Saturday, January 26, 2013

Awesome Apps

I embrace my Amish/Mennonite heritage and if you know anything at all about these folk, you know we are a simple people. Land, home, and living by the work of our hands. So, as a child, I learned that being a Mennonite means never having to say you are out of batteries. No Lite Brite or Easy Bake oven for this girl. I didn't even get Mrs. Beasley, the doll most coveted by the 2nd grade girls at Harper Grade School, for Christmas.  Mrs. Beasley didn't run by batteries but she did have the vainglorious pull string which caused her to speak out of her pursed pink lips.  No, No! Not for me and my house. We had sturdy wooden toys, a great sandbox, a rugged tree house and tons of books. I was, I realize now, most undeniably blessed.

Blessed because I can live without my gadgets. I like the iPod, the iPad and the Kindle. I think the smartboards at school are great teaching tools. They are tools though- not accessories as I have been know to say in my parent voice on more than one occasion. So, before I give my list of great apps- a disclaimer. ( Don't you roll your eyes at me!)

I say power to the mother who recently gave her son a cell phone with a lengthy contract attached. My children accused me many years ago of having some control issues with all things electronic  because everything plugged in the wall or run by batteries at our house had a time limit. Last fall when my daughter came home for Thanksgiving she set her phone on the counter. Her friend who was a new guest to our house, looked at her and said, "Why did you put your phone there?" My daughter replied, "My mom likes us to check our phones in when we come." I had to excuse myself to the next room for a celebratory fist pump. Educational websites, educational TV and the coolest app around never replace snuggling on the couch and reading, making up silly games to play to practice math facts around the table, family game night, cooking together, or a walk in the woods. These things are the stuff of life. The apps are tools. Tools we need to use and then set aside.

 Here are a couple of my favorites:

For the young beginning reader:

Bob Books Magic #1 and #2.  Very good for kids who are just beginning to make letter/sound associations.
Montessori crosswords. This is is a fun one with cool animation and lots of choices for spelling and reading.
Montessori Concepts This app is good for the English Language Learner because it is visual and rich with vocabulary.

For Elementary math concepts:
Montessori counting board: Very elementary but helps to build number sense.
I love Math Doodles ( for artsy kids who might struggle with math)
and Motion Math. Motion Math is excellent for students who need to visualize fractions to understand them.
For Basic math facts I like POP Math because you can choose the operation and the table to practice skills and there is no advertising or silly non-math related games. So, if  a student just needs to practice their 8 facts in multiplication, you can set it to only give those facts. Kids love the "pop" sound it makes. Heck, I love the "pop" sound too.

One of my students introduced me to Math Bingo. It provides the chance to practice math facts and then to bungee snap bugs when you solve enough problems to get a  bingo. A little reinforcement goes a long way!

For those pesky states and capitols try the US Puzzle. You can select regions and learn states, capitols and locations. I am not good at these geographically challenging activities but my students are.

The app I use the most is Flashcards. I love this one because you can make your own sets of flashcards and quiz yourself on them. It is a great way to practice vocabulary words. I have recommended it many times. This is good for any age learner.

Finally for those of you who have young ones with short attention spans, I recommend the VisTimer app. It is a visual timer that you can set for a period of time and the big circle on the screen is erased as time elapses. So, if you want a wiggly one to study for a certain amount of time, set the visual timer and then give a break time when the time is up.

Finally for adults and older students. I love the Khan Academy app. If I need any help in any area of math, I go to this and search for a short video lesson on the math concept.

So, you won't bore us, get a thesaurus! Another great app for upper elementary students to adults- the Visual Thesaurus. I love the way it provides a definition for words as well as many synonyms. It produces a web with color coded dots for parts of speech. This is a great app!

The TED app is one of my favorites too. I listen to inspirational and informative talks often. 

Next blog post will feature resources for students with autism so I will talk more about my favorite TED talks and other appropriate apps then.  In similar fashion, I will feature more organizational tools, apps, and resources when I address the needs of learners with AD/HD in a future post.

Until then.... Live simply, breathe, and enjoy technology. But don't forget to set those tools aside frequently.


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