Teachers work hard. We start before students arrive at school, spend hours after school tutoring, in faculty meetings, and chatting with parents, and evenings are spent grading papers after kids are put to bed. We juggle computers, calculators, laptops, Chromebooks, Smartscreens, erreaders, and IPads to entice students to learn whatever standards and curriculum requires.
Every once in a while, we need a mental health break. That’s when we pull out a few apps that put the Zen back into life. Here are five of my favorites. They’re great to shake up the day, add a little pizzazz to the routine for an hour or so:
This free app easily and quickly identifies and locates stars, planets, constellations and more by simply holding the screen face down so the back points at the sky. It locates you and maps out the amazing Universe that surrounds your corner. You can drag the picture with your finger, change brightness, highlight specific location and much more.
This is perfect for regaining pespective to life. Stare up at the sky and imagine all that world out there, and we’re just a small part of it. Are your problems really so great?
There were a lot of complaints on the ITunes page comments about the ad banner. I found it discrete. Maybe they fixed it. A tip from Skywatcher: To use this app WITHOUT the annoying ads simply turn off the wi fi (and cellular if you have it) BEFORE you open the app. Shazam, no more ads! This also works with most other apps that have ads running all the time. Or, you can download the fee-based version to remove ads.
Show how noisy a room is with this free app. It turns on with a double-tap–no log-in, password, or start-up screen. The interface is friendly–perfect for younger children who get noisy without meaning to. Open it during your class or project it on the Smartscreen during activities. It measures noise level on a dial and by changing Smiley’s face from happy to angry. You can play with background and sounds, or accept the defaults. For a small fee, you get additional dial themes and a way to award the class over time for staying quiet..
My favorite way to use it is when I’m working in my classroom–no classes, but students invariably want to come in and use the computers. No problem. I project this on the Smartscreen for students as a great way to remind them that I’m working. They are welcome in my room, but quietly.
This free app is so popular, it has spawned dozens of offshoots for talking critters (most by Outfit 7). I ended up with Talking Ben (because I’m a dog person), but they all basically do the same thing. You download, explode (only the first time you launch it), and then go. Whatever you say, he repeats. There are also toys the animal can play with–food, , funny noises, and in Ben’s case, a science lab. Ben is somewhat interactive in that he sits and reads a paper and makes odd sounds while waiting for you to say something.
The app is intuitive and interactive. It is designed to be experimented with by prodding and poking to see what happens. Great for a Zen moment.
The only annoying part is that in certain screens, the program prompts for the user to purchase add-ons or more pets. That’s fine for an adult, but not so much for children.
How does this help a teacher reach their zen? Have you ever been desperate for a voice that agreed with everything you said? Here you are.
TED is a group devoted to sharing information on fascinating topics, presented by experts in their field, in brief less-than-eighteen-minute presentations. This app puts that collection of talks at your finger tips, to play whenever you have a free moment between classes, at lunch, or as background during a class activity. This official TED app quickly provides a variety of presentations, easily selected and played. The bottom toolbar includes ‘featured’, ‘favorites’, and ‘surprise me’.
You can use it to start a TED Club, where students get together during lunch or recess, pick the TED talk that grabs their imagination, and listen together. This can lead to the growing popularity of school TEDX Days where students independently organize a day of presentations (under a free license granted by TED) on cerebral topics of their choice and invite family and friends to attend.
Another way you can use the TED app is for yourself. Find topics that interest you, stuff you’ve been wanting to learn about but haven’t had time. It’s all here, in eighteen-minute nutshells. You can learn to your heart’s content. In those moments when you feel like you are stagnating, that PD isn’t quite doing it for you, create your own PD at lunch, before school, whenever you have eighteen minutes. I am always amazed how rejuvenated I feel by learning. It makes me jealous of my students (in a good way).
Thinglink is a clever approach to both reading and writing. A little like Penzu (in that you zoom in on specific spots to read the information), this free app enables you to add text, links, images, even video to a spot on a picture that is activated by clicking it. In that way, you can add a large amount of data to an image without distracting from its innate appeal.
In the two images below, which would you prefer reading: the picture, where you will click through the links to reveal the information, or the all-text where you read until it runs out. Sure, the story is fun, but exploring the puppy’s picture brings a creativity that mere words can’t.
There you have it–five apps to recenter your spirit, retrieve your Zen, and return the zeitgeist to your life. Enjoy.
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Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of dozens of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.