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Stay informed of the latest company news, product releases, and musings on education policy and technology by subscribing to the MyloWrites blog.

 

Filtering by Category: Trends

It's Not "Just An App"

Nancy Weinstein

MyloWrites is pleased to host this guest post written by Nancy Weinstein, founder and CEO of Mindprint Learning. Mindprint Learning is the first ever valid at-home cognitive assessment that provides accompanying plans and strategies for success. With an extensive business background and perspective as both parent and educator, Nancy's mission is to help parents navigate the world of education and technology.

I realize, it’s just an app. In most cases it’s only a few dollars, if that, and perhaps doesn’t necessarily feel worth the time investment of sifting through all those choices on the app store. Sometimes it might feel okay to let your kid pick an app they want. But in most cases, that’s simply not the right way to go.

Taking the extra few minutes to select the right app for your child can make the difference between a successful learning experience and, let’s just say, a very meaningless one. My team of teachers and I offer some simple yet important guidelines that can help ensure that your child’s device time includes both fun and learning…that will keep your child coming back, wanting to learn more.

Start by Defining Your Objectives

Simple enough but very important to be clear in what you want to achieve. Are you hoping for your child to learn something new? Reinforce or practice a skill that he or she might be struggling with? Have a new challenge in an area where he or she excels? There are thousands upon thousands of apps available. Being clear about your goal will make it easier to narrow down your choices.

Know Your Child

Never underestimate how much children will appreciate that you took into consideration their specific strengths, challenges and preferences. If you choose apps that they find boring, too easy, or too hard, children will become reluctant to try your recommendations. But when you put some extra thought into your choices from the get-go, you will earn your child’s trust to willingly try the apps you suggest. (As a mother of two middle schoolers, I am well beyond the days of telling them to “just do it” and expecting them to obediently listen.)

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At Mindprint, our teachers work very hard to spotlight the best apps available. But we also make a point to let adults know which types of learners may or may not be a good fit with a given app. There’s no one size fits all. If you’re not a Mindprint subscriber, consider reading the user reviews in the app store. You can often get a good sense for who has used the app successfully and where they have run into difficulties.

That said, even moms and dads are not mind readers. You can’t possibly predict everything your child will like or do well with. Consider giving your child a few good choices. Maybe pick three or four apps and let them choose the one or two they want to try. Giving choices will demonstrate that you understand their needs, yet respect their opinions. It also fosters their ownership of the learning process and a greater likelihood that the app will be used.

Getting Started

Try the app before your child. Letting children figure out apps on their own can be a great opportunity to develop reasoning skills. But this approach is not appropriate for all apps or all children. Some apps are simply too complicated for children to navigate on their own the first time. Some children struggle without explicit instructions. Mindprint’s reviews will tell you which apps might require your initial support. However, trying an app on your own first is always the best rule of thumb. Then you can offer your child appropriate guidance, and they are less likely to want to give up if navigating the app the first time is confusing.

Adjust settings before your child plays. Many educational apps have settings that you can adjust so the app can grow with your child. You want settings to be a “just right challenge” similar to helping your child select a “right fit” book. Adjust settings based on specific needs including the timer on/off, sound/silent, and the difficulty level. Set your children up for success the first time they play, so they will want to play again. Be careful not to make the settings so easy that the child will think the app is not sufficiently challenging. Starting with the proper settings can make all the difference in your child’s positive experience and ongoing enthusiasm.

Try the free version first. Many apps, especially expensive ones, can be sampled before buying. We recommend taking full advantage of this option. In most cases, if there is both a free and a paid version, it’s likely you will eventually want to buy the app so your child receives the app’s full benefit and avoids distracting ads.

Keep the Experience Positive

Remember that children expect apps to be fun. Many children expect apps on their  home devices to be enjoyable. Educational apps might be more work than fun, but there are plenty of apps that do a great job balancing work and play. Those tend to be the best choices for parents to supplement. Of course, there are times when more hard work is necessary. In those cases, managing your child’s expectations upfront will be key to a successful experience.

Remember, it’s just an app. While it is important to put in the effort to make your child’s experience a good one, we are fortunate to live at a time when there are many, many apps available and they are generally far less expensive than games and workbooks. If you discover that the app is no longer helping your child or providing any enjoyment, move on and find another. There are so many good options that there is no need to stay with one that no longer meets your child’s needs.

My Personal Favorite Tip

I stumbled on this approach accidentally while scouring for good apps for my teachers to evaluate for Mindprint. My personal iPad was littered with apps for my team of teachers. Of course, I also had my kids’ choices like Subway Surf and Candy Crush. To my amazement, I noticed that my kids were playing my educational apps and had, for the most part, abandoned the ones most of their friends were playing. Without any encouragement from me!

So now when my team finds great apps, I just download them on my iPad and let my kids “discover” for themselves. I don’t say a word unless they ask me for help. Among the most pleasant surprises of the apps they play the most are: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s Pocket Law Firm which taught them the Bill of Rights, Who Was? Adventure, an extension of the book series on historical figures and Mathtopia, a combination of math facts and Tetris.

So if you’re willing to share your iPad, download a bunch of interesting apps, don’t say a word, and I’m willing to bet that you, too, will be pleasantly surprised.

App Recommendations for Writers

One of the biggest challenges for student writers is the need to rely on several important cognitive skills simultaneously. Three of the most important skills involved in successful writing are working memory (the ability to mentally juggle information for multi-step tasks), verbal reasoning (inferring from limited information or making connections between multiple ideas), and vocabulary and verbal memory (recalling and accessing word-based information). A weakness in any one of those skills can make writing challenging. So if you want to help your student develop his or her writing skills, consider these winning apps that require no writing at all.

Quandary: This free role playing app helps students improve their understanding of community, governance and decision-making in a “choose your own adventure” format. Good for middle and high school students, it develops skills including, verbal reasoning, working memory, and flexible thinking. 

Mind the Gap!: This app can be challenging but excellent for building inferencing skills, while learning about interesting topics ranging from Louis Armstrong to Cinderella to DNA. The app includes over 500 famous texts. In each round, students are presented with 15 lines of text. They must figure out 30 missing words by inferring the context. Students can pick a topic they care about and develop their vocabulary, working memory, verbal reasoning and verbal memory. Great for middle schoolers to adults. 

The Opposites: One of the keys to great writing is vivid language. This word game centers around a brother and sister who face off with antonyms. As the siblings speak words, the player must tap on the correct antonym pairs before they bubble up to the ceiling. Students have the option to read the definitions and hear the words spoken aloud. The words grow increasingly challenging so it can be good for 7 year olds to adults to improve vocabulary and verbal memory. 

myHomework Student Planner: Okay, this isn’t a writing app, it’s a planner. But remembering your homework is the first step to doing it well. This is an excellent visual planner that easily enables students to input, track and color code classes and assignments. We offer the major caveat that our experts prefer written planners for students with organizational challenges. We find the physical act of writing and checking off assignments to be far more effective. We acknowledge our digital native children might disagree, so try this one. 

Kidspiration Maps: If your teacher hasn’t yet encouraged your child to use a mind map, it’s time to try it. Mind maps can be an excellent way for students to organize their ideas, particularly students who tend to prefer visual materials over words. Kidspiration Maps is one of our favorites for elementary and early middle school. There is an adult version for older students. Quite simply, it is easier to use than most alternative mind mapping tools and has cute graphics.

At Mindprint, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out the simple recipe of what makes a great app.  Unfortunately, it can’t be boiled down to a few key ingredients. That’s why we spend so much time on each app we review. However, if you decide to try to navigate the Wild West of the App Store on your own, make sure you consider these factors from your child’s perspective:

1) Is the content appropriate for me? Is it so easy that it’s boring? Or is it so hard that I don’t even want to try?

2) Is it easy-to-use and navigate to find what I need?

3) Does it look fun?

4) Does it encourage me to want to keep trying? Or does it make me feel bad when I make a mistake?

5) Can I see my progress so I want to keep improving?

If you decide you want more guidance, please visit us at Mindprint Learning. It’s easy to search for apps that meet your child’s specific needs. Or email us ([email protected]) and let us know what you’re looking for. We are always happy to help.

Beyond Measure: A Reflection on the Film

Stacy Rosenblum

Last month, MyloWrites hosted a screening of Beyond Measure, by filmmaker Vicki Abeles.  Ms. Abeles is well known for her previous film, Race To Nowhere, which documented the enormous pressure that students face from exhaustive assessments and huge homework loads.  Where Race To Nowhere illuminated all that is wrong in our educational system, Beyond Measure sets out to propose meaningful and evidence based strategies for positive change.  Beyond Measure is specifically a response to the stories of successful schools that Ms. Abeles heard as she toured the country, screening Race To Nowhere.

Beyond Measure tells the story of courageous educators and parents, the “strategically subversive heroes and heroines,” who innovate, collaborate, and take risks to move beyond the miserable standard of education in the U.S. These revolutionary educators ask new questions about student success and aren’t daunted by the patience, hard work and perseverance it takes to affect change in our country’s monolithic public education system. They challenge the assumption that progress must be quantified.  They dare to rethink the purpose of school from a place in which knowledge is transferred passively from teacher to student to a place in which individual passions are fostered. And they aren’t sitting around waiting for political and policy change - they are facing this challenge head on and changing a broken system of education, one school and district at time.   

Prominent education researchers and advisors including Sir Ken Robinson, Carol Dweck, and Jo Boaler provide the structure of evidence which supports the revolutionary ideas of student autonomy and ownership of learning. The viewer gets a look inside high schools from all different areas of the country whose leaders are committed to change. We see students who are clearly engaged, and whose enjoyment in their learning is evident in the smiles on their faces.

MyloWrites is the perfect partner for this film, and hosting a screening was an obvious choice for us. At our core, MyloWrites knows how important it is to keep students motivated and inspired to learn. Struggling and becoming defeated however, is an unfortunate, yet real byproduct of our passive and antiquated educational system. This struggling and defeatism leads to overwhelmed students who shut down, lose interest, and become unmotivated. Teaching to universal standards, and with the expectation that every child perform to preconceived levels of achievement is a tenet of our aged educational system. Instead, we should embrace the naturally diverse rates of cognitive development and celebrate this diversity. We need to hone in on students strengths to foster learning and support areas of struggle with new and innovative educational approaches that best suits individual needs. It is important that we understand that motivation and self confidence is the key to student success, as we see so clearly in Beyond Measure.

Every individual wants to be recognized and feel successful in their areas of strength. This recognition of mastery translates to motivation throughout all areas of life, even for those who may need more support to master new skills. It is our job as parents and educators to recognize and celebrate learning differences in order to ensure that we keep our children engaged, motivated and confident.

Beyond Measure is a call to action for educators and parents everywhere. Sir Ken Robinson sums it up perfectly, “change comes from the bottom up, not the top down.” Parents and educators are the agents of change, and their action is the only way that our educational system will develop into a system that is equitable and just for all students.  

Don’t wait another minute! Go see this film! Find a screening of Beyond Measure in your community here. If there isn’t a screening closeby, consider hosting one. Be an agent of change in your community!

Be sure to share your thoughts with us by commenting below or tweeting us @Mylowrites!

How the 21st Century Student Prepares for Midterm and Final Exams

Stacy Rosenblum

With the holidays quickly approaching, student musicians and performers are in frequent rehearsal for the big show, teachers are rushing to get that big project completed, and final exams are looming. It’s not simply a BUSY time, it’s a CRAZY time of the year!  

Here at MyloWrites, we’ve put together some strategies for studying which are not only effective, but also efficient methods for preparing for exams. Some of these are old school, tried and true methods (grab your flashcards!), but we also suggest some fantastic digital solutions, too (for those who tend to misplace aforementioned flashcards).  

1. Get Organized!

Do not underestimate the power of organization as an aid to memory. Final exams are all about learning and remembering a large amount of information, and in order to commit this information to memory, it must be organized. Our memory is naturally organized into schemas, or sets of information organized around a common theme. The first step in studying should be to use a system which mimics your brain’s natural organization.

Take out all of your class notes, quizzes, lists of vocabulary, maps, diagrams, homework, and other class materials. You should sort these materials according to the unit of study. If there is no obvious distinction between units, organize your work in chronological order. The act of analyzing and sorting each piece of work from the past months is a memory strategy in and of itself, and is time well spent.

2. Make a Schedule

Use Google Calendar or your favorite calendar app to plan out your study schedule. Then comes the most important part - sticking with it!

Be practical and realistic when planning your study time. You aren’t going to be able to study for 10 hours a day - no one can, or should!

First, input all of your non-negotiable commitments into the calendar, such as family events, school events, or sports practice. Next, input the dates and times of your exams. Finally, plan backwards from the date of the test to make sure you provide yourself with ample opportunities to practice the material for the exam. Plan frequent sessions to learn the material as this will be significantly more effective for your memory than a few long practice sessions.

During your study sessions, make sure you have a quiet place to focus and work. Minimize distraction as much as possible. You want your mind to be 100% focused on learning the information. A noisy environment will take away from that focus.

As important as studying is downtime. Make sure to schedule yourself some fun in these next few weeks too!

3.  Make Flashcards Work For You

One digital solution to flashcards that we love is MentalCase, an app for iOS. MentalCase is flashcards on steroids! You can enter basic information on your cards, but you can take your flashcards to the next level by embedding video, pictures, diagrams, or drawings. After you finish making your cards, they are presented in a beautiful slideshow. You can also use the app on your iPhone or iPad to study on the go.

If a digital solution isn’t your thing, good old fashioned flashcards are a great study tool. It is best to make your own flashcards, as the act of recording the information will help you to remember. Flashcards are a tried and true method. Successful students all over the world use them to memorize information - and you can use the humble index card for success as well!

4. Review is Not Enough

Reviewing your notes without ENGAGING with the material is a waste of precious time. Unless your brain is actively using the information you are trying to learn, it will not be retained in long term memory. So don’t simply read over your notes and call it studying. Engage with the material! Make lists of important vocabulary words and their definitions. Print blank diagrams or maps and practice filling them in. Write out vocabulary words and usages. Type timelines of important events. Verbally rehearse important terms. Discuss relevant points with your teacher or classmates.

5. Digital Solutions for 21st Century Students

There are a plethora of digital solutions that help students study. Among our favorites are Memrise and Quizlet. We love these apps not only for their freemium options, but also because they have awesome sharing features and great mobile experiences.  

Memrise encourages students to practice frequently and consistently, using the imagery of a flower being planted, sprouting, and growing when provided with attention.  

Quizlet has an enormous library of “study sets” that range every imaginable topic. Every student can find a favorite study method within the large variety of games and practice activities offered on Quizlet.

6.  Time is Valuable

Finally, give yourself ample time to accomplish your study plan. It takes up to SIX practice sessions to commit new information to long term memory! So, you’ve seen the material presented by your teacher in class and you’ve worked on the new ideas on a homework assignment. Now you need to study that material four more times before you can expect it to move from your short term or active working memory to your long term, permanent storage of memory. Studying takes time and there are no substitutions for taking the time to study well.

The MyloWrites team hopes these tips are helpful. Start making a plan, get to work, and watch that hard work pay off!