Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Best App I've Ever Purchased Part 2

Last time we talked about how Puppet Pals can help students with story retelling.  It's totally fun, totally beneficial and totally worth the five bucks I spent on it.

Today I'm gonna show ya how to use Puppet Pals to make a lightening fast social story. I used this app for a student with autism who was preparing for kindergarten graduation. I snapped a picture of him in his cap and gown and made him a character in the story. We role played the process of his name being called, walking across the stage and receiving his diploma. He watched the video over and over. It was pure awsomeness.

Here's what you need to do to use Puppet Pals to make a social story of your own. Snap a picture of the child or children on your phone or iPad. You may want to take a picture of your actual environment or search for images in Google that match the environment you want the child to interact in.

Open up the Puppet Pals app. Start a new show, then click "add a character from a photo." Trace around the outline of the student.

I also made this basketball a "character" in our show. I just found the image on Google and save it to my camera roll. I then added it to our show.  Once you have all of your characters, you are ready for the backdrop. Our show is going to take place in a gym. This is where Puppet Pals can be easier than shooting actual video footage. I didn't want to walk down to the gym and take an actual photo of our gym. I just searched Google and saved this photo to my camera roll.  All blown up in the app it's not the best quality photograph, but I'm totally not worried about it. Click "add backdrop from photo" and BAM! You are ready to make your movie.

Here are the reasons why you will love this app for social stories.
1. Filming took 39 seconds.
2. This app lets you roll play situations that you are not really in.
3. Kids like to watch the movies over and over, which reinforces the positive behavior that you want to see.
4. Did I mention that filming took 39 seconds.
5. You can save it in a variety of places.

Check out our easy peasy social story on what to do if you lose a game. I invested a good 3-4 minutes on this bad boy. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Best App I've Ever Purchased (and I've Purchased a Bunch) Part 1

Every year I set a goal for how I want to improve in my teaching. This year I decided that I was going to revamp my comprehension instruction. When you teach primary special education ( or kindergarten) comprehension and decoding should be taught separately. Let's face it:  "Fat Cat and the Fish" isn't givin' us much to work with in the comprehension department.  I'm pretty pleased with the results. I try to cycle through and hit the same skill multiple times throughout the year. When I can, I use seasonal books to match the skills being taught. In January, every primary teacher in America and  I used Jan Brett's The Mitten. This one lends itself well to retelling. Come to think of it, so does my favorite app.

If you don't know Puppet Pals, you are missing out. I purchased it several years ago for around five buckaroos. There are similar apps that have more bells and whistles (and way more expensive), but I find the simplicity perfect for my students.

I purchased a "Mitten" retelling kit from Oriental Trading Company a few years ago. I had leftover that I used this year. After modeling retelling and then having the students practice with paper puppets, I decided to take this activity up a notch. Here's how it worked.

With my iPad I snapped photos of items that I wanted to use as puppets for our show. I find it works better doing this before launching the app. Then we open the app, start a new show, and click "add actors from photo." 

This gives you access to your tablet's photo steam. Click on the photo that you want to make into a puppet and trace around it.

You will need to do this for each character in your show. It doesn't take much time. For this retelling I didn't find that any of the included backdrops appropriate for our show. I searched Google images, saved a photo I liked, and then chose it as my backdrop. The setup is really.that.simple.  In small groups, students and I did a "shared retelling." I'm pretty sure I just made that term up. 

This is a video I made with a student with autism. He needed some guidance, but he was totally engaged. After the shared retellings, I add the "puppets" to our classroom iPad and encourage students to record their retelling individually during center time. They love it. Something about recording our own voices is SUPER fun.  The kids enjoy watching the retellings of other students. The best part is that you can do this with almost any story using your camera and a favorite classroom book.  Puppet Pals=the best $5 I've ever spent. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I tell you what other cool things you can do with this app. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sorry. Not sorry.

Currently I’m taking a class on how to effectively technology into the classroom called Introduction to Blended Online Teaching. This course should more aptly be named It’s Not About the Technology,Stupid.  What? Not about the technology?  Confused yet?

The whole purpose of technology integration is to be better able to meet the needs of students. Therefore, the tech should serve a purpose. Read: no electronic babysitters people.  First, ask yourself what you are trying to do. Then, find/ use the technology to help you do that.

Tech doesn’t replace teachers. Unless it does. Let me explain.

In my resource room I am constantly stretching myself to meet the needs of my students. I provide a two and a half hour reading and language arts block to some extremely adorable, always funny and pretty needy kids. I group my kiddos by ability, not age. Every day they have four stations:  with me, my assistant, and independent centers. The fourth station varies. Two days a week they have speech therapy. Three days a week they work on spelling/phonics work. Everyone, that is, except for Tyler.

You’ve never met him, but you already know Tyler. He’s extremely adorable and street smart. He's driven by a motor that never seems to stop. He pretty much hates everything that happens indoors, which includes school. He also has no business working on spelling work for five days a week. Definitely not the best use of his time.  

I knew I had to act fast or Tyler was going to be renamed Trouble. I needed something that would allow me to target what Tyler was going to work on. I needed it to be motivating. I needed to hold him accountable. I also needed it to be something that wasn’t going to take me FOREVER to prep for him.  After coming up short I called in for reinforcement: my tech coach/work brother.

He hooked me up with this program called Scootpad. It’s web based and allows teachers to assign standards that students need to work on. You can determine the number of questions and the number of sets that you would like for students to answer. Each student can be different. Kiddos get immediate feedback on whether they are correct. It isn’t game based or super distracting.  But here is why I really like it.  Any time a students answer a question correctly they earn a coin. Teachers can set up a reward center in the program where students can redeem the coins that they earn.  Examples of rewards that I created by Tyler are eating lunch in the classroom with a friend, extra Lego time, fast food lunch of choice (that one is 1,000 points.)  Tyler knows that if he doesn’t answer a question correctly he doesn’t earn a coin. This has encouraged him to slow down and think about what the correct answer should be. This program doesn’t work well on tablets, so I have Tyler work on a Chromebook at my table while I am working with other students. Because it isn’t gamey, it does not distract the other students. The only frowny face about this program is that it costs money, but since I pretty much break even after buying super awesome toys, games and apps much needed supplies with my own money I’m not really gonna sweat it. Seriously. It’s a drop in the bucket.

Typically I would be very against a program like this. I am not the “drill and kill” type of teacher. I pride myself on differentiation. But when used carefully it is a reasonable teacher stand-in (minus my charm, warmth and ability to deliver an entire lesson in a Mary Poppins voice.)  It allows me to “work” with Tyler when I am physically unable to. He is motivated and held accountable.  He is working on skills that I know he needs to work on. Quite simply, it meets his needs, and that’s what it’s all about.

Full disclosure: Scootpad has not paid me to write this review, but I wish they would.

All names have been changed to protect the (not so) innocent.