Tuesday, September 3, 2013

App-solutely Great

So I wrote this for what was supposed to be a guest post for another blog earlier in the summer.
And then they never published it. And I'm too silly to ask why. "Why didn't you like it?" :/

Mobile devices can do amazing things in the hands of our kids. It’s not the number of devices you have, or number of apps on the device. It is the quality of the apps and what the students can CREATE with those apps that make the difference. Here are MUST HAVE apps.

1) Puppet Pals: There is a free version with limited backgrounds and puppets. With this version the work is “stuck” on the device. Those limitations are fine for some projects … but work with your school to try and get the full “Director’s Pass” version ($2.99). With that one you can download new backgrounds and puppets as well as import YOUR OWN backgrounds and puppet characters. Storytelling possibilities instantly and exponentially expanded! With the Director’s Pass you can also save the kids’ work to the CAMERA ROLL and therefore get it off of the device and onto your webpage … and out to a real audience! We’ve used it for role playing biography research, creating book trailers, and making promo materials for the morning announcements. A sort of 1.5 to this app would be Sock Puppets. It also has a free version with a time limit and smaller selection of characters. In some ways the time limit is good because the kiddos have to work on their scripts and reading fluency. (Side note … they LOVE the voice scrubber function!) It also has a full version with many more characters and backgrounds as well as the ability to save the video clip to the camera roll and reposting on the web to a parent and community audience.

2) Dropbox: FREE. If you don’t have an account get one! In the case of library iPads I would suggest creating a free sort of generic library account just for moving files onto and off of the devices. I think it is easiest to create the free account online and then link the iPads to that account. That way you can distribute project template files or media and all the students can easily submit their photos or video from each device to a central folder you’ve arranged in the Dropbox. It’s not complicated … our kiddos were using it like pros within days with very little instruction.

3) Some sort of QR code reader … really any one will do. We most often use I-Nigma. Even if you don’t ever plan on creating QR codes yourself more and more books and magazines are coming with QR codes to related content already created. Although really, why wouldn’t you try making your own codes? A quick Google search will point you to several different creators and tutorials. QR codes are a quick way to get the kids to a book trailer or a related website about a particular topic without mistyping a URL. Print the code out and put it on the book cover or on a display. I’m going to list Aurasma  or Layar as a sort of 3.5  Again, even if YOU don’t ever plan on trying to create any “augmented reality” activities … we’re going to find more and more authors and publishers offering content that can be integrated into lessons. You may want to try letting the kids create something. They’ll surprise you!

4) Some sort of comic strip creator … Strip Designer is probably my favorite at $2.99. It seems to have the easiest navigation and menus for both the kids and staff. Halftone is free as is Comic Touch Lite. They all have a little different offerings in terms of text bubbles, page layouts, and digital stamps. Kids love to create comics on research topics or library procedures. It’s more “fun” for them and requires more higher level thinking and synthesis!

5) An iBooks authoring app. Bookpress, BookMagic, and bookabi are three free apps that we’ve experimented with. Composer Pro is usually a paid app that I managed to snag for free near the end of the year so I’m looking forward to trying it in September. Each of these apps has a little different layout and menu so you will want to choose one and let the kids get used to using it. Of the different apps I’ve mentioned this is the one we have the least personal experience with but it’s an area that I’m determined to get the kids more exposure to over the next year. What a fabulous way for them to share their learning with an audience! Kids can author iBooks with their own stories or the results of class research on animal adaptations of the tropical rain forest.

For a long time I raised some money to get apps by recycling empty chip bags and drink pouches through Terracycle. We only had two devices at the time, and Terracycle's submission guidelines were easy enough to follow that it worked well! It was a win-win ... get apps and save the planet. Now we have eight devices ... and Terracycle has upped their minimum submission guidelines. It got too messy and I'm afraid went beyond the point I was willing to go to save the planet. We didn't have the space to store the trash until we had enough to send in! So ... I don't know what we'll do going forward. I don't like ads in apps and so get frustrated by the limitations of "free" or "lite" versions. We'll see!



  1. I'm bookmarking this post for "in case I ever get a couple IPads for my library". I work in a PC district. I'm getting new laptops for the lab sometime this fall... So wish I could find cool aps for windows. Mrs. Brown Loves Bookworms

  2. As I download more and more apps to review, I find I am shying away from some developers who have such an in-your-face style of advertising. I think parents too prefer their children not to be harassed or mistakenly click an ad. But some lite versions I like, particularly those that give you a really good try and then you pay for premium content e.g. Haiku Deck, a great presentation app, and Whirly Word, a fun anagram-style word game.