Sometimes You Need to be a Drill Sergeant

If you're a regular on Twitter, you see that there are big pushes for project-based learning, standards-based grading, flip teaching, and many other education trends.  I am a fanatic about making the learning real for the kids.  That being said...there is a place for drill and practice.  I am a drill sergeant.

Now before you tar and feather me,  let me explain.  I am not a believer in teaching kids through incessant worksheets, mundane tasks or other activities where the biggest interaction from the kids is the blinking of their eyes as they fight to stay awake.  No way!  Quite the opposite, in fact. HOWEVER, I am seeing a trend that I don't like.  I am seeing a new generation of kids everywhere who can't spell, can't do basic math facts, and can't write using proper grammar. It kills me, and I won't let it happen at my school!  Hence, the following photo a friend sent to me, which happens to make my eyes bleed.

Tongs, people.  Tongs.

There are a few of these "Drill Sergeant" apps that I have used time and again with great success.  In an app store with so many choices, it is often difficult to weed out the good from the plethora of not-so-good.  I'm going to pass along a few of my favorites to you.

The first is one I have used fairly extensively.  It is a spelling test app that really is terrific.  As a parent, I have really appreciated the ability of this app to record sentences so my kiddos can hear the word in context and know which word to spell.  It also provides ownership to the students when they make their own recordings for test preparation.  There is a free version, but for $.99, you can create unlimited tests.  Golden, in my book.  As a teacher and tech integrationist, I love the immediate, individualized feedback each students gets while testing.  No more waiting for a pile of papers to be corrected.  By then, the learning opportunity is lost.

Next on my list is a fun app we ROCKED in first grade today.  The kids have been working hard learning place value with their base-ten blocks.  While nothing quite takes the place of the tactile nature of counting out real blocks, this app comes a close second and was the basis of a lot of 6 and 7 year old excitement today. Even the classroom teacher and I had a few "WOO HOO" moments watching those eyes light up in understanding! (Plus, who doesn't like cookies?)

Harder level place value skills
Cookie Factory is $1.99 and worth every single glorious cent.  It is completely customizable by level, function, and timing.  I worked with first graders on learning the basics of place value (see image below).  Even the "minion-esque" little cookie factory worker gently reminds you when your order isn't quite filled correctly or in time.  Kids learn very quickly that it is much more efficient and successful to fill a cookie order of 99 cookies with 9 groups of 10, as opposed to clicking the individual cookies 99 times.  This is part of the game that ups the ante on plain old base-ten blocks.
Basic place value skills can be learned with ease

My soul was glowing today after watching several children go from "adequate" with their place value skills to WOW in the 30 minutes we worked with this app.  Why?  Practice, practice, practice.  No two ways about it!

The last app I want to showcase is the McGraw Hill Grammar Wonderland app.  I am a huge stickler for proper grammar.  Grammar usage is largely learned in the home from the patterns of parental speaking.  Parts of speech are learned, formally, in school.  The two need to meld correctly in order to build first-class writers and speakers. Writing is my passion.  So, even with the littlest of soldiers, I love to practice grammar.  The app is exceptional, cheap, and again, worth it! I've included just a few screenshots to show you the variety of what is provided on this app.

You can practice nouns, verbs, as well as adjectives on four different levels.  The games are interactive for the iPad.  It was a hoot to watch first graders holding their iPads in steering maneuvers to fly into the correct clouds (see right). Tongues (not tongs) were sticking out in deep concentration, eyes were focused, and little people were revelling in their ongoing victories. That kind of learning is priceless and it lasts.

 So, I challenge you to take the time to exercise your right to be a drill sergeant from time to time.  It has its place.  And please, in the name of all that is holy, do your part to educate these babes to know the difference between tongues and tongs.


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