DragonBox Math Apps: Teaching students to think like mathematicians

What it is: I adore the DragonBox math apps! I was first introduced to DragonBox through their Algebra app. The app takes away all math anxiety by teaching algebraic concepts without numbers or algorithms. It is genius! You can read my review of that app here. DragonBox Numbers is for kids who are new to numbers, counting, addition, and subtraction. DragonBox BIG Numbers is the next level app of Dragon Box Numbers. As they play, children learn about how big numbers work, and how to perform long addition and subtraction. In DragonBox Elements, students will secretly learn geometry. By playing 100+ puzzles, kids will gain a deep understanding of the logic of geometry. As they play, students will actually be recreating the mathematical proofs that define geometry. What I love about the DragonBox suite of math games is that they are unlike any other math apps. You won’t find mindless repetitions and quizzes of math facts, instead, these games help teach students how to think like mathematicians. This is learning math through exploration.

How to integrate Dragon Box math apps into your classroom: The DragonBox math apps take advantage of a student’s innate curiosity through play and exploration of math concepts. Each game engages students through exploration, reflection, and application.Â  If you have a 1:1 iPad classroom, use these apps daily! Students can play a game, and then come together as a class to reflect and write down the rules they have learned in that “chapter.” Then, take an equation from the game and solve it on paper. See if students can connect the cards and rules of the game to the equations on paper. Solve the equations using strategies and rules from the game.

In a one or two device classroom, play DragonBox as a class by connecting your device to a projector. Explore the rules together and let students take turns being in charge of a chapter. Review rules and make connections as a class. Set up DragonBox as a math center that students can visit in a rotation where one center is interacting with the game, the next is an opportunity to record rules learned and reflect, and the last is application of the rules to an equation.

Be sure to check out the DragonBox for educators where you can download teachers guides and printable resources for each game in the DragonBox math suite. You’ll also find a great “rules” guide for the algebra and geometry games.

These are seriously my favorite math apps of all time! They encourage kids who can think and apply like mathematicians rather than kids who simply memorize a formula. DragonBox creates a deep understanding of mathematical concepts and number relationships.

Tips: While the DragonBox suite of math apps aren’t free, you can purchase them at a deep discount for educational institutions and bulk purchases. Teachers, you can get access for free to make sure that the apps are right before committing to a purchase for your students. You can also purchase apps in bundles.

Photomath: Scan math problems for immediate step-by-step instructions

What it is: Photomath is an app available on the App Store and Google Play. With Photomath, students can scan a math problem and learn how to solve it with step by step instructions and an answer. The app includes a photo calculator (take a photo of a math problem, it gets solved in an instant), handwriting recognition, step-by-step instructions, and a smart calculator. For added features, Photomath+ includes complete step-by-step instructions, colorful explanations of the math, and extra math knowledge.

How to integrate Photomath into the classroom: On the surface, the Photomath app might look like the ultimate way for students to “cheat” their learning. After all, they can snap a picture of any math problem, get step-by-step “show your work” instructions, and the answer in an instant. When I look at Photomath, I see each device with the app as another teacher in the classroom. When students get stuck, or need to check their work/understanding, not only do they have access to the answer, but also to the process. They can see exactly where a mistake has been made, and even get an explanation about why the process is what it is. It also changes the math class from being procedures-based, and empowers teachers and students to engage math from a problem-based, practical aspect. Since students have help with the procedure of how to solve a problem, they can engage math as a mathematician, identifying the problem that needs to be solved, using number sense to understand the problem, and with Photomath ensuring that the procedure they apply has been solved correctly. It definitely could change the goal of your math class, rather than just finding the answer, assignments may become more practical application in nature.

Consider using Photomath as a check-in station where students can go through their own work and identify where they may need support. The app offers immediate step-by-step guidance, when students don’t understand the guidance, you know instantly that more teaching is needed.

Tips: If your school has homework, this would be a great app to recommend to parents! When they get stumped, the app can be a sanity saver.

Aurasma: Create Augmented Reality Experiences in Under 2 Min.

What it is: Aurasma is an app (also a website) that allows learners to quickly create augmented reality experiences for others. Augmented reality is the mix of technology and the real world. Probably the most popular or, at least the most commonly used, augmented reality is the use of Snapchat filters. Funny faces and masks are overlaid on top of the real world (i.e. whatever you are taking a picture of). Aurasma makes it simple to quickly create these types of experiences for others. Learners start by uploading, or taking, a “Trigger” photo. This photo is what the Aurasma app will look for to trigger the event that has been layered on top of the photo. Next, learners add overlay images. These are the images that will popup when the Trigger Photo is within the camera viewfinder. It might sound cumbersome, but it really isn’t! It is like having QR codes embedded right in any environment…without the QR code!

How to integrate Aurasma into the classroom: Because learners can create augmented reality experiences for any environment, the possibilities are seriously endless. Below are a few ways I can see our teachers and learners using Aurasma:

• A few years ago, our students explored How the World Works through the PBS series, and book, How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson. As a result of their learning, the students decided to build a Domino Museum (you can read about that here). At the time, they put QR codes all around their museum. Some QR codes explained how the museum worked, and others expanded on the information that was presented on each domino. Aurasma could take an experience like this to the next level by allowing students to embed information and instructions all around the museum. As people walked through their Domino Museum with the Aurasma app opened up, additional information would have automatically populated based on where they placed Triggers.
• Anastasis students are SUPER creative in presenting their learning at the end of an inquiry block. During the last block, one of our students explored the history of dance. In one of our learning spaces she created a time machine that students could get into. Then she themed other learning spaces for each time period. With Aurasma, she could have had the students actually see the dancers/costumes/etc. of each time period as if they were really in the room, using the room as a trigger.
• In a foreign language class, students could use objects/items in the room as triggers for vocabulary overlays. As students look through their iPhone/iPad/Android’s camera in the Aurasma app, all of that vocabulary would pop up as others explored the room.
• Our students go on a field trip on average once a week. They explore all kinds of incredible places for learning in context. Often, another class might end up at the same location later in the month or even in another year. As students visit somewhere new, they can overlay their learning on a place. When other classes, or another year’s students visit, they can see the learning that took place when others visited. (How cool would it be to get a network of schools doing this so that we could all learn together!)
• We have a strong social justice component at Anastasis. Last year, our Jr. High kids spent time at Network Coffee House. During their time there, they spent a day in the life of a homeless person. They held cardboard signs on street corners and panhandled, they met other homeless, and got a tour of where these people sleep, get warm, etc. Afterward they had incredible reflections about their experience. It would have been a neat exercise to have them end the day by taking pictures of landmarks at the various stops around their tour as Triggers. When they got back to school, they could have created an augmented reality reflection tour for others.
• In art class, students could take a photo of their creation and then overlay an explanation about how they created their art, their inspiration, etc. During a school art show, those in attendance would get to experience the heart behind each piece.
• In social studies, students could snap a photo of a place on the map, and then overlay their learning on top. As others explored the map with the Aurasma app, all of that information would populate as they explored the map.
• Learners could take a photo of the cover of a book (or book spine) that they just read. They can overlay the trigger image with their review of the book. As students are searching the library through the Aurasma app, they will see the reviews that other students have left behind.
• Teachers can use Aurasma to embed instructions or norms around their classrooms. I’m imagining this being useful for special equipment use in a maker space or science lab. This would also be a great way to embed instructions when you have different learning happening in the classroom in a center like environment. Multiply your reach by layering the instructions or a demonstration of each center at its location in the classroom.
• Teachers could also use Aurasma to amplify the usefulness of posters or bulletin boards around the classroom. Snap a photo of either as your trigger and then layer additional helpful information over top.
• It could be fun to “hide” a writing prompt or brain teaser in your classroom each day. Just snap a photo of something in the classroom so that when students look through their camera with Aurasma, the overlay pops up with instructions.
• This would also be a fun way to lead students through problem solving of a mystery where they are discovering clues and following directions. At the beginning of the year, you could create a tour of the school or scavenger hunt around the school to help students get acclimated to their new surroundings.
• Sooo…the possibilities really are endless with this one!

Tips: Learners can create augmented reality experiences from the Aurasma website, but to actually view the augmented reality, an iPhone/iPad/Android device with the Aurasma app is needed.

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What it is: Adobe Spark is a collection of fantastic (free!) creative tools available online or as an app download.

• Create social graphics that are stunning and easy to share (you know the kind: flyers, memes, posters, ads). The example above took under 2min to create and share! đź™‚
• Make beautiful web stories for event recaps, newsletters, photo journals, portfolios, etc.
• Produce and share impressive videos for storytelling, projects, or to share to social media.

If you (or your students) are feeling a lack of creativity, there is even a bank of inspiration that will get you started! This is particularly helpful for your students who struggle with a place to start but are brilliant with a little nudge. Whether you begin with inspiration or not, you’ll be feeling an extra burst of creativity in no time.

How to integrate Adobe Spark in the classroom: The collection of tools in Adobe Spark are perfect for students and teachers alike. Students can use these tools to create book reviews, to document science experiments, for storytelling, to explain their inquiry process, as an eportfolio, to illustrate math concepts, and so much more! These tools will help your students take their learning and present it in a way that is both visually powerful, and easy to share.

Teachers, you can use Adobe Spark to create a weekly newsletter (SO easy to share home with parents!), create photo journals of class events or field trips, to create writing and thinking prompts to share with students, quotes, presentations, and announcements. The photo journal would be a great way to give families a glimpse into your classroom, if you’re like me, your phone is FULL of pictures at the end of each week! If you have a class social media channel on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube- Adobe Spark is about to take it to the next level of awesomeness!

I love the way that Adobe Spark has made digital storytelling that much easier to create and share. This is a site that you’ll want to bookmark for easy access, and put on all of your students devices if you have a one-to-one environment.

Tips: If you have laptops, the web version of Adobe Spark is best, otherwise download the app!

Swift Playground: Apple’s free app that teaches kids to code!

What it is: Swift Playground is an awesome new app from Apple that teaches kids how to code in Swift. This free app for iPads uses games to teach kids Apple’s coding language used to create apps. Students can drag and drop code, and easily edit the code to customize it. The code can be instantly run so students can test out their code and see if it works. Best of all, in those instances that the code they put together doesn’t work, Swift Playground has debugging tools and hints built-in to help students rectify any problems. Students can also code with Swift from scratch making the app endlessly adaptable to any skill level.

How to integrate Swift Playground into your classroom: Swift Playground requires no previous coding knowledge, making it the perfect tool for learning how to code. For those students who have experience with coding, Swift Playground is robust enough for even seasoned programmers to bring new ideas to life. Swift Playground begins with a series of challenges to help students master the basics, students use code to help characters navigate a 3D world. When the challenges have been mastered, students can build and manipulate their own code to dream up new creations. Use Swift Playground to get your students thinking logically and solving problems from new perspectives. The skills built as students learn to code are the same skills that will help students in other disciplines like math and science. I love the way Swift Playground starts out by giving students a fun environment of challenges to learn the basics of Swift, but also allows them the flexibility of drag and drop code, and allowing students to edit and write their own code. Swift Playground even features a special keyboard that includes the most common coding characters so that students don’t have to hunt through keyboards to find what they are looking for. As students advance in their skills, they can use code templates that allow customization with code. Beyond what most learning platforms allow, students will be able to adjust multi-touch interactions, the accelerometer, and the gyroscope. These features and abilities are such an awesome tie-in to conversations about complex math and physics! When students are finished with their creation, they can share it with others using Messages, Mail, or Airdrop. Students can even post videos of their creation for others to see! For those who are really soaring, Swift Playground code can be exported to Xcode (where the pros create apps).

Many classrooms don’t yet have time built into the day that is dedicated to coding. But perhaps once a week you use coding in math class as applied math, or use Swift Playground as part of a 20% time offering in your classroom. If those are unavailable, consider participating in Hour of Code.Â  Play with Swift Playground yourself and you’ll start recognizing tie-ins with other learning that your students are doing. When your students are proficient with coding in Swift Playground, they can start creating and reflecting on learning with the code they know.Â  Swift Playground is a fantastic resource to have available as part of your Maker Space! Maybe they create a new game to help them remember vocabulary, or math facts. Perhaps they build a world based on a historical event. Once those basics are mastered the application possibilities are endless!

Tips: Everyone can code! This isn’t a skill that only a few should possess. Even the youngest students can use Swift Playground, I’m talking kindergarten can use this app! If you are new to the concept of code, check out this crash course from Apple.

Woot Math: Adaptive learning for fractions and decimals

What it is: Woot Math uses adaptive technology to personalize the math learning experience in new ways for 3rd-6th grade students. With a focus on fractions and decimals, Woot Math allows students many inroads to understanding. Flexible implementation options mean that Woot Math can be used in any classroom configuration whether it be 1:1 devices, shared devices, whole-class, or as intervention. The Woot Math system works on the web, iPads, or Chromebooks seamlessly…it truly is a great option for any classroom! It is super user-friendly, and gives teachers the ability to customize for each student in the class as a starting point. Woot Math is adaptive, as students use it, it gets “smart” and creates learning pathways based on the specific needs of the student. Beginning with foundational rational math concepts, Woot Math makes these necessary foundational skills accessible for all students. It is like having a personal tutor sitting beside them as they work through new learning. If a student doesn’t understand a problem, the program adapts to approach the learning in a new way. The illustration of concepts is brilliant! Woot Math gives students a solid understanding of fractions, laying the necessary ground work for algebra, geometry, physics, chemistry, and statistics. Sign up TODAY, Woot Math is totally free for the 2015-2016 school year!

Hat Tip to @yourkidsteacher for sharing this awesome resource with me!

Flash & Thunder- Part graphic novel, part game, all fun and learning

What it is: INVICTA Challenge combines technology (in the form of an action-packed video game), a graphic novel, maps, an operation packet and an action figure that inspires kids to read and problem solve. Each INVICTA Challenge collection builds problem solving and leadership skills for students 8-14. Part story, part game, students are placed in historical situations where they get to make the decisions that will determine success or failure. The first challenge, Flash & Thunder lets students walk in the shoes of an American Hero.

How to Integrate INVICTA Challenge in your classroom: These challenges are a fun and new way to foster literacy, history, and leadership skills in your classrooms. Stories are highly visual and have enough action and adventure to keep even your reluctant readers engaged. The game component of the challenge almost takes on a choose your own adventure feel as it pairs with the graphic novel, maps, and missions. The first challenge, Flash & Thunder tells the true story of a Native American paratrooper’s D-Day leadership. The way that this combination puts students in the middle of the story is fantastic. Students aren’t passive readers…it is impossible! With Flash and Thunder, students are in the middle of the action, analyzing options, making decisions, evaluating the decisions and building comprehension and understanding of history all the way.

The INVICTA challenge is like a smart recombination of the things I enjoyed most from my own childhood: American Girl dolls/Books, Oregon Trail…only with a major upgrade.

At Anastasis, we’ve been working on an inquiry unit about change makers and the power of one. The INVICTA challenge has been a fantastic launching off point for students as they consider what it means to be a change maker, and what characteristics make up a change maker. This interactive challenge/book/game put students in the middle of thinking like a change maker, building leadership traits like integrity, nobility, valor, initiative, curiosity, tenacity, and accountability.

This challenge would be an excellent addition to your classroom library. You might want a few copies so that students can read together and work through the game and missions together in a book group. The video game component will be available on iOS, Android, and online here. Take a look!

Tips: The INVICTA Challenges can be purchased at Barnes and Noble for \$34.99. For all that is included in this kit, it is truly a great value! I’m so excited for the other challenges to come out, some very exciting stories and characters are on their way!

Full disclosure: INVICTA sent me the Flash and Thunder challenge so that I could review it for you all here. But…

You can win your own Flash and Thunder challenge at the 5Sigma Education Conference in February! If you register for the conference today, you can save 20% using the code: CYBERMONDAY at check out. Not only will you get the opportunity to win one of these great challenge kits for your classroom, you also get a conference experience like no other!

Seesaw: The ultimate ePortfolio for every classroom!

What it is: Seesaw is the first truly student centered/driven digital portfolio tool that I’ve seen. What makes Seesaw such an awesome option as a digital portfolio is the way that it empowers kids to build and keep a digital portfolio totally independently with features like QR code login for young students. Students can log their learning using photos, videos, drawings, text, PDFs, and links. Seesaw also has direct import features from lots of popular apps. From the teacher perspective, Seesaw makes it simple to access student work immediately from their own device. Content is easily searchable by student and makes it simple to review student progress over time and keep track of growth. In addition to browsing by student, teachers can use folders to organize work by subject area or project. There is also an awesome flag feature that makes it easy to highlight work that you want to go back to for conferences or follow-up with the student. The built in audio recording and drawing tools mean that students can reflect on what they’ve learned or explain how they reached an answer. Parents are also able to login to see work and give feedback on it (you as the teacher can control who sees what and what feedback can be given. Teachers can approve peer feedback before it is seen by students or parents.

How to integrate Seesaw into the classroom: We’ve long used Evernote as our eportfolio of choice, because it was a simple (enough) entry point and gave students enough flexibility to show what they were working on. With each new release of features, Seesaw is quickly winning me over. This is an app that was clearly created with students and teachers in mind. It has incredible flexibility while equipping with just the right tools and features to make it extra valuable in a school setting. I love the options for feedback that teachers can give, and that all stakeholders are able to login and see what kids are working on. The way that Seesaw enables teachers to give quick feedback to students is incredible. I am also impressed with the integrated audio and drawing features that allow students (even young students) to comment and reflect on their own learning and thinking process. The metacognition implications of Seesaw are awesome!

At Anastasis, even non-digital native assignments get captured in our eportfolio through the camera or video. This means that work “travels” with students from year to year. Future teachers can go back through their progress, but students also have this incredible “bread crumb trail” of learning that they can go back through. It is always fun for us to hear students exclaim over the difference in their writing from day one to day 100. Often the learning process is so infinitesimal that students (and sometimes parents) have a hard time seeing the growth. An eportfolio is a great way to capture all learning so that those baby steps can be seen over time. This has been encouraging for our struggling students especially.

Seesaw supports a variety of platforms making it super simple to use in any classroom environment and particularly in a BYOD setting. Supported platforms include iOS devices, Android devices, Chromebooks, and any computer with a Chrome web browser.

Best of all: Seesaw is FREE!!! If you want to store and organize a child’s portfolio beyond the current year, a Plus account can be purchased by parents for \$9.99/year OR a school account.

Monster Math: Build Mental Math Skills and Fact Fluency

******Update July 25, 2016: Monster Math Now available on Android! Check it out here!*******

What it is: Monster Math is an app that helps build kids mental math skills through a fun game. When students begin their journey in Monster Math, they are introduced to monster Maxx who is working to save his friend Dextra. What makes Monster Math different from most math practice apps, is the narrative and journey that they go on that keeps them wanting to play. Each “level” has them working to defeat a monster with math. This sends them to the Hall of Math where they get challenged to collect candies to defeat a monster. The challenge is to collect only the candies that are equal to the target number. As they play the game, students build fluency in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Choosing the correct equations earns candies which are then used to defeat the other monsters. Additional challenge is thrown into the game throughout and soon students are not only challenged to find equations to match the target number, but also to do it before the other monster gets to it.

How to integrate Monster Math in your classroom: Monster Math is a great way for students who are building math fact fluency to practice their math facts. It is especially great for students at the 3rd-4th grade level who have learned addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division since the levels default to combine all 4. You can go in and toggle the skills that you want kids to practice. Monster Math is a fantastic alternative to flash cards for building mental math and is sure to be a favorite for kids who are working on mental math skills.

Use Monster Math as a center activity in the one or two device classroom. Students can each create their own account so that they can save their individual progress. You can go into the app and choose the skills to practice so that it is more tailored to each students needs. Building mental math and fact fluency is always important…this is one I like to keep ongoing every week regardless of what else students are working on. I’ve found the best way to build this fluency is to keep the practice regular.

Monster Math is a great app for students with individual devices. This allows them to track their own progress at home or school. Monster Math is a great app to recommend to parents who are looking for alternatives to flash card practice. Monster Math definitely takes the battle out of math practice because the storyline keeps it feeling fresh and challenging.

Teachers get reporting on where students are doing well, what skills they are struggling with, and what skills haven’t been started yet.

Tips: Monster Math is available for the iPhone and iPad. There is a free version and a \$2.99 paid version of the app.

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123D Design: The simplest (FREE) way to get ideas into 3D

What it is: 123D Design is a free superÂ powerful, but simple to use, 3D creation and editing tool. As if that wasn’t great enough, it also supports many new 3D printers! The 3D creation tool is available for PC, Mac, and iPad download ensuring that no matter what devices you have at your disposal, you can take advantage of this awesome tool. The 123D app is incredibly intuitive, within just a few minutes, you can be creating like a pro (really!). Not feeling like a pro? There is also a quick start guide and a library of video tutorials that will explain how the different tools within theÂ app work. The app has lots of 3D designs to start with that can be altered, but it also gives students complete creative license to create all on their own. So cool!

How to integrate 123DÂ DesignÂ into your classroom: 123D Design is a fantastic tool that brings the principlesÂ of geometry to life while giving students an outlet for creative design and invention. The app is easy enough to use that even young primary students can use it successfully to create.

I introduced this app to some of our students who have been learning the basics about coordinate planes. They quickly were able to identify the coordinate planes and were able to understand x, y, and z! This is the type of creation tool that helps students understand the application possibilities of the math they are learning (math in context, what a novel idea!)

At Anastasis, we’ve been playing with the iPad version of 123D Design. In the app version, students begin by choosing a basic shape and then can edit it to be exactly what they want it to be. They can easily connect shapes to make really detailed creations. Example projects help them to play with the tools in the app until they understand and can start from scratch on their own. When students are finished, they save it to “My Projects” which is accessible in the 123D Design web and desktop app. If you are lucky enough to have access to a 3D printer, the kids can even print out their creations!

This is a great addition to any maker space/prototype lab/design thinking routine. Don’t have any of that fanciness at your school? No problem! Adding this app to your classroom gives students an outlet to do some design thinking and work through ideas and inventions right in your classroom. Instant prototype lab!

Our students often engage in design thinking as they engage inquiry. Right now one of our 4th grade students is inquiring into how much water is wasted in our daily activities. One area of waste is when we brush our teeth. This student is designing and creating a toothbrush with the water built-in so that the faucet doesn’t have to be turned on to wet the toothbrush. She’s been experimenting to find out how much waste there is in this activity in our prototype lab. Next, she’ll begin to bring her designs to life with 123D Design and we’re hopeful that she’ll be able to print out a prototype on our Printrbot (still experimenting with how to do that!).

Tips: Sign up to become a member of Autodesk 123D. This gives you access to 3D models, tutorials, 10 free premium models each month, ability to send the 3D model directly to your own 3D printer (or if you don’t have one, to a printing service), unlimited cloud storage of your student designs, and access to the Autodesk forums.