STEM Review - New Technology For Your Classroom!

Recently I was contacted by ReTrak, a tech accessories company, about their Utopia 360 Augmented and Virtual Reality Bundles. Since I'm always looking for new STEM resources for my classroom, I agreed to give an honest review of their product here on my blog in exchange for a free sample.

First up was the 4D+ Dinosaur Experience. My 4 year old, Sullivan, LOVES dinosaurs, so we just had to take a look at this pack!
 It comes with a VR headset and a deck of augmented reality flashcards. 

The app is free to download, you just input the code that comes with the cards to use it! The neat thing is that once you download the app and enter your code, the device does NOT need to be hooked up to wi-fi to work! This means that if you get some old iphones or android phones donated to your classroom, you can use them without having to log them into your school's wi-fi (I know that can be an issue at some schools!). I just downloaded the app at home on my old iphone and then used it offline at school! NOTE: you may have to remove protective cases. I have a large Otterbox case on my own iPhone and it was too big to fit into the headset, which is why I dug out my old iPhone.

You can also use the app and cards without the headset, if you have an Ipad or tablet. The advantage of going that route would be that students could share the device, thus allowing more than one child to have a turn at a time. I still love the headset for the immersion quality (Sully was hilarious to watch as he tried to reach out and "pet" the dinosaurs!) but in a classroom setting, the iPads might be a better option, simply because setting up and putting on the headset is really something an adult has to help with, whereas students should be able to manage the iPad app independently.

Here's Sullivan interacting with the iPad app. It really is as simple as opening the app and placing a card in front of the camera!

Next up we tried out the 4D+ Animal Alphabet Zoo:

Again, the pack comes with the headset and cards, but the neat thing is that you can purchase the cards separately as well, so if you buy one set, you can use the headset with  different packs of cards! As you can see, Sullivan gave it a thumbs up!

What I LOVED about these cards is that not only do they show an animal for each letter, there are also interactive food cards. If you place the correct food card next to the animal, it will move to the food card and 'eat".  Here's a video of the Queen Bee and flower cards.

So not only can you use these cards in your alphabet lessons - each card has a large uppercase letter on the back, as well as the animal picture, letter and animal name on the front - but you can also use them as a science lesson as you discuss the eating habits of different animals! As you can see in this next video, Sullivan knew that horses eat hay, but he didn't know that hay is dried grass!

These packs (along with another one for Space!) are available at Amazon (affiliate links provided above) and also at Walmart, Barnes & Noble, Brookstone and Staples. I have to say that the quality of the app is top notch - using the cards with the iPad was simple and fun for Sullivan. The headset was a bit trickier to use, and we had to adjust it to make sure it wasn't blurry. Its not a high-end VR headset, but it doesn't have a high-end price tag either! Sullivan liked it well enough, but complained that his eyes were tired after about 15 minutes of sustained use. I tried it myself (and of course my older kids had to try it out too!) and we all agreed that for limited use it was fine, but sustained use of the headset (15+ minutes) did start to cause eye strain. Luckily, using the iPad solves that issue and honestly, with pre-k and K students, I think their attention would wane faster than their eyes would strain, so it wouldn't be an issue.

Overall, I think these packs are a fun STEM addition to any classroom! Not only would they expose your students to new technology, the Animal Alphabet set can also reinforce letters/sounds while the Dinosaur set also shows the dinosaur bones, which could be a great lead in to a unit on Paleontology! 

Retrak was kind enough to offer to sponsor a giveaway for THREE bundles! Just click to enter the giveaway on my Facebook page here.

Character Education: Teaching Kindness (FREEBIES)

I wasn't surprised when one of my highest attended sessions at I Teach K this summer was my Kindness Counts! presentation. Let's face it, teaching kindness and other character traits is essential if you want to build a positive classroom community and cut down on the constant interruptions due to discipline issues. Today I'm going to share a few tips and ideas from that session, to help you get your school year off to a positive start!

First up is my Kindness Playlist on youtube. Click the link to find 30+ teacher-approved videos that you can play in class to help teach your students Kindness as well as well as manners, resiliency and honesty!

For example, this episode of "Can You Teach My Alligator Manners?", focuses on the sign language for please and thank you and gives your students the chance to identify scenarios where the alligator is using good manners. The videos in this series are only about 2 minutes long, so they're perfect for Circle Time to introduce different concepts such a taking turns, sharing and being a good sport!

Sesame Street has an Everyday Super Heroes Club with videos, printable badges and more!
You can find the free membership materials here!

One of the things that has really changed my classroom community is instituting this "Saying "I'm Sorry" is the FIRST step" policy. Basically after saying sorry, the child has to ask the person they hurt how they can help them feel better. Sometimes its as simple as giving a hug, sometimes they request that the child not do whatever it was again, sometimes they ask the child to play a new game with them. It empowers the "victim" to decide how they want the other child to make amends! Daniel Tiger is a great show for social and emotional skills, and I'd often play it during inside recess or if we had lunch in the classroom because so many of the skills were applicable to my kiddos, and gave me a quick, singable reminder any time an issue came up - like the one for when a friend doesn't want to play with you which came in handy when friends wanted to branch out and play with other people.

Here are some of my favorite picture books that teach kindness and other character traits (affiliate links for your convenience) just click on the picture to see it on Amazon. These are great read aloud books that I love to use to teach about being kind and taking responsibility.

Another thing that I use in my classroom are these Kindness & Character Songs & Chants (freebie!)

One of the things that I started last December was a Daily Act of Kindergarten Kindness. It was wonderful! My students were so happy to do sweet things for other classes, our principal and even each other! It truly made a difference in my classroom, and I was disappointed that I had waited until December to start it! Well this year I decided to start our RAKs in September! We're going to start the school year off with a bang by doing a random act of kindness every day! Each of the acts is simple, most don't cost a thing (the few that do are inexpensive!) and require little prep, so they're easy to incorporate into your BTS lessons! I'm sharing the calendar with you all today: Random Acts of Kindness Calendar for September 2017.

And finally, I always teach about Martin Luther King Jr. in January. I think that's too late in the year as well. With the social climate these days, it just makes more sense to talk about these issues NOW. My Martin Luther King Jr. Pack has activities that are accessible for our young learners. It teaches the important concepts of changing the world through peace and love and that the change has to start with us.
Here are two of the activities included in the pack, easy for pre-k to 1st graders to understand!
 If we start teaching about tolerance, kindness, fairness, honesty, peace and most of all LOVE at the beginning of the school year, we will reap the benefits all year long! I hope you'll be able to take these ideas back to school with you to build your classroom community! If you have tips of your own to share on building classroom community, please rustle up a comment below and share them!

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