Archive of ‘Technology’ category

App of the Week – Clear+

Clear+ App (c) Kristen Dembroski

An app I simply can’t live without is Clear+. Right now, it is $4.99 in the App Store, but it is worth every penny and then some to me. It is a very simply premise actually – just a bunch of lists. A list of lists! I can organize everything from a traditional ‘To Do’ list to my grocery lists, wish lists, ideas, etc. The best part is that you can drag and drop items in a list to help prioritize. This comes in handy with my grocery list, because I can reorganize it so similar items are grouped (or if you’re really OCD, you can organize it by where it is located in the store). I can also prioritize my To Do lists in order if what needs to get done immediately through what needs to get done at my earliest convenience.

Clear+ App (c) Kristen Dembroski

There is something so very satisfying about swiping an item off the To Do list – Clear+ rewards you with a buzz and a chime. It’s so addicting, I can’t wait to finish a task! I have also come to realize that if I don’t write something down, it won’t happen. I check in with my app about 3-5 times a day to keep my goals in mind.

When parents ask me for suggestions for their child who loves technology but needs a little help staying organized, I suggest many free apps from Reminders to MyHomework, Google Calendar, CalenMob, etc. Yet for some, these free apps just have too many bells, whistles, and complications. Some students need the simplicity of Clear, and I am happy to suggest the app to them.

Which apps or other tools do you use to stay organized?

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Teacher Approved Apps

Teacher Approved Apps (c) Kristen Dembroski

Let’s be real – when you give a 13-year-old an iPad, they are going to download and play games. Lots of them. During Homebase (Homeroom) time, I look over shoulders and I see a lot of Minecraft and other silly, pointless games. My response is, “you have 17 other hours of the day to waste your brain. I’m not going to allow that during school time!”

My colleagues and I got together and created this handout for our students – 35 Teacher Approved Apps. As it says on the first page of the handout, these are apps that can be used AFTER all other homework is completed and you’ve done your daily required 20 minutes of independent reading. We have vetted these apps and determined that they have (at least some) academic value for our 8th grade students. Feel free to download the hand out here: Teacher Approved Apps KD

Happy Teaching!


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iPads Week 1 – Situation Report

Well, we’ve made it through our first full week with the iPads. It’s amazing how different things are. And by different, I mean… more interesting, more engaging, more efficient, more work, more planning, more troubleshooting, and more patience needed. The students are really doing an amazing job with this. We continue to work out the bugs and get every student up to speed (get everyone on the network, equipped with all of our required paid apps, set up with email, Google drive, Infinite Campus, ebackpack, etc.). Despite a few glitches here and there, the kids are working like pros, picking things up very easily. Here they are working in my classroom on a journal entry at the beginning of class.

iPads Week 1 (c) Kristen Dembroski


Each day, at least 1 student forgot their iPad, or forgot to charge it. I think once they experience a day of going without their technology, they will not be doing that again! We do have some extra charging cables and extra iPads that they can check out of the library for the day, but they see how inconvenient this is – the rented iPad doesn’t have any of their ‘stuff’ and settings on it.

BTW, I’ve only had to use my Tech Time Out once!

As the students are becoming more accustomed to their iPads, they are having a lot of fun playing. They explore new apps, find new games, and have something new to share each day. At the start of each class, I have to remind students to exit their game apps and prepare for learning. Currently, we are working on making a list of ‘Teacher Approved Apps’ or apps that can be used when all possible homework is done, and the student has done their independent reading for the day.

iPads Week 1 (c) Kristen Dembroski


So what have we been doing on the iPads all week? Each day, we start class by adding a journal entry to a document that they started in Pages. As we have been reading our first book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey, students are also taking notes on their iPads. I love that we can find images on the internet to accompany their notes, which allows them to think creatively, build connections, and construct a deeper understanding of the book. And let’s not forget that we have the world of knowledge at our fingertips – we can stop and search for any information we may need, use , research real people who exemplify the 7 Habits, and create Educreations videos to jigsaw the reading.

During Homeroom time, students use their iPads to keep up on their academic responsibilities. They are given 10 minutes at the end of each day to:
* check Google Calendars – all teachers keep a calendar of their daily activities and homework
* sync their Google Calendars with Calenmob – an app that makes their calendars available offline
* download their homework from ebackpack
* check and respond to any emails – I’ve sent each of my students an email this week to test
* check Infinite Campus (our online gradebook) to make sure they are current on their assignments – nothing missing or late

With the iPads, students are really in the driver’s seat when it comes to their education. There are no obstacles, no excuses. Even being absent isn’t a problem anymore – everything you need is online!

Things appear to be going great so far this year. Students are looking ahead in Google Calendars to see what we will be doing in class that day, emailing me questions and comments, and doing all of their homework paperlessly. I am so proud of them, and I can’t wait to see what else this year has in store for us!

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iPad Rollout – They’re heeeeeeeeeere!

iPad Rollout (c) Kristen Dembroski

Day 2 of school, and we did the iPad rollout today! I was really impressed at the planning that went into this event. Our staff spent months planning for this day, and their organization really paid off.

Even though each student grades 6-8 will get an iPad, they started with just the 8th graders today. Throughout the day, they pulled groups of 25 students at a time. Each group took about 1 hour, but they rotated between 2 rooms to increase efficiency. Students started at the ‘buffet line’ where they picked up the required items, including iPad, Otterbox, cleaning cloth, stylus, charging cable, and ‘technology bag’ (a drawstring bag that we are calling a ‘technology bag’ because we don’t want them to put anything but their iPad in it). Then the students sat down in Room 1 with the Technology Director as he walked them through initial setup of the iPad (setting the location, language, getting onto the district Wifi, etc.), and creating/logging into their iTunes account.

After that, the students moved to Room 2, where the Technology Instructional Coordinator assisted them with putting on their Otterbox, writing their name on the Otterbox in silver Sharpie, and going over basic handling, cleaning/care, and other expectations for the iPad (come each day with it charged, no decorating it or password protecting it, you are responsible for all activities/content both in and out of school, etc.). The students also logged into their new gmail email account.

Today was really just the basics of getting the iPads into their hands. We are waiting for Friday, when each student will finally have his/her iPad, to go over the academic use of the iPad. Each teacher has become an expert in one of 6 topics, and the students will rotate amongst the teachers to learn about each one. I am in charge of Google Calendars, which we are using instead of assignment notebooks this year. There are also stations for eBackpack, Google Apps, Gmail, Essential Apps, and Infinite Campus (our gradebook).

Yeah, my head is kind of spinning – but how amazing is this??? I am really excited for these students and the many possibilities they will have this year and beyond. I hope I can keep up!

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DVD Project Reader Response

A real challenge in middle school is getting an increasingly large group of apathetic students excited about reading. I don’t mean to say ALL of my students – I definitely have some voracious readers – but there is always a hefty, vocal group that seems proud to proclaim indignantly, “I don’t read.” Well, harumpf. What’s a teacher to do with that kind of attitude? I understand that as an English Language Arts teacher, it is my job to get students excited about reading. Confetti, cartwheels, iPhone giveaways – whatever it takes! Okay not really. I’m not a performer, I’m not rich, and I don’t work miracles. I do my best to give students authentic, fun, motivating reasons to pick up a book (aaaaaand actually read/finish it). Of course I have to give a nod to my favorite teacher-author, Kelly Gallagher, who writes about just this topic in his book Reading Reasons. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!

One of the ways I try to motivate students to read is through my DVD Case / Movie Poster project. It is a project with reading, writing, language, expression, and art – a great way to hit multiple Common Core standards at once. This project has lots of elements that get kids excited: technology, critical thinking, creative writing, photography/images, and the critical elements of publication and display. Here is a glimpse of the final project, which is explained in more detail below:

DVD Project (c) Kristen Dembroski

DVD Project (c) Kristen Dembroski

You are looking at the display cases in the front lobby of our middle school. Each and every student got a chance to have their final DVD case (or movie poster) on display for the entire school. In addition, my students got some one-on-one time with 6th and 7th graders to share their project. They read their summary and review quotes on the back, explained the layout and image choices, and answered any questions their audience had – all in hopes of inspiring the student to go and read the book for themselves.

Here is a closer look at a DVD project:

DVD Project Graceling (c) Kristen Dembroski

And a collage of my students’ work:

Student DVD Projects (c) Kristen Dembroski

Students begin by selecting an interesting book (can either be a novel or a biography) that is at their appropriate reading level. I introduce this project about 6-8 weeks ahead of time to get students enough warning to finish the book.

After reading the book, students will write what I call a ‘Review Quote’ (a book teaser summary that discusses the theme/message) to promote the book. To do this, we look at the backs of many books, even visit and to get a feel for the rich language of a teaser/review.

Next, the students will create either a DVD Case or a Movie Poster to promote the book through images as well as words. They really love this part, and I’m not just saying that. Rarely do I hit the money with a project where every single student is working, but this is it. And everyone is working at his/her own pace and area of expertise – artists, techies, writers; they all find their niche and even help one another.

On the day where I introduce the project, I bring in dozens of DVD covers and movie posters for students to view. We discuss similarities and conventions such as the size of the font, placement, purpose of images, etc.

After introducing the project, I wind up giving students 3-4 more days of in-class work time. Now that students have their own iPads, I may cut down this time and expect them to do more homework. On the 5th day, we do the printing and final touches, such as laminating the movie posters or putting the DVD covers in to the cases (I bought 100 from Amazon for about 25 cents each, totally worth it!). The 6th day is for presentations.

I am excited to do this project with the iPads this year, because students can actually go out and take their own photographs. Their goal is to match the mood of the book through color, layout, font, and images. They really do quite a bit of critical thinking with this project.

One of the only problems I have run into is that if their book has already been made into a movie, some students rely very heavily on the movie images. I had to make a rule outlawing this. The results were great, as this ultimately pushed students to be original and dig deeper into their own interpretation of the book.

Something that I learned last year, and will be repeating this year, is that some students like to make their own movie poster / DVD case from scratch, and others need a template to get started. Here is a template I created in Pages for the DVD Case. Students can ‘drag and drop’ their own images:

DVD Cover Template <—- Click to download

The final product can be displayed in your classroom, hallway displays, or as part of a gallery in which you promote the books to other students. The Library Media instructor at our school asked if she could display them in our Library, too!

If you want to purchase and download my DVD case / Movie Poster unit from TpT, the following items are included:
* Common Core Standards for grades 8-12 including English Language Arts and Literacy in All Subjects
* Suggestions for modifying and differentiating this lesson for students at all levels, from heavy support needed to extension ideas. 
* Essential Questions
* Rubric
* Project Description Student Handout
* Sample Writing ‘Review Quotes’ with “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen and “The Giver” by Lois Lowry
* 2 Sample DVD Cases with “Peak” by Roland Smith, and “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore
* 1 Sample Movie Poster
* Word Spectrum – ‘interesting’ to ‘boring’ – 65 synonyms students can incorporate into their writing
* 5 Pages of detailed lesson plans and teacher tips including guided writing, peer review, modeling, small and whole group discussion. 

I loved teaching this unit and collaborating with our school’s Art and 21st Century teachers. We found that this unit hits on a LOT of Common Core Standards and curricular goals, which was a huge plus! By working together, we strengthened student learning and participation. Students have told me that this was their favorite project all year!


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Virtual Reality Escape in the Classroom

I have an idea that I am excited to try out this fall. Recently, I learned about two new apps that I think will be very valuable in my classroom. Both of them offer a virtual reality experience of sorts. I think this will be ideal for students who need a break from ‘reality.’

Teachers – you know when you have a student who just seems like they need to take a deep breath and start fresh? Perhaps they are overwhelmed, emotional, or anxious. This is when I would invite them to take out their iPad (or borrow mine) and have a 3 minute Virtual Reality escape. This will replace my old ‘go to’ techniques of “Why don’t you go get a quick drink?” or “Please take this (meaningless) super important document to the office for me (so you can calm down and walk it off).” These apps will hopefully occupy their mind and offer them a brief respite from what is leading them to be off task and unfocused (notice I didn’t say ‘naughty?’).

So here are the apps I am thinking of using for Virtual Reality Escape in the classroom. Let me know if you have heard of any others I can add to my list!

1. Sphere (TourWrist) 360 Degree Panorama Photography – by Spark Labs FREE

Sphere App - Virtual Reality Escape in the Classroom (c) Kristen Dembroski

This app is FREE and totally awesome. You can take yourself to some amazing places throughout the world from world famous cathedrals to tropical vacation destinations. As you twist and turn your iPad/iPhone, you get a 360 degree panoramic view of the location – even the sky and ground. I must look like a real fool as I swivel in my chair and contort my body to see every inch of the awe-inspiring views, but I just don’t care! I love looking at Sphere just before bed so I can dream of a vacation.

Of course, there are academic purposes for this app as well. Perhaps there are some locations you are currently studying in the classroom, and your students would love to visit in 3D! My only complaint about this app is that not all of the links work for me all of the time. Hoping some bug fixes are on their way!

2. Sky Guide: View Stars Night or Day – by Fifth Star Labs LLC $1.99

Sky Guide App - Virtual Reality Escape in the Classroom (c) Kristen Dembroski

This app was gifted to me, but normally costs $1.99. I honestly had no idea how much I would enjoy it. Basically, the app helps you to identify celestial objects (stars, planets, constellations, etc.). You simply point your iPad/iPhone at the sky, and voila! The app includes ethereal music to accompany your ‘Out of this World’ experience, but I often turn off this feature. As the title says, this works in the daytime, too. Students can imagine launching themselves into the atmosphere, flying through space, across the universe!

Of course there are real academic uses here as well – be sure to share with your school’s Science department!


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Tech Time Out!

Tech Time Out! (c) Kristen Dembroski

In the fall, each and every student in our middle school will be receiving an iPad as our school becomes ‘One-To-One.’ I am very excited about this endeavor!

Nevertheless, we are venturing into unchartered territory. The students and I will learn a lot, and I also anticipate some ‘growing pains.’

I recently learned that you can lock an iPad so that the user can only use one app – they cannot leave that app without a password. A lot of my friends who are parents of young children were TOO excited about this news, because it meant that their wee one could play a game and Mom/Dad didn’t have to worry about them accidentally quitting the game, going on the Internet, deleting contacts, or sending emails (Yep, based on true stories. It’s amazing what 2 and 3-year-olds can accidentally accomplish when given an iPhone for a few minutes!).

So how do you ‘lock’ your iPad/iPhone onto an app? First, let’s set up the locking password:
1. Go to settings
2. Go to General
3. Go to Guided Access
4. Click ‘On’
5. Set a passcode. Obviously you will not want to share this with the child/student.

Now you have set the password. How can you ‘lock in’ on an app?
1. Open up the app you want your child/student to use.
2. Hit the Home button 3 times.
3. A blue ‘Start’ button will appear in the top right corner. Press.

Now your child/student cannot leave that app without entering the password you set.

I was thrilled to learn about Guided Access, which will have many benefits in my classroom. For the most part, 99.999% of my students will never even need it, but I’m glad it’s there for the rare occasion when a student needs help making wise decisions.

AND, when all else fails, I decided to create a ‘Tech Time Out.’ Yes, it is a jail for technology. I can keep phones, iPads, earbuds, etc. nice and safely within sight but out of reach.

Creating the ‘Tech Time Out’ cost about $15 and took me about 45 minutes (but that’s only because I’m a prefectionst. perfectionis. dangit.)

1 2.5 gallon fish tank (approximately $11)
1/2 roll vinyl electrical tape (approximately $4)
Scrapbook Sticker Letters

Please leave a comment below if you tried this out in your life/classroom, and how well it worked for you! I’m always looking for new tricks and ways to innovate.

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