App of the Week – Popplet Lite


Cost: Free

Version: 2.1

Category: Student Productivity

Size: 2.6 MB

Mind mapping has become a great way for students individually or in a group to put their thinking process down on paper or, in this case, digitally within an app.  Brainstorming singly or in a group allows students to bring forth many ideas about a problem or a research topic.  Mind mapping is the synthesis of this brainstorm.  A student can record many of the ideas that are important from the brainstorm session and follow them with links in Popplet to show their thinking process.  Using text, drawing or photos a pobble (or information box) can be generated to fit into the subject area.


This simple popplet shows photos and text in pobbles and a very linear approach to the information that is captured.


Here more complex mind mapping includes ideas and secondary information to elaborate on each idea.

Use this with students from grade 2 to 12 to work individually or with groups to articulate important ideas for each research topic or problem.  Deciding on the priority of this information helps them to express concrete ideas to solve a problem or to tell a story.

Creativity and Design Thinking – A Playlist

Following links highlighted in a recent email subscription led to a wonderful playlist for K-12 teachers about creativity, design thinking and making.  John Spencer is an academic with a background in the trenches of middle school teaching.  He also writes a blog and instructions for maker task development and his playlist on YouTube is fun and engaging.


The playlist begins with The LAUNCH Cycle, a new framework and vocabulary for Design Thinking.  It has much in common with the IDEO Design Thinking snapshot but elaborates on some of the steps more completely.


One of the most interesting videos is “Maker Projects and Design Challenges” that compares the two, pointing out differences when it comes to adapting them to curriculum and to a classroom situation.  This comparison is something I always think about when I am planning a task but is so hard to explain to others.

Each video averages about one and a half minutes.  His animations are interesting.  Videos could be used, initially, for Professional Development to introduce the ideas to teachers and staff and then some could be introduced in the classroom to engage students in the design or making process.

Take a look a John Spencer and his Creative Classroom.  A great start to integrating design thinking and making into your school or classroom.


LEGO Digital Designer 4.3


Instead of an app of the week, I would like to review a wonderful free downloadable software from LEGO.  The LEGO Digital Designer 4.3 would be a great addition to any school desktop.  For the creative design of prototypes or just to support building units in curriculum, this free software is super for the K-12 classroom.  There are downloads available for both Apple and PC products and the response time for designing is quite fast.

Designs can be saved in a gallery and modified and presented for assessment.  Instead of missing just the right piece, all the building units are available in an infinite number.  Also both structures and vehicles can be build.  This software presents an opportunity for students to work with a real design software package but with something quite familiar to most kids.

It is hard to say anything bad about this software, unless, of course, is that getting some students to stop designing may be a problem. The original development of the application was in 2004 so the graphics are a bit simple but that doesn’t take away from the design possibilities.

It’s a LEGO product, and for the most part, always dependable and sturdy – even if it is software.

#IWD2016 and STEM Learning


I remember the very first celebration of the United Nation’s International Women’s Day in 1975.  I was 11 but I had three older sisters and that made all the difference.  There were t-shirts, buttons and stickers to show that you recognized your power as a woman and you were not embarrassed to show it.  Now in 2016, I reflect on some of the things that have changed and how opportunities are opening up for young women coming of age today.

The field of Computer Science is populated with 1% women.  This is a missed opportunity.  The education of women so they find STEM careers attractive is really only in its infancy.  Students in elementary school today can be exposed to many STEM opportunities in a very gender neutral way.  No pink or blue computers.

STEM opportunities can be attractive to girls and women if they have not caught the bias (more prevalent in my day) of parents and mentors who felt a woman needed an education AND a husband. “Don’t seem too eager to learn, Sweetie, it will turn off a prospective husband.”

We are still behind when it comes to wages. In Canada, it amounts to $0.72 to every dollar of a man’s salary.  It’s getting worse, not better.  Pursuing a career with a STEM specialty would do something towards wage equity.  This is the theme of #IWD2016: Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality.

In many STEM areas, our expectation of being accepted as equal contributors to individual fields is sabotaged to some extent by those who populate the levels above us.

So, here’s the challenge:  as teachers and educators, we can encourage every student to reach their potential, through discovery and practice in the STEM subject areas.   STEM topics can be taught by making interdisciplinary connections across subject areas and using innovative teaching methods.   Exposure to STEM learning gives every student a hands-on, memorable experience in science, technology, engineering and/or math. Who knows what fire you may ignite?

App of the Week – Mystery Math Museum



Category: Mental Math

Cost: 4/3/10 AppsGoneFree or $3.49Cdn

Version: 1.3

Size: 399 MB (very big)

I don’t usually endorse gaming apps but this one reinforces mental math skills that will help students, especially in the elementary grades.  This app is pretty cool in that you collect numbers that will help you solve addition, subtraction, multiplication and division questions.  When you answer correctly, you get to move into other rooms in one of eight museums.  Kids would be delighted with the various images and scenes in each room.  There are fireflies that you allow to escape and gold coins to collect for artwork in your gallery. Clicking on gallery portraits in the museum also gets you some additional information not related to math.

While not a creative or educational app, Mystery Math Museum is somewhere for students to spend some time, having some fun, and practicing their mental math equations.

For parents and teachers who have students who need practice on these math facts, let them have a go at Mystery Math Museum.  It is Parent’s Choice Award Winner and is the sequel to Mystery Math Town.  Beware, however, at 399 MB, this is a very large app.

IDEO Method Cards


The people of IDEO are determined to have us understand and incorporate Design Thinking into our schools and classrooms.  Although many books and articles are available describing the process, sometimes you need to experience the various steps of Design Thinking.

Empathy is a great Design Thinking step to work through with students or with your school staff to introduce the concept.  The kit contains 51 IDEO Method Cards and is divided into the categories: Learn, Look, Ask and Try. Each card has a somewhat outdated photograph on the front of it.  It looks like IDEO asked people to contribute photos from whatever was on their computer and then, without adding anything at the deadline, matched what they could to the writing on the backside of the card.  Finding a connection between the photo on the front and the writing on the back is a whole other lesson.

That criticism aside, the cards themselves challenge groups to Learn, Look, Ask and Try to create empathy about a real or practice problem.

For example, Learn contains a card that challenges the group to formulate Character Profiles.  Watch real people and develop archetypes based on their behavior.  What is the outcome of this exercise? You can look at your group of archetypes and see who would be your target customer or consumer of the prototype you are developing.

In the pile of Look cards, you are encouraged to do just that – look.  Join with your group to be a small group of flies on the wall.  Observe and record people’s behavior.  You are getting a minute to minute lesson on how real life use of an item happens and what, without consumers’ reflections, is the honest reaction of people to a particular situation.  Each of the cards contain a title, a “how” section, a “why” section and then an example of how this method was used at IDEO.  In the case of the “Fly on the Wall” card,  IDEO observed an operating room during some transplant surgeries before designing a transport box for organs.

The Ask section of the card deck is the interview process or some kind of verbal or visual feedback on a problem.  “Word-Concept Association” allows a group to ask individuals to do word associations.  Reaction to these words can help cluster consumers’ thoughts about a product and prioritize what they feel is important.

From the Try pile of cards, a group could use “Empathy Tools” to experience how individuals with various abilities respond to a prototype.  If your intended audience is senior adults with some dexterity issues and you are designing a prototype with buttons on it, this exercise ensures the buttons will be easily managed.

All in all, this set of cards would be a great Professional Development tool or classroom device to illustrate many ways to experience the empathy part of the design thinking process.  These cards are pretty comprehensive but it would be a great exercise to see what comes out of the discussion groups. The cards could be added to or particular ideas can be used for all the groups.

The IDEO Method Cards are an easy way to introduce the foundations of this process to teachers and students.

And there is an app, but it is pretty old school.  For $4.99 you get the complete set (they are $49.00 US for a real set).  The resolution is as bad as the photographs but worth a look.

E-Books and their evolution – Arcadia

I expect more from e-book apps.  I keep waiting for the perfect e-book app to be released, you know the one that you look at, read, say “wow, now that’s a great book AND great technology.”   Maybe I’m wrong in my expectations but surely, I can’t be the only one on the hunt.  Perhaps I am expecting an author to have equal stake in the writing and the technical presentation of their work.

Iain Pears has always been an innovative author, telling stories backwards or the same story from various points of view but, in an interview with the Guardian, he explains that, in an effort to make things easier for the reader, he chose to develop an app for Arcadia.

Readers may choose from various streams of storytelling on the main map page at the beginning of the app. There are 10 storytellers and you may follow one stream or read the story from various viewpoints or read to a point and return to the intersection of stories and catch up with other storytellers.


It’s a great deal of work for a story that didn’t immediately capture my attention.  Was I interested in reading another storyteller’s episode of the story? Not so much.  Aside from the initial subway-inspired mapping of the story, the rest is black print on white background, no graphics, no pictures, no interaction.   Much like other e-books, after the decision is made about which part of the story to read, the app continues in a very conventional e-book, or even book format.

And here it is – the one thing in an e-book app that will certainly garner a negative review, the reader must pay, while deep into the story, $5.49Cdn to continue.  What?  In that most awful of inventions, this e-book has subscribed to the “in-app purchase” debacle.  The initial download of the app for iPhone or iPad (not Android) is free.

Even with what seems, for me, an unsatisfactory outcome, Arcadia did garner many good reviews and comments on its innovation.  These are reviewers who have more patience than I do and a deeper reading commitment.  The target audience is adult and it may be attractive to an advanced high school reader. A hard copy of the book is also available.


And so, my research continues, for an e-book app that could be used in a high school classroom, which has content that is riveting, graphics that hook the reader in and some interaction that keeps the reader onboard.  Pears admits that this e-book took four and half years of development, three publishers, two designers, and four sets of coders.  Perhaps my expectations are too high.