Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Game That Will Save Zynga (And Mathematics Education)

I've shared many games and ideas over the years to help students and kids practice their essential number sense skills.  Yet I know these ideas have only reached a fraction of the population, as will most learning games.

The best educational games are the ones that don't seem to be educational.  They don't dress up rote learning with graphics and sound effects.  They require a bit of critical thinking as well.

I'm addicted to Zynga's social games (like everyone else with an iPhone) such as Words With Friends and Scramble With Friends.  They're fun because you're playing against a real person, but they're also educational.  Both games force you to delve deep into your vocabulary and do so rather quickly.

So while playing Scramble, I imagined replacing the letters with numbers and asking players to create different combinations that would add up to a certain goal.  With just a few tweaks to Scramble's interface and mechanics, you could easily make a game I'll call Numbers With Friends that would be just as fun, addictive and educational as its predecessor.

Take a look at the mock-up above.  Each round, you'd be given a goal number and run your fingers across the numbers to create the right sum.  The more combinations you can find and the more numbers you use add to your score.  For example, could press just the -6 alone for 1 point, or press -5 + 0 + -8 + 0 + 6 + 1 + 1 for 7 points.

I don't claim this to be a completely original or revolutionary idea, but I'm taking a common number sense activity and putting it in a package that almost anyone would love to play.  If I knew how to program (and how to not get sued) I would make this myself, but I've always been a fan of not reinventing the wheel if you don't have to.

Mashable! reports that Zynga's business is a bit down at the moment, so this is the perfect time for a modest offer: I'll gladly take a job or a big fat check for my surefire idea.  I'll be awaiting your response.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Make Your First iPad Project About Using It For Academic Success

This past year, nearly all of my students received iPads as part of the district's ambitious one-to-one technology initiative.  It was a challenging transition, especially in terms of getting students to view and use their devices for academic purposes and not just for chatting, gaming or watching music videos.

So one of my first projects using the iPads was to get them to think about ways the devices could help students do better in school.

It was originally supposed to be a mandatory project, but I assigned it far too close to end of the grading period for that to be fair.  That's why it became an extra credit project.  I would highly recommend doing this project with every iPad-wielding student.

Format: Video, Keynote presentation or publish online

Topic: 5 Ways Students Can Use Their iPad To Do Better In School
Sample Topics:
  • How to use the iPad to take notes
  • How to use the iPad to keep track of assignments, tests, grades, etc
  • How to study better with the iPad
  • Apps for drawing, making animations, editing pictures, etc
  • Apps/websites that can teach you one or many subjects (example: Khan Academy, iTunesU)
  • Where and how to get free eBooks, magazines, other things to read on your iPad
  • Useful apps/websites (calculators, dictionaries, references, etc)
****You should focus on the apps already on the iPad, free apps to download, and websites that students could visit. Creativity and originality will count for your grade.

****Videos should be less than 5 minutes. Presentations should no more than 10 slides.
I would make a couple of small tweaks if I did this project again: 1) allow more time, 2) change it to ten ways, and 3) increase the emphasis on finding useful apps.  In fact, I ended up creating a separate project later on where students found and installed practical apps due to that last oversight.

Many students did participate, and there were a lot of common themes throughout their suggestions: they could use the iPad to take notes, keep track of assignments (on a to do list or calendar), do written assignments, do research, and use the calculator.  I was also surprised by a couple of students who looked forward to videotaping my lessons so that they could replay them later, which I thought was great.

One final note: my district installed Keynote along with the rest of Mac's iWork suite. If your students don't have it, here is a list of alternatives your students could use.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Days Coming To OfficeMax This Weekend

Just received some good news via email:
        WHAT:               Teachers spend roughly $1,000* out of their own pockets each year on school supplies.  And, as school budgets decline, teachers face a new school year with added pressure to spend more of their personal salaries to help bridge the budget gap in the classroom. This weekend, OfficeMax is helping to ease this burden on teachers with special “Teacher Appreciation Days” honoring educators and offering major teacher-specific sales on essential classroom supplies.

        WHEN:              Event dates vary by market and can be found at

        WHERE:            Local OfficeMax stores nationwide

        DETAILS:          Teachers receive the following during OfficeMax’s Teacher Appreciation Days (in-store only):
  • FREE Reusable Tote Bag
  • 25% OFF everything** that fits inside the tote bag, including sale-priced items
  • Booklet of teacher-specific coupons (with big discounts) for later in the season
  • $10 in MaxPerks Rewards for every $75 teachers spend on qualifying purchases—up to $100 each year.
MaxPerks Rewards for Teachers
  • For additional savings opportunities throughout the year, teachers can join the MaxPerks Rewards for Teachers program at no charge either in-store or at

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Quick Primer For School Leaders Interested in Social Media

The above video is by New Milford High School (NJ) principal Eric Sheninger, who is one of the biggest advocates of school leaders utilizing social media to improve their schools.  He's also an influential voice for education on Twitter.  In short, he's a good resource to connect with if you want to learn more.

Another excellent resources is a blog entitled The 21st Century Principal, which covers social media topics in depth from an educator's perspective.  Here are some recent must-read articles to get you started:
If you want to connect with many more school leaders exploring the use of social media and other technology in schools, you should check out the Connected Principals chat on Twitter by looking up the hashtag #cpchat.

There's so much to talk about here that it might seem overwhelming, which is why I'm going to close this primer with just a few posts on social media in education that I've shared:

Friday, July 6, 2012

5 Cutting Edge iPad Apps for Creative Thinking & Learning

3D Printing App: Copy Objects Right From Your iPad [Mashable] - A free app from the makers of Autodesk, 123D Catch allows you to turn a series of iPad pictures of an object, shot at multiple angles, into a 3D model you could then have printed.

Verde for iPad Suggests Simple Changes You Can Make to Save Money and Energy [Lifehacker] - This could become part of real-world science and math project where students would figure out how to cut the electric bill at home (as well as consider the environmental impact).

Learn to Program With Move the Turtle [Wired:GeekDad] This app reminds me of the Logo programming language I first learned back in high school.

iPad App Combines Your Child’s Artwork and Voice [Mashable] - Educreations is an alternate, free option that doesn't have much in the way of colors but has the same basic functionality.

Can Apps Transform Learning into Games? [Game Theorist] - A review of several educational apps that feel like games where you learn something without even knowing it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Colonial Williamsburg Offers Free Virtual Field Trip on Politics & Elections

I just received this great opportunity for social studies classrooms in my inbox: Colonial Williamsburg is offering a virtual field trip about elections and politics called "The Will of the People."  Teachers can access it for free for the entire month of September.  Here are the details:
Now that school’s out for the summer, I thought your readers might like a jump-start on next year’s lesson plans with Colonial Williamsburg’s ‘Gift to the Nation,’ a free month of its interactive electronic field trip. Designed to help enhance America’s political history and highlight the election process in the classroom, “The Will of the People” revolves around the bitter contest of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and shows that smear tactics aren’t particular to the modern political era.

“The Will of the People” will be available at no charge during September, leading up to this year’s election.  Designed to bring the engaging and educational atmosphere of Colonial Williamsburg to classrooms across America, the electronic field trip is an immersion for both teachers and students in authentic historical content. Teachers will be provided with multi-disciplinary lesson plans, teacher activities and program scripts while students can take part in history with interactive resources and web activities.

To register, log on to The program is available at no cost from Sept. 1-Sept. 30. After September, “the Will of the People” will be available for $120 per school. Registration is open from now through the month of September.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Double Book Giveaway: Skill Builders for Algebra I & II

This week I'm giving away two resource books that have been extremely useful to me over the years.  Algebra I, Grades 5 - 8 (Skill Builders) and Algebra II, Grades 6 - 8 (Skill Builders) cover a range of topics in a straightforward manner: one or two clear examples on the top of each page and then a series of focused practice problems.

In short, these are the resource books to use when your students need practice on one specific topic.  Unlike most textbooks and many resource books, these two books don't go off in a thousand directions and throw in a lot of poorly written word problems. 

While the books claim to be for late elementary and middle school grades, I've used them exclusively with high school students as they are sufficiently challenging and cover all the necessary topics.

If you want a chance to win both, send an email to with the subject "Skill Builders" by Tuesday 7/3, 11:59pm CST.  Good luck!