Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Thing 23 Evaluate 23 Mobile Things

The timing of this offering could not have been more serendipitous. My district had just purchased iPads for staff, and we were all just beginning to get our feet wet learning how to use them--and how to make them relevant to the needs our of own departments.

Some Changes as a Result of Participating in 23 Mobile Things

(1) I barely knew what apps were or how they worked before taking this course. So on a personal level, I feel much more confident and comfortable downloading and using apps. They may not always work the way I want them to, but as free apps, they were often very impressively designed and easy to use.

(2) In my position as media specialist, I'm expected to be on the forefront of technology and to share that technology with other teachers. This course has helped fulfill both of those criteria in addition to improving my relevance in an ever-changing library environment. It's fair to say that I've shared a number of apps with teachers in a wide range of departments--in fact, it's difficult to identify a department that wouldn't benefit from the use of apps: for enhancing teaching, providing resources, organizing materials, sharing ideas--and the list goes on. The distribution of apps that I've reviewed in this course helps improve my professionalism and possibly my job security.

(3) In particular, as budgets are always under pressure, I enjoyed finding apps that might be interesting to students who like to read free e-books or audio books. It's always something of a thrill to discover resources that I had no idea were both available and free.

My cruising through this course should not be construed as trying to finish it quickly just to get it done. On the contrary. I felt a sense of urgency in finishing each lesson, probably because I felt as though I was slipping behind a commonly used technology (and thus becoming a dinosaur) and because I wanted to get the news out to others as quickly as possible in my role as curriculum and technology support.

I believe that 23 Things on a Stick was offered around 2010, so having the opportunity to participate in 23 Mobile Things is definitely due. And would I take another course with similar objectives? Absolutely. To me, it's nothing less than a job requirement in order to maintain both my relevance and professionalism in serving staff and students. Thanks for the opportunity.

Thing 22 Discovering Apps

For reference: Quixey

Quixey--The Search Engine for Apps: The first thing I noticed about Quixey is that it has a clean, simple homepage that is reminiscent of Google. The second thing I noticed is that it allows you to limit your search by platform, such as Android, iPhone, iPad, etc., which can make a search more efficient.

After exploring the site, and trying some searches, I came to the following conclusions: It gives you a number of difference ways to search apps, including those that are trending or those for work vs. play, and the categories are broken down further from those points, allowing the user to really pinpoint the app desired. I tried a search "free books" and came up with a number of apps with a lot of free books. I tried another search for editing photos and again came up with a lot of good free apps. Definitely two thumbs up on this site. It should serve as a tremendous resource.

Apps Gone Free: The opening page of Apps Gone Free states, "AppsGoneFree is all about finding the best free apps each day. No paid listings, just hand-picked, genuinely free apps." That's a bold claim. Did this app live up to the claim?

It's simply laid out with individual dates on the left margin and the selected apps on the right. Eight are offered each day. The problem with this app is that it may be a little too simple. For example, the apps listed for Monday, March 3, ranged from leveling children's books to games to science to planners and shopping lists. In other words, you may have to sort through a lot of apps you have no interest in just to find one or two that may be relevant. This app would be better if it had an internal search function for key words or some sort of filter to help exclude apps that you wouldn't want to review. But it does play to serendipity, and it's also fun to find new apps purely by accident. If you enjoy doing that, this may be the app for you.

I'm a bit ambivalent about it. Two out of four stars.

Reference for finding apps online

Monday, March 3, 2014

Thing 21 Free-for-All

Daily Stocks: Perhaps for the "hobby" or "personal enrichment" category of apps, Daily Stocks is extremely useful for the active trader, but can also provide useful information for DYI investors. Since my own style is a hybrid of the two, I found this app really appealing, especially since it pulls together several different kinds of information that might otherwise be found on a variety of financial/investing/trading Web sites. (A site that performs some of the same functions is finviz, (which assumes intermediate to advanced knowledge in trading). Daily Stocks does not offer advice. To me, that enhances its credibility.

It opens to a menu that includes the following headings: (1) Stock Scans, (2) Japanese Candlesticks, (3) Reversals, (4) Watchlist, (5) Market Pulse, and (6) Candles vs. Candles.

(1) Stock Scans: This feature creates lists of stock tickers based on several categories, such as performance, overextended, crossovers, volume events, and gaps. (Current stories and reports help provide context for the stock performance, but overall it is heavily dependent on technical (vs. fundamental) analysis. As has already been demonstrated and will continue to be an issue in the following headings, this app requires a fair amount of background knowledge and understanding of terminology.

(2) Japanese Candlesticks: If you've never heard of Japanese Candlesticks, first, they have nothing to do with setting the mood for an Asian dinner, and second, a fuller understanding of them can be found in such books as How Technical Analysis Works. This heading is all technical analysis and indicates via a stock's chart whether it is in a bullish, bearish, or indecisive trend. Clicking on a symbol will lead you to short-, intermediate-, and long-term charts, which are all useful for establishing the strength of a stock's trends. In the process, you will also have to learn some very strange terms that all center on technical analysis: dark cloud cover, evening stars, morning stars, 3 black crows, engulfing patterns, haramis, dojis, and many others.

(3) Reversals: This heading is a little more straightforward than Japanese Candlesticks, and it illustrates what you might assume it does--when stocks reverse direction, either in a bullish or in a bearish way. But it also includes how the reversal compares to the SMA50 or SMA100 or SMA200 because those also need to be factored in. You'll also need to know that SMA means simple moving average, and you'll also need to know the implications of the simple moving average, along with the relationship between moving averages. (This is why financial advisers and mutual funds may now look very appealing to the investor quickly becoming overwhelmed; but if you put in the time, the terms become second-nature.)

(4) Watchlist: The Watchlist is also straightforward and requires your participation. It simply allows you to create a list of stocks--from those that appear under the other headings or from those you can find by using the search tool-- that you might be interested in but want to watch their performance for any clear indications of a compelling pattern. Watchlists are important to develop, if for no other reason than to avoid just investing on a whim without having some sense of the stock's direction (although a somewhat different strategy, scheduled investing, or dollar cost averaging does seem to disregard this advice because it doesn't trust technical analysis).

(5) Market Pulse: This feature provides a snapshot of the major market indices, along with a list of up-to-the-minute stories that have an impact on the market. For example, in light of the Russia action, both oil and gold are up today, so if you invested in these sectors, you can thank Putin. That's the other thing you'll learn from this app and from other investing research, not everything tends to go down at the same time: Even when there's terrible news, there are opportunities to make money in the market.

(6) Candles vs. Candles: This is not a feature but an opportunity to receive even more finely tuned information. It costs about $50 and is more comprehensive and responsive than the free version. I wouldn't recommend buying it unless my previous discussion bored you because you already knew it all, and then some, and you're a very active trader--and my guess is that most folks in education don't have the opportunity to do so--until summer rolls around.

As I noted above, I really like this app, but that's with the understanding that it is only one tool that I would use in making investing decisions; it's also obvious that this tool doesn't include the ever popular ETFs or mutual funds or commodities or closed end funds or bonds or bond funds, so information in those areas would have to be found elsewhere. But, on the whole, as a free app, it offers at a glance a great deal of useful information--to people who have the knowledge and experience to use it appropriately.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Thing 20 Games

For reference: Games Page

DrawQuest: One of the features I enjoyed about this app was that other examples of works by kids (and adults?) are included. For example, I chose "Give the fairy wings" and found that lots of the examples were superior to anything that I could draw; I also liked the playback feature, which shows the progression of an individual drawing. That was impressive to watch. Overall, with the many simplistic drawings and child-like themes, it seems to be geared primarily for elementary children (though that didn't stop me from playing with it for a while). I could see a child creating a drawing on this app and then sending it to his or her parents, grandparents, or other relatives--or even their friends. It also allows you to post your drawing in the gallery along with all the other examples.

Below is an example of a project that I spent considerable time working on (seriously).

Word Collapse: The music, the sound effects, and the various levels and word categories make this game a good opportunity to develop word identification and spelling skills. Though not as much fun at DrawQuest, it's probably appropriate as a school game because it clearly has educational value. I also liked that you had to use some strategy in getting the letters to align in order to form words, so that also required a bit of hand-eye coordination. This is a good app for students who are done with their class work and want something else to do. In that sense, it could be the teacher's little helper with classroom management.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thing 19 Hobbies

MyGarden: The plant overview lists plants alphabetically--without categorizing them. The search function, to some extent, overcomes this problem. I searched the term "green beans" and found three subheadings on the bottom of the page: Info, Tasks, and Pictures. I tapped on Info and nothing happened. I tapped on Tasks and nothing happened. I tapped on Pictures and found one out of focus picture of green beans. Now gardening is a passion of mine, so I wasn't ready to abandon this app yet, though on first impression it's unimpressive. I tried "tomato" and received slightly better information. The problem is--take tasks, for example--the information is so generic and not tied to a specific growing zone that it is virtually useless. I did like the feature that allows you to ask questions or share information with other gardeners, but overall, that's not a compelling reason for this app. Finally, when I tried to register, I received an internal error warning--twice! For these reasons, I give it a thumbs down--and not a green thumb either. I will keep looking for gardening apps and suggest alternatives if I find any.

Sibley eGuide to Birds of North America LITE: I liked the menu organization--the taxonomic and alphabetic index, the Smart Search, and the inclusion of My Location. After exploring this app for several minutes, I came to these conclusions: (1) It's a good beginner's tool for science classes at almost any level; (2) the inclusion of a map, bird labels, text, and bird calls reminded me of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in that it's very comprehensive in scope (for the birds included); and using the My Location feature, which limits searches to just your own state, is an efficient way to search for birds that you might find in your own back yard. Although it doesn't supply all the birds you're likely to spot, such as blue jays, chickadees, and cardinals for central Minnesota, it's a fun app and might possibly motivate you to buy the more expensive version. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about birds.

Spotify: Free music. What could be better than that? I was able to find Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." 'Nuff said. I think I'll be using this app for mood music in the media center. Despite the commercials, I'm glad they make this app available free of cost. To take on the challenge, I've made a playlist of Led Zeppelin's music. For now that will be my private list for my "office" hours. I'll have to think about how to create a library list that students will like but that won't offend administrators or parents. That may take some time.

Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite apps. I'm glad that you included it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Thing 18 Education

Even before blogging, I emailed a number of these apps to teachers (especially in languages, sciences, math, and FACS) in the hopes that they would begin using them--or passing them along to students--for the potential benefits they might offer for either in-class use or homework helpers. There's a tremendous amount of material under this category, and it begs for return trips--even if they're not officially cataloged in this blog. My link to Education apps

3-D Brain: An excellent app for a biology or anatomy class, 3-D Brain takes an enormously complicated structure off the 2-D page and makes it comprehensible; seeing the parts in relation to each other; using the sidebar "Structures" to isolate in on a single region; reading the content and seeing the x-ray views--all of these features enormously enhance the study of the brain. The Research reviews and the supplemental links offer a useful starting point for anyone who wants to do further research on the brain, its functions, and its disorders. Deceptively simple, this is the kind of app that can really engage students.

Advanced English Dictionary & Thesaurus: Now this is the kind of app that can be useful in the library, especially when helping students learn words, spell words, or use the right terms in their searches. (I have never been a big fan of using a thesaurus based on the assumption that a person needs to understand the connotations of words before attempting to find alternatives; when students attempt to use a thesaurus, they often use wildly inappropriate substitutions just for the sake of sounding like they have larger vocabularies.)

When I tried looking up "abashed," I found an extremely short definition, not sufficient to be useful for the advanced user, and the Wordnet feature, which found antonyms, similar words, was really abbreviated. I was somewhat disconcerted by the usefulness of this app, although I did like how the app used the term in various quotes to give the reader a sense of how it might be used. Beyond that, I was not quite sure why this app would have a camera feature--maybe to snap a photo of a word in a poster to look up later?

artCircles: Just plain fun, this app allows a person to use thematic circles of words, colors, nature, art movements, inspiring insiders, or textures to go on art tours, or slide shows with extensive examples. It also has galleries for viewing. I could spend hours on this app. One thing is for sure about it: Just spending a few minutes on it is like getting a primer on a wide world of art. It's impressive. And it could certainly supplement an art class's lessons--with detailed information about each piece of art, an opportunity to build your own gallery of favorites, or ways of sharing your favorites through social media.

A quick note: Although time does not allow further blogging on this post, I also downloaded and explored the following apps: Google Earth, iTranslate, Khan Academy, Life for iPad, and Today's Document. If I could summarize what they all have in common, I would say that for the right class each one has a useful application, and I will continue to send more apps along to teachers who are likely to benefit from incorporating them into their classes. My personal favorite and probably one of the largest free cross-curricular multimedia collections is Khan Academy.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Thing 17 Connecting to Community

UpNorthExplorer: To put it bluntly, this is the only app a person needs to plan an adventure up north. If that's an overstatement, then a revision might say: This is the first app a person should use in planning a vacation up north. Its menu has 9 categories--everything from Explore to Entertainment; it has weather updates; it has a search function, and it even has a camera feature so that you can not only find places and activities and events but photograph them as well.

So let's say I want to visit Grand Rapids. A search produces a history center, a liquor store (could come in handy), Judy Garland House & Museum, Old Central School, eating establishments, lodging, articles from "Explore Minnesota," a weekly trails update, and a farming tourist stop. If I were to visit Grand Rapids, there are a lot of possibilities that I might not have otherwise known about. Let's say I just want to do some cross country skiing with no particular destination in mind. Just for fun, I clicked on Explore, which led me to Snow & Ice. From there I was led to Washburn County Tourism and Pair O' Lakes Lodge, along with explanations of what I might find in those locales. I didn't think that amount of information was very impressive, so I tried cross country skiing as a search term: That yielded another result for skiing in Wisconsin.

Overall, this app should definitely be incorporated into the vacation planning process; it's comprehensive in scope, well organized, and extremely easy to use. I enjoyed using it. Two thumbs up.

Going Out: This app has a similar layout and menu structure compared to UpNorth Explorer. Its main menu has 7 categories of entertainment, plus a search tool. I clicked on family entertainment and was offered a search tool by keyword or zip code; it also narrows the search by venue and schedule. I tried my own zip code and found one event--which isn't surprising since it's a relatively small city. I returned to search and tried skiing, just to stay in sync with my above searches. I received no results. So apparently ongoing activities aren't considered events. I also tried the search term gardens to see whether there were any tropical indoor events to help shake off the winter doldrums. Success! I found 18 possibilities. This is a fun little app; if a person is bored and doesn't have a clue about what's going on and wants to go out, I would recommend Going Out. Personally, I especially liked the movie category with movie reviews and information.

If this app doesn't find a source of entertainment for you, you're just not trying. Two thumbs up.

Minnesota 511: If you're going to be out and about, it makes sense to avoid the hassles of running into road construction or related problems. Minnesota 511 is just the app for the commuter/traveler on the go. Its main page is simply a map of Minnesota. Upon closer review, you will see various signs indicating different kinds of issues; for example, there is an exclamation point sign near Rochester. If you press on it, you will find a warning that driving conditions are fair and to look out for icy patches. If you click on a yellow diamond near Burnsville, you will find another bulletin about driving conditions. A legend at the bottom of the screen identifies the issues involved. While most of the app is simple and straightforward, one feature--the highway cameras--gives you an immediate feel for how the road conditions appear. That part is really fun to use. Overall, it may not be the most exciting app to use, but it may be one of the most useful for the traveling teacher.