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.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rocket Math

I'm way behind on posting about the apps I've found, but talking with colleagues at the end of the school year got me inspired again to post about two math apps we were looking at together, both called Rocket Math. They both give kids practice in routine math helping build the automaticity they need with basic math facts.

One is Rocket Math from the developer Dan Russell-Pinson for $0.99. (There is a free version you can try out.) Personally, I didn't particularly like this one very much at first, but a first grade teacher told me that she's been using it with her class and they all love it. You have to complete multiple choice math problems to earn 'money'. You can choose which operation to work on and the level of difficulty. You use your money to build a rocket, which you then attempt to fly into space on a mission that is also math related. Although the math missions start at an easy level (tap all the even numbers) they cover a wide range of topics. There are 56 different missions. The most advanced ones ask students to do things like identify numbers that are divisible by 3, the equations that have a remainder of 1, or the square root of a given number.  This app allows you to save up to 5 profiles for different students. The profile saves the rockets the student has built, along with the info about the maximum height it reached and the maximum score the student achieved on a mission with that rocket. 

The other app with essentially the same name is Rocket Math HD.  Students can work on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division at three different levels. The first level involves adding single digit numbers, the second is double digit numbers, and the third includes triple digit numbers. Students have to solve four problems correctly and then they can go ahead and try to launch their rocket. The visuals for this reward are great - though I would watch for kids who may choose to get answers wrong in order to see their rocket crash! There is a scratch pad next to the problems so that students don't have to do the math in their head - unlike the other Rocket Math game, this one is not multiple choice. At the simpler level, students could create their own manipulatives to help them with the problems, and at the higher levels they can write out the problems to help them with the necessary regrouping. I'm not a math teacher but the 3rd/4th grade math teacher I was talking to really liked this app. It's not perfect, but the developers have updates planned and it's currently free. Currently (version 1.2) the high score function does not appear to be working, and the settings button does not work.

Neither app has any advertising, neither requires you to be connected to the Internet to play. Both apps have sound effects (which many students like.) Neither has any way for a teacher to check and see what a student has been working on. Students could appear to be working hard but consistently picking the easiest level to work on and not challenging themselves. Still, with free versions of both available right now they're both worth grabbing.