Category Archives: Apps

Apple Swift Playgrounds

About a month ago, I downloaded a beta version of Apple’s newest iOS on to my iPad so I could try out the widely advertised Swift Playgrounds app that would be installed along with the new operating system.  I’ve been a supporter of teaching kids how to code for a few years, and I was curious to see how this app might be different from the many my students have been using.

Swift is a type of programming language that was developed by Apple.  A quick Wikipedia browse will bury you in daunting technical language if you are, like me, more educator than coder.  So, I will tell you that the biggest difference between this app and many of the ones that are already out there for kids is that Swift programming uses words and symbols, not blocks.

My sense is that most “real-life” programming languages don’t use drag and drop blocks like Scratch or Hopscotch.  So, in that respect, Playgrounds (which is what the app shows up as on your device) stands out from the crowd.  However, I wouldn’t disregard block programming apps completely.  They are excellent for teaching students the logic of programming – particularly non-readers.

Playgrounds is definitely not for non-readers.  Reading is essential for anyone using the app, and I would guess it is at least a 4th grade reading level.  I would not, therefore, recommend Playgrounds for younger students unless they are paired up with a capable partner.

The graphics in the app are okay, but nothing ground-breaking.  As with many coding apps, the user is trying to direct a cute creature around paths and obstacles.

The main advantages of the app are that it is free, offers many levels and challenges, and gives users an opportunity to see how a professional programming language works.  I would recommend the app for elementary/middle school students who have demonstrated understanding of key coding concepts and seem to be ready for something a bit more advanced.

Playgrounds should be available today with the download of the newest iOS.  I’ll be curious to hear what you think!

image from Apple
image from Apple

Word Dream

Word Dream is one of those apps that I downloaded because someone mentioned it on Twitter –  and then I forgot to try it.  It is free for iOS, but there is also a paid Pro Version and there are in-app purchases to unlock all of the “goodies.”  I actually did fine with the free version, but had a gift card balance left on iTunes and decided to splurge for everything.  Now I can give my text a 3d appearance or add a fish-eye bulge to it, among other things.

I started playing with Word Dream because I read A.J. Juliani’s post about the “7 Mantras” he is displaying for the year and wanted to make some of my own.  I have a Pinterest board full of favorite quotations, but sometimes I discover an inspiring piece of text that hasn’t been graphically designed by a clever person yet.  Therefore, I wanted to try my hand at making a few of my own.

Word Dream allows you to choose a background from Pixabay or one of your own images.  Then you can add your text using numerous different options for the layout, color, and effect.  It’s not a unique idea, but I found Word Dream very easy to use with plenty of choices for design without too many to overwhelm me.  If Word Dream isn’t quite what you want, here is a list of 20 Alternatives – many that I’ve tried but deleted for one reason or another.

Here are a couple of samples I made while learning the app.  I’m not sure if I’m going to include them in my set of mantras, yet!  The black dog, by the way, is my daughter’s puppy.  (She was a bit more cooperative than my bulldog when I asked her to look adoringly at me.)

Photo Aug 30, 5 52 55 PM

betheperson

bethepersonsilly

Stick Pick (Reblog)

I originally posted this 5 years ago.  I was recently discussing it with my colleagues because we are trying to work on better questioning, and thought it couldn’t hurt to reblog about this app.
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Stick Pick is an app with great potential as a teacher tool. The teacher can add one or more classes within the app. To each class, the teacher adds individual student names, determining the type and level of questioning to use for each student from the following categories: Bloom’s Taxonomy, Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, or ESL. Once all students are entered, their sticks appear in a cup from which the teacher can randomly or purposefully choose names. As each student is chosen, a list of question stems from their particular assigned level appears on the screen. This is a wonderful way for teachers to differentiate impromptu questions for students.

What You Might Have Missed This Summer

Summer break is over – at least for many of the public school teachers in Texas who return to work today.  Of course, many of us never really stopped working over the last couple of months, fitting in workshops and lesson planning in between trips to the beach and afternoon naps.

I’ve been saving educational articles of interest to Pocket all summer, and I thought I would share some of the news that I curated that might have some impact on your planning for the new school year.  I would love for you to share any other summer education news that I’ve missed in the comments below!

What You Missed

  • Osmo put out two new games this summer, Coding (near the beginning of the summer) and most recently Monster (described as “The Creative Set”).  My summer camp students loved the Coding game, and I’ve just ordered Monster.
  • Speaking of tangible coding, Google has announced “Project Bloks,” which looks pretty intriguing.  The Bloks aren’t available to the public yet, but you can sign up on their interest page to get updates on the program.
  • In other Google news, the Expeditions VR app is now available on Android with expectations to release it on other platforms later this year.  Also, there is a free Cast for Education app that I am really interested in that supposedly allows students to project their work without the need for other hardware/software like Chromecast, Apple TV, or Reflector.  Richard Byrne has a blog post on a new add-on for Google Docs called The Lesson Plan Tool.  By the way, if you want to keep updated on new Google Classroom features, here is a good page to bookmark.
  • When it comes to lesson planning, Amazon Inspire might be your go-to site as soon as it becomes available, with free access to educational resources.  Sign up for early access now.
  • Think about allowing your students to show off what they’ve learned during those great lessons with Class Dojo’s new feature: Student Stories.
  • You may have somehow escaped the Pokemon Go craze, but your students probably haven’t.  Here are some ways to use it educationally.
  • Words with Friends now has an Edu version that is free and can be played on the web or on mobile devices.  I haven’t tried it, but it looks like it even has materials aligned to Common Core.
  • Breakout Edu has Back to School games.
  • Canva now has an iPhone app.
  • YouCubed released Week of Inspirational Math 2 last week.  This is a great way to start your students off with a growth mindset in math.

Do you have some education news that we might have missed this summer?  Be sure to add it in the comments below!

 

Help Your Students Grow By Riding the Pokemon Flow

With the Pokemon Go craze in full swing, augmented reality for education may be generating more interest than ever before. Leveraging trends like Pokemon Go in the classroom can certainly provoke student engagement even though education wasn’t the original intent of the game.  Whether you choose to modify Pokemon Go, or use one of the many other available apps, augmented reality offers new opportunities to our students for learning – when used correctly.

About 4 years ago, my initial forays into augmented reality were all about the novelty of the technology with my students.  They certainly enjoyed those first augmented reality scavenger hunts, but I will readily admit now that more fun than learning took place at the beginning.  As I learned how to use tools to create my own augmented reality, I saw the power it could have for sharing presentations on static displays, or delivering messages from people who could not be there physically.  Sending augmented reality work by the students home to parents added another dimension to their projects.

Augmented reality that is interactive gives students the chance to have experiences, like mixing sodium and chlorine gas to make salt, or touring an estuary in Australia, that they might not usually have in many classrooms.

Ideas are already cropping up about how Pokemon Go can be used in the classroom, such as this article or these suggestions. Discovery Education also has a detailed blog post of Pokemon Go curriculum integration activities.  If you want your students to try to design their own version of Pokemon Go, let them try this Vidcode online version.  Once they start figuring out the code, have them branch out to include some of their own graphics and code that ties in to your curriculum.

If you want to branch out to other augmented reality apps and lessons, I have collected several resources here.  Katie Ann Wilson, author of Diary of a Techie Chick, has many classroom ideas here.  Shell Terrell also recently published a blog post that lists many augmented reality links.

There is no doubt that you will generate enthusiasm from your students by using augmented reality in the classroom.  However, I highly encourage you to read this article by Laura Callisen, which cautions you about the ways good educators should not use this popular trend.

Another thoughtful piece about augmented reality, by Stephen Noonoo, compares the “virtual reality” of our current classrooms to the “augmented reality” learning should reflect – with or without technology.

pokemongoI expect that the Pokemon Go mania will spawn more augmented reality apps, hopefully with education in mind.  My hope is that they will be thoughtful and encourage deep learning while retaining the fun sense of adventure fostered by Pokemon Go.

Undercover Robots Camp – Pageant Edition

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we had our second session of Undercover Robots Camp last week.  The theme was, “Pageant Edition,” with the scenario being that the Dash robots had been sent on their first undercover assignments to the Annual Robot Pageant, where they were to investigate a potential saboteur.

Only a few of the students had attended our first session, Spy School, the week before, meaning that there were various levels of skill.  This is what I love about programming with open-ended challenges, especially with the Dash robots.  The activities allow for the contributions of all abilities.

The week was interspersed with design and logic activities.  Of course, costumes needed to be created since it was a pageant. Puzzles needed to be solved to find the identity of the saboteur.  I even borrowed some ideas from Breakout EDU.

One of the favorite activities was the pageant interview.  The students had to program their robots to respond to my questions – but they didn’t know what the questions would be!  I told them to come up with three responses: a plural noun, a verb ending in -ing, and a name of a place.  I had a set of questions for each robot, who also had to be programmed to come out on stage and then leave the stage.  I embedded an example below (make sure your volume is high so you can hear the robot responses).

The students also had challenges to program their students to do an art project, launch ping-pong balls into cups to gather evidence, and to save the other contestants from the saboteur. The latter is when the students learned that less can be more, as the least elaborate contraption attached the robot actually “saved” the most plastic figures (see the pic with the colored pencils attached to the robot below)!

During the week, we also worked on choreographing a final dance number for the pageant.  It’s good we started early because there were many, many, many flub-ups!  The video embedded below is what we showed the parents.  Unfortunately, it still didn’t go quite as planned; we learned that “tired” robots get a bit rebellious about their programs as their batteries wear down!

I absolutely adored seeing everything the students accomplished last week, and I can’t wait to do Undercover Robots Camp again next summer!

Osmo Coding

It seems like just yesterday when our class was asked to beta test a new product from a company called Tangible Play.  It was a tangram game that integrated physical pieces with an app on your iPad using a special base and mirror.  Our students even got to teleconference with the developers to give feedback on their experience.

Since then, the un-named set we tested has become Osmo, and there have been many evolutions of the tangram game as well as new additions to the suite of games available.  It has been gratifying to see a company that is so interested in education to grow and continue to contribute to educational technology in such a positive way.

The latest Osmo set is, “Coding.”  My students have been trying it out this summer during our robot camp, and I have been watching their play with interest.  The set includes magnetics blocks that look similar to the coding blocks you might see in Scratch or Blockly.  You can move them around and snap them together.  My students particularly like the “play” block with an arrow button to press whenever they are ready to start the program.

On the iPad screen, players have a friendly looking creature named Awbie, who they can direct to move toward different objects in the app while using the physical blocks on the table.

One thing I love about all of the Osmo apps is that they include practically no instructions.  There are some on-screen gestures showing where to move blocks at the beginning, but that’s about it.  The students figure out on their own where Awbie needs to go, and quickly deduce which blocks to use as the game slowly becomes more challenging.

Students from 6-11 have enjoyed the Coding game from Osmo and there is often a crowd gathered around it as the students encourage players to try certain blocks.  It has been a great warm-up activity as kids arrive for our camp each day.

Like all Tangible Play apps for Osmo, Coding is free.  However, you do need to purchase the physical pieces and the set that includes the base and mirror piece if you don’t already have it.  Coding is another great resource to introduce programming to young students.

Osmo Coding
Osmo Coding