Author Archive: lwoo

Apps for Learning


The volume of apps for learning and productivity continue to expand at an exponential pace.  Trying to keep up is overwhelming.  So, here are a few resources to help you stay current and save you time as well as some favorite apps.

  • Teachers With Apps – I frequently visit this website as these two teachers do an excellent job reviewing apps.  They always focus on the learning objectives, have a good sense of usability, and involve student-testing.  Plus, they review a variety of apps for students of all ages.  One of their favorites (and mine too) is Motion Math (developed out of the Stanford School of Education) that helps students “feel” a number line.  Students must move the phone or iPad just so that the star falling from space hits the number line to represent a specific fraction.  The app connects physical movement with abstract concepts, building students understanding of fractions.  Be sure to also check out the other apps in the Motion Math family – Motion Math Zoom (counting, place value) and Motion Math:  Hungry Fish (mental addition and subtraction).  Slice It is another great app to help students understand parts to whole.  With over 200 levels, students must slice shapes into pieces of equal size.
  • Moms With Apps is an app that offers a catalog of educational apps, making it easier to sift through the volume of “educational” apps on the market.
  • eSchool News article “10 of the best apps for education” highlights some interesting apps.
  • Stick Pick is the “high tech” version of your “random selection” tools (sticks in the can).  By simply shaking or taping the device, a student’s name is selected and, if desired, a question (organized by Bloom’s Taxonomy) is suggested to the student.  A great tool to support differentiated instruction, the teacher can configure the app so that it links question stems to the cognitive or linguistic needs of a learner.  Plus, while the student is answering the teacher can “assess” the response within the app, capturing formative assessment data.
  • Apps organized by Blooms Taxonomy – there are quite a few resources that use Blooms Taxonomy as an organizing framework.  These are great places to visit to start understanding how apps can be used to support various levels of thinking.  So, instead of just reviewing individual apps for their appeal, usability, and educational objectives, thinking about 1) the level of thinking required to achieve success in the app and 2) how a suite of apps can be used to support students as they move through Bloom’s levels of thinking.  Here are two good resources:  Bloomsapps and Teach with your iPad.
  • Groups or networks or your PLC are also great ways to learn about high-quality apps.  Josh Reppun started the Facebook group iPad Education Dreams which now has 148 members and a wealth of knowledge.  If you’re interested in joining, look Josh up on Facebook and send him a request.



Common Core “Shifts”

EngageNY, a collaborative platform for educators, has created excellent resources that succinctly describe the “shifts” required with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  These shifts will be very familiar to those who have attended one of our Common Core trainings or who are in the process of becoming Black Belts, facilitated by Kevin Baird of the Common Core Institute.  These resources should be required reading for all educators tasked with implementing the Common Core.  I’ve summarized the shifts here:

Shifts in ELA

  1. balance of informational and literary texts
  2. emphasis on literacy across domains, with students learning from the text rather than referring to it
  3. scaffolding to support a staircase of text complexity
  4. commitment to text-based answers, students’ discussions stay connected to text, pulling evidence from the text
  5. writing to inform and persuade based on evidence
  6. focus on academic vocabulary in grade level complex texts

Shifts in Mathematics

  1. narrow the scope but deepen the understanding
  2. spiral learning so that “each standard is not a new event, but an extension of previous learning”
  3. fluency of math facts
  4. focus on building deep understanding so that students transfer concepts to new situations
  5. application of math in real-world contexts
  6. balance between practicing and understanding, creating a dual intensity in the math classroom

Making Thinking Visible


The concept of “making thinking visible” is not new.  In fact, it is a core component of schooling and learning – students externalize their thoughts through speaking, writing, drawing, or some other method.  An ASCD Educational Leadership article titled “Making Thinking Visible” is dense with good information and strategies.  The article describes a Project Zero initiative called “Visible Thinking”, explaining the six key principles of Visible Thinking, strategies to promote it, and effects on learning.

A couple of the key principles:

  • Learning is a consequence of thinking.  Or, in other words, thinking through concepts results in learning.  And, thinking through concepts is best done collaboratively.
  • Good thinking is not only a skill but a disposition.  Open-mindedness, curiosity, and creativity need to be encouraged.

Strategies to promote making thinking visible:

  • Thinking routines offer structure to support thinking.  A couple of examples:
    • “Think-Puzzle-Explore” prompts students to share what they think about a topic, identify questions they puzzle about, and target ideas to explore.  While this strategy is similar to the KWL strategy, by using the term “think” instead of “know” a shift occurs from absolutes to possibilities and openness.  This gets back to the principle that good thinking is not just a skill but a disposition.
    • “See-Think-Wonder” routine sparks creativity and inquiry by prompting students to make observations about an object, image or event by answering these three questions:  1) what do you see?  2) what do you think about that?  3) what does it make you wonder?
  • Consistent teacher prompts – after a student states an idea or opinion, ask the student “What makes you say that?”  Soon, students will naturally justify their ideas without prompting.

Effects of Making Thinking Visible:

  • Classroom activities become more learning oriented than work oriented.
  • All students feel they have a voice and participation is enhanced (in quantity and quality).
  • Long Lake Elementary school in Michigan has been implementing Visible Thinking ideas since 2004 and student scores have significantly increased on state and district tests in reading, writing, and social studies.

Using Interactive Whiteboards to support making thinking visible:

  • An IWB can serve as a shared collaboration space, a notational system that makes collective thinking visible.  With collective thinking visible, memory is freed up for more complex tasks.
  • The tools and functions of the IWB support varied forms of expression – text (typed or handwritten), images (drawn or camera), audio, and video – and supports the layering of expression over time.  In a classroom this promotes time for reflection.
  • An IWB offers teachers a way to save all thinking documented on the board.  In this way, it captures learning over time and supports teacher in more accurately assessing students’ understanding.

I always come back to this key question – “Are you asking students to think or to remember?”


Curriculum – the secret to educational reform?

This Curriculum Matters’ blog post highlighting a new book called Tyranny of the Textbook:  An Insider Exposes How Educational Materials Undermine Reforms written by Beverlee Jobrack, retired editorial director for McGraw-Hill, raises some thought-provoking ideas.  Here are a couple of ideas shared via the post:

  • School and district committees for curriculum selection filled with teachers and others who lack the appropriate expertise, motivation, and time to make the best choices;
  • State textbook adoptions focused on whether curricular materials meet state standards, line by line, with little or no attention to whether they actually are of high quality and represent a coherent and well-designed instructional approach.

Some very generalized statements – just the type to spark controversy and discussion which usually seems to begin the change process.  Jobrack’s overarching message is “Quality curriculum taught by quality teachers has the most potential to improve student achievement.”

Have a look at the post.  It’s worth the read – especially with today’s priority to implement the Common Core State Standards.  As the Common Core State Standards initiative drives us to think about instructional shifts, let’s be sure to give curriculum the attention it deserves.

Readers of eSchool News Select Top Resources for 2012

This article highlights 50 technology programs and services that readers selected as winners for 2012.  You’ll see some familiar ones and several unique ones.  The resources are quite varied – ranging from LMS platforms to math curricula to assistive technologies to digital books – so it is worth a quick scroll through.  Two products on the list that we know quite well are BrainPOP and Safari Montage!

Promethean Planet – Best of 2011

I love the end of the year/new year “best of” features.  It’s nice to look back, review, recognize growth and progress, and spotlight the best of the best.  In 2011, Promethean Planet started with 26,000 resources and ended the year with over 50,000 interactive resources.  Also worth noting is the million member milestone achieved in July.  All good signs that the Planet is thriving as a useful, valuable community.  To see the top 10 most downloaded flipcharts and resource packs, click here.  You know these must be high-quality! 

And, not to be missed is the 2011 top 10 Edublog articles.  Here you’ll find tips and strategies pertaining to using iPads in the ActivClassroom, QR codes, comic strips, and more.  Take advantage of these great “summaries” to kick start new thinking in 2012!

Edutopia’s New Year’s Resolution: Think Differently

Happy New Year!  I can’t resist the opportunity to share a post from Edutopia’s eNewsletter.  First, I love the theme of the newsletter – “New Year’s Resolution:  Think Differently”.  Secondly, I appreciated the article “Discover Design Thinking” as it provides a nice overview of the design process and offers an application example.  I’ve blogged about design thinking in the past.  You can find posts here and here.  In this Edutopia article, the author, Betty Ray, Edutopia’s senior blog editor and community manager, also weaves in ideas for application in the classroom with students.  Design thinking is one of those inspiring and creative frameworks that sounds great in practice but can be challenging to implement.  This article is excellent in that it succinctly describes the process in action within the educational arena, with both teachers and students leading the way. 

Let’s start thinking differently now!  

December Power User Workshop Recap

On Monday, December 19th, 64 dedicated teachers spent their day at Waipahu High School learning more about the Promethean ActivClassroom. Teachers were treated to presentations created by IAAK specialists as well as teachers from various schools around the island.  The Power User Workshop offered teachers of all skill levels something of value – from learning the basics to discovering new ways to add interactivity and engagement to lessons.  Many thanks to our wonderful teacher presenters, Heather Byrne, Danice Mineshima, Ann Tanaka, Cindy Wong, Judy Tateyama, Liz Castillo, and Midori Burton, who graciously volunteered to share their expertise with others.

Click on the links below to explore the excellent resources shared during the workshop.

Meet Thomas Suarez, 12-year-old innovator, app designer, and teacher

This kid is great.  In this Manhattan Beach TEDX talk, he shares how his passion for games led him down a simple yet truly rewarding path… and, look here he is presenting among the greats about innovation and educational transformation.  In under five minutes, you’ll see how he moved from a consumer to researcher to producer to teacher to change agent.  And, what I love best, he’s still a kid – not a kid trying to be an adult.  Very cool… someone to follow for sure!  One of his best lines in his talk, “Students usually know a little bit more than teachers… with the technology.”  The audience got a kick of that statement.

This is why we do what we do…

There are special moments amidst the operational to-dos that crystallize why we do what we do…  this story comes from Moe, our District Manager on the Big Island.  It’s so touching, especially during this holiday season, that I had to share via the blog.  High school students who graduate from our after-school tutoring program, receive a free laptop.  It’s an incentive for them to complete the program and, more importantly, a tool they can use to produce, collaborate, and connect in the 21st century.  Here’s the story…

Moe writes, “We delivered our first nine laptops to grad students today and it went terrific.   A dad brought me outside to say that things haven’t been going so well for his family this year and we (IAAK) was able to give his kids a Christmas they really deserved.  It was quite an emotional moment for both of us.  Also, a student at Waiakea High will be getting her laptop tomorrow.  She will be moving back to the Marshall Islands and said she’s bringing the laptop as a present for her whole family.  Her mom and dad called saying how appreciative they were and asked me to come over for tea.  It’s days like these that keep us pushing to help as many families as we can.  Keep doing what you’re doing, great things are happening.”

It’s incredible to hear the impact our work is having on families – not just the kids we serve.   Thanks to the entire IAAK team for the dedication to serve children and their families and communities.  Thank you to Moe for reflecting and sharing this special moment with all of us.  Happy holidays!