One of my favorite science apps is Creatures of Light, a free app from the American Museum of Natural History. App users can explore the biology of bioluminescent creatures of land and sea, in a well-designed app that features photos, interactive maps and diagrams, and embedded videos. I even like the background music.
Another nice little app is Painting with Time, $.99 from Red Hill Studios. Children can use a palette of art tools to “paint” changes over time. For example, a child might choose a black and white photo of a forest. Using the painting tools, she can paint one slice of the picture with “spring,” another with “summer” and so on, until she has a layered painting showing aspects of all seasons. Other choices include how a city changes in the course of a day, how a woman’s face changes with age, or the changes in a mountain scene as a glacier retreats. It’s deceptively simple, but the app has a lot to offer. They have another app that explores climate change in a similar fashion.
There are a host of apps now that let the user identify common species of plants, birds, rocks, insects, and many other features of our world. The free iPhone /app WildLab Bird, part of a “citizen science” project, helps users identify birds and record their sightings. Each users’ sightings become part of the data that supports research at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. There are lots of teacher resources at the WildLab website, too.
TouchyBooks is an iPhone/iPad application for interactive stories for kids. Stories are available in Spanish, English, and French. The free stories “Moon Secrets” and “Goblin Forest” are quite well done. In particular, “Goblin Forest,” a richly illustrated world of sly little goblin creatures, has a delightfully mysterious feel to it.
The graphics are pretty and the interactive features are clever, though I struggled a bit with the slow pace of the app.
There are some difficulties with the English translations. I was amused to read the following in Touchy Books’ adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”: ”he had a business with his deceased friend Marley who died seven Christmases ago because it was Christmas.” The very first line is missing a word: “Scrooge was tight-fisted and manipulative old sinner…” The word “a” is missing. In the version of “The Little Match Girl,” there are some grammar and punctuation issues. (“Buy your matches sir!” She shouted.)
I noticed that the text in the free download of El Soldadito de Plomo / The Tin Soldier is in cursive, an odd choice for an app meant for young kids.
Also frustrating for the reader is the lack of multitasking capability. If Mama borrows back her iPad for a moment to check her mail, Junior will have to watch the opening animation, revisit the “bookshelf,” and play the entire story from the beginning.
In its present form, I don’t think I’ll be buying any of the paid books, (though I am sorely tempted by the lovely pictures in “The Princess and the Pea.”) But my students will enjoy exploring the Goblin Forest, and I’m going to share The Tin Soldier for Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday in April.
One of our 2nd grade Social Studies units is on various holidays / celebrations from around the world…Diwali in India, Guy Fawkes Day in England, and so on. We always talk about what it’s like to be in Australia at Christmas time, because it’s a good way to get them thinking about how geographical location affects seasons & weather. Of course, I told them I have family living in Australia—kids love the personal connection.
The children were sketching some of the things they discovered in their research, to prepare for their meeting with the art teacher, when they’ll make collaborative posters about these world celebrations. One of the girls in the “Australia” poster group stopped drawing for a minute, and came and asked me, “Is there a girl in your family in Australia?” I said yes, my niece. The student asked me what her name was, and how to spell it.
At the end of class, when she turned in her paper, she whispered to me to look at the present from Santa she had drawn in the picture. A tiny tag on the Christmas present in the picture said, “MADISON.”
In this small way, a child in western NY State made a connection to a child in Adelaide, Australia. Of such tiny connections, a larger understanding of the world is built.
Search Twitter or Google for the words, “States Embrace National Standards for Schools.” You’ll find lots of links, posted after people read the article with that title in the New York Times on Tuesday, July 20.
Lots of readers, in fact, posted the link from cell phones & laptops directly from the NY Times itself, which—wisely—has lots of built-in links from their digital version of the paper, inviting readers to share articles on many social media platforms. The headline is out there, shared digitally, and no doubt in print form, in many places.
So I’m entertained and bemused to discover, on looking back at the articles I have “saved” in the NY Times app on my iPhone, that the headline has morphed from “States Embrace National Standards for Schools,” to “Many States Adopt National Standards for Their Schools,” a much more cautiously-worded headline. It’s a better headline, too, based on the content of the article itself. There has been controversy over the adoption of the National Standards; “embraced” implies a whole-hearted acceptance. And as for the “States”…as of the writing of the article, 27 out of 50 states had adopted the National Standards, with more expected to follow. Barely a majority. Doesn’t seem like much of an embrace, but maybe the States are acting coy, this being the first date and all.
What’s the point of changing the headline? Comments are closed on the article, which has already been read, discussed, argued, mocked, supported, contested, or agreed with, under the original headline. But it’s lots of fun to contemplate the Times going back in…um…Time, and changing headlines that were overstated, overblown, or just plain wrong. And, truthfully, it’s a little creepy, too. I spent five minutes searching on the web to make sure I hadn’t imagined the original headline. Remember Marty McFly in Back to the Future, intently staring at a photo in his hand, checking to see if the future had changed? Me, too.
It’s very humbling to realize how much my students know. Teachers are sometimes imagined as a big water spout, filling up those empty buckets…but the kids have such varied backgrounds and they come with amazing stories to share. It’s more like watering a garden. The kids already have ideas sprouting!
During an Earth Day discussion today the class was discussing ways to care for the planet. Some of the answers you’d expect were given: recycle, don’t litter, don’t cut down trees. But one student announced that we should all make compost. I asked her to explain what that was, and she explained the whole process, including a cheerful description of slimy banana peels. “It makes better gardens,” she said. Another boy said we shouldn’t throw garbage in the ocean. I asked why not, and he explained that it would make the fish sick. I was about to go on to another student when the boy added, “And then a human might eat the fish, and then the human might get sick! And it would go on and on because a BEAR might eat the human and then the bear would be sick!” (Oh, no!)