Tag Archives: summer reading

Cool New Learning Tools – The Reading Rainbow App

The world of digital learning tools just got a dose of 90s nostalgia. Reading Rainbow’s rolled out with a new app for the iPad – one that was developed by LeVar Burton himself. For anyone who learned to read sometime during the last 30 years, this is obviously exciting news. For parents and educators, it just might be a game changer. Or, as one Gizmodo writer put it, “Reading Rainbow might stop the iPad from ruining the brains of all children.”

Long before the days of tablets and ebooks, Reading Rainbow spent its screen time on broadcast T.V. Aired by PBS starting in 1983, the show ran for a remarkable 23 years, until it went off the air in 2006. But just because the cameras stopped rolling didn’t mean host and executive producer LeVar Burton was ready to hang up his hat and abandon the cause of early childhood literacy. Instead, he switched gears, turning to a new generation of tech tools to reach a new generation of readers.

Having dedicated more than two decades of his life to teaching children to read, Burton remains a powerful advocate to a cause that he believes is in more need of support than ever. “The unvarnished truth is that we have spent the last decade funding the machinery of war, and our children have been sacrificed,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “And that’s not OK. [When it comes to teaching early literacy,] educational technology is what we need to get it done, and if we marry educational technology with quality, enriching content, that’s a circle of win.”

Quality, enriching content is exactly what the Reading Rainbow app hopes to provide, along with the following features:

  • 150 interactive books; frequent updates expand the library
  • Recommendations customized to your child
  • 16 video field trips and more to come
  • Interactive activities in every book
  • Reward program to motivate reading
  • Parent dashboard to share a child’s reading progress

Just like the original television program, the Reading Rainbow app makes learning fun by transforming it from a duty into an adventure. Children get to design their own virtual backpack, to pick their favorite topics (from pirates to dinosaurs), and to travel from island to digital island reading, interacting and gaming along the way.

Unlike their paper counterparts, the ebooks available through the new app feature sound and animation. Children can also read alone or let LeVar read for them as they follow along – and these learning tools are important considering the app was designed for children as young as three. The new app also features puzzles to assess comprehension and keep kids engaged. To access all of the app’s features, parents can pay a monthly subscription fee of $9.99, or they can spring for a six-month membership for $29.99.

Even with the animations, videos and other interactive features, in the end, the app remains focused on building literacy. “It’s all about storytelling,” Burton told VentureBeat, “And when you are using storytelling as a tool for education — if you do it well — there is nothing more effective.”

When it comes to learning tools, this new app is one to watch out for. But to borrow Burton’s trademark phrase, “You don’t have to take my word for it!” Visit the Apple Store to download your copy of the Reading Rainbow app to see for yourself.

5 Ways to Improve Your Teaching Strategies Over the Summer

It’s summertime and if you’re an educator, your family and friends probably expect teaching strategies to be the last thing on your mind. “Come to the wave pool!” They say, only to be dumbfounded when you sigh and explain you have work to do. Because while the general population may not realize it, summer can be a very busy time for teachers — a time for revamping lesson plans, learning new skills and finding exciting ways to make learning fun. Are you a teacher hoping to make the most of your summer “vacation?” If so, use one, or all, of these tips to make the next school year your most successful one yet.

1. Replace the duds in your lesson plan. Dust off your grade book and flip through it to find the lessons where students struggled the most. Start by choosing just one of these lessons and giving it a complete overhaul. Could you use a lesson plan based on zombies to inject new blood into a boring geography unit? Make waves by taking a new approach to the lesson that needs it the most.

2. Explore new tech tools. These days it seems like new tech tools are born every minute. When you’re a teacher, it can be hard to keep up with constantly changing technologies, and even harder to incorporate them into your lesson plan. So why not take some of your free time this summer and use it to tinker with a new gadget, device or app? Who knows, what you learn about digital badges or sites like Learnist could impact your teaching strategies and give you new ways to keep students engaged.

3. Visit local learning spots. Just because class isn’t in session, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a field trip. Explore your area’s museums, libraries and other learning centers. Do you live near Spark’s hometown of Pittsburgh? If so, you could try taking a day trip to attractions like Laurel Caverns or the Palace of Gold. Don’t forget to bring a notepad and pen — sometimes brilliant teaching strategies come from surprising places.

4. Join a new teaching network. One of the best ways to access new ideas is to meet new people. This summer, expand your network and connect with other educators who are as dedicated as you are. Try taking a digital media webinar, or joining one of the five personal learning networks recommended by Mindshift. If nothing else, get social on Twitter and Facebook to connect with other teachers who are building their skills over the summer.

5. Reach out to students. Educators are always striving to create engaging teaching strategies, but when it comes to gauging efficacy, they often miss out on a key opportunity — simply asking their students. Talk to your principal or administrator, and ask if it would be possible to conduct a poll or evaluation with parents and students before the school year starts. Survey your students to find which lessons they enjoyed or remember most. Then use their feedback to craft next year’s lesson plans.

Wanting to improve your teaching strategies is important, but that doesn’t mean you have to wall yourself away inside of a dark office while summer passes you by. Instead, try one of these 5 tips. They’ll make the biggest impact on your teaching success without sucking up every hour of your free-time in the process. Because while your lesson plans could always use a little TLC, if you’re an overworked educator, so could you.

5 Fun Ways to Jump Start Summer Reading

Summer reading is a little like eating broccoli. Kids who like it need no convincing, but those who don’t? Getting them to change their minds is an uphill battle. Every parent wants their children to stay sharp over the summer months, but no one wants to transform themselves into the family villain in the process. So what’s a caring parent to do? Use one of these five ideas to rethink reading and make summer learning fun.

  1. Start a Summer Book Club. If there’s one thing kids love, it’s clubs. Help your son or daughter start a weekly reading club and watch as their interest grows. Create custom t-shirts and pins for members and write out invitations for friends to join the club. Then host weekly meetings at your house. Your kids will get excited about summer reading — and they’ll get their friends excited about it too!
  2. Create a Scavenger Hunt. This is a great idea for rainy summer days. Turn your kids into junior sleuths by designing your own scavenger hunt. Write out clues on paper and have your detectives follow them throughout the house to discover a hidden prize. They’ll have so much fun solving the mystery, they won’t even realize they’re relying on reading skills to do it.
  3. Turn to the Tablet. If you’ve recently bought an iPad, Kindle or other tablet, it probably spends a lot of time in your kids’ hands. Turn the situation to your advantage this summer and download ebooks for your children to read. Even the most reluctant readers will have trouble putting down interactive ebooks like Alice for the iPad, which immerses children in rich illustrations, fun animations and other interactive features.
  4. Buy a How-To Book. Has your daughter always loved magic tricks? Does your son dive into any science project he can get his hands on? These interests aren’t just creative learning opportunities — they’re summer reading opportunities as well. Take your child to a local craft or toy store and let them pick out a how-to book that matches their interests. Many of these books come with complete kits, so your kids will have all the supplies they need to get started — and an incentive to do some out-of-school reading.
  5. Get on Board. If your child has a Wii, Xbox, iPad or other device, convincing them to give board games a go may not be easy, but these tools are a great way to sneak in some summer learning on rainy days. Try playing Scrabble or Boggle to build vocabulary or choose games like Apples to Apples Junior which rely on a little reading too. If they refuse to play with low-tech gear, opt for apps like Words With Friends that give the same principles a modern spin.

Let’s be honest — sometimes when you’re a parent, you need to be a little deceptive. That means doing things like sneaking broccoli into recipes so veggie-hating kids stay healthy. It also means finding creative ways to make learning fun — especially when it comes to summer reading. So this year, discover ways to make reading feel like a reward instead of a punishment.

Looking for a way to start off on the right foot? If you’re in Pittsburgh, you can attend the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s 12th Annual Summer Reading Extravaganza on June 10th in Oakland. With live performances, hands-on activities and visits from Radio Disney and the Pittsburgh Pirates, your kids will have an easy time getting excited about reading.

And don’t miss out on the Allegheny County Library Association’s Summer Reading Program. ACLA is taking a new approach to the traditional summer reading club that uses contests, events, and online engagement to keep kids interested in reading all summer long.

Have some fun summer reading tips that we didn’t cover? Share them on our Facebook wall or by tweeting them to @Sparkpgh.