Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Numbl (and Zen of Ten) - simple math practice

Numbl lets kids practice their addition facts. A number is displayed at the top of the screen and students have to touch numbers in the grid below that together will add up to that number. That's it. No subtraction, division or multiplication. Just addition. The totals the students have to reach can be as high as in the 20s, requiring adding more than two numbers to reach the correct total. There is no way to set the difficulty level of the game to avoid this.

To keep it motivating, Numbl times you and if you achieve a fast time, you can enter your name on the high score list. There are two lists - one for "This iPhone" and the other is a worldwide list (requires an internet connection.) The times on the worldwide high score list are just over 2 seconds - insanely fast, but at least kids can still be challenged locally! There are no personal high scores saved, but if the ipod/iPads are shared between classes, the high score list gives students a way of challenging  kids in other classes.

The game can also be played as a 2-player game, (although then no high scores are saved.) For a class with just a few iPods/iPads this means twice as many kids can be using them at once. Even with only two iPods/iPads, you could have 4 kids use them to play Numbl as a center activity.

Numbl is available in both iPod and iPad versions. At the time of posting, it costs $0.99.

If adding 3 numbers to reach a total in the 20's is too difficult for your students, try Zen of Ten instead. It is similar to Numbl, but the goal is to choose numbers that together total 10. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kids' book apps

If you're interested in finding good storybook apps for young readers, I recommend starting with this article Planet App: Kids' book apps are everywhere. But are they any good? by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. It starts with some suggestions as to things to look for in a storybook app, and then moves on to examine some books using those criteria.

One of the most important questions she asks is, "What does the app provide that a simple lapsit with a print book and an adult does not?" This a pertinent question to ask about most apps. What is the value in having a student use the app as opposed to working some other way? If there is no real advantage, then why use the app? If the app could be replaced by an audio recording  and a copy of the book, then what's the point?

Bird sees some valuable qualities in storybook apps, but of course not all apps are equally good! Her article will help you think critically about the free samples you can download from companies like Rye Studio, Loud Crow, and many others. Note that the free storybooks are often limited in some way. They are usually free only to give you a taste of what the full version is like, so you can 'try before you buy' and sometimes, but not always,  include the word 'Lite' in the title to alert you to that fact.  Read the description carefully to find out what is missing. If it's an interactive feature, then you may find the app still usable. Sometimes, however, it's the last page or two of the story!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Animated Storytelling Apps Comparison

After doing the reviews of the different animated storytelling apps I decided to make this spreadsheet to compare them directly. While they have many features in common, they are obviously not identical and one may suit your needs better than another. I can actually see teachers wanting different apps for different purposes, for different types of project, or different age groups. I've tried to make sure to include features that teachers want to know about - such as "Can kids save a project and go back to it later?" Given the constraints of school scheduling, and the reality that kids in different classes may be using the same iPod/iPad, this can be a make-or-break feature in terms of an app's usability in school. If I've made mistakes, or not commented on features you want to know about, please let me know! Prices are today's and may change, as are app version numbers.

This spreadsheet only lists animation software - I'll do another one for apps that create book-like or slideshow-like products.

Spreadsheet last updated 5 May, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sock Puppets for Storytelling

SockPuppets is another app that lets you create short animated stories.You get to choose one or more of several 'sock puppets'  and a background for your show. The basic app is free but, just as you can with Puppet Pals, you can buy more puppets and backgrounds as an in-app purchase, starting at $0.99 for individual items or $4.99 for the complete package. You can also add some props. While recording your dialog, simply tap a puppet and that puppet will 'lip-synch', tap a different puppet and switch auto lip-synching to it. You can switch backgrounds to take your puppets to different places, move the puppets, props and scenery to animate them while recording.

SockPuppets is very simple, and very cute. I like that the puppets' mouths open and close, giving an extra element of animation to the finished video with no effort on the part of the students creating the animation. One feature, that I haven't seen in other animation apps, is the ability to change the pitch of the voice for different characters. In other words, one person could record both sides of a conversation and by having the app alter the pitch of their voice it could sound like two different people talking. The finished video can be saved to the iPod/iPad and watched on it, or you can export it to be shared. Unfortunately, the only options for sharing right now are Facebook or YouTube, both of which are often blocked in schools.

Here's a video created in Sock Puppets that I found on YouTube - a conversation between 2 students who are learning to speak Chinese:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Here today . . .

I've been spending a lot of time recently searching the net looking for other people's suggestions for iOS apps worth downloading. No matter how perfect the app sounds, I want to be able to play with it before I recommend it. Remember as you read reviews of apps (including mine!), that the other reviewers may have had different criteria than you. Sometimes people rate an app poorly because they expect it to do things that were never even promised in the app description! Make sure that the review is commenting on the current version of the app, as their criticisms may have been addressed by the developer. On the other hand, an app that is rated highly may not have any educational merit, even if kids love it. It helps if there is a free version to try out, even if that free version is limited in some way, with fewer features or with ads.

As I've been looking for apps that other people have recommended, I've been surprised at the number of apps that seem to have disappeared. In particular, many of the free apps that people have recommended are simply no longer there. It's not that they've switched to being paid apps - they're simply gone.

On the other hand, I've also found that some of the paid apps have come down significantly in price. One that I was interested in was listed on another blog as costing $9.99, but when I went to iTunes, it is now listed as $5.99. One that I bought a couple of months ago for $1.99 is now $0.99. Some apps have temporary sales, with reduced prices, or even short periods when they are completely free.

So the moral is - if it's free and you think it's worth trying out, download it now, because it may be gone next time you look.  If the app is lacking in some way, let the developer know - many are working hard to update their products to make them more useful and appreciate the feedback.

If it's a paid app and you really want it, it may be cheaper at some point in the future or it may not. Most apps are relatively cheap anyway . . . When I think of what it would cost to take my kids to the movies, and how much fun they had playing with Toontastic for the small amount it cost, it was worth it, even if it does go on sale at some point for less than I paid for it!

Friday, April 8, 2011


Mathtappers has a series of FREE  (and ad-free!) apps for working on basic math concepts - addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, as well as fractions and telling time. Designed by math educators from the University of Victoria in Canada, each app includes a page of advice to the grownups on who this app is most appropriate for (i.e. what the skills the student already needs to have mastered) and how to introduce it to the kids. They have a webpage that also has some helpful information on it. The designers have used tools that teachers often use in the classroom to help children visualize relationships between numbers (e.g., ten-frames & hundred-frames) and master their fact families (practicing groups of facts together). As they say on their website,
"Even a single shared iPod Touch can be enough to make this type of tool useful in the classroom."
Beautifully done! There are many math apps that are little more than flashcards to be used for memorizing facts, or 'drill and kill' activities. Although those have their place, it is important to have apps like these that promote real understanding of the math too!

MathTappers: Estimate Fractions - designed to help learners to build their intuitive understanding of fractions by helping them to relate fractions (both symbols and pictures) to the nearest half (e.g., 0, ½ 1, 1½, 2, etc.) and then to extend their understanding by challenging them to use fraction estimates in addition and subtraction problems. 

MathTappers: ClockMaster - A variety of options available for helping kids learn to tell the time using both analog and digital clocks.

MathTappers: Find Sums - designed to help learners to make sense of addition (and subtraction as a related operation), and then to support them in developing accuracy and improving their speed.

MathTappers: Multiples - designed first to help learners to make sense of multiplication and division with whole numbers, and then to support them in developing fluency while maintaining accuracy.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Thanks to those of you who are here because you saw me at the TEP conference today! Check out the links above, but please note that this is a work in progress - I have lots more information to add and the site will be updated on a regular basis for the foreseeable future as I find new cool apps to use in school. As I said at the conference, it is great to share and learn from others, so please leave comments - especially if your experience with certain apps is different to mine or if you have recommendations for better ones!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Storytelling with PhotoPuppet

PhotoPuppet 1.2 is another app that lets you create animated stories. Photopuppet HD is for the iPad and PhotoPuppet Go is the version for iPod/iPhone. My first reaction to PhotoPuppet after I downloaded it was "Wow!" I was stunned to see the editing power in this app, even on the iPod. The developers have thought their product through carefully - although the iPod version is more limited, puppets that you create  on the iPod can be transferred to the iPad! It has more features than the other apps I've looked at so far.  It therefore has a steeper learning curve and I think it is better suited to students older than the 5 to 8 year-olds I currently work with. (Though they may surprise me!)

For older students, who have perhaps already played with the likes of Puppet Pals and Toontastic, I think PhotoPuppet may be less frustrating in some ways than the simpler apps because of the level of control it gives you over your creation. There are all kinds of details that are not available in the other animation apps. You can edit the sound using tracks, like in Garage Band. You can snip parts out of audio tracks that you don't like. The elements in your animation are layered so you can control which ones show up on top of the others. The list of neat features goes on (from the MorrisCooke website):
  • you can create any puppet with, for example, separate legs, arms, head and body. After joining these parts together your object becomes a virtual puppet that can be controlled with your fingertips during animation.
  • Definable puppet movement - we assumed that your puppets may get complicated and not easy to control – that’s why we’ve built in definable movement schemes for each and every puppet part. This way you can let’s say, allow your puppet’s legs to move automatically while you move your puppet around and manually control it’s hands. Possibilities are endless!
  • Not only export results – share animation elements – we’ve learned from feedback that you like unrestricted export to YouTube or Video files, but we went even further and allowed puppet and animation project exchange between PhotoPuppet users!
Here is an example of how one school in South Carolina has used PhotoPuppet in science class.

The developer's website has tutorial videos on it that are worth checking out.There is also a built-in help file that explains in reasonable detail how to create and manipulate puppets. 

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

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Storytelling with Toontastic

(Review updated May 5, 2011 on release of version 1.1 - see below for additions)
Toontastic (iPad only) is yet another app for creating cartoon stories. Toontastic 1.0 provides more built-in structure to the process of story creation than any of the other apps I've reviewed so far. The company website says it is for the creation of:
an animated story made up of different types of scenes: a Setup, a Conflict, a Challenge, a Climax & a Resolution. Together, these scenes form the Story Arc. Toontastic guides kids through the Story Arc, introducing key concepts and helping them to define the turning points in their stories.
I downloaded it and let my daughter and a friend play with it this weekend. They had previously played with Puppet Pals and really liked it, so I was interested to see what they thought of Toontastic in comparison. One thing they really liked is being able to use their own drawings for backgrounds and characters. They liked that the pre-made characters were editable to some extent - they could change their colors. They also liked that the provided characters had arms and legs that moved. I noticed that characters automatically turned to face the direction in which they are dragged across the screen, whereas in PuppetPals you have to double-tap a character to make it turn around. The girls commented that they thought the characters were easier to manipulate in Toontastic than in PuppetPals. They also liked that you can choose the background music for each scene. (Personally, I would like to be able to choose no music for some projects, but the music choices do at least tie in with the Story Arc concept, helping to reinforce it.) 

The second time the girls played with it, they paid more attention to the Story Arc than they had done the first time. Without any prompting from me, they even figured out that it would be helpful to plan out on paper what their story was and they wrote out much of the script.

Projects in progress can be saved so you can go back and continue to work on them later - a key feature for storytelling apps being used in school, where it may not be possible to complete a story in one class period.  Finished projects can get saved to/shared via the ToonTube website, but saving projects there is optional. Projects uploaded to the ToonTube website can be embedded in another webpage, such as your class webpage or even Facebook. 

Despite the extra support built in to this app to encourage a good story structure, students will still benefit from planning their story out away from the iPad and then having enough time to rehearse and probably record their story more than once. This app is ideal for collaborative work as more than one voice is usually needed for a finished story. Like PuppetPals and Sonic Pics, the final product is a video and not a digital book (as StoryKit's is.) And of course, if you don't have an iPad, you can't play with Toontastic at all :-( 

For other opinions of Toontastic, here is a detailed review of it on the IEAR website, (written January 2011) and another written by Geek Dad at Wired Magazine. 

ETA: Toontastic 1.1 was released on May 4, 2011 and adds some useful features. There are a few more provided characters (or 'Toys' as the Toontastic team calls them), and more provided backgrounds. The drawing tools for creating your own backgrounds and characters have been improved with adjustable thickness brushes, fill and undo functions. Characters and backgrounds that you create are now automatically saved so that you can reuse them in different scenes and stories :-) If you need to get rid of characters that have been added by the kids, just like in iOS with apps, tap and long press a drawn character in the toy box until it starts wiggling.  You'll see a trash icon on the top left of the character, tap that and it will delete the character from the toy box but not from any of the movies it has been used in. Apparently saving to the ToonTube website, or viewing projects there, is now much faster. There is a Toontastic wiki where you can see ideas on how other educators are using Toontastic.