App of the Week – First Nations Language

Before I review two apps this week, I have to admit that language is essential to my existence.  I love to read and, coworkers would concur, I love to talk.  Language and communication is my currency.  When I hear that grandparents in First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities are struggling to pass their language and traditions to younger generations, I have great empathy for them.  The traditions and especially language is unique and crucial to identity.  Passing on language and oral traditions surrounds youth with a foundation on which they can build their lives.  They know from where they came and can plan better where they are going.


First Voices

Cost: Free

Released: June 18, 2012

Social Media and Social Networking

Size: 2.4 MB

Seller: First People’s Heritage Language and Culture Challenge

This app is a very simple but great idea for many dialects from First Nations language.  Individual communities within various regions are searchable.  Once you find the language you are looking for, you are provided with a provisional keyboard to communicate on social media sites using the language.  Combining the appeal of social media with the traditional language is a brilliant marriage for young and old.  Since putting out the initial list of translation keyboards more have been added.  Check the First Voices website for additional options.


Ninastako Cultural Centre

Cost: $6.99

Version: 1.3

Size: 53.5MB

Released: March 10, 2016

Seller: Gloria Wells

On a more local level, the Ninastako Cultural Centre app allows non-speakers to learn some conversational Blackfoot.  After learning a few greetings or other categories of the Blackfoot language and users are up for a challenge they can access a few games to practice their new language.  A listing of Blackfoot surnames is another category of interest.

The Calendar entry from the main menu also allows students and members of the Blackfoot community in Southern Alberta to access information about upcoming events and classes.

In both cases, these apps speak to learning and continuing to use First Nations’ languages.  These languages are essential to these communities and bringing them to social media, smartphones and tablets may be the best way to connect with younger learners.

Give them a try or introduce them to First Nations’ students in your classroom.


The Maker Movement – Not only kits…

What if I told you the Maker Movement in classrooms is not just about the ingenious kits that you can purchase to introduce to students?  It is not only about the unique prototyping and creativity that comes from students.

What if I told you the making is about great citizenship?  What?  Not about the kits?  “Surely you jest!”  In a K-12 classroom there are learning opportunities that change from day to day (or in some classrooms stay the same from day to day) but in a maker class set up to appeal to K-12 students something else happens.

In an elementary maker classroom, students are gaining foundation skills other than how to complete a circuit or video and edit an iMovie.  Students are learning to co-operate, collaborate, take turns and negotiate with fellow classmates and other mentors in the room.  They are learning, sometimes most importantly, to listen carefully to someone else in order to solve a problem. They are learning to effectively communicate their own ideas to their peers and facilitators.  Some are learning to slow down and enjoy the process and others are learning how to observe, learn and apply their learning to new situations.

In middle school, challenges are beginning to show leaders in various fields and peer groups are, sometimes, the most important people in a student’s life.  In a maker classroom, we see new experts coming forth, peers learning to respect others and unusual groupings getting together to solve challenges.  Engagement in a middle school classroom looks like elementary in the noisy, active way but with more technology based solutions coming forth.

In high school, more sophisticated ideas are emerging in classroom maker spaces.  Students are using and learning foundation skills to solve authentic problems that they have invested time and energy in.  Engagement and investment from students comes from their brainstorming of solutions that address current problems they are aware of in the world at large.  Groups are formed with the solution in mind and students are focused on collaborating with a group that can further their goals.

Gaining these skills throughout each student’s experience in the K-12 classroom prepares them for life after their formal education.  Workplaces and post-secondary institutions value these “soft skills” that are acquired in classrooms that are innovative, student-centred and contain “making” as a focus of curriculum learning.

Start including hands-on making with the available materials in your classroom and see the evolution of a more caring, respectful classroom.

Also, one more practical tip, check out this link to an interview of Gary Stager of Invent to Learn given by the ATA.  He discusses all the most practical reasons why a Maker Space in your classroom makes sense.

Following Ed Tech

If you have been embedding educational technologies into your classroom over the last year or so, you may have noticed that the most current ways to find out about new innovations is by reading various blogs.  The technology teaching and learning is moving so fast that it hardly has time to be written up let alone published.

The outcome is not carefully controlled research by a team of experts but instead it features easy ways to integrate educational technologies into your classroom.  Experts who blog are those classroom teachers that find a few minutes in their day to contribute through social media to the moving target of technology integration.

I am going to recommend two different types of blogs that are helpful in getting a handle on new ideas to feature in your teaching and learning.

Firstly, I would like to recommend EdTechTeacher.  This blog features 17 teachers in various positions in schools who voice what works for them and how to do it.  Having a variety of voices keeps this blog fresh and current and allows you to zero in on those technologies that are unique to your school.  This site also has some free resources including webinars for a busy teacher to watch in order to add something new or use some technology that is currently underused in your classroom.

Secondly, I will recommend FreeTech4Teachers.  This extensive and detailed blog has only one author, Richard Byrne (who I suspect is passionate about educational technologies).  He sometimes updates his blog several times a day – yes you read that right, several times a day!  In pretty short order he gives a tip or trick or website or app or way to use technology in a way that has you saying, “Of course, that will work in my ….class.”

Following a couple of blogs makes it easy to learn new technologies and to apply current technologies in different ways.  These are two examples of great blogs to follow.  Keep in mind Ed Tech Magazine had 50 top blogs on their 2016 honour roll.


Kids are Kids!

Just a quick update since I am in Alberta and there has been an enormous natural disaster and, like all Albertans, we all feel the need to give back when something goes terribly wrong.

The people in the know here at the University saw the potential to provide some services for the evacuees that are being housed here.  First we offered books for kids since our library is aimed at undergraduate teachers.  Those were greatly appreciated.

The one thing most of the kids need, though, is some time with someone else, doing something else.  When we were invited to offer story time in an area where the kids would IMG_0924[1]

be finishing breakfast we could not refuse. And the first day we took puppets! Did we read stories? Sort of.  Did we have a ton of fun? Yup.  The second day, we actually did read stories.  Elephant and Piggie became interactive, active and thoroughly enjoyable.

So, sometimes you just need time and low tech solutions to some very terrible events.  Kids are kids, whether they are from Fort MacMurray or anywhere else.  And they love a great story!

Quick Note about Mix on Pix


Our favourite person who comments on this blog, Francois Robert  has agreed to make the Mix on Pix app available for free for a little while longer for you students or teachers who would like to get it on the iPads in your school.  Again, it is a great way to have students capture the process of their learning and to comment on it.  Or for you to comment on it for them.  A fun and useful app.

You Better Get Used to It!

Classrooms can no longer be technology-free zones.  Students are immersed in technology. It probably wakes them up in the morning and is the last thing they check before they go to bed.

Embedding technology into your classroom gives teachers and students opportunities that they would never have imagined.  Having tablets, phones and other technology as classroom constants opens doors to many learning options we simply didn’t have even five years ago.

Students learn by doing and not always by listening. Having technology that they are familiar with in your classroom allows them to experiment with gathering knowledge and using it.  Using phones and tablets, laptops and apps, leads to some deeper learning given the right learning and teaching environment.

Teachers are in the most privileged position to model and monitor proper digital etiquette.  Making sure students understand what their own digital footprint looks like is a pivotal skill to acquire in today’s learning environment.

Creating projects that embrace the current technology acknowledges the easy access to information that students have and challenges teachers to guide them to deeper learning experiences.  Taking and curating information is a lifelong skill and added to the ability to use that information to create new learning is essential to every student.

Digital literacy is as important as the other literacies in a classroom.  It is relevant, present and changing but essential to include in today’s classroom.

So…you better get used to it!


App of the Week – Update Mix on Pix


Cost: Free until May 8, 2016

Updated: April 27, 2016

Version: 1.0.1

Size: 35.5 MB

In-app Purchases

On the advice of Francois Robert (see the comments from yesterday’s blog), who kindly suggested the Mix on Pix app by Pixtolab, I will review it as an upgrade or more versatile app than A+Signature.

I did really like the simplicity of A+Signature but many digital natives would like more fonts, more borders and more variety in typography.

And Mix on Pix is free until Mother’s Day, just like A+Signature.  And you know how I love a free app.

Mix on Pix certainly gives you more choices in the amount and way you add more information to your photos, especially attractive in the middle and high school environments where students are immersed in social media.  “Mix texts, quotes, artwork, handwritings, drawings and much more.” Again, as a teacher, you have a great opportunity to show various uses for photography as part of the learning process, images as metaphors, and how to have a respectful digital footprint.

The second screen as you enter the app shows you possibilities including video tutorials and a FAQs in the “How to” screen.  I very much like the video tutorials for visual learners because it shows ways to create embellished images that give you more than just a simple overall listing of words.  The first video visually captures many possibilities.

As I have been maintaining from the beginning of this blog, embracing the technology that the students are using will reward you with engagement and great opportunities to meet them where they are comfortable.

Use A+Signature or Mix on Pix depending on the age and digital knowledge of your students and enjoy the outcomes.  These images remain a great way to capture student progress in any unit.

And thank you, Francois Robert for your comments and further information.

App of the Week – A+ Signature App


Cost: $2.29 but free from May 4 – May 8, 2016 (AppsGoneFree)

Version: 4.3, updated April 19, 2016

Size: 8.3 MB

A+ Signature – The Photo Annotation App is a time sensitive app if you don’t want to pay the $2.29 Cdn.  Getting an app for free is just icing on the cake to me.

This app is a “photo annotation app” that has many educational applications.  It is very easy to use and there is a very short video to show you the icons.

Taking a photo of the process of any student’s learning is a valuable way to capture information for formative assessment.  Adding words to the photo gives a teacher more information and a student more latitude to demonstrate a deeper understanding.

In the elementary classroom, taking photos of math problems with manipulatives and adding the number sentence or the student’s understanding of the problem would be a great use of the app.

In middle school, having students photograph images to demonstrate their metaphorical understanding of readings, poems or prose, would be an interesting use of this app.

And in a high school, having students look at authentic physics problems by photographing them or finding representations on the web is a great way to start conversations about how physics figures in their own environment.

This app has its limitations but it also has possibilities for any educator to introduce fun, conversation provoking images into any classroom.  And it is a very easy app to learn and teach.  Students would quickly pick it up and, perhaps, use it in other settings.

And, if you know me, you know that I will also say it is a great way to model responsible and respectful digital citizenship and that is a lesson that fits in the K-12 classroom everyday.





Technology and People in Schools

Recent articles like IoT making kids and schools smarter and Top 4 Reasons Technology-Based Learning Implements FAIL are interesting for what say and more because of what they fail to say.

Recent experience at workshops and in schools shows (anecdotal results only) that, in my opinion, the number one predictor of successful educational technology adoption in schools is teacher buy-in.

The pre-service teachers I work with are digital natives and the inclusion of technology in their classrooms is a certainty.  In fact, there would be no question about adopting technology in areas that its use would make their instruction more straight forward.

Teachers already in classrooms and who have been there for sometime are a harder sell.  Their classrooms already work without technology and embedding it into the existing curriculum is viewed as an add-on.  I would go so far as to say that technology may sometimes be seen as a nuisance and a time waster.


In these cases, the onus is on the administrators in each school to ensure that adequate training has been provided to teachers as part of Professional Development.  Not just training but enough time for staff to feel comfortable with the educational technology that they are expected to include in their classrooms.

To include new technologies, schools must become professional learning communities, depending on digital natives or teachers with more technical experience to mentor those with misgivings and less experience.

The two articles that I listed in the first paragraph assume that all teachers are on board for including newer educational technologies in their classroom.  In my opinion, the single most important consideration when introducing new educational technologies into a school is the training and relative technical comfort of the classroom teachers. The Internet of Things or one-to-one iPads do not make students or schools smarter but how the purchased technology is embedded in the classroom by experienced teachers makes a huge difference.