Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Storytelling with Puppet Pals

Years ago, I used a piece of software called Hollywood, from a company called Theatrix, with my middle school ESL students. The software provided sets and characters to choose from and the students wrote the dialogs and stage directions that made the cartoon characters move around on screen.  My students really enjoyed working with it. They worked on their language skills as they wrote the dialog and social and cultural skills came into play too with the topics I assigned. Although the computer did the talking for them, they got to work on their pronunciation when they listened to the way the computer pronounced their dialog - they occasionally had to deliberately misspell a word in order to make the computer pronounce it correctly!

I recently discovered an app for iPod and iPad that is similar to Hollywood. Puppet Pals also allows students to create 'plays' or 'movies' using provided characters and backgrounds. I downloaded it and within minutes my daughter and a friend were playing with it, creating a story. It is a little harder to use than Hollywood in some ways, in that Hollywood allowed you to create a script which controlled when the characters moved and how. With Puppet Pals, you drag the characters around the screen with your finger as you talk. The iPod/iPad records the audio as you move the characters around. I can see students needing to create a script and rehearse several times before they come up with a movie they are happy with. Hmm - just like a real play!

It does take a little getting used to how to move the characters around the screen - it is too easy to make them shrink or grow enormously tall without meaning to. You can pause the recording, but there is no way to go back and edit what you have already recorded.

The app comes with a limited collection of characters and backgrounds. You can get more with an 'in-app' purchase.  The Director's Pass is the best deal, with one fee entitling you to download all the currently available characters and backgrounds. You can then also 'cut out' characters from your own photos to use in your stories! Although you can not draw your own characters directly in Puppet Pals, if you plan ahead carefully you could draw your characters, digitize them, and add them to the photo album on the iPod/iPad. You would then be able to cut them out from there. I have a colleague who teaches pre-school and although this app may be too difficult for her students to use, I can see potential in teachers using it to create 'social stories' with familiar backgrounds.

My first attempts at using it were only moderately successful. The videos we made on the iPad saved OK and were viewable on the iPad, but turned out to be too big to email to myself so I could put them on my website. I bought the Director's Pass for my iPod, and found that videos did not save properly at all - all I got was one second of video! At this point (version 1.2.012), I can't recommend downloading it. It has some great potential, and I will be downloading updates as they become available, hoping that they are going to iron out the technical glitches. From what I've seen on their website, they do seem to be very responsive to customer comments, so I'm hopeful that this will soon become a more usable product.

Here's a video from the creators of Puppet Pals, Polished Play, on using the software. 

Puppet Pal for iPhone/iPod
Puppet Pal HD

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