But if you'd rather run it all off your iPad, that's fine too!

Give a poll through Nearpod.
Allow students to work at their own speed!

Provide a quiz or test.
Provide a space for students to draw or illustrate.
A student closes out? You see it right away. Someone comes late? Give them the pin and they can join right in where you are. Heck, want to give an assignment through it but school is cancelled? Send them the link and they can go through the lesson at home. Need a quick lesson tomorrow? Search Nearpod's growing number of lessons and find one that fits the need - but you can totally rearrange it to fit your lesson.

These pictures show my iPad (the white one on the left) sending out the lessons to the iPad Mini and the MacBook. This is the most interactive and intuitive app I have probably ever used! This is an app that you can share with every teacher - preschool through college (and beyond), and one that includes such an awesome sales pitch through its interactive tutorial that once you've shared it (allowing all your coworkers to participate) they will be using it immediately and wondering how they ever got along without it.

There is really no limit to the things you can have students do through Nearpod. An amazing feature is the one that opens a webpage through the app. The students have time to peruse the webpages on their own, looking for information, completing an activity, reading, or whatever you want them to do. Once you're ready to move on simply swipe to the next page on your device and all of the student devices will do the same. Magic!!

So - quit reading this blog and head over to, or to your app store to download the app. Or, if you aren't convinced yet, take a look at this video. It's sure to win you over. Get engaged with Nearpod today!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Thing 20: Games

I must admit it. When I look at the iPad for playing games all I can think of is the wasted time. However, as one who has logged thousands of miles on Bejeweled (and, years ago, spider solitaire), I know what a big thing gaming is.

I never joined the Candy Crush phase, so to help me with Thing 20 I installed it on my iPad and I'm going to try to get addicted to it. We'll see. 

I was most impressed with the idea of creating games, and loved reading this recent news story about Sartell High School graduate David Hanson and his wife, Jackie Anderson, who have taken David's love of programming and created a game called 'Shuffling Sheep' for both the iOS and the Android operating systems, and a new company aptly named Frigid Turtle. There's a great article and video about them in the St Cloud Times at I can't help but think how cool it would be if we had some students in my high school (or my own son!) who would spend less time playing games and start creating games!

I did spend some time enjoying David's Sheep Shuffle game and I have to admit I did enjoy it! 

One summer in my youth my younger brother and I began a backgammon challenge. We probably played thousands of games and although we kept track of who won each game I have no idea who the final victor was but I know I loved the competition! I would guess that until I had an iPod I hadn't gotten caught up in game-playing in that way since then. 

Other games that would cause great embarrassment for me if anyone ever saw the number of hours I spent on them:

Temple Run: I am really good at this, if I do say so myself!

Words with Friends: fantastic game for those of us who love Scrabble!

Word Warp: Gotta love those word games!

I also have to give a shout-out to all the amazing games for young children these days! Whether you have a little one who lives and breathes Legoes, horses, dinosaurs, or trains, there are certainly many options for all!

And that's enough for Thing 20...for Candy Crush awaits!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thing 19: Hobbies

This topic makes me feel hopelessly boring and uninvolved! I guess I have very few hobbies that are unrelated to education, because I don't feel like I have much to share! At least, nothing that I haven't already shared.

One app that I use all the time is my DISH Anywhere app. I can use this app to connect with the DISH Network receiver in my house. This receiver is connected to the wifi in my home, so as long as I am in wireless access I can view live TV and do a number of amazing things. If there's a show I want to watch that I've forgotten to tape I can set my receiver to record it. In addition, though, if there's a live show I want to see I can watch it LIVE on my iPad! This has been great when I'm away from home but really want to catch up with this week's showing of Downton Abbey - or even if I'm sitting in the living room with my husband who has sports on the TV I can watch The Voice on my iPad. This addition to my network TV subscription has been amazing and has really changed the way I watch TV.

I go in streaks with my health consciousness as well, and so apps that help me keep track of the steps I walk or the foods I eat are top priorities on my iPad. Two apps that I have enjoyed using the most are the Fitbit app (which connects with my Fitbit Flex). I have used a variety of diet and exercise apps and have found them to be excellent. Many of them do the same thing. They allow you to keep track of the food you eat and the calories you consume, and also keep track of how much you exercise. Since these often give us the motivation to exercise more or eat better, these are great apps for any user. Most also have communities, where you can share your successes and frustrations and receive that extra support you need. One that is pretty highly recommended is Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal, but seriously, there are many, many top contenders in this area.

I am also a big sports fan, following Minnesota teams in all sports, as well as some college teams. I like using the ESPN Sports Center app for continual updates on all your favorite teams. If you're a sports fan you'll know that there are many different apps to follow. Try one out today!

Friday, March 14, 2014

QR Codes in the Classroom

Reading QR Codes:
To read QR codes your device needs a scanning app such as Scan. There are many free apps to choose from:
  • SCAN: QR Code and Barcode Reader
  • ScanLife: Barcode Scanner & QR Code ReaderYou can also add a barcode generator app to your Google homepage so you can read QR codes with a laptop with built-in camera. Try:
            Free QR Code Generator
When you have the app installed, simply open it, aim the camera at the QR code, and the app will do the rest.

Additional information on using QR codes in the classroom can be found on Kathy Schrocks webpage at:

Creating QR Codes:
To create QR codes you need either a QR code generating app or webpage. I recommend: GOQR ME!
You can create a QR code that points to a URL (web address), a box of text, a call, text message or contact information.
Usually you will be using your QR code to link to a website (URL), which could include a link to a youtube video as well.
Steps for linking to a URL:
1. Go to the website you want to create the QR code to link to. As an example, I want to link to the ELM database Kids Infobits, which is great for elementary student research (but the URL is very long and it is hard for students to key in).

2. Go directly to the page you want students to land on, or access first. You’ll create your QR code to link directly here. Copy this URL by highlighting it and pressing Ctrl-C on your computer (or bypressing the word “copy” on your iPad.

3. Now open the website or open your app if you have a QR code generator app.
Click to the URL tab and paste the address you just copied into the URL box. You can do this by pressing Ctrl-V.

4. The QR code will automatically generate in the box to the right.
Now you can download the QR code to your own computer. [If you are using an iPad you can paste the image of the QR code directly into your document, email it or save it in your images.]
  1. Select the Open button.
  2. The QR code will open in a new window
  3. Right-click on the QR code and select “Save this image as...”
  4. Choose the location to save the QR code. Be sure to give it a recognizable name so you can use it again.
5. Once you have saved a QR code you can use it in any word document (or simply print it from the page you created it on). To do this:
  1. Open a word document.
  2. Type in your title, heading, or anything else you’d like to have printed on the page
  3. Insert the QR code as a regular picture
  4. Print out your page and post it in a logical location

What can you use QR codes for?
  • To play a Youtube video
  • To ease installing an app from the App Store or Android Market
  • To send a predefined short message
  • To call a phone number
  • To show contact data as a vCard/meCard
  • To show your branding on textiles (T-shirts, bags) and other articles like mugs 
  • To link to blogs or on websites of your own
  • To share a shortcut to a website
  • To post a link to an activity/link for the iPads
  • To post larger amounts of content to support an image or poster
My favorite QR code video: 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thing 18: Education

These are some of the educational apps I recommend to teachers in different areas:

Questimate: A fun app that really makes you think about sizes and weights. Answer questions like: "How many yoga mats would be as long as a minivan?" and then you make your guess and find out how close you are. You gain lives by making good guesses, and lose lives when you guess is too far off.

Geoboard: Remember the geoboards we used to use to illustrate shapes and lines by hooking rubberbands around the pegs? This is the same type of geoboard, but you never have to worry about your rubberbands breaking or flying across the room!

Flash to Pass: This is a flashcard practice app that allows you to practice addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. 

Number Pieces: A great app for visualizing place value. You can break your ten sticks into ones, or hundreds into tens. When you create a new grouping of ten you can snap the ten ones together into a ten stick, or snap a grouping of ten tens into a hundred block.

BupplePop: See how many bubbles you can pop by selecting the products. Although the free version only has multiplication, this can be a fun way to get your practice in.

Chicken Coop Fractions: Move the nest to the correct spot on the line to catch the eggs. This activity really helps students feel comfortable with different size fractions.

Reading and Writing
Kidblog: Create a class blog and set up blogs for your students that are secure and kid-friendly.

Timed Reading: Select a story and have your students read orally. This app times how long it takes them to read the story and keeps track of their progress.

Spelling City: One of the best apps for practicing spelling words. Teachers can input their spelling lists and make them available for students to practice, either on an iPad or on a computer at the Spelling City website.

Heart Decide: An app that allows you to open up the heart and explore every part. There are also "Decide" apps for the hand, the eye, the knee, and more! 

Social Studies
50 State Info: Provides detailed information about each state's facts, information and symbols. Excellent resource for those state projects!

All subject areas
Brainpop & Brainpop Jr: Short video clips that explain concepts in every subject area. These are a great way to introduce a new unit or theme.

ClassDojo: A behavior management app that allows you to reward good behavior. Children can edit their own charactrers and participate in the classroom behavior program.

TooNoisy: This app shows a smiley face as long as the room is quiet. Too much noise and the meter rises. You can adjust the sensitivity and use the app to help your students monitor their own noise level.

Sharing Resources with Symbaloo

Symbaloo is my favorite tool for organizing and sharing websites. It allows you to create tiles in a format that is easily shared and embedded into a website. The tiles are easy to sort, create, and edit, and creating multiple Symbaloo webmixes is quick and logical.

I have created Symbaloo webmixes for my high school library, and for most grade levels in the district. It is my hope that these are used extensively by students and staff. You can view my webmixes here:

To create your own Symbaloo webmix, visit and create an account.

Once you've created your account you are ready to start your first webmix. Start by naming your webmix and adding a tile. You can search for a tile or create your own by selecting a image to use. In this example I searched for CNN. 

I simply choose the style I like for my tile and click on it. The tile immediately jumps into the first open space in my webmix. 

I can continue to add tiles this way, filling in each space.

If you've added a tile, but want to organize the mix, you can drag the tiles around into any empty space, so you can create areas on your webmix for different types of resources.

There are also options to change the background image on your webmix, personalizing it to your situation.

When you've created a webmix you like, click "share" and you can share your webmix with the world (or with just those you choose. Webmixes make great additions to your website or blog. Here is a look at the options for your webmix:

Any time you want to update your webmix, log in and make those changes. Then click "update" from the top menu bar and you're set. Note that changes will not take effect until you update them this way.

A great handout is this PDF that comes from Symbaloo:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Thing 16: Audio

There are millions of reasons a teacher would want to be able to record audio on his/her iPad! These include simple things like recording directions for using a center or completing an activity, recording your read-alouds for children who are absent (or just for continued enjoyment), having students record themselves reading for evaluation of fluency or reading with expression, and so much more.

My three quick and easy apps for recording audio are:



I have used and recommend all three. They all work in similar ways. Click the record button, use pause when you need to, name your recording, and share it via email or through a wireless transfer to your PC or Mac. Recordings can be stored on your computer and shared in any way you share MP3s, including your own iTunes account. They all work great!

I also tried out Audioboo, and I can see that this will be a great app as well. I have worked with some friends who have recorded books for Minnesota's library for the blind and I think Audioboo would be a great tool to use for that.

I think it's important to remember that the iPad has some great accessibility options for those who need visual assistance through audio cues. Siri is a wonderful option, and great timesaver. The recording button on the keyboard is very helpful. If you have your settings set you can have the iPad read selected text in almost any app. Finally, using a dictionary app students can speak a word into the microphone and the dictionary will locate the word, show definition and uses, and can speak the word back. It certainly makes using a dictionary easier, more efficient and more effective! Try it out today!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Thing 17: Connecting to Community

So many, many apps and websites have built-in communities that I find myself avoiding that part. Particularly when the app is just for fun, and not to support my PLN, I generally don't get involved in the back channel discussions and chatter. I just don't feel that I have the time.

My attitude is different, however, with the app Houzz. This app is unbelievable! If you love your home and dream of remodeling, adding on, or building new, this is the perfect resource and the perfect community!

With Houzz you can discuss any number of decorating and design questions and can answer or ask your own questions. You can post before and after photos, get color opinions, and much, much more!

You can also view ideabooks that various companies have created. In addition, you can find pros in your area for contracting, flooring, lighting, and everything else related to houses. Products are also clearly listed, so just about any item presented in the app can be available to you.

And then there are the photos: 2,916,619 at last count! Interested in creating a new kitchen space? Over 500 thousand pictures can guide your search! Home office? Over 40,000. There are over 155000 pictures of landscapes, 20,000 of closets, and almost 60,000 stairway photos! If you need images to help you with your house, Houzz is the place to look. 

Just for fun I'll share a bunch of screenshots that I took today. But for best results, download this app and join the community today!

Houzz app for iPad:

Thing 15: Infographics

I love infographics, and find them to be really helpful in understanding information. Using the apps Infographics and info.Graphic on my iPad was a great way to locate infographics. There are so many wonderful ones here, so if you're looking for samples these apps can be very helpful.

I especially liked these two infographics on plagiarism, which is a topic I'm continually coming back to in my library:
This first one, a Magical Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism, comes from Kate Hart (at Kate is a young adult writer from Arkansas. 

And this one was created by EasyBib. I like the simplicity of it!

As far as creating infographics, (which is what I really want to be able to do - and have students do!) I am more frustrated. I've downloaded and tried every infographics app I can find and I really have not been able to locate one that is easy enough to create that it tells a good story. 

It is my belief that having students create an infographic would be a fantastic way of evaluating their understanding. In fact, I think it would be so good in social studies and English classes, especially, and would be a wonderful change from the typical PowerPoint presentation.

I found this incredible resource that would make creating an infographic assignment easy! It appears to have been created by Joyce Valenza - which makes total sense to me, since she is AWESOME! The libguide on infographics includes sample projects, creation tools, assessment rubrics, templates, and an amazing assortment of supporting resources. This is a site you will want to make note of if you are considering working with infographics. Thanks Joyce!!