What’s on my iPad: featuring classroom teacher Annie Orsini

Annie Orsini, 2nd grade teacher at Westridge Elementary, assisting a student with reading.

What are your top 3 apps that used in your classroom?

Book Creator
Book Creator is a composition app.  My students use this app to publish their writing.  It is easy to add photos they’ve taken or images from Safari.  When students are done, we can quickly publish books to our iBooks app.  Students enjoy having an authentic audience for their writing and reading what their classmates have written.  I have noticed a snowball effect – students are inspired by their peers to try different things in their own writing.

This app is typically used by individual students or partnerships.  I have primarily used this app with students to publish writing pieces from small group instruction.  After using it with several small groups, I also opened it up for students to publish other writing.  Previously, I noticed that only a handful of students were choosing to write independently during our reading block.  Once Book Creator became a choice, the number of students choosing to write during this time increased dramatically.   Students benefit from the additional writing practice, and they are highly motivated by the choice and options for publishing on Book Creator.


Motion Math: Hungry Fish
Motion Math: Hungry Fish provides additional practice with addition (free) and subtraction (in-app purchase) to help build automatic recall.  (There are also in-app purchases available for negative integers.)  Students touch two numbers together and they instantly add.  The goal is to make a target number.  I like how it encourages students to find different ways to make a number.  The app has several levels of difficulty.

Students use this app during math small group rotations.  Students are usually given several apps that focus on needed skill practice or enrichment.  I have used Hungry Fish with several groups to work on automatic recall of basic facts.  It is a very popular!


National Geographic Explorer app
I just discovered the National Geographic Explorer app.  This is a reading/viewing app.  The National Geographic student magazines can be downloaded for free.  I downloaded the Young Explorer (K-1) and Pioneer (2-3) editions to meet the needs of my readers.  Students can read the student magazine, and related videos are embedded with the written content.  The photographs and text features are fantastic!

I am using the National Geographic Explorer app to practice nonfiction reading skills.  I also want students to experience reading “on a screen.”  Students read the magazine as a choice for independent learning during our reading block.  I have created a note in the Notes app for students to write a brief response to their reading (e.g. I learned that…, What I want to remember most is…, etc.).  Students are familiar with this type of response, since we use it to respond to nonfiction reading from the website Wonderopolis.


If we asked the students in your class – what would they say are their top 3 favorite apps they use in your classroom?

1. Slice It!

2. Ninja Time

3. Bluster

**My students wanted to add that some of their favorite “free choice” apps are Where’s My Water, Save the Pencil, and Photo Booth.**

How many iPads do you have in your classroom?
I currently have three iPads in my classroom.  I received them through the district’s iPad program, along with 15 hours of training.

You have more kids in your classroom than you have iPads, how do you possibly make that work?
I use the iPads in small groups.  Sometimes I use an app with a group of students to work on a given skill or strategy.  For instance, a small group of students was struggling with partial sums.  Each student created their video using the ScreenChomp app that explained the partial sums algorithm.  The iPads are also one of four choices that students may use for independent learning during our reading block.  In addition, the iPads are used by individual students or pairs during our math time.  During our fractions unit, I created a folder of fraction apps.  During other units, I have created three folders for different groups of students.  Each folder contains apps that provide additional practice or enrichment, depending on students’ needs.  Students may choose from any of the apps in their assigned folder.

What advice would you give to other teachers about managing the iPads in your classroom?  
I would encourage teachers to spend some time developing a management system that works for their classroom.  I tried a few different approaches last fall and winter, and I’ve found something that works well for me.  The first screen houses the apps that students may access at that time.  At the top of the screen, students can find the folders for math.  On the “shelf” at the bottom, I put the apps that students may use during our reading block.  The second screen contains tons of folders.  I’ve organized apps into different categories, such as Books, Word Work, Sight Words, Social Studies, Fact Practice, Recess, etc.  Students generally don’t access this screen, except when they have free choice time.  By organizing apps into folders, I can quickly change out apps depending on our goals for that week.  Page three is off limits to the students and so far they’ve been good about leaving the productivity apps and utilities alone.  We established expectations for using the iPads together as a class early on…and following the rules is better than losing iPad privileges!

How much money have you spent on apps so far?  Do you find that this takes a lot of time?  Any tips/suggestions on where you search for apps?   What different resources/funding have you found for purchasing apps?
My principal provided me with a $10 iTunes gift card.  I added iTunes gift cards to the Wish List on my classroom blog.  (I also posted a list of apps we were currently using in the classroom, which parents have greatly appreciated it.)  I had three families donate a total of $35 in iTunes cards.  At the beginning, I spent a lot of time in the App Store.  Now that the novelty factor has worn off, I have become much more selective about the apps that I choose.  If I think an app is beneficial to my students, I try to buy the full version whenever possible.  Because of the age of my students, I try to avoid apps with lots of advertisements.  The best recommendations seem to come from other teachers and my students.  I have also found several apps by following other teachers on Twitter (#elemipad) and from reading blogs written by teachers and librarians.

What has been some of the challenges with iPads…. are there features you wish you had? what problems along the way?
The challenges have been minimal.  I wish it was possible to put an app in more than one folder.  Since our iPads are almost exclusively used in small groups, it would be helpful to organize folders for small groups without this limitation.

What’s the best example you can provide for how the iPad is making a difference in your classroom?
The iPads are a wonderful tool for small group rotations.  They have enhanced the differentiation in my classroom and helped me to better meet the needs of each learner.  I’ve received very positive feedback from students and parents.  Many parents have downloaded the same game apps we are using in class.  They report that their children are eager to play a given game to practice their math facts or build their vocabulary.  One parent shared that her daughter reads Wonderopolis (a website bookmarked on our iPads for easy access) almost daily.  The level of student engagement is fantastic!

Is there anything with iPad that you haven’t done yet or haven’t figured out.. or that it can’t do yet… 
I am currently pondering the use of QR Codes.  I figured out how to create and read QR Codes.  I have some ideas floating around about how QR Codes could support the social aspects of reading through book previews and recommendations, but the management requires careful consideration.   Earlier in the year, I used QR Codes to extend thinking around the biography Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet.  Students used the codes to visit various sites, including the author’s web site, photographs of different balloons in the Macy’s Day Parade, and a video about the history of the parade.  My students were really excited about QR Codes and noticed them in all sorts of places.  I would love to learn more about how elementary teachers are using QR Codes with their students.

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