Friday, September 21, 2012

App Review: StoryLines for Schools

The original vocab word was "shackle."
One spring when I was teaching ESL in a Texas district, we had what felt like a dozen tornado watches. Each time the sirens went off, I'd be responsible for keeping my students silent. We'd kneel on the floor and cover our heads with textbooks for long enough for my Vice Principal to check us off her list.

Unfortunately, the VP had a couple dozen other classes to check. Desperate to avoid the chaos that naturally follows bored kids, I tried a few practice activities.  No go; the students were indignant about doing schoolwork while on the floor. Finally, I tried the Telephone Game.

My students were from all over the world and had never heard of the game.We giggled as we whispered our sentence from ear to ear. I was proud knowing that they were getting feedback on their pronunciation and that we were under control...until everyone busted up laughing when the last person said what she had heard: "I am a student learning English" had become "I see eggs and nurse."

StoryLines for Schools is a combination of the Telephone Game and Pictionary. Like my classroom game, it is silly fun with some fun practice built in.  The silly way to play is easy, and I actually think this would be a fun activity for English Language Learners in particular (though we play it at home and we are pretty good at English).  Student A writes a sentence or chooses an idiom. The iPad is passed to the next student. Student B sees the idiom or sentence and draws a representation of it.  iPad is passed again and Student C writes what he thinks he sees.

Another way to play is to have the students write in their vocab words, or they can build general word skills by choosing from elementary, intermediate, or SAT vocab. This would be a really fun "station" game and a fun time killer after tests or when you're saying, ducking and covering.
  • Does it do what it says it'll do? Yep. Low expectations: "A game of telephone with pictures." check.
  • Does it solve a current problem in the classroom?  Ok, not really.
  • Does it create a new opportunity in the classroom?  Ok, not really, either. You could do the silly way with paper. But a kid could practice SAT words in a small group -- it's a fun idea to think of what "stations" could look like for older kids. I know my ESL kids liked them a lot.
  • Would Thomas Jefferson think it was cool?  Well, it does give students a higher-order-thinking way to practice vocabulary, and finding motivating ways to extend practice time on important things like words would've definitely floated TJ's boat.

App Review: Sushi Monster

Scholastic's Sushi Monster ate my family. One bite. I said, "I'm trying out this app" to a 40-year-old, a nine-year-old, and a seven-year-old, and each time the person disappeared into the land of sushi until forced to relinquish the iPad.

It's a simple game; I'm not sure how it manages to be so fun. The game teaches factoring and drills players on their multiplication and addition facts. To that end, the sushi monster sits in the middle of the table.

Players feed it plates of sushi with numbers on them that add up to or multiply to equal the number at the top of the screen. When players succeed, Sushi Monster gobbles up the sushi. When the number is wrong, Sushi Monster tosses the plates aside and grumbles monstrously.

Having missed multiplication lessons during my many moves, I count on my fingers and have to stop and think about what times what equals 121.  And I hate, hate, hate math speed drills.

But I loved this game: the speed, the silliness, the varying levels of difficulty. So let's give it the TJ Test:

  • Does it do what it says it'll do? Yep. It says it's a fun way to practice with number families, multiplication and addition, and so it does.
  • Does it solve a current problem in the classroom?  Yes. It uses kid-friendly wackiness to encourage repeated practice of core math fluency skills.
  • Does it create a new opportunity in the classroom?  Basically. With one iPad, this would be a fun game to have at a station. I would love to see this projected via a smartboard so kids (say, third graders) could move the plates themselves and the whole class could call out advice. In a one-to-one setting, students could use this as their practice time in support of units on these subjects.
  • Would Thomas Jefferson think it was cool? I wonder sometimes if that guy had a sense of humor, but as far as this kind of learning helping and not impeding a young genius? Yeah, I think it works.  TJ and his compatriots ...and almost every other educated person on the planet who wasn't educated in the US since the 60s...carried a lot of information via memorization. And they work hard to get that stuff in their brains. This is the same kind of work, but sillier. I like that.