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United States Map Puzzle

One of the great, great uses of the iPad is teaching geography. My kids know more about geography than you do. Yes you. And the iPad is the reason. I’m going to write about a lot of high tech geography games.

But let’s start with United States Puzzle Map, a decidedly low tech game. It has annoying music (after five minutes) and very basic graphics. The designer, Jenny Sun, does not seem to believe that the second name in a state should be capitalized. These are not good things.

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The Miller & Zois Kids Blog is making some exciting changes in the future including an entirely new blog design. If you are checking up for the first time today, come check back soon.

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I have three kids in Pre-K. It is an article of faith to me that it is a good idea – at least for our kids – and I barely remember my wife and I spending a lot of time debating whether to send our kids to Pre-K. Like most of us, I’m always merrily looking for articles and data that support the wisdom of my thinking.

Today I have New Jersey to thank. New Jersey says it is forking out more than $11,000 a year per child in Pre-K and they are glad they are: the number of kids who repeat first grade has been cut in half in poor districts that offer two years of Pre-K.

Would you get the same data in suburbia? I don’t know but I suspect so. What kids really learn is who they are, how they fit in and how they are going to deal with different people and places. We can’t teach that to our kids at home.

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I had my kids working hard on word search puzzles. Why? Because I was terrible at them and I wanted my kids to be better. So we have spent an inordinate amount of time doing word search puzzles.

Last night my son found a “create your own word search” website which was actually pretty cool. Most interesting were the words he selected for his puzzle. When he got up to leave the computer, I put into Google the term I used in the title of this post: “Educational Value of Word Search Puzzles”. The result? A lot of teachers saying word search puzzles have no educational value and are largely useless.

I’m receptive to this argument if for no other reason; I’m terrible at word search puzzles. But I have a more moderate view than most of what I read. I think a part of the problem is that bad teachers favor word search puzzles because they eat time and are a substitute for teaching. So there could be a little confusing the messenger with the message problem. I do think that, like an ISpy game, they help young learners focus on detail. But, there is no doubt, I’m going to be using less word search puzzles in the future.

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We stumbled onto Bookworm on the iPad and did not realize until much later it is a game that was played long before the iPad came out. I think it is a very productive game for children to play. If it is not, I have wasted at least 30 hours of my life. Even if it was not a good, education iPad app, we still would play it, just not as much. It is a deceptively addictive game.

Here’s the deal: The letter tiles on Bookworm, I finally figured out, are random. You take on adjacent tiles to make words. The letters to the word you made disappear and new ones arrive at the top to take their place on the grid. The Scrabble paradigm applies: the bigger the word and the more unusual the letters, the more the points for the word.

After a while, you start getting red tiles. If a red tile falls to the bottom, you lose. Making bigger words in Bookworm helps keep the red tiles off your back. If you don’t like your tile configuration, you can shake up the tiles and rescramble the words. But there is a cost: more red tiles to fight.

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My son and I are working on Third Grade Math, an iPad math app by 965 Studios.

I have a lot of 965 Studios educational iPad apps, three vocabulary word apps that we use all of the time that have a similar look and layout as the Third Grade Math app. It also has more apps for each grade up to 7th.

I have played Third Grade Math about three times now. We have had it three days. So, obviously, I like it. They have a really good variety of math problems and they have a lot of mathematical thinking problems I did not conjure up on my own.

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According to a new study by the National Center for Education Statistics, the average high school graduate in 2009 earned about three credits more than graduates in 1990. Theoretically, this means that today’s students are spending 420 more hours in class.

Based on my observations of high school students in Anne Arundel County, let me say this: hogwash.

Back in the day, you went to high school your senior year just like everyone else. Sure, that meant you took more classes than you actually had to take, but no one figured out that we all had more high school credits than we needed. (We were a little dumb.)

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A purpose of the Miller & Zois Kids Blog is to talk about harnessing the power of technology to improve our ability to educate our children. A recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank in Antigua & Barbuda underscores that technology alone won’t solve the problem.

In Antigua & Barbuda, the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting, Telecommunications, Science and Technology (sounds like something out of Orwell’s 1984, right?) began a “laptop for every child” initiative. So they went out and… got a lot of laptops. No meaningful benefits were demonstrated. Maybe there were benefits but the study didn’t find them.

What is the take home message? Is it that technology is not helping us educate our children? That is one take. As you might suspect, mine is different. I think we need to learn how to harness technology to better educate our children while at the same time figuring out new ways to limit the harmful effects, from teenage texting while driving right on down.

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I really wish I had a better classical education. I wish I knew the top 1000 or so classical music pieces and I wish I knew the great works of art. I will probably never make it but I’ll keep on trying. The news for my kids is better. They have more than a shot. It is almost a guarantee. The primary reason for that – and I know it sounds crazy – is the iPad.

I talked last week about the classical art puzzle app that we love. This classical music app is not as good but it is still an incredible buy for $1. It has 50 classical songs, not in their entirety but the first minute or so. After you play around with this for a bit, you can move on to a 50 question classical music quiz. My 5 year-old can get all 50 correct with ease and I just started with my younger son, who is 4, last night.

Like many of the best iPad educational apps, this AdsSoftware app is not visually impressive. It is downright unattractive actually. But, ultimately, the question is does your child learn. The answer here is absolutely yes.

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The just released 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress High School Transcript Study found that the grade point average increased to 3.0 in 2009 from 2.68 in 1990.

This is tame compared to the grade inflation going on in law schools. Last year, Loyola Law School in Los Angeles decided to take grade inflation to a new level, retroactively inflating its grades by adding on .333 to every grade.

The purpose of this is very admirable. The administration is trying to help its students. But it is sort of like governments printing money and giving it out to people. It is great for the people that get the money but it is bad for everyone else which, in this case, is every Loyola Law grad who did not get the benefit of this increase.