Thursday, June 19, 2014


I've been seeing ads on Facebook recently for something called Osmo that is supposedly going to be available at the end of the summer. It is a stand for your iPad (or iPad mini) with a clip that goes over the top where the camera is so the camera can see down onto the table in front of it. The camera input is then integrated into an app, so that objects that you manipulate in the real world cause things to happen in the app. There are no batteries required (other than the one in the iPad) and it doesn't need an internet connection.

Initially it will come with three activities, but I can see there is potential for many more.  As an ELL teacher, the activity that interests me most is the one where student have to find the letters that spell out a word that goes with a picture on the screen. I like the fact that kids can play this alone, against a partner, or collaboratively as a group. I'm disappointed that, as far as I can see from the information available online, they have chosen to go with using upper case letters rather than lower case. I would love it if there was an option to customize the game with my own pictures and words. I can see this concept working well for a simple addition or subtraction game too.
UPDATE: I was very happy to hear from Karen at Osmo less than 24 hours after writing the above that the Words game IS customizable. She wrote:
you can create your own book of vocab and photos. This feature will still be in beta version when we ship, but it exists ;-)
It's nice to see that a) Osmo replies promptly to customers and b) is really thinking through how teachers might want to use their apps. Now my next request is for the ability to create separate books for different topics or at least a way to easily pick the vocabulary items that will be in play :-)

The 'Newton' game involves drawing or placing real objects in order to mark a path on the screen that will cause virtual balls that fall down the screen to hit a target. It looks like fun, but I can't think of a way to work it into my curriculum - maybe it would be a good game for indoor recess!
The Tangrams game puts an image on the screen that the student has to match with physical manipulatives - the app checks the placement of their pieces and will give them feedback when they have them placed correctly. There are three different levels of difficulty.

It's a very interesting concept, but I'm not sure how many teachers will buy into it at US$100 per set! If you are prepared to help crowdsource the product, you can pre-order it for $50 if you sign up by June 22nd. Check it out here. (Disclosure - if you order through this link, I get a $5 discount on my order.)

Here's a video review of it I found on YouTube:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

World's Worst Pet - vocabulary app

World's Worst Pet is a free iPad-only app for students in 3rd grade through 8th grade to practice Tier 2 vocabulary items. Tier 2 vocabulary means frequently occurring words that appear in a variety of topics and across disciplines.  English language learners pick up Tier 1 vocabulary from their peers and every day life. Tier 3 vocabulary is the kind of academic language, often subject-specific, that even native-speakers of a language have to be taught in school. English language learners get Tier 3 language from direct instruction, just like their native-speaker peers, but tier 2 vocabulary is often their weakness.

This app has 6 different levels, C to H, for grades 3 through 8. Level C has 10 different sets of vocabulary, each with 10 words, and Levels D through H have 20 sets of vocabulary each with 10 related words for a total of 1100 words! At the beginning of each vocabulary set, students have the chance to read clear explanations with examples of how each word is used. Spanish cognates are included in the definitions for many of the words. Each of the ten words is clearly pronounced (by a real person, not a computerized voice) as part of the definition. If they make mistakes as they play the games (rescuing the "world's worst pet" Snargg from a variety of predicaments), the app will show students the definitions again, and they can return to the definitions at any point. One weakness as far as I'm concerned is that graphics could have been included in some of the definitions, which would have made it even more language-learner friendly.

There are a variety of activities at each level that ensure that the students see each word multiple times in each series. 

Although they are essentially all multiple-choice activities, once a student gets to the end of each set there is a composition assignment that encourages the student to use the words from the set. The writing assignment provides some accountability for the students beyond simply guessing their way through the game. Levels C, D and E vocabulary sets finish with one of the following types of writing: 
  • writing an opinion
  • writing an informational essay
  • writing a narrative
Levels F, G and H finish with 
  • writing an argument
  • writing an informational essay
  • writing a narrative
Just like any other teaching material, this app will be most effective when it is part of a carefully thought-out lesson plan.  I can see this app working well with small groups or on-on-one. Students should be discouraged from guessing as this defeats the purpose of the activity. Having students work in pairs and encouraging constructive conversations about the answers might be helpful. (Another reason for using the app in a focused way is that I can see students eventually getting bored with the games as they remain the same from level to level.

Because each set of words has a specific focus and the words all relate to that topic, rather than have students simply work their way through each topic, one after the other, I would be tempted to have the students work on topics that specifically related to other work going on in class. Having students simply work their way through the units with no connection to other work going on in the classroom is not going to get the best results. For example, the theme for Level C set 4 is "The People’s Government" and it would make sense to use this unit when working on related material in social studies. Unfortunately, the app itself does not contain a list for teachers of the topics and their word lists . . . so, for your convenience, I've started work on creating a resource for you. Follow the links below to see the vocabulary in each vocabulary set and the writing prompt at the end of each unit.

Level C topics and vocabulary
Level D topics and vocabulary (incomplete) 


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Typedrawing - drawing with words

Typedrawing is an app that lets you draw with words or sentences. Typedrawing users have come up with some amazingly creative images, but I think it could also be an interesting way for students to review vocabulary. You can choose from the fonts available on your iOS device, pick a color and a font size to 'paint' with.You can also change the way the text behaves (getting larger or smaller depending on the speed you draw at.)
Click to see a larger version of this image
There are paid versions of Typedrawing for iPod/iPhone ($1.99) and iPad (2.99) as well as a free version. The iPad version allows for higher resolution images. After playing with it for just a short time, I decided it was worth the money to upgrade from the free app to the higher quality version for the iPad. I was glad I did, because when I encouraged a colleague to download the free version and she had a student use it, the student accidentally clicked on the ad at the bottom of the screen and became very confused as to where her picture had gone. When we explained about the advertising she looked at us in disgust and told us to make it go away because it was in her way!!

In addition to creating an entire drawing with words, you could use this app as a way to annotate a photograph as the latest version has the ability to stop it from repeating text. Choose a photo from your photo album on your device to use as a background and then write on the picture. When you're done, save it back to the photo album as a new picture. (You also have the option of sending the finished image as a PNG file or a PDF file to iTunes on your computer.) Here's an example I made with a drawing that I'd previously scanned:

Annotate monster pic
Click to see a larger version of this image
It would be nice to have the ability to move text once you've drawn with it, but the app does have an undo button which can be helpful.

Unlike earlier versions, you can now save drawings in the app itself, so if you want to stop work and come back to an image later you can.

You can save a finished picture to your photo album, save to iTunes, email it, or share it to Twitter. You can lock the drawing to prevent it from being accidentally changed.

(Review originally written May 2012. Updated October 2013 to reflect upgrades since my first review.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Teaching Table - a math app

Teaching Table ($2.99) is a math app that allows you to create custom lessons using a variety of manipulatives. It was designed by a real classroom teacher working with a couple of developers because she was disappointed in the apps that she had found to use with her students. She wanted a single app that would be versatile and that she could use throughout the school year.

The app contains a very thorough tutorial in how to create lessons, and a series of sample lessons.

Although I think kids will find the app fun to use, it is not a game. It does not contain any advertising.

One very cool feature is that once you have created a lesson, you can share it with anyone else who has the app. You can either email it directly to your colleagues or students, or you can share it through the 'store' in the app. I haven't tried this feature out yet, but if it is easy to use it will definitely make the app even more valuable.

There is a Lite version available for free which allows you to create and interact with custom lessons. The lessons you create in the Lite version cannot be saved or shared, but you can open lessons shared with you by others. To unlock all features, you can purchase the Teaching Table in app upgrade at any time. Even if you can only afford one copy for your classroom, I think it's worth it!

Here is the promo video from the developer:

Disclosure - I received a free copy of this app for evaluation purposes. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Story from Disney

Disney has just released a free app called Story, aimed at parents, that I think would work in schools too. Although it's from Disney, it doesn't tout Disney products (although Mickey does make an appearance!)

Basically, it lets you take photos from the album on your iPhone (or iPad or iPod Touch if it has a camera) and turn them into a digital story book with text. (You can even include a couple of short video clips too if you want.) The finished product can be shared in the same way as StoryKit stories - when you share your story, a version is uploaded to a website with a random address on the Story website. Only people who know the address can view the story - when you upload your story the app asks if you want to share it via email or Facebook. You can also embed stories on your website.

The stories you create are based on events in your photo album. If you want to use photos (or video) from your computer you'll have to move them over to your iDevice first. You can let Story choose the images from your event for you, or you can create a story from scratch if you want more control over the choice or need to choose photos from more than one event. Story will automatically title the story based on the date and the location where the photos were taken, but you can edit this (within the 50 character limit.) You can add text - either on its own on a page (150 character limit) or as captions to specific photos (75 character limit.) I found when I added a caption to a photo it appeared in the app not to fit properly even though it was within the 75 character limit, but after I uploaded it to the Story website it looked just fine. You can't (as far as I know) change the font, font size or color. The first word in a text box (not the title or a caption) is bold and you can't switch that option off.

You can change the 'theme' or background - this is where Mickey is one of the five available options, but if it weren't for that you wouldn't know this app has anything to do with Disney. You can change the page layout, and also crop individual photos. I didn't find it obvious how to change the layout, but once I figured it out it was really quite easy - drag pictures from page to page, drag extra pictures to  page to change the number of pictures on a page, and tap on a picture to get a popup menu that includes the layout option.  Stories are saved in the app, and if you use iCloud they are backed up there too.

Although you can add video, you can't add audio the way you can in StoryKit and there are definitely occasions when I want my students to record themselves reading their stories.

You need to set up a Story account in order to be able to share stories. The account name (but not the email address you use to login) that you provide will show up on every story that you share. You can edit the name later if you need to through the account settings in the app. You can create stories without being logged in to your Story account, but to share them you have to log in. I would recommend having students create stories and then have the teacher log in to share them once the students have finished work. This way stories don't get shared until you know they are worthy of being shared, you know who they were shared with - and students don't have access to the account settings so they can't change the password on you!

Here's a very thorough review of Story from Macworld. Disney has a FAQ page for the app that answers a lot of the questions I had about the app before I even downloaded it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

So much work, so little time to blog

Feeling guilty for abandoning my blog . . . it takes time to put together a halfway decent post, and too many other things have been demanding my time. I did actually get around to updating a couple of my reviews in the last couple of weeks. I've still been trying out apps, thinking about writing reviews, and reading other blogs about using iPads in class. I read a great article this morning on "How to be a terrible iPad teacher" that is well worth a read. Steve is an itinerant French teacher who's put together a great series of articles on using the iPad in any classroom. Even if you've got some experience already using iPads in your classroom, he has some great suggestions.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Rainbow Sentences

Rainbow Sentences, $7.99 from Mobile Education Tools, is designed "to help students improve their ability to construct grammatically correct sentences by using color coded visual cues. The who, what, where, and why parts of sentences are color coded to help students recognize and understand how combinations of these parts create basic sentence structure."

The intention is that students will learn how to recognize the parts of sentences such as nouns, verbs, and prepositions, improve their understanding of how combinations of these parts create basic sentence structure. In practice, I have found that it is tempting for students to use other strategies to complete the sentences. They will start by putting the word with an uppercase letter first, and the word with a period after it at the end of the sentence, and then start placing the rest of the words based on their length, as the spaces they are to be dragged to give an indication as to the length of the missing word. This is not an app I would have a student use alone, even though the recordkeeping in the app would allow them to do so. As my students use this app, I sit with them and ask them questions so that in answering my questions they can complete the sentence. Students have the opportunity to record their sentences in their own voice to improve their receptive and expressive language skills. I have found this app useful with young English language learners with language delays.

-168 images to create sentence from - plenty of variety
-Intuitive drag and drop to create sentences - easy for students to get the hang of
-Words are spoken as they are being dragged for non readers - very helpful, so the focus of the activity can be on the sentence structure rather than reading individual words
-Words can be color coded for added visual support
-Word groups can be selected to simplify sentence construction
-6 levels of sentence complexity
-Pictograph lessons to help students learn proper sentence construction
-Record feature allows students to record sentences in their own voice
-Save and email recorded sentences
-Students earn puzzle pieces during play to encourage continued play. Initially I was skeptical as to how motivating this would be - but when I had a student who was used to this app try another app from the same company that did not have the puzzle reward, she was disappointed that the puzzle was not there!
-Puzzles come to life once level is complete

Friday, April 5, 2013

iPad Ideas

Thanks to Tony Vincent for pointing me in the direction of the iPad Ideas website. It's a great website put together by educators in Singapore for educators interested in using iPads in schools.

There is a list of recommended apps with some basic information about each app and some suggested uses. You can browse through the list or search the database by subject, grade level and/or price. There are some lesson ideas and case studies to inspire you, and links to other people's websites with even more info on using iPads in school. Well worth a look!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Google Docs on the iPad

My school district uses Google Docs but I haven't really tried it out on the iPad yet as I still automatically turn to my laptop for tasks like word-processing or creating spreadsheets. I was very happy to discover that John over at The Electric Educator has written a helpful comparison of the mobile versus the desktop versions of Google docs.

The mobile version of Google apps apparently comes up short in many areas - it doesn't allow you to insert tables or images into a word-processing document for example. However, Google Docs is very much still evolving and this may change over time. John encourages you to add notes and comments to his spreadsheet.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"There may not be an app for that . . ."

I just read a great article entitled "There May Not Be an App for That" written by Helen Erickson, a teacher of English Language learners at a secondary school in British Columbia. She talks of her 'aha!' moment when she realized that when she first began working with iPads in the classroom, she was making the "classic error of trying to find apps to teach with." She comments: "There may not be an app that will teach what you want students to learn, but there is most likely an app that will support and enhance students' learning."

Although she mentions a few specific apps that she uses, the article is more about her general philosophy and the benefits she has found in using iPads in the classroom. I second her comments about teachers needing as many tools in our toolboxes as possible and how motivating technology can be for students. Her observation that "when the students were playing games or completing drills, they were often using inefficient or incorrect strategies" is spot on! Just because the kids really like using iPads and find them motivating does not mean that they are always the best choice of activity. As I said in my MATSOL conference presentation earlier this month, we have to be sure that students are working on the skill we really want them to be working on. 'iPad time' is not time for teachers to sit back and relax - they still need to be paying attention to what their students are doing. Students often need both initial and continued direction so that they understand what the goal is and that this is not 'play time'.

Of course, this is true no matter what kind of activity we are asking them to do, but I have seen too many teachers think that giving the kids an app to work on is going to guarantee some kind of improvement in skill or understanding. When you let students use an iPad you need to be clear about what they are going to get out of it. Just like baby-proofing a room, you have to look at the app from the student's point of view. Is there a way to get a high score without truly understanding the assignment?  Have you played the game all the way through as a student will? How often are there 'rewards'? How long can the student spend on the rewards as opposed to the academic task? A fun game that includes some math may be motivating, but our time in school with kids is limited and if the percentage of time on task is not high enough then maybe that game needs to be relegated to being one recommended for use on personal iPads.

Even if you don't teach English language learners, I highly recommend Helen's article.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Choosing apps for English Language Learners

Some thoughts on choosing apps for English language learners, put together for the MATSOL conference, May 3, 2012.

If you want a more formal way of comparing and reviewing apps, there is a great app review rubric over at Kathy Schrock has two different downloadable rubrics on her fantastic  iPads in the Classroom page - one for for a content iPad/iPod app and one for a creation iPad/iPod app.

Here is my (work-in-progress) list of apps for English language learners. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

National Archives DocsTeach

The National Archives website is a great source of material for teachers, especially teacher of history and social studies. It features thousands of primary sources and learning activities. Register for a free account and you can borrow from and modify an ever-expanding collection of activities, plus create unique ones using online templates. Any activities you create are automatically shared with other Docsteach users to use or modify.

The recently released free app Docsteach app designed to work with the site allows iPad users to:
  • "Choose a historical era or topic to find an activity based on primary source documents such as the US Constitution, the canceled check for the purchase of Alaska, and Thomas Edison’s patent drawing for the light bulb.
  • Participate in DocsTeach activities made with the Focusing on Details, Making Connections, Finding a Sequence, Mapping History, Weighing the Evidence, or Seeing the Big Picture tools.
  • Zoom and inspect individual pages of documents, drawings, maps, and photographs using the controls in the document viewing window."
Because teachers register to use the site, activities they create can be tagged with “Classroom Codes” so that students can find activities specifically assigned by their own teachers. Alternatively, students can browse to look for activities on a particular topic. A wifi connection is recommended for using this app.

Read more about Docsteach and the new app at the United States National Archive blog.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


StoryLines is a free app that lets you play a game that's a cross between the old whispering game of telephone and the drawing game Pictionary. It could be an interesting way of reviewing vocabulary.

The game is played with 3, 5, 7 or 9 players. The first player picks a word or phrase. The second illustrates it. The third writes the phrase that they think is being illustrated. If you're playing with more than 3 players, the players then alternate between writing the phrase they think is being illustrated and drawing a new illustration. At the end of the game you see the whole chain of text and drawings played out.

StoryLines can be played against your friends online, with moves being shared on Facebook. StoryLines for Schools however, is specifically designed with no Internet element to the game (other than emailing the finished StoryLine to someone once you have finished) and can only be played in what the developers call  Pass-n-Play mode. It also includes some suggestions for vocabulary or phrases to use as a game starters. The suggested vocabulary is too hard (even at the 'elementary' level) for elementary-level students, or elementary-level English language learners. If I were using the game in class, I think I would take the first move myself and provide the phrase or vocabulary item, or I would require students to choose from a vocabulary list. I'd like to see a feature where the teacher could create a list of vocabulary in the app. I think this would be a fun game to play after teaching some idioms! I have a set of cards already to play a matchup game with idioms and pictures, so the cards with the words on them would be a good way to have the students choose the phrase to start the game.

I liked the fact that the drawing part of the game was originally deliberately kept very simple with no colors or different kind of artist's tools available. It's like doing a quick doodle with a pen. There is now an in-app purchase to add colors that I can see could be useful, but in-app purchases are a pain to deal with in school.

Here's a link to a short, 3 person, StoryLine that was created on an iPad and then shared via email. (You will need Safari or Chrome to see it - it's not compatible with Firefox.) The email you send to share your story contains a link to the page where the StoryLine has been uploaded. It would be nice if you could scroll back to the start of the StoryLine once it's finished 'playing'. I think that would be especially important if you have more than 3 people contributing to the StoryLine. In the school where I work, groups for 'center activities' almost always seem to have 4 kids in them, but you could play this game with 4 kids by choosing the 5 player version and having the teacher select the word or phrase that starts the game.

As a free app, this is certainly worth downloading, even if you only use it once a year!

(Updated 5 April 2013)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Apps for English Language Learners

I've created a list of apps that I think could be useful when working with English language learners. As with the other lists I've created, it's most definitely a work in progress!

At this point there are over 200 apps included. Most tend to be for elementary-age students, but there are some that are appropriate for older students too. A few, but not many overall, are specifically for students to work on grammar and sentence structure. Some are one-trick ponies - they do one thing only, do it quite well, but you might only ask your students to use it once a year. Some of these apps are appropriate for students to use on their own, but many (especially those originally designed for use by speech and language therapists) are intended to be used one on one or with a very small group of students.

I've listed the prices (in US$) as of when I added the app to my list, but app prices do change regularly, so check before you buy. Prices in parentheses are the price through the volume purchase program for 20 or more copies of the same app.

If you have any corrections or additions to make, please leave a comment on this post. Equally, if there is information you wish I had included, please let me know. I'd like to make this as useful a resource as possible! 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Storytelling apps compared - update

I've updated my spreadsheet comparing storytelling apps.

The following apps are included:
  • Book Creator for iPad
  • My Story - Book Maker for Kids
  • Our Story 1.0
  • Pictello 1.2.1
  • Scribble Press 1.1
  • SodaSnap Postcards 2.4
  • SodaSnap+ Postcards 1.4
  • SonicPics 1.4.1 (SonicPics Lite - no longer available)
  • StoryKit 1.1
  • StoryPatch 1.21
  • StoryRobe 1.0
  • StoryMaker 1.1
  • StoryPages 2.1
  • StoryPages HD 3.01
(Highlighted items are new additions since the last version.) 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Grammar - parts of speech

As an ESL teacher, I obviously have to spend a good portion of my teaching time working with my students on their grammar. I want my students to be able to communicate effectively and incorrect grammar often gets in the way of that communication. It is obviously helpful when you are trying to help students improve their writing if you have a shared vocabulary. If they don't know what a adjective or an adverb is, it doesn't help to tell them "You used an adverb here instead of an adjective." Mainstream students need to know this vocabulary too - especially because it does turn up on standardized tests - "Which of the words in this sentence is a noun?" (I'm not even going to get started though on whether we should even be doing all the standardized testing that we do  - that's a whole 'nuther blog!)

So, someone was asking me the other day if I've found any apps to help kids with their grammar. If you want them to be able to identify the parts of speech, yes there is an app (or two!) for that!

 Grammar Dragon is a free app that asks you to identify what part of speech specific words in a sentence are. There is no instruction as to what the parts of speech are. The 'game' is essentially a multiple choice worksheet with some animation added, though it is sufficiently game-like to keep kids interested for a while. The grammar dragon has captured all of your friends from the castle. You must rescue a different person on each level by correctly identifying various parts of speech. Grammar terms used in the game include: adjective, pronoun, conjunction, preposition, noun, interjection, verb.

This is intended as a one person game, but I could see two students working on it together. It can be a tricky game for ESL students if they don't know all the vocabulary  - sometimes they can mistakes simply because they don't understand the vocabulary. On the other hand, if they have a good sense of sentence structure and the vocabulary required for the game, it is possible for them to get the answer right without actually understanding the sentence they are reading.

The traditional Mad Libs games are also good for students to learn the basic parts of speech. There are several of them available, and there are even some that are free. Watch for the advertising on the free ones though, and for the in-app purchase options that allow you to buy more stories. (Remember you can turn off the ability to make in-app purchases in the settings, and it is also a good idea to always change your payment method back to  'None' after you've made a purchase, in addition to remembering to log out of the app store.)

Mad Libs (free) - the traditional Mad Libs game. The name Mad Libs is owned by the Penguin publishing company who put out the books and now the app. They have a free version of Mad Libs available for download but, of course, what they want you to do is to purchase more so it only includes 4 stories. A $3.99 in-app purchase gets you another 20 stories. There are 2 different in-app purchases available, for a total of 40 stories. The game does not always specifically ask for a part of speech - sometimes it asks for something like "a kind of liquid." It asks for adjectives and adverbs, and specifies plural or singular when it is asking for a noun.

WordVenture! (Free, some advertising)  - Although per story this works out more expensive than Mad Libs if you buy the additional stories, I like the fact that this app gives definitions and examples of the kind of words as it asks for them. Grammar terms used in WordVenture! include adverb, verb, past tense verb, noun, exclamation, verb ending with "ing", adverb, adjective, noun, plural noun. It comes with 3 stories - 30 more are available at 3 for $0.99. The three free stories could serve as a good introduction to the concept of the game as this app offers some support, and then students can move on to one of the other apps.

Silly Stories Lite (free, some advertising),  Silly Stories ($1.99) and Silly Stories - iPad edition ($1.99). More Mad Libs-type stories. The full version of Silly Stories lets you share your completed stories online, and I would hope it has no advertising. Stories that are posted online are associated with the account that posted them. The company does have a policy of not posting stories automatically - they are reviewed for appropriateness first.  (The company needs to do some editing of their site though - they spell inappropriate as 'inapproperate' and currently the site says "Additionally, all Silly Stories are reviewed before they are allowed to be made pubically available." Hmmm . . . I hope their stories are better edited!) Once a story has been uploaded and approved, it cannot be deleted from the website, but the company says they can disassociate it from the account that uploaded it. Grammar terms used in Silly Stories include: verb, past tense, adverb, adjective, plural.

SparkleFish is a MadLibs-type app that doesn't involve any typing.  Record the words it asks for and they are then included in a story that you listen to rather than read. SparkleFish is free, with in-app purchases for additional stories, ($0.99 for each story pack of 5 stories.) Grammar terms used in the free stories provided in SparkleFish include adverb, singular noun, plural noun, verb past tense, verb ending in 'ing', adjective, verb. Other terms include singular body part, beverage, liquid, number, ordinal number.

With all of the Mad Libs-type stories, (just as with the books) the students will have more fun if they are not working on them alone. Students could work on a story with a partner and read it aloud (and giggle) together. If you have more than one iDevice, two students could both work on the same story on their own and then share their different versions once they've added all the words. Once they've played the apps a few times, rather than buy new stories, the stronger students could then write their own stories. If you have computers available where the stories could be saved as templates, you could then build up a selection of student-generated stories that could either be used on the computer, or printed out for completion.

(Originally posted July 2011, updated March 2012)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Storytelling with Scribble Press

Scribble Press is another storytelling app. It is currently free and is for iPad only. In some ways it is very similar to StoryKit.

Scribble Press has 50 built-in story templates that you can use as starting points for a story, or you can choose to start with a blank book. I like the fact that even if you start with a template story you can add to the text or edit it once it is on the pages of your book. You can also add more pages if you want to. Like StoryKit, there are no choices of font or font size.

There are plenty of options for illustrating your story. There is a vast array of 'markers' in many colors - enough to provide plenty of options, but not an infinite color palette that would make it difficult to match a color if you wanted to. If you prefer, you can add a photo to a page by taking one with the iPad 2 camera or choosing one from your own photo gallery on your iPad. There are also some 'stickers' included that allow you to quickly add some images to your story.

Finished stories can be read in the app itself by tapping on the front cover of the book to open it. Stories can also be saved from the app as an ePub file that can be added to iBooks to build a library of student-created books on the iPad. Unlike some other ePub books, you cannot change the font size in the book when you are reading it in iBooks.

Stories can also be shared by choosing "Email a link" which uploads them to the Scribble Press website and sends an email with the address of the story to anyone you send the email message to. Your iPad must be set up to send email to do this! Sharing a story this way does not include it in Scribble Press/ public library of books - only people who have the address can access the story. You could choose to email the link directly to people you'd like to have read the stories, or if you have a website you could link directly to your Scribble Press story from a webpage. (For some reason my school Gmail account dropped the message from Scribble Press into the spam folder - so if you send the link via email and it does not seem to show up, check your spam folder!) When visitors follow the link they can browse the story online or they can download the story as an ePub file for viewing on their own mobile device. They can choose three different formats, including for iOS and Nook. Kindle readers will need to convert the file - search for how to open an ePub file on a Kindle and you'll find lots of advice.

By choosing "Publish in Gallery" you can also choose to submit your story to be included in Scribble Press' public library of stories. All books that are to be shared publically are held for 24 hours so Scribble Press can make sure all the content is kid-friendly! Once a story has been uploaded to Scribble Press it is available for anyone to read and download.

The app is practical to use on a shared iPad because a story in progress can simply be saved. The book is saved to the 'My Books' shelf and when you open it up again instead of tapping on it to read it, you can choose Edit from the menu underneath the front cover.

The 'Order' button offers the option of paying to have stories printed. I don't see schools particularly wanting to take advantage of this option but families might. Scribble Press says single page stories can be printed on a clipboard, puzzle, notebook, or greeting card - but in reality this means the artwork from a single page story can be published as the text is removed for these products!

There are a couple of improvements I would like to see in this app. I would like to see the option of being able to add students' voices to their stories because as a language teacher I see my kids getting enormous value out of recording their stories in StoryKit or GarageBand. I would also like to be able to move the text area on a page, as I can in StoryKit, so that it is not always at the bottom of the page. Nonetheless, as a free app it is definitely worth downloading! I can see students and teachers getting lots of use out of it.

The developer says:
Scribble Press for iPad includes:
- 50 story templates
- over 500 drawing tools, including markers and stamps in a vast array of colors
- a unique sticker collection
- your own photo library
- an easy and fun to use book layout tool
- shopping cart so you can order printed copies of your book and other cool stuff
- sharing tools that make it easy to show the world – or just your family and friends – your great creation PLUS, you can use Scribble Press for iPad to read books created by other kids, from all around the world!
Here's a video tour of Scribble Press from the developer: 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Puppet Pals, the iRig microphone and digital storytelling projects

Since I first posted about it back in March 2011, I haven't actually used Puppet Pals again with my students at school. On 19 January, 2012, Wes Fryer posted on his blog "Moving at the Speed of Creativity" about his experience of using Puppet Pals with an afterschool program at his church. He has some good suggestions for making the process work smoothly. One interesting detail in his post is the fact that he has uploaded 3 student-made videos. One of them was recorded using an iRig microphone. The others used the microphone in the iPad. Clearly there was background noise going on in all three videos, but the one recorded with the iRig microphone is noticeably a MUCH better recording! I have the luxury of working with small groups of students and a small, quiet, space to work in most of the time but after seeing/hearing these videos on Wes' blog I think I'd like an iRig microphone anyway - and for working in a regular classroom where several groups might be working at the same time I would DEFINITELY want a good microphone. I will certainly be recommending to the classroom teachers I work with that they try to get one. At $59.99 apiece maybe DonorsChoose can help!

Wes also commented on the need to get the students to plan their play. I agree with him 100% when he says:
"With just about any multimedia project, getting students to plan, get organized, and in some cases WRITE is the hardest part of the entire experience. It’s also the most important, however, because it contributes the most to the eventual success and quality of the project."
Lisa Johnson, blogging at techchef4u, has written a very helpful article on using Puppet Pals with students. Her suggestions for topics to use with Puppet Pals would work equally well with many of the other storytelling apps.

If you are looking to sell the idea of more technology to your school/school district, storytelling projects like this clearly show the students using important skills for academic success - planning, writing, organizing . . . And yet, despite the work that goes into a project like this, most students will still perceive the project as being fun.

Monday, November 14, 2011

iOS books for older struggling readers

Carisa, over at The Digital Media Diet, has written a great article on iPad books for older & struggling Readers Ages 10 and up. As she comes across new books she will add them to her blogpost.

Friday, October 7, 2011

In, out, on, and under

Learning which preposition to use can be tricky for second language learners. There are a couple of apps that can help. Speech with Milo from Doonan Speech Therapy has one version that focuses on prepositions, and Mobile Education Tools has just released an app called PrepositionBuilder.

I used Speech with Milo - Prepositions last year, and although it's not the most exciting of apps, the kindergartner I was using it with loved Milo the mouse. Designed for use by speech language therapists with a view to using it with kids on the autism spectrum, the mouse does seem to be popular with younger kids. Although most of the animations are very clear, there are a few that are potentially confusing. The preposition 'under' for example, is illustrated by Milo getting IN a submarine that then goes UNDER the water. This is not an app that students would use by themselves - it is designed to be used with an adult's guidance. There is nothing built in to the app to track a student's progress. In the settings you can decide which of the prepositions will be presented at each sitting. At $2.99 it is relatively cheap.

 PrepositionBuilder is significantly more sophisticated. Unless an adult is sitting with them to read the sentence prompts, students need to be able to read in order to choose the correct preposition to complete the sentence. However, once they have chosen the correct answer, the app will read the completed sentence to them. When a student gets an answer wrong, the image on the screen changes to represent the sentence that they have created. Although kids will enjoy getting the sentence wrong, the app is still reinforcing the correct way to use each of the prepositions. Students can record themselves reading the correct sentence, and that recording can be emailed to the teacher. Even if you are right next to the student listening to them, sometimes it's nice to have a recording that documents a student's speaking skills! Some students may find it harder than others to manage the recording and saving process by themselves.

PrepositionBuilder keeps track of each student's progress and rewards them with animations when they get answers right the first time. You can save profiles for multiple kids. At $7.99, this app is clearly more expensive than Speech With Milo, but I think with the added features you get your money's worth.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Math apps from iDevBooks

Earlier this year, I downloaded a couple of math apps from iDevBooks for my own kids to use on my iPod. The Long Multiplication and Long Division apps, walk students through each step in a problem, reminding them of what they need to do at each point. They would be ideal to use after a teacher has already introduced these kinds of problems so that students who need some extra guidance can have it without monopolizing the teacher.

They were relatively expensive as far as apps go - $3.99 each (or $1.99 with volume purchase pricing) so I was hesitant when I was recommending  them to a colleague recently who teaches 3rd and 4th grade math. Her reaction was immediate though - "Oh, we NEED these apps!" Right now they are on sale - $1.99, or $0.99 with a volume purchase - but I don't know if/when they will go back  to the higher price.

The apps are very straightforward - the developer himself says that they were deliberately designed without bells and whistles, but with significant attention to how they actually help kids learn. So many learning apps seem to have been designed by someone with no knowledge of good teaching practice, it is a delight to find some that have! Some of the notable features of these apps:
  • wrong answers are not penalized
  • there are no timers, counters or a sense of rush
  • distractions are kept to a minimum
  • they can be used by multiple students using the same iDevice because they do not track scores
They are not 'games', but they do give the kids the practice and support they need to strengthen their math skills. So far, I only have the long multiplication and long division apps, but Esa Heltulla, the developer, has created 18 different math apps.
Coming soon  from the same developer- an iPad app that can be used to interact with and visualize the multiplication tables.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Math apps

I have started a spreadsheet to keep track of the math apps I've found that I think are worth using with students in grades K-5 (ages 5-11). There is a brief description of each app and I am slowly adding the Common Core standards that I think each one addresses. Bear in mind that I'm a language teacher, not a math teacher so please let me know if you find any errors! 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Back-to-school specials for special kids

Summer vacation is flying by here in New England, and with just a couple of weeks left until the school year starts again there is a great apps sale happening this weekend. Carisa of Digital Storytime, Siva of Technology in (Spl) Education, and Patrick and Jeremy on the Teaching All Students blog have created a Back-to-School App Specials promotion/sale this weekend (8/12 – 8/15.)  For more info,  follow the hashtag#B2SAppSpecials on Twitter or check out the list of participating app developers (65 so far with 130 apps!) on Tech in Special Ed's  blog. If you're on Facebook, 'like' Technology in Education's page to get regular updates on useful apps. 

I took advantage of the sale to make some language-teaching purchases. In the app See.Touch.Learn (a picture learning system from BrainParade designed specifically for those with autism and other special needs), all of the in-app purchases have been discounted and are $0.99. I've had the app for a while, and had been waiting and hoping for a sale! (The basic app is free, but there are many add-on collections of images that make it more useful, as well as an upgrade that allows you to record your own voice instead of using the text-to-speech voices when you are creating new exercises for your students.)

The apps Sentence Builder, Language Builder, Conversation Builder, and Question Builder from Mobile Education Store have all been reduced to $2.99. I had a couple of their apps and used them regularly last year, so I was happy to add to my collection of their apps.

Speech with Milo: Verbs and Speech with Milo: Prepositions (and their Spanish versions)have been discounted from $2.99 to $.99  I had Speech with Milo: Prepositions and used it regularly last year. The Verbs version was on my list to buy before school starts again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Storytelling with SodaSnap and StoryMaker

Although their names don't make it obvious, Story Maker (iPad only) and SodaSnap Postcards (iPod and iPad) are very similar apps in that essentially they both create one page stories. Yes - Story Maker is perhaps a poorly chosen name for an app that does not let you create multiple page stories! One page is often the perfect length for a student piece of writing, especially in the early years of writing but, if it is not, multiple 'pages' from these apps could easily be combined to create a 'book'. You could print them and staple them together to create a traditional book. You could create a digital 'book' by using the image files (.jpg or .png) created in StoryMaker or SodaSnap into a slideshow, or a webpage. Alternatively, you could also use the image files in another app, such as SonicPics or Storyrobe, to create a narrated movie in an app that otherwise doesn't allow you to add text.

The basic point of SodaSnap Postcards 2.4 (free) and SodaSnap+ Postcards 1.4 ($2.99) is to take the digital photos you have taken on your iPhone or iPad and turn them into postcards that you can email right away to family and friends. With Internet access, you can see a gallery of the 50 most recent postcards that have been uploaded by other SodaSnap users all over the world. (FYI: my experience is that if you click on the gallery and you don't have internet access, the app stalls and stays stalled until it successfully connects to the net! Also, I don't know what policies they have in place to prevent inappropriate postcards being shared.) If you add scanned student art work to the photo album on your iPad/iPod, then students can use those images for their 'postcard'. Alternatively, you could use other apps that allow you to save images to the photo album as the source of your images. You do not have to share your finished postcards with the world - saving to the SodaSnap server, Facebook or Twitter is optional. You can simply save the finished card to the camera roll in the Photo Library on your iDevice and then choose how you want to use it from there.

The Story Maker (free) metaphor is different. You start by assembling a character (or characters) from the pieces provided in the app. There are many choices - 21 different heads to start with and 37 different faces! There are four additional sets of fairytale characters that you can buy as an in-app purchase for $0.99 per set of characters. Having created a character, you can choose different elements for the background and then add text. Each story (basically a single page with text) can be saved to camera roll, sent to Twitter or Facebook, or emailed. If you can print directly from your iPad, you can print from within StoryMaker.

Given that both of these apps allow you to create just one page at a time, I can see them being very usable in a school situation  - students can potentially easily complete and save a single page within the time frame of one class period.