Sunday, May 25, 2014

Osmo by Tangible Play

Back in February, when I  presented at the Ed Tech Teacher iPad Summit in San Diego,  I had the pleasure of meeting some of the team from Tangible Play.  As a grade one teacher their table stood out from the other vendors.  Instead of information pamphlets and business cards, there were letter tiles, tangram pieces, play dough and coloured markers.  Some how those hands-on tools (which my young learners enjoy working with) were used in conjunction with an iPad.  I had to find out more.

I asked a ton of questions and Karen O'Dell shared a lot with me but more than anything I wanted my students to have the opportunity to try the product out.  Karen made it happen.

When Osmo arrived Tangram was the first app we looked at.  I shared it with a couple of students and instantly they were hooked.  It was really quite wonderful to listen to how they were talking and problem solving together. To no surprise the rest of the class wanted in so we put it under the document camera and one at a time children came and added pieces to the puzzle.

Knowing that with a class of 24 students, more than two would have to work with it at any given moment, my students figured that six was a good number and they happily problem solved in sixes. Tangram became a choice activity during "free choice" and was also integrated into our math time. During other times of the day it was pulled out to give students a break.  It was always in use.

The Tangram app itself has changed a fair bit over the beta testing period.  Tangible Play (the makers of Osmo) have been extremely receptive to feedback.  There are many levels/challenges with the images that students are trying to replicate with their tangram pieces.  At first the images on the iPad are full colour outlining the shapes, but quickly the shapes become grey in colour, then the outline of the tangram pieces disappear.  My students chose to try more challenging puzzles or to work where they are most comfortable.  That's one thing I love about the app. It doesn't expect every one to work at the same level.  It's  really easy to clean up too.  My students just have to return the pieces to the clearly marked spots in the box.   

Words was introduced  next.  In Words an image is shown on the screen with circles to make the missing letters for the word.  Sometimes only the first letter is missing, some times a few letters are missing, and quickly all the letters are missing.  Apparently it changes levels as you play. I think you may even be able to select your level but we haven't explored there yet.  There are also two sets of letters.  You put your "letter guess" in front of the iPad and the letter either helps complete a word, or it goes to the top.  You are allowed only so many "wrong" guesses before the app finally reveals the word.  For each correct guess you are awarded points.  Originally the app could only be played in competition mode but it was since been modified and a cooperative mode has been added. My students typically just use the cooperative mode and work together.  They get so excited when they achieve the 100 points together.

When I watched the promotional video (see below) I noticed that they had students throw letters down at the same time. In my class my students take turns adding their letter guesses.

I will be honest Words frustrated me a bit when I first started to play with it at home.  Often the word it was looking for with the image it was displaying was far too obscure. This feedback was given and like with tangrams the app was tweaked.  You can now add your own images and words too (which I haven't explored yet) so it has great potential for word work study while continuing to promote problem solving and cooperation between those who are playing together.

Despite my initial reservations my students love this app too! They love guessing the words and trying to figure out what they have to spell.  They have been frustrated when the words are too easy, and equally frustrated when the words are too hard.   But the app seems to adjust well for them and just like with Tangrams, Words is a popular app during "free choice" time, and word work time.  My students choose to use this app often too.

This picture totally stumped my students the first time they saw it.

The only issues I've had with this app is how long it takes for my students to put away the letters.  At first my students were just stacking the letters and putting them back in the box. The problem though was that in the process we lost a letter.  We now stack the letters in ABC order, and as bright as my young learners are, finding the letters in order remains a bit of an issue.  When time is short I'll direct my students to Tangram or Newton for the shear sake that this app takes a bit longer to clean up.

The third and final app I introduced my students to was Newton.  In Newton you draw or put down objects in front of the iPad to help redirect a ball to hit a target.  What you draw or put down in front of the screen interacts with the balls falling on the screen.  By far this is the coolest app.  We've only done it using a white board and a white board pen but other beta testers have used all types of objects to redirect the balls.  Since my kids are a huge fan of the Where's My Water app by Disney, this works some what similarly as they create the path for the falling balls.  

I introduced this app last because I was worried my students would be all over it.   With only one Osmo and 24 students,  this is the most difficult of the three apps to share in a large group.  Introducing it was easy and to no surprise my students took right to it.  I was also extremely fortunate because its introduction corresponded with the arrival of more Osmos in our classroom. At present I have one Osmo for every four students.

Again like the first two apps my students loved Newton too.  They do find that the groups need to be smaller - remember they have no issue with six for Words or Tangram.  Four seems to be the maximum group size for Newton.  For some kids this is the app they want to play with all the time, for others they choose Tangram or Words.

One of my fears when I first started to Beta test the product was that the novelty of the tool would wear off.  It's been a few months now, and we have more Osmos in our classroom, and I still have students who can't always get one when they want one.  It isn't a fad app at all, it's here to stay.

Another worry is that using the app requires that I remove iPads from their cases.  This frightens me a lot in my very active grade one class.  But the Osmo stand is very secure and my students know that the iPads do not travel when they are out of their cases.  At clean up time I put the cases back on to ensure that they are on securely.  So far this hasn't been an issue.

Sharing Osmo with our families.

My class and I have also shared Osmo with  parents, grand parents,  big buddies, and other students in the school.  EVERYONE we've shared it with thinks it's really cool and a lot of fun to use.  One much younger sibling had more fun throwing the letters at the iPad then trying the Words app.  At three though, I'm not surprised.  

Sharing Osmo with our grade six/seven big buddies. They loved it too!
Personally I'd say Tangram is the best app for all ages.  I've caught many adults trying to recreate the tangram picture on the screen.  I've also seen the young learners giving it a try with success. The app meets a variety of  learner needs.

Show casing our learning using Osmo during student led conferences.

Osmo, with it's bright manipulative hands on tools, has been an excellent addition to my classroom.  The Tangram, Words, and Newton  apps, in conjunction with the hands on tools, immediately engage my young learners. But not only do they engage, they also promote collaboration and critical thinking through the negotiation and problem solving skills that are required to solve the challenges being faced.  Osmo is a creative, interactive, fun way to learn.  It adds a whole new dimension to working with an iPad. 

Still curious to find out more, check out this promotional video from Osmo.  I smiled  when I watched it for the first time.  While their video is scripted, it is exactly how my students reacted when they played Osmo for the first time.  They were drawn to the product, and immediately  started to work together and share ideas as to how to solve the tangram puzzles.  Seriously. 

So how can you get one too? On Wednesday, May 21st  Osmo finally went public and pre orders are being taken at 50% off for the next month.  You can find out more at .

Friday, May 23, 2014

Grade One Students Give Advice on Using Twitter

A few weeks back my class received a tweet from a grade 2/3 class in Washington State asking for advice on classroom tweeting.  Here's what my students had to say.

I couldn't have given the advice any better.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What's Your Mood? Giving Students Voice Through Google Forms

This past weekend I was extremely fortunate to attend a GAFE Summit here in Vancouver. It was a full on weekend of learning (and sharing) and I've come away with so many great ideas to try with my students.  However what resonated most with me was a simple yet powerful idea mentioned in passing by keynote speaker/presenter Jennie Magiera.  She spoke about using google forms to have her students "check in" with how they were feeling.

WOW! This idea itself wasn't new to me, but my knowledge of Google Forms was not strong enough to actually make it work for me. That is, until I listened and learned from Jennie.  The first thing I did when I returned to school was create such a form with my students and I am blow away by how powerful it has been with my young learners. Let me explain..

I started with a conversation with my students. So many of them come in with a variety of emotions each morning and are often trying to tell me all at the same time. I know it's so important that I hear these stories but my reality is I can't give each student the time they each deserve when more than one is needing me at the same time.  This is where our conversation began.

We talked about the needs of everyone in the class and how important it was for me to know how they were feeling, particularly if they wanted me to know.  We talked about some of the ways they may feel, or what mood they may be in.  We talked about how that mood may have a positive or negative impact on how they start their day and that if I can do something to help them with that, even if it's something as small as just knowing how they were feeling, that I'd like try.

 I set up the google form with four simple questions, two that were required, and two that were optional.  The first was a required question - a name.  Obviously I needed to know who was sharing with me.  My students came up with the second required questions "How are you feeling". It too is a required question.  It's a large list of "moods" that my students came up with including happy, excited, sick, sleepy, sad, worried, mad, stressed (yes, this came from a six year old and broke my heart to hear it), nervous, scared, frustrated, and anxious.   The third question, which isn't required to submit the form, is "Why do you feel this way?".  The final question is "What can I do to help?"

I then created a QR code that linked directly to the form.  I posted four copies of the QR code around the classroom and taught my students how to use it.  They all scanned in and gave the form a try.  I also let them know that they could scan the form when even they felt they needed to.

I took the form a bit further (now that I know more about using Google Forms) and I colour coded certain responses so there was no way I could miss them.  This is pretty easy to do in the response spread sheet. I also let my students know that I may not get to their response immediately but I would do my best to get to it as quickly as I can. So far this week it's happened with in five or so minutes, with the exception of Wed when we head to the gym first thing but I was able to sneak a peek as they were getting their drinks after gym before we settled for our morning classroom activities. It takes literally seconds to scan the form, and with certain emotions colour coded they are impossible to miss.

Here are the  steps of how I set up the conditional formatting based on responses .  For my use I've used conditional formatting to highlight specific "moods"  in a chosen colour so I can quickly see when these responses are entered.   This spreadsheet is automatically created by Google when your form receives responses.

Step One:

Step One: Highlight  the column heading - in this case the B is highlighted.

Step Two:
Step Two: When highlighted a small arrow will show. Click on that arrow to see other options.
 Step Three:

Step Three: Click on Conditional formatting.

Step Four

Step Four: Set up your conditional formatting.

It's been in use for almost a week and I am blown away by the type of information children are sharing with me.  I know that in any given moment through out the day I have children dealing with a variety of  emotions. But I am also realizing there is so much I've missed because I've been dealing with crisis after crisis. This simple form is helping me get to know my students even better.

In a few short days I have learned about students who are happy, mad, sad, excited, worried, sick, sleepy, and nervous.  For those who are posting several times in a day I collecting data on how their mood fluctuates over the day.  Since each response is time stamped I have that data too.  I'm loving those who have been able to share the why behind their mood.  I'm loving those who are using their voice to tell me how I can help them out.  But most of all I LOVE how it's putting them in touch with how they are feeling so that together we can work towards making them feel more comfortable and able to learn.


*Collaborative Projects - A Perfect Way to Build Student Learning Communities

Over the past couple of years my class has been involved with several different collaborative projects.  Sometimes they are involved with just another class, and other times they are much larger in scale involving many classes from around North America and the World.  Sometimes our collaboration is more side by side in nature where we are sharing information to a shared site such as a wiki or google doc.  Other times my class is co-creating new books or movies with children from other classes.

Co-creating with a classmate for a co-creation project with children across the country.

At the simplest level my students are collaborating with one another to expand their student learning networks.  We use the iPad app Book Creator to do this as it's so easy to have multiple students start a book on their iPad and then combined pages from different iPads into one book.  A prime example of that is when we created our Salmon book early this year. Each child in the class did a page or two, but in the end we had one thorough salmon fact book.

A page from our collaborative salmon ebook

This combine book feature doesn't have to be limited to a class though. Using a cloud storage system such as dropbox or google drive, books can be combined together from children all over the world.  Recently my friend Kristen Wideen arranged such a project.

When it comes to building student learning networks I must admit that I find the smaller collaborative projects more ideal for helping my students build connections with other students.  When they are working with another student and together they are co-creating, my students are better able to get to know the students they are working with.  While there is a place for the large scale projects, they don't seem to bring my students the same type of authentic connections as the smaller, more intimate projects do.

Working together as part of a book created with a couple of students across the country.

My students have also built learning networks with high school students.  Last year we were lucky enough to work with students at a local high school.  My students came up with the ideas of the stories, the high school english class wrote the stories, my students put the text into a book and then added images to the text, and then we travelled to the high school to see our books acted out by the Drama department.  It was an extremely successful project and helped my students build their learning network by connecting with high school students.

Watching our co-created stories being acted out at the local high school 

We moved beyond local projects and also co-created with other grade one students in North America.  More than once we have created new versions of popular stories such as Good New Bad News, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  When we co created with other children we are so curious to learn more about these children.  Typically a video conference is a part of this co-creation too, which often enhances connections.

A page from a co-created book with  class in Iowa

A screen shot of a co-created video with a class in Ontario

How have you been building student learning networks through collaborative projects?

*This post is the fourth in a  four part series on building student learning communities.