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!