Teaching Money Management

Money management is a crucial skill, one that needs more focus and attention than it currently gets (particularly with older kids.) Here’s a good summary of options from Emerging EdTech:

1. iAllowance — Not only does iAllowance teach your kids about saving money and personal finance, but you can even set up money management tools for chores, allowance and goals. It’s a great tool for motivating your child, as it will show them how much they need to save to have enough money for something they might want to buy. It’s perfect for the five to ten-year age range. Its cost is $4.99.

2. Savings Spree — Winner of the Parents’ Choice Gold Award and several other accolades, the Savings Spree app is all about teaching kids the basics of money and personal finances. The game demonstrates the choices involved with making financial decisions, as well as some of the uncontrollable factors that come along with managing your own money. The interface is kid friendly and extremely engaging. The reviews would appear to make this $6 app more than worth it.

3. P2K Money — P2K Money is a free option that mimics much of what you get with iAllowance. If you need an app that will maintain some of the functionality of the paid options but with a free download; this is the way to go. It is more geared towards allowing your kids to manage their money, and less ‘educational’.  This application would be a good option for kids between the ages of 8 to 13.

Is it just me or in this case does the free app seem like the less appealing option? Normally I’m all for free ed tech software, but there’s something about this subject area that says there should be a price, if only a small one.


More Fun to Cook than to Eat?

The last few posts have been about collaboration between classrooms, primarily in an environment that enables kids to write their own books. I was thinking about students reading the books they write themselves when I read this:

This App Teaches Kids To Code By Letting Them Make Their Own Games

A common (if pat) critique of video games is that they stifle rather than inspire creativity in children. Never mind that just the opposite might be true–that young gamers are often just as if not more creative than non-gamers. But what happens when children devise and create video games for themselves? That would demonstrate not only imagination, but also resourcefulness and follow-through–a marriage of just what we say we want from education.

With the Hopscotch iPad app, created by Samantha John and her co-founder Jocelyn Leavitt, kids learn about programming with by designing and writing code for their own animations and games. The app is divided into two parts: an editor that uses a simple visual language, where users can create their program, and a stage where they can see their program in action.

My guess is that students find it more fun to write these games than to play them, just as they probably find it more to write their own books than it is to read the books they write.

And that’s okay! What’s important here is the skills that are being developed and reinforced through the development of new content / new interactive experiences. A great chef may enjoy the process of cooking a sumptuous meal more than he or she would ever enjoy sitting down to eat it. Do we therefore doubt the chef’s skill?

On the contrary, most of us would take that preference as confirmation of the chef’s expertise. Anybody can eat. Not everyone can cook.

BoomWriter Review

Since I have mentioned BoomWriter in my last couple of posts, I thought this would be a good time to provide some more information on the platform. I am a little too close to BoomWriter to write a credible review myself, but have a look at what David Kapuler had to say about it over at TechLearning.com.:

BoomWriter is a fantastic site that teachers and students alike will love using. Teachers will love it because it’s free, easy to use, and engages students to optimize their learning. Students will love the kid-friendly look and feel of BoomWriter, as well as using technology to create and share stories with classmates.

Check out the full review. David gives BoomWriter a more thorough treatment than we have been able to provide here, and provides excellent insight on why it is becoming a favorite for students and teachers alike.

Collaboration and Other Amazing Things

Yesterday’s piece provided a quick look at QuadBlogging, the 100 Word Challenge, and other collaborative writing projects that classes can undertake together. I made a couple of suggestions of my own, both leveraging the BoomWriter platform, which involved classes Quad-Authoring an entire book or taking turns writing and selecting the next chapter for each other.

Let’s look at some of these ideas a little more closely, beginning with the standard sequence for authoring a book using BoomWriter:


(Click the image to see a full-sized version.)

Here we see a fairly small class — just seven students. Each student writes a first chapter of the book, which picks up where the story start left off. The students then review each other’s work and vote to select a winning Chapter 1 to be the official continuation of the story. Building from the winning chapter, each student then writes a second chapter. The students then repeat the review and voting process, and the book continues until it reaches a conclusion.

The QuadBlogging (or QuadAuthoring) model would work exactly the same way, except you would now have three additional classes participating as reviewers and selectors of the winning chapters. Each class would have a turn at writing the book, so in the end you would have four books — each written by members of one class with chapter review and selection performed by the other three classes.


Next we have the back-and-forth model, which would allow classes to truly collaborate. Each time a class begins a new chapter they would use as their starting point the previous chapter authored by the other class.


In the end you would have two books–two versions of the same story–both collaboratively written between the two classes. Or you could combine this idea with QuadAuthoring and let another two or three classes select between the two finished books. But I think there’s something appealing about the idea of writing two books together. Both classes would be equally invested in both versions — having contributed as much to one as to the other.

Now let’s really have some fun.

Once we’ve established the idea of classes handing off chapters to each other and reviewing and selecting each other’s work, some interesting possibilities arise. Imagine a book that spans a larger number of chapters written collaboratively between the same number of classes. Here we see 12 classes working together to create a book with 12 chapters:


(And the participating units wouldn’t have to be classes — they could be whole schools.)

Now imagine a book that’s all about the hand-offs. We’ll give this one a working title: The Day 100 Amazing Things Happened. 

I’m not going to attempt a diagram of this one. Picture it. It would be a truly social collaborative effort. The book would be created by collaboration and invitation. One class would begin with a story start. Using the standard process they would write multiple versions of a first chapter. They would then reach out to a new class, asking them to

1. Review and select a winner from among the different versions of the chapter

2. Write a new chapter following the winning chapter they selected

3. Invite a new class to review their chapter, write the next one, and so on

The Day 100 Amazing Things Happened would need to consist of very short chapters, probably not more than 200-300 words. Imagine getting five  classes to start such a book at the same time, competing with each other to complete the book within a given time frame. The results could then be judged among the (ultimately) 500 classes participating by a number of criteria:

  • Completion — the book has to have 100 chapters
  • Timeliness — all chapters must be submitted by the deadline
  • Clarity and overall quality of the writing
  • Reach of the authorship — who got invited to join / how diverse was the collaborative group?
  • Amazingness of the things that happen (obviously)

The Day 100 Amazing Things Happened would probably need to be a high school project, but could easily be scaled down to a middle school project (with 25 amazing things happening) or even primary (with a dozen amazing things happening.) Once the handoffs started it would be truly fun and exciting for everyone involved to see see how things unfold.

Inter-Class Authoring

At Edudemic, Holly Clark presents 5 Amazing Ways To Collaborate With Another Class. The list includes excellent ideas such as Mystery Skyping and using Youtube as a means of communication between two classes situated in very different time zones. One that particularly got my attention is the 100 Word Blog Challenge:

It is a weekly creative writing challenge for children under 16 years of age. Each week a prompt is given, which can be a picture or a series of individual words and the children can use up to 100 words to write a creative piece. This should be posted on a class blog and then linked to the 100 Word Challenge blog. The link is usually open from midnight on Wednesdays until midnight the following Tuesdays.

The Blog Challenge lets groups of students work from the same starting place, with each participant producing a unique piece inspired by the start. The Blog Challenge folks suggest pursuing it in conjunctuion with another item from Holly Clark’s list, Quadblogging:

As the name implies, a QuadBlog involves four classes blogging together with one class blogging while the other three comment – all classes take turns being the main contributor. This is empowering because you know the kids will have an authentic audience for their blog.

I would love to see QuadBlogging used with a tool like BoomWriter, which allows classes to collaboratively author a book. In the normal sequence of events, students submit and vote on chapters to decide how the story would develop. The students vote to select one submission as the official chapter, then begin writing the next chapter to build on the one that was selected.   This normally takes place within a single classroom.  An interesting alternative would be to have one class do the writing while another class (or three others if we’re following the QuadBlogging model)  does the reviewing and chapter selecting.

Or what if two classes were working on the same book at the same time? It would be interesting to see how differently the story unfolds with a different class doing the writing. One way to capitalize on these differences would be to have the classes select next chapters for each other. In other words, each time a class selects a chapter, it becomes the official next chapter for the other class they are participating with.  So both classes begin writing from the same story start. Class A and Class B each write and select an official chapter 2. Now class A has to write chapter 3 using class B’s chapter 2 as a point of departure — and vice versa.

This would represent true collaboration between classes.


More Thoughts on Tablets

Last week we talked about the ambitious plan to put an iPad into the hands of every student in the Los Angeles public school district. Here’s what some other experts have to say about using tablets in the classroom.


10 Big Concerns About Tablets in the Classroom

This piece from Edudemic addresses a lot of the worries that commonly accompany the decision to provide tablets in the classroom: What if the kids break them? Or lose them?  Why do they need all this multimedia? Will they forget how to read? There is a lot to worry about. This piece provides some sane answers.


5 Little-Known iPad Skills Teachers Should Have

Things you didn’t know you could do with an iPad, including:

  • How to create ePubs from web-based content on an iPad
  • How to create and annotate PDFs on an iPad
  • How to record audio using your iPad
  • How to screencast from your iPad
  • How to curate teacher and student content from the iPad


The Best 1:1 Device is a Good Teacher

Provocative title! And it begins with a shocking video. Here is what you are NOT supposed to do with an iPad

The author, Andrew Marcinek, explains:

This hypothetical simulation is a great example of how little hardware actually matters any more. While both the iPad camp and the Chromebook camp will argue how their respective device is superior, I can easily envision both working well for a variety of content area classrooms. In fact, the idea of going all in with a singular device is beginning to evolve. What school districts and administrators should control are the ways in which they create and foster a culture of adaptability before instituting a 1:1 environment.

As I mentioned earlier, the best device a school can roll out is a teacher who can adapt to new and emerging technologies, does not always require formal training for learning and staying current, and is not tethered to a product (such as PowerPoint or a SmartBoard) in order to teach. Education technology will continue to progress, and part of this evolution will be for students and teachers to stay current with both curriculum and digital literacy. Even in the absence of technology, a great teacher will continually seek out ways to engage his or her students in great lessons, simulations or challenges.

 Students are naturally adaptive to new technologies. Maybe we need teachers with the same aptitude? In any case, this is certainly as productive an area f discussion as arguing feature sets among different platforms.

Monitoring Apps

A great tool for both teachers and parents, Appcertain provides monitoring of app downloads on iPhones and iPads.

When a kid downloads an app on his or her device, a message goes out to the parent or teacher with a quick evaluation of the quality / appropriateness of the app in question.

Here’s a sample of what the message might look like:



As seen here, characteristics of a particular app — whether favorable or unfavorable — are depicted via graphic badges.The badges cover a wide assortment of criteria by which an app can be evaluated, including educational value, adult content, whether the app contains ads, whether it encourages exercise, whether it makes use of the devices’scamera, whether it allows in-app purchases, and so on.

The approach of monitoring rather than blocking has potential drawbacks — the student is already potentially being subjected to objectionable content by the time the monitor reads the report — but also has benefits. For example, there are a large number of apps that don’t encourage exercise but that still have significant educational value. Rather than simply blocking all of those apps, AppCertain lets the monitor take that factor into consideration when an app is downloaded. Likewise, there are times when a an app that allows chat or use of the camera will be perfectly appropriate.

A monitoring tool doesn’t provide a set of hard and fast rules. Instead, it provides an opportunity for teachers and parents to discuss with students what they are doing with their devices. This helps the students begin to take responsibility for their own use.

Hacking Youtube

Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers provides a very useful resource — alternatives to Youtube:

Some excellent educational content can be found on YouTube. However, many teachers cannot access YouTube in their classrooms. Therefore, I compiled a list of 48 places to find educational videos that don’t rely on YouTube.

Alternative video sites are one possible solution to the problem, but I was impressed by the hacker-like approach taken by a  number of teachers in this discussion on how to get around having Youtube blocked. I can’t speak to the legality of all of the suggestions made here (much less can I provide any counsel as to whether a particular idea would be okay within a particular school district’s rules and regs. But I will say that capturing Youtube videos and then re-posting them behind the firewall sounds a little suspect (to me, anyway.)

Of course, when you consider that Youtube made their fortune in the first place using other people’s video that they didn’t have the right to use…there might at least be a little poetic justice there.

Other ideas involve the use of login filters (apparently Youtube is board with creating a less objectionable version of their site for classroom use) and teachers embedding videos in their own pages, or otherwise streaming the videos without giving students access that they aren’t, under the rules, supposed to have.

Read the whole discussion. It’s a great lesson on the many ways obstacles can be overcome.

Great News for Apple

…but how good is the news for students? So here’s the deal. The city of Los Angeles is planning to put an iPad into the hands of every student in the district by the end of 2014:

After signing a $30 million iPad deal with Apple in June, the Los Angeles School Board of Education has revealed the full extent of the program that will provide tablets to all students in the district. CiteWorld reports that the first phase of the program will see pupils receive 31,000 iPads this school year, rising to 640,000 Apple tablets by the end of 2014. Apple previously announced that the initiative would include 47 campuses and commence in the fall.

There are promising and worrying aspects to this announcement. On the promising side:

As part of the deal, Apple will preload iPads with educational resources. Those apps will include the Pearson Common Core System of Courses and Apple’s own iWork (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers) and iLife (iMovie, iPhoto, and Garageband) software suites.

Pre-loading the devices with the Pearson course system will help ensure (although there are no guarantees) that the devices are used towards educational ends rather than just serving as novelty items. And tools like iMovie and Garageband will provide some students the opportunity to do some truly amazing things.

Of course, there is some question as to whether the iPad really is a one-size-fits-all solution for kids across the board. And there are even those who question whether it’s the best possible platform for this sort of thing. And there are unanswered security questions. Will kids be allowed to take their iPads home? (It kind of defeats the purpose of a mobile device if they can’t.) What happens if they are broken? Or stolen?

And then there’s this:

The board will use the $30 million in tax money to fund the first 31,000 devices but will look for additional funding in order to secure the remaining tablets.

So the promise is for 640,000 kids to get iPads, but so far there is only funding for 30,000. That is some significant disappointment potential.