SimpleMind+: Digital Mind Maps for the Classroom


App Type: Creative App

Grade Level: all

Skill Level: Easy/Beginners level

Common Core Standards: This app can be used to cover just about any standard.

iOS Device: iPod, iPhone, iPad

Cost:  SimpleMind+ is free (for the version on the iPhone, iPod, and iPad). SimpleMind (full version) is $6.99. Also, there is a desktop version of the software that can be purchased for your computer. You do not need to purchase the desktop version to use this app effectively in the classroom (I have not purchased this).

SimpleMind+ is a mind mapping app. If your school site is using the Thinking Maps program, SimpleMind+ creates a “bubble map.” This creative app can be integrated in every academic area from language arts, to math, to social studies and science.

Students are able to easily save their map creations within the app so they can refer back to their maps later. However, they are disappointed when they can’t print their maps. While I am not a huge advocate for printing all student creations (we are trying to save some trees by using iPods), students can take a screen shot (to make a screen shot simply hold down the home key and the sleep button at the same time) of their map, save it to their camera roll, then email it to you.

I have used this map in my classroom mostly in the area of writing. As a prewriting activity, my second graders can create a mind map about their writing topic. However, this app is easily adaptable for any academic area. Here are some examples of what you can do with this app:

Language Arts:

  • Describe a character from a story.
  • Describe the setting of a story.
  • Describe the events of a story.
  • Create a map of facts gathered from reading an expository text.
  • Vocabulary development: write the vocabulary word in the middle and branch out with the meaning, parts of speech, synonym, antonym, and use it in a sentence.
  • Create a map of a phonics skill (such as words that have ow or ou, etc.).


  • Brainstorm details for your writing topic.
  • Create a mind map of alternative words for words that are used too often (like good, fun, etc.).

Science/Social Studies:

  • Create maps of the topics of study.
  • Create maps using science and social studies vocabulary.


  • Create a mind map of math vocabulary.
  • Use to describe shapes.
  • Create a map that shows the key words for problem solving.

For the purpose of the classroom you can easily use the free version, SimpleMind+. If you want to be able to have more control with the editing features such as color choice and linking maps together, then the paid version would be better for you. I would love for the app developers of this software to add a feature that allows you to insert pictures into the mind maps.

I hope you enjoy using this app creatively in your classroom! Please share with me any other ways you can use this app with your class. Thank you!

Jo-Ann Fox




App Type: Creative App

Grade Level: all

Skill Level: Easy/Beginners level

App Store: Songify is free!

Common Core Standards: Reading Standards: Foundational Skills K-5 (phonics, phonological awareness), Reading Standards for Information Text and Literature (K-5)

Put songify into the hands of children and creativity is bound to take over. Songify is a simple app that I would put into the category of creative apps. You simply press a button and talk into the iPod. Then press… Songify. The app turns your spoken word into a hip-hop sounding song. Kids love this! But how could you make this app academic? How would turning your spoken word into a song meet the learning standards?

The answer to that question is limitless! You could have students create a song based on a phonics skill they just learned. For example, my students just learned how the sound /ar/ is spelled. My students made a song that simply says, “a-r, says /ar/.” You could also create a song of your students doing a simple summary of a story. They could explain the character traits of the main character in the story. They could describe the setting. They could summarize the steps in the water cycle. You get the idea.

Why, you ask? Because it is engaging and fun. This app allows you to turn a mundane phonics lesson into a hip hop song. I ask, why not?


2012 California Teacher of the Year Gala


On Monday, February 6, 2012, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the California Teachers of the Year Gala at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento, California. I was honored as 2012 California Teacher of the Year Semi-Finalist along with several other talented teachers. The opportunity to meet our State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, proved to be one of the highlights of the night. We had an excellent discussion regarding the effective integration of technology though the use of iOS devices and educational apps. After our discussion, he asked for my business card as he is planning a task force to address such issues as technology integration into the classrooms. He was excited to hear about how much second graders are capable of when given the opportunity to access hand-held devices.


The night’s event was hosted by the California Teachers of the Year Foundation with presentations given by Foundation members Jack Hawkins, Andee Aceves, and Dawna Countryman. Mr. Torlakson presented awards to all of the Semi-finalists, finalists, and the 2012 California Teachers of the Year. During the Awards Dinner each California Teacher of the Year gave an inspiring speech with a small peek into their classrooms. Those honored were Florence Avognon, Tom Collett, Shari Ann Herout, Ken La Vigne, and Rebecca Mieliwocki.

Also in attendance were several State Senators and Assembly members. In the picture above is Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada (far right).


The First Digital Learning Day


Happy Digital Learning Day! Today was the first ever national Digital Learning Day. I celebrated Digital Learning Day with my students, along with 16,000 other teachers and nearly 2 million students across the country. The purpose of this event was to celebrate innovative teaching and learning through digital media and technology. Those celebrating Digital Learning Day believe in the same things I do; that technology engages students and provides rich learning experiences that promote 21st Century learning.

As a part of today’s event, the Alliance for Excellent Education hosted a live National Town Hall meeting. Chairman Julius Genachowski and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a special appearance.

My class and I celebrated Digital Learning Day by creating a Puppet Pal presentation. This project was the culmination of our Understanding Maps unit in Social Studies. Each child took pictures of the huge community we made and gave a personalized tour of the community featuring the parts they helped to build. My students had a great time creating their digital puppet shows and we plan on sharing our puppet shows with our classmates on Edmodo later this week.

The best part of today was when a student of mine said, “Mrs. Fox, why are we celebrating Digital Learning Day when we use our iPods every day?” I smiled to myself and replied, “The hope is that every child in America will have the same access to technology that you have every day.”

If you were unable to participate this year, be on the lookout for next year’s Digital Learning Day. Let’s make it even bigger and better next year!


Best Uses for iBooks: Turn Your Keynote or Power Point into an iBook


This is one of the best digital learning tools for your iPods! You can easily turn any Keynote or Power Point presentation into an iBook. Imagine the possibility of creating your own books for your students to access. Even better, your students can write their own books and publish them onto iBooks for everyone to read. The possibilities of using your Keynote or Power Point presentations as iBooks are endless and the process is simple (once you get the hang of it). Anyone can do this.

First make sure you have downloaded iBooks into your iTunes account and onto your iPod or iPhone. It comes built in with the iPad (and also has some newer capabilities that differ from the iPod/iPhone version). This is a free app: iBook Link.

Next, create a Keynote or Power Point presentation on your computer (preferably on your syncing computer). You can add pictures, text, and as many pages as you like. When your presentation is finished (and saved) you are going to turn your presentation into a pdf file. Here is how to do that:

1. While your Keynote or Power Point is open, go to file and select print.

2. At the bottom of your print window you will see a pull down screen that says PDF. Click on it.
3. You will then select “save as PDF.”
4. Name it, select the location where it will be saved (I usually select desktop), and click save. You will want your title to end in .pdf

Now you have that Keynote or Power Point saved onto your desktop as a PDF file. Now open up your iTunes. Simply click on that PDF file you made of the Keynote or Power Point presentation and drag it to the “Library” section. When the Library section turns blue, drop the PDF file in place and that file will go straight into iBooks (if you have downloaded that into your iTunes library as previously mentioned). Now sync your iPod, iPad, or iPhone and your Keynote or Power Point will be accessible in your iBooks bookshelf.

However, when you open up your iBooks on your iPod you may not see your Keynote or Power Point right away on the bookshelf. You will probably see an empty bookshelf (if you have never used iBooks before) or you will see books you have already purchased. In my picture you can see a book on my bookshelf that I have purchased in the past.

To find your Keynote or Power Point PDF file, click on the word “Books” on the menu bar at the top. When you click on “Books” you will be given two choices: Books or PDFs.

Select PDFs and viola! Your Keynote or Power Point book will be there waiting for you.

You could spend hours creating personalized books for your students. You can create books using their vocabulary in reading. You can create books that review phonics skills. You can create books reviewing social studies or science facts. You can create social stories for your students with special needs to access. You can create an iBook of a class book the class created together. This part is left up to your teacher creativity!

You are probably thinking, “Ha! When do I have time to build all these Keynotes!” But have no fear. The great news is that there are many teachers out there with plenty of spare time to do all the creating for you (wink wink)! Do a simple Google search using keywords such as “Power Points for teachers” or “Houghton Mifflin Power Points.” You will be amazed with how many results you get. One resource that I have been accessing is Pete’s Power Points. This site is full of educational Power Points from all academic areas.

I have been downloading Keynotes onto my students’ iPods regularly and they love reading the books I make. We have been using them to review phonics skills, grammar skills, and to review vocabulary. I have seen an increase in my students’ understanding our vocabulary words since using iBooks in their iPods. I can’t wait to go to the next level and teach my students how to create their own Keynote presentations so they can publish their own stories to share with the class.

Jo-Ann Fox




Storyrobe is considered a CREATIVE app. A creative app is an app that can be used in a variety of ways. (Versus some apps that only allow you to practice one skill like grammar or math facts.) This app is open ended and is only limited to your own teacher creativity.

 Appstore: Storyrobe
How this app works:
With this app you can take pictures (or retrieve pictures from your photo album) and create a slideshow. With each picture in the slide show your student can record their voice. There is a 3 minute limit to the slideshow.
How have I used this app?
I have used this app across the curriculum from reading, to social studies, to math. In language arts I have had my students take pictures from the story they are reading. First, they take pictures of the main events of the story. Then they record their retelling of the story. In social studies I have used Storyrobe for my students to monitor their understanding of the content area. They take pictures of what they have learned (right out of their social studies book) and then they record their understanding of the content. In math, I have had my students take pictures of each step of a math problem on a small whiteboard (we were working on adding two digit numbers with regrouping). Then they record how to solve the problem step by step.
This app really allows you to have a quick assessment of your students’ understanding. It also provides a safe and secure way for your introverted students to have a voice.