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We Have Moved!

Over the past few weeks, I have been in the process of moving my blog to techchef4u.com (a more permanent residence). I am still packing up my kitchen and ingredients. Please vist our new location and subscribe for email updates on www.techchef4u.com.

In the meantime, here are a few dishes you may have missed:

Thank you for your patronage and I look forward to continuing to serve up appolicious technology dishes to an audience with such discerning palettes.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

22 Apps 4 You (Parents’ Appy Hour)

While many of us buy iDevices for ourselves, time and time again we find them cluttered with kids’ apps. Oftentimes we get little screen time for ourselves until after the little ones are off in bed. The devices are a wonderful tool for children of all ages but sometimes it is fun (and important) to take a few minutes to nurture our tech self, bring out our inner child, and find ways to improve productivity, feed the adult brain, and even customize the media we receive. To this end, I have put together a list of 22+ apps to do just that!

  1. Dropbox: Free (iPhone/iPad) This is a great app that has a lot of functionality. It will allow users to access and modify documents in your Dropbox folder from any of your iDevices or another computer you have added the account to. Modified documents will automatically sync changes to all devices/computers when saved. You can also create folders that can be shared publicly or with family/friends (great way to share photos and videos without uploading them). If you want actual remote access to your complete desktop, check out Splashtop Remote Desktop for iPad (free for iPad only) or Mocha VNC Lite (free for iPhone/iPad).
  2. Pandora Radio: Free (iPhone/iPad) Create your own stations by choosing the genres of music that you enjoy (Don’t have an iPad… check out their website). If you like Pandora, check out TuneIn Radio (free for iPhone/iPad) which also has a site and allows you to listen to 50,000 AM/FM radio stations around the globe.
  3. Dragon Dictation: Free (iPhone/iPad). Have you ever been in the car and had a gem you wanted to share with the world (or your friends and family)? This is a speech to text app. Tap and dictate (you can edit if Dragon didn’t get it quite right) and then email, copy, or upload to FB or Twitter when you are safely parked and at your destination. If you like this app, check out Dragon Go! (free for iPhone/iPad) which will search mobile sites (e.g. Yelp, Amazon, CNN, Ebay, news and blogs, Google, Wikipedia, etc…) for the information you dictate.
  4. Meeting Notes: $2.99 (iPhone/iPad) I haven’t had a chance to actually review this one but I have to say it offers a lot of functionality for those who attend lots of meetings (e.g. simultaneous meeting notes and audio recording, full text search and keyword tags, keeps record of attendees which integrates with your iPhone contacts, a seating plan which is great for those who have a horrible memory for names as I do, and much more).
  5. Totes M’ Notes: Free (iPad only). This one had a few bad reviews before the upgrade but I really like it for parents and secondary students. You can create and customize your own folders and then create notes within each folder which will all be visible on your shelf and can be emailed.
  6. Tour Wrist: Free (iPhone/iPad). This app is appsolutely amazing. Travel remotely from your iPad with a swirl of the wrist. Experience 360 tours in a whole new immersive way. Don’t have an iPad… visit their site. If you like this app, check out Aroundertouch (free for iPhone/iPad) which will give you similar beautiful 360 tours at your fingertips. USA for Kids ($0.99 for limited time – regularly $4.99 for iPad only does not offer tours but does highlight kid-friendly destinations and fun facts.
  7. Qwiki: Free (iPad only). Truly an information experience: type in any topic and receive a customized informational video. You have to see it to believe it. Don’t have an iPad… check out the site.
  8. Popplet Lite: Free (iPad only). This mind-mapping app could be used in so many ways. Create a family tree complete with images, a family chores chart, or a timeline. Don’t have an iPad… check out the site.
  9. Simplemind+: Free (iPhone/iPad). This app does not have the photo integration but is wonderful for a quick brainstorm (e.g. things I have to do to get ready for a party or work related topics). Don’t have an iPad… download a trial of the desktop version.
  10. Flashcards*: Free (iPhone/iPad). This app could be used with any age group that needs flashcards. Access the vast library of existing decks or create your own with Quizlet. See other apps (iPad/iPhone) that integrate with Quizlet. Will have to upgrade to Quizlet Plus to create your own decks with images.
  11. 123 Charts: Free (iPhone/iPad). This is basically a spreadsheet with graphing capability for your iPad that is so user friendly both elementary and secondary students can use it.
  12. My Congress: Free (iPad only). Access information about your local Congress members (websites, Twitter, News, YouTube, etc…). My Elected Officials is available for free for iPhone/iPad as well.
  13. Vocabology: Free (iPhone/iPad). Ever wanted to feed your brain and learn new words? Great app for learning vocabulary (note: may want to remove certain feeds as some may be slang or inappropriate for younger audiences).
  14. World Book This Day in History: Free (iPad only). Another way to feed your brain especially if you like historical events or need info for trivia.
  15. Book Chat: Free (iPhone/iPad). I have yet to examine this one but it appears to allow you to create virtual book clubs with friends, family, or others.
  16. Jigsaw Puzzle: $1.99 (iPhone/iPad). I snagged this gem when it was free. It allows you to customize  your own puzzle from your images or use the existing gallery images. You can choose 12, 24, 48, 0r 96 images and have your choice or piece rotation, timer, and screen modes. If you are not willing to dish out the $1.99, check out Super Slide Puzzle (free for iPad only).
  17. Chicktionary Lite: Free (iPhone/iPad). If you enjoy word games, this one is addictive, entertaining, and educational. See how many three, four, five, six letter words you can build from the letters given.
  18. Songify: Free for a limited time (iPhone/iPad). Turn mundane directions, lists, or vocabulary words into a fun jingle. (my so much to do today sample)
  19. 5-0 Radio Police Scanner Lite: Free (all). If you need some extra entertainment (especially over the tourist season)  check out this app and brush up on your police codes. Note there may be some inappropriate language and if you leave the app running it will drain your battery.
  20. Videolicious: Free (iPhone/iPad). This app is fantastic for all age levels and allows you to quickly turn raw video clips and photos into a real masterpiece. Check out the process.
  21. PBS Kids Videos: Free (iPad only). Stuck in a Doctor’s office with your kiddos and you need to buy yourself a few minutes?This app is very easy to navigate and has quality child-friendly clips (not full length) from PBS (e.g. Curious George, Dinosaur Train, Super Why, Arthur, Sesame Street, etc…). If you need to get away or escape, check out Video Time Machine ($0.99 for iPhone/iPad).
  22. Mint: Free (iPhone/iPad). This is a great app to track all of your accounts and credit cards as an individual or a family in real time and create/monitor a budget. Check out their site for more info. Want to create a budget and chore tracker for your children, check out apps like iAllowance ($4.49 for iPhone/iPad) – this is one I have not reviewed.
Would love to start a discussion about favorite apps for
productivity, education, and media consumption for adults.
 
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Posted by on July 28, 2011 in Appy Hour, iPad

 

Cool Tech 4 Kids to Beat the Heat: Part 3.1: I Like Books

Given a few weeks off from work, I find myself fighting the summer battle between personal todo lists and keeping up with blogging and technology trends. Oftentimes, it is just easier to compose another blog entry (as I have quite the running and growing list of topics) rather than shift gears and begin sorting and uploading photographs for another scrap-booking project. That is why I was elated at the premise of melding the two loves.

There have been quite a few digital album deals I have had to pass on due to insufficient time to locate, assemble, and upload images to a site and then organize said images into a digital album (not much on the auto-fill option as I am a bit of a perfectionist).

I have been wanting to create a Cousin book for some time now to assemble photos from all of the events my son and his cousin have shared together over these 4 years. When Snapfish offered their “buy 1 get 2 free” deal, I knew this was my opportunity. Though I knew I wanted to create a cousin-themed digital album, I was unsure of how the book would flow…

Grasshopper Apps: I Like Series

Then I remembered the I Like Book series on the iPad: a fabulous iPad/iPod series that highlights a single topic (e.g.  I Like School, I Like Summer, I Like My Sister, I Like Cats (paid), I Like Colors (paid), etc…). I had inadvertently been given my charge: to create an “I Like My Cousin” digital book with each page highlighting a shared event or moment (e.g. I like riding a camel, I like Grammy’s toys, I like trains, I like Grampy’s rocking chair, I like the beach, I like Easter egg hunts etc…).

The beauty of the I Like Books is that they focus on one-two image(s) per page and provide a highly engaging, simplistic, repetitive text that is perfect for readability and fluency (they also offer a read to me/read to myself option where text is highlighted). Consider reading the I Like series with your child and even venturing into the LAZ readers by ReadSmart Mobile. These iPad/iPod apps are leveled reader books that focus on a wide variety of topics (e.g. Making Pizza, Art Around Us (paid), Going Places (paid), Bananas Sometimes, Busy at School (paid), A Week with Grandpa (paid), Places People Live (paid), and I Fly Hot Air Balloons: interview (paid). While they do not have a “read to me” feature (one can always turn on the VoiceOver accessibility feature found in the general settings if you so desire narration), they do include definitions and are perfect for early readers Kindergarten through third grade (with promise of advanced reading levels in the near future).

I Like My Cousin: Snapfish Book

While many digital albums are created to mimic and serve the same purpose as a traditional photo album, I wanted this book to become a treasured family classic read and requested at bedtime time and time again.
Most digital album resources will allow you to create books (and many can be shared online). My favorites are Mixbook, Shutterfly, Picaboo, Snapfish, and Walgreen’s. All of these sites offer deals quite frequently and the books can be used as gifts or for your personal library.

I Like Feeding Giraffes

Here are a few suggested themes/topics to get you started:

  • I Like: I Like Summer, I Like Water, I Like Traveling, I Like Colors, I Like Dinosaurs, I Like the Magik Theater, I like the Farmer/s Market, I Like Gruene, I Like Cheerleading
  • LAZ Reader: Making Birthday Cake, Going to Schlitterbahn, What I Learned at VBS or Summer Camp

The beauty of melding literacy with your family stories and memories is young readers already have background information and familiarity with the content so they feel a greater comfort and desire for reading the books. Such a great treasure to create for your little ones or a wonderful collaborative project for a parent and an older child. Read the books over and over with your child highlighting anecdotes and memories the images conjure up. What a great tradition.

Stay Tuned over the next couple of weeks for additions to Part 3: More eBooks and Part 4: Storytelling. Did you miss Part 1: Imaginative Play & Games or Part 2: Virtual Vacation?

If you missed Summer Technology 4 Kids on Social Geek Radio, you can now download the episode in iTunes.

Please comment with your favorite I Like Books themes or other sites for making digital books.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Cool Tools 4 Kids, ELAR, iPad

 

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Scoop.it!

As I was searching for iPad-related education sites, I kept coming across pages that were composed of various articles and sites on a particular topic (e.g. iPad in de Klas & iPods & iPads in Education &, The iPad Classroom) that were made to look like a newspaper. Intrigued, I decided to request a private beta account. Less than 24 hours later, I had my very own Scoop.it! account and could begin curating my own news topics.

Since I have iPad terrets, I immediately dove into the process of creating an iPad Lesson site. Unfortunately, while there may be many relevant posts and articles on “lesson learned about the iPad”, there are very few available that are actually devoted to iPad lessons and apptivities. I am hoping to gather more sites that house and generate iPad lessons from suggestions and the Scoop.it! web crawler. In the meantime, I found it best practice to choose a topic that has a wealth of information available to curate. Once you have a prolific and meaty topic, it is fairly simple to initiate the process. When you create your topic, be mindful of the title, description, and keywords that you choose as they will not only drive the information and topics that Scoop.it! and other users suggest to you but how useful and apparent your site is to those looking for information on your topic. Scoop.it! also offers some aesthetic options such as uploading a topic icon image, and customizing you background color and image if you are so inclined.

Choose a Meaty Topic

After compiling one scoop, I had a better vision for how the next one would be assembled. With Scoop.it!’s plugin installed in my browser, I was able to locate sites I had already reviewed and compiled on a topic and then click on the site’s url in the address window and have it populate my Scoop.it! window. If a site did not provide its own information and a usable or relevant image, I would take a screenshot and upload it and give a brief description of the site before posting it. Between the sites that I had compiled and the ones that Scoop.it! suggested from its web crawls, I felt pretty confident I had a meaty and healthy portion of Web 2.0 sites and resources. (My vision for this page was to house sites that gave reviews and categorized lists of Web 2.0 tools so I could quickly locate specific tools and my favorite sites faster.)

Uses for education

Since you have to create a login and the sharing capabilities are linked to Facebook and Twitter, I envision Scoop.it! as more of a tool for educators and less of a product for students. While I think their intent was to create newspapers that were more composed of articles and relevant blog posts, the tool lends itself to thematic study, resource repositories, and professional development:

  1. Thematic & Guided Study: teachers can create a page for articles and sites for the Civil War or Geometry (citing discussion questions or assignments in the info box for the site).
  2. Resource Repository: teachers can create a page housing lists of SMART resources, Web 2.0 tools and reviews, student projects, or even interactive Math sites for students to practice with at home
  3. Professional Development: schools and districts can compile available professional development opportunities (e.g. online learning communities, webinars, Atomic Learning, Region 20, TCEA, etc…) into one place. Or even create a page that is a learning opportunity: my next venture is a “Cartoons in the Classroom” page highlighting all of the Web 2.0 tools for cartoon creation with a few words and tips about each to guide teachers.

Why use Scoop.it! over a static website with hyperlinks? Good question. First reason, the interface allows a more graphic output of each scooped site (which can be customized) as well as user input towards the description or focus of that site. Second reason, Scoop.it! has a built in “curating” feature which suggests content based on the original content and tags you have created and compiled thus fostering future and continued learning opportunities. And if I haven’t given you tweachers reason enough to Scoop.it!, the sharing to Twitter capabilities are first rate!

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Web 2.0

 

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iPad Consumption vs. Production: the Great Debate

Outdated Infographic

Less than a year ago, my initial infographic (compiled from info from various blogs and articles on the topic of what the iPad can and cannot do) consisted of this very debate: consumption vs. production. Many of the first iPad lessons that I created were written to use the iPad for consumption: research, collecting data, writing prompts, virtual tours, and inspiration for upcoming projects. The suggested final product or writing assignment was to be completed with a Web 2.0 tool or available peripheral.

Consumption vs. Production

Flash-forward (pun intended) ten months or so and the iPad2 with camera and video capability as well as an ever-evolving prolific store of apps (which I get lost in for hours a night) has rapidly morphed the way I use my iPad and how I promote its use in the classroom. Yes ArounderTouch and Tour Wrist are phenomenal apps for virtual 360 tours, but why not create a tour with Photosynth or DerManDar. There are thousands of ebooks and interactive book apps available for all ages, but now you can create your own with Calibre or by simply saving a document as a PDF or ePub and dragging it into iBooks. You can watch a puppet show about Tortoise & the Hare or a 60second Recap of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but why not create your own with Puppet Pals or Sock Puppets.

I will say that I am biased (being a Mac User, iPhone Geek, and iPad enthusiastyes, I own and often appear in all of these Apple-related fashion items) towards the iPad as the tablet for education because I do find it to be so intuitive and I have some brand loyalty. Above and beyond that, whatever tablet or device you choose to implement needs to be used as a learner-centered tool for communication with multimedia and as a global consumer. After reading much of the lively discussion on iPads in Education and how they are used in the classroom, I believe many of the contributors would tend to agree that it is truly not about the tech but the teach:

  • What are we asking students to do with the device?
  • Has our pedagogy changed?
  • Are the devices being used to foster learning and innovation while providing a platform for differentiated instruction or are they being used as a lighter version of a textbook?
  • Furthermore, are we teaching digital and media literacy and producing critical consumers?
  • Are students able to evaluate the information they consume?

Stepping down from my soapbox, I am confronted with another issue. The campuses I support have not initiated a 1:1 ratio and the iPad was never truly intended to be a multi-user device. While it is sometimes appropriate to have students surf the internet to research a topic, launch an app to track earthquakes, or reshuffle their deck of vocabulary words in iCardSort before the next user, it often presents an issue when you desire to have students produce rather than consume.

While I use my iPad to produce videos, photos, and mindmaps on a regular basis, logistically this presents a hurdle when you want to mass produce these products class period to period.

Multi-User Production

  • Image Products: If you are using free apps (which I am inclined to do so due to the VPP being a tad bit convaluded and time-consuming for educators), you may only be able to create one product at a time like in Popplet Lite which means students will need to either save the image to the photo library or email it. If you have enabled the email feature, how did you create the email? Is it a school email or a department email? Who will be responsible for checking it (especially if this is not a class set of iPads and is meant to be used on a revolving basis with the department, grade level, and/or team)? If you intend to pull the photos off the devices at the end of the day, who has the syncing computer and will it be an issue that students will have access to other students mindmaps or products in the photo library before creating their own?
  • Video Products: Most video products are either saved to the video library on the device or must be uploaded to YouTube. Again, will teachers wait till the end of the day to pull off all of the video products when they sync each device or will they allow students to upload products to Youtube? If students are uploading to Youtube, who’s email account are they using and is this process highlighted in the Acceptable Use Policy for the district?
  • Annotations: I love the idea of annotating PDF’s and books. However, this process was meant to be done as a single-user. If you highlight and take notes in a book in iBooks in period 1, the same notes will be available to the user in period 2. If this were to be an ongoing project or the annotation process was to be similar for each class, this presents an issue. While you can email the notes, is it realistic for each student to do this each period as the notes will compile and be duplicated? Do we open a PDF in Doodle Buddy instead? Or do we morph the project to accommodate the device? Will one class period highlight and annotate based on character traits, another on theme, and another on setting and imagery? If so, this is a welcome change, but a change nonetheless to how we deliver instruction and how students communicate.

Though I find it easier to use a Neo2 with Google Docs capabilities in conjunction with the device or a Google Docs account on the device for word-processing and collaborative writing, other products do not have such a simple solution. I am in no way trying to be a Debbie Device Downer or trying to deter teachers from implementing the devices in their classrooms. On the contrary, I want to encourage and promote the use of the devices to fundamentally better pedagogical practices, instruction, learning, and education at its core but at the same time I think this is a worthy valid discussion:

  • What are the logistics involved with using the iPads as multi-user devices in schools for production?
  • How are the devices managed?
  • Do we connect them to a wireless printer, create email accounts, set up class Dropboxes and YouTube accounts?
  • How do we manage the submission of products at the elementary and secondary level?
  • Will/should the plan differ from elementary to high school?
  • Does every product have to be submitted or can teachers deploy another way to grade and evaluate student creations?

As with anything, I am sure that my qualms will be distant post as soon as the iOS 5 and iCloud capabilities are launched and fully realized. But in the meantime, it is worth pondering as we integrate these devices into our daily life and classroom.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2011 in iPad

 

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Spaces and Places: Part 1: Removing the Instructional Clutter

In an effort to reclaim my garage and remove the instructional clutter, I began clearing out old teaching materials. I haven’t been a classroom teacher in over four years, but still held on to the trappings of one. While many materials are timeless (e.g. counters, unifix cubes, fraction tiles, rulers, pencil boxes, & even project-based books or lessons), others needed to be kicked to the curb (e.g. transparencies, TAKS manipulatives and workbooks, outdated classroom handouts and textbooks, etc…). The whole process took me a couple of hours but was well worth it. I was able to clean out two whole bookshelves and an entire storage cabinet.

Why is this relevant or useful?

Purging Clutter: What Made the Cut

  • Beyond the idea of reclaiming space, I wanted to purge for a cause. My first item of business was to gleen new and nearly new items that could be donated to Help A Teacher Out program and local preschools. I was surprised with what I came across: dictionaries, binders, file folders, index cards, pencil boxes, rulers, protractors, foam letters, and classroom posters (“Gallon Man”, you will be missed). With budget cuts and strains to education, I wanted to do my part to help local teachers… which ultimately benefits the work that they do with and for our children. (I had also planned on purchasing other items on their “back to school” shopping list).
  • The second reason for my madness was to model the process of “removing instructional clutter” to prepare for learning. My rule of thumb was pretty simple, if the materials were outdated or the task could be better accomplished with a piece of technology (mainly the iPad & iPod… or other tool you have access to in your classroom), then I trashed the manipulatives, flash cards, workbooks, etc… I won’t lie, parting with numbered baggies filled with laminated TAKS chart activities and equation mats was a little painful. But it was more in knowing how many man hours it took to create the activities, xerox them, laminate them, painstakingly cut them out, and sort/package/label them then it was in the concern that they may actually be used again or that I would miss them. I did come across a few I wasn’t willing to entirely part with, so I opted to keep 5-10 sets versus the complete set of 30. Odds are if I ever did use them again it would be for remediation with a small group or in a station and not for whole class instruction. All in all, I had 2 garbage bags full of trash and a trunk full of instructional donations.

What do I keep?

Many teachers have packed up their classrooms for the summer and some are even moving to a different room/space or campus. Before you unpack the clutter and restrict the space you have to teach and your students have to learn, consider removing the instructional clutter as you unpack. (In my case, I wasn’t taking up instructional space in my classroom by storing the outdated clutter, but simply garage space. Regardless, in doing so I was able to clear space for a more productive environment… a work bench area for my husband.)

What will you do with what you unpack and how will you make the best use of the space that you have?

Stay tuned for Spaces & Places: Part 2 where I will post my journey with a few willing teachers from planning their space to arranging their room for optimized learning (including planning for technology and creating stations and centers at the secondary level).

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2011 in Spaces & Places

 

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Cool Tech 4 Kids to Beat the Heat: Part 3: Interactive Books

In an effort to provide my audience with more bite size morsels of technology, I have divided my interactive books section in to two parts. As students are out of school and many visit the library for pleasure reading books to fulfill their reading list quota, it only make sense to consider the iPad to fulfill the need and desire for literacy.

Ebooks for Kids on iDevices

The authors listed below are my son’s favorites from the bookshelf and the iPad. These are not books that were created solely for the iPad. Rather, they are interactive versions of the original (and beloved) work of art published for the new generation of digital learners. (All apps listed are paid.)

  1. Dr. Seuss (universal app): Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? Truly? Now you can read Dr. Seuss’s classics on the iPad with a few more bonus features:

    Image Edited with Rollip

    "Lots of good fun that is funny"

    1. read to me/read to myself/auto-play options
    2. highlighted text as it is read
    3. picture/word association (e.g. words zoom up and are spoken when pictures are touched)
    4. background audio (e.g. car motors, talking underwater, train whistle)
  2. Berenstein Bears (universal app): My 4-year old son has loved these books (as well as the corresponding videos) so we were delighted to find them available on the iPad. It also has all of the features the Dr. Seuss books offer.
  3. Eileen Christelow: “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” (universal app): My son has loved the Five Little Monkeys series for years and these interactive books stay true to the joy and engaging story line that each book provides. They also offer the same features as the Dr. Seuss & Berenstein Bears ebooks do.
  4. Mercer Mayer: (universal app): Not only do these Little Critter books offer the same features as Dr. Seuss, the Berenstein Bears, and Eileen Christelow, they also include a “find the creature mini-game”.
  5. Sandra Boynton: “The Going to Bed Book” (iPad only): These books are so humorous and fun to read. This book goes far beyond the other ones listed as it offers more interaction with the characters and objects (e.g. you can touch, turn, and pull) and allows to tilt your device to watch things tilt and cascade. The ebook also features two reading modes:
    1. “The Big Guy Reads It”: Billy J. Kramer narrates with word highlighting
    2. “I want to read to myself”: Your little one reads at their own pace and can hear individual words pronounced with the tap of a finger

Stay Tuned over the next couple of weeks for upcoming Part 3: More eBooks and Part 4: Storytelling. Did you miss Part 1: Imaginative Play & Games or Part 2: Virtual Vacation?

If you missed Summer Technology 4 Kids on Social Geek Radio, you can now download the episode in iTunes.

Please comment with your favorite children’s ebooks and authors?

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2011 in Cool Tools 4 Kids, iPad

 

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