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.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thing 16 Audio

ipadio: Two ideas come to mind in making this app useful for school purposes: The first is to use it to archive lectures--assuming teachers still lecture these days--for the sake of review or students who may have missed class. The second is to use it to have a book review spot on a library Web site with a link to ipadio.

How did it work when I tried it out? It is remarkably easy to use; attaching an image, creating a title, and writing a summary all help to describe and categorize this audio presentation. This has clear applications for the classroom, and for something so easy to use it has tremendous potential as a presentational tool. Two thumbs up.

SoundCloud: This app seems to be the complement of ipadio: Instead of just creating audio presentations for the user, which it has in common with ipadio, it offers a library's worth of audio materials. When you first register, it allows you to pick from a list of music genres and from a list of audio, such as business, humor, education, etc. Compared to ipadio, I would have to say that SoundCloud is the far more sophisticated and flexible app, especially in its potential to download music or other audios from a wide array of sources. This is one impressive app, and again, it has many possibilities for classroom use, from content to background music, to name just two. Three thumbs up. Not to mention that it can be shared very easily--which is the case with just about all of the mobile apps. Just one note: It does take some time to process your own audio tracks. So patience is a must. As is discretion. There are obscene materials included in the list of "Who to follow." Just one for example: "Never Not Funny." Definitely adult entertainment.

It's interesting to think about the sharing feature of apps. What does that say about apps in general? The assumption is that since they're so easy to share they are likely to be shared, and if sharing is a given, that may mean that we all may soon--or already have--experience "sharing fatigue." The other issue is the relationship between sharing and time: Does the assumption that if people expect others to experience what they share, no matter how insignificant, then we are also obliged to sacrifice our own time to avoid offending the great mass of online app-led sharers? Does this all lead to another discussion about effective time use, personal freedom, and the need for restraint in sharing, especially considering age and sensitivities? Just some thoughts . . .

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thing 15 Infographics

Infographics: When I first opened Infographics and looked at a number of the samples, they reminded me of miniature posters of factoids surrounding a given topic. Then I tried the search tool looking for topics related to books. Nothing showed up, so I went to the Favorites menu and looked under the heading of Education--and it had more to do with issues surrounding education than with specific educational topics. One Infographic that grabbed my attention was called "The Life of a Cow." As I scanned down the page, I kept thinking that the information was clearly from an advocacy source--partly because I was becoming vaguely uncomfortable about the hamburger I ate last night. Then as I scrolled to the bottom of the page, I found that PETA had sponsored the information.

Overall, I liked the visual approach to presenting information and Infographics' ability to share your findings. That the posters are often accompanied by a long list of resources makes them a natural springboard for student research projects. They might even serve as graphic models for students to present information in much the same way. There's a lot of poster-making in this building.

Beyond that, I'm going to have to do some thinking about how it can be more broadly used.

Visualize Free: This app is the next logical step from Infographics in that it moves from just viewing displays to actually creating them. I played around with this app for longer than I care to admit and took a screen shot of it. Here it is, not that I spent a lot of time on this one image alone . . .

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Thing 14 Videos

Vine: After watching the tutorial video on Vine, I thought that the purpose of the app was to create a kind of jump-cut, disjointed video presentation. After all, only 6 seconds doesn't allow for much content. That's sort how it plays--a series of photos or short video clips that create motion through quick scene changes. I tried it out, doing a library tour of new books. It ran through the books very quickly, because I took too many shots. But you can stop the action by tapping the screen. On the whole, it worked out well, and it forces a person to be efficient in the use of time. This is sort of a fun app to use, but I'm hoping for more versatility, so on to the next one . . .

Viddy: I liked how easy it was to set up an account and explore features of Viddy. I also liked the sharing feature and its flexibility to find videos by others in a variety of ways. I especially liked the search feature and had fun finding videos in my own geographical area. Now for the bad part. I didn't--and I mean really didn't--like how Viddy crashed every time I tried to use it, either to take video directly or to refer to clips. I tried it several times, and each time I tried to produce a video, Viddy sent me back to my menu of apps. I reviewed the tutorial video just to make sure that I wasn't doing anything wrong--nothing that I could tell. (P.S.--Viddy did work when I returned to it several hours later. Patience may be the catch word for some of these apps. After using it, I thought that it was sort of a watered down version of Magisto.) So far, I need to find a video editing app that is reliable and flexible. On to Magisto . . .

Magisto: This app actually let me get to the stage of making a movie. So that's a big plus for it. As I'm waiting for the movie to render, here is a list of things that I hope Magisto will be able to do for me: allow text between clips, allow transitions, allow a change of music, and allow text pages after the video clips. I'm in the middle of making a short story using Magisto, and it will not work unless these additional options are available. I'll get back to you just as soon as the movie is ready . . . While I was waiting, I noticed that Magisto also lets you create a movie on a laptop, so it's not limited to a portable device. I was also disappointed to see that Magisto didn't allow enough editing options to create the kind of video I wanted. It was fun to use, but too limited in its range of options. Thumbs not quite up, somewhat sideways. Compared to Socialcam, however, I'd say that Magisto is the better app: It creates some very interesting effects with its stylized editing and music--which should appeal to students.

Here is a sample of a book promotion video using Magisto:

Here is another one with a slightly different flavor, also using Magisto:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thing 13 Presentations

Having already considered Google's presentation tool as a necessary evil--if the circumstances forced me into using it--until the full-fledged version became available, I am approaching these mobile presentation apps with a jaundiced eye. They are going to have to prove to me that they are worth the effort, the hassle, and the frustration of using them. In other words, they are going to have to prove me wrong. I hope they do . . .

Deck Slideshow Presentation: I spent a lot of time "playing" with this app--it's that much fun. I liked its features: themes, basic pages, images, graphs, and tables as the main visual items to use. I liked how all the information is decided upon on the main page and then each line becomes a separate slide; I also liked the lively animation between pages and the close-up or zoom in on individual images for better viewing; and finally, I liked how easy it was to reorder the slides or to add more slides if needed. The export tool was also useful in maintaining the sharing/collaborative aspect of this app. It's not PowerPoint, but for free, it offers some impressive features. Now for a potential problem: When I emailed the presentation to myself as a PPTX,the images did not follow the rest of the presentation.

Haiku Deck: The positives about this app are that it has a nice step by step tutorial that guides you through each step and allows you to use its features and that it has some fairly impressive graphics; the negative is that after I used it once the screen went black and hasn't worked again. Curious. I rebooted my iPad and even went back to try to download the app again--no luck. Thumbs down.

Educreations: This deceptively simple looking app could serve as an effective learning tool--either as a dynamic tool in live demonstrations or as a recorded presentation for later viewing. Some of the features that make it worthwhile: options including a plain white to lined to graph paper to grid background; the ability to draw right on the screen with your finger or to use the text function to type in information anywhere on the screen; the options of using a camera, photos, dropbox, or the Web--which quickly finds images to insert into the page; and the ability to add audio over the presentation. It takes almost no time to learn how to use, it's fun, and it would be fun for students to use in class. I can see elementary students enjoying this app, along with art, biology, engineering, math, and a host of other subjects.

This app has a wide variety of potential classroom applications, and I give it a thumbs up.

Like the old Meatloaf song goes, "Two out of three ain't bad." Maybe it will soon be three out of three. I'll return to Haiku Deck again to see whether the glitch has been resolved.

Thing 12 Books, Books, & More Books

Wattpad: This single app could save libraries a ton of money and at the same time provide a rich diversity of reading materials for virtually all readers. It is fantastic. That this app gives writers a chance to share their work makes it a natural opportunity for language arts students who want to connect their reading and writing skills and for others who just want to practice and share their craft. This app has tremendous potential for expanding and improving students' writing and reading skills.

After further exploring this app, I noticed that it has some especially intriguing features: (1) a library and reading lists for organizing and grouping books you're interested in or are currently reading; (2) Discover--features stories, categorized by genre and written by pros or submitted by readers; (3) Create--a place to write and share your own work of art; (4) Newsfeed--latest recommendations on books; and (5) Search engine--to find materials of individual interest.

Overall, this is the kind of app that can save schools money while expanding access to books and integrating reading with writing. It would also be useful for sustained silent reading or other class activities. It is impressive in scope, versatility, and usefulness. Four stars.

Free Books: (Since I liked Wattpad so much, I had to keep going by exploring Free Books.) Much of what has been said about Wattpad applies to Free Books. It provides greater access to books, often to the more serious books studied in high school or college or simply read by those of use who especially enjoy the classics.

Noted features: It has a library similar to Wattpad designed to store downloaded books. On the homepage there is a sliding table of genres and authors of classic literature listed in alphabetical order--a useful tool. It also identifies literature by title, author, popular, and rating. Just for the fun of it, I tried F. Scott Fitzgerald and found a short biography about him along with some of his famous quotes. Four books were available: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Beautiful and the Damned, Tales of the Jazz Age, and Flappers and Philosophers. Conspicuous by its absence was The Great Gatsby. I then clicked on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, found a quick blurb about the story and ratings by other readers. Moving from that to actually navigating through the story was quite easy and enjoyable. Its layout and tools were reminiscent of OverDrive--another e-reader (see Thing 11) that works impressively.

YALSA's Teen Book Finder: Having access to catalogs of books is one thing; having a tool that helps direct students to related books is a complementary tool worth having. So that is what I was looking for when I downloaded this app. The app opens with "Today's Hot Picks," just to get the blood flowing a bit. The search tool offers several ways to find books and related books--title, author, genre, year, and booklist. I found the booklist feature most useful in that one of its choices is "Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers," often a group that has little experience in both reading and finding books that might motivate them to be less reluctant. Interestingly, if you want a book listed, the app will show a map of nearby libraries that have it. And finally, it has a "My Favorites" list that helps you organize books for reference or, possibly, for sharing with the reluctant readers. A nice app. I could see myself walking around in the middle of a group of students using the app to help them find books targeted to their interests.

Not an app but a good resource for finding that next good read: Check it out.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Thing 11 Library & Reference

ELM Mobile App: Now info on the go, the ELM Mobile app has the look and the feel of the original Web site designed for traditional use. Navigating around in it is easy and intuitive. It's a great tool for the serious or beginning researcher. I have always liked ELM services, and this app simply expands what is already a necessity for doing research or just casually finding information.

In terms of professional/personal use, in my capacity as a media specialist, I would feel that it's my obligation to share ELM Mobile with both teachers and students. Having the mobile app increases their flexibility and should further motivate truly intensive exploration and information seeking--at least by many who enjoy its "research on the go" capacity.

I give it two thumbs up. Congratulations to Jennifer Hootman.

An App found on the Great River Regional Library Site--OverDrive Media Console: I regularly use GRIVER (Great River Regional Library with the homebase in St. Cloud) resources and wanted to find out what kind of new app it has to offer. OverDrive Media Console offers several features that might be of interest to lovers of book in multiple formats. After spending about two hours with it, I confidently give it two thumbs up. It's definitely worth using.

Here's what the download icon looks like:

This app has three key features that I liked: (1) It works with a wide variety of platforms: iPad, Android, Windows, Blackberry, Playbook, Kindle, Nook, and Mac. (2) It comes with a library finder to locate the nearest library with a digital collection, thereby increasing access for the would-be reader. (3) It syncs bookmarks across devices so that the reader can enjoy the flexibility of moving from an iPad to a laptop to a mobile phone--all without losing place in the book. On a related note, I really like how the reader does not rquire scrolling; everything shows on the screen, and then a quick swipe is all that's needed to get to the next page. The text is large and takes full advantage of the screen width; the lighting is adjustable and can be toned down with a sepia background option; text can be justified, enlarged, or shrunk, margins changed, vertical spacing enlarged or shrunk, along with a variety of other features. (Okay, that's more than three key features . . . )

While it does take a little time to adjust to--including downloading an Adobe reader--this app will get easier to use in the long run and is the kind of thing that students will want to use instead of relying on hardcopy books. So it's well worth the effort of playing with this app to discover all of its features, and a little trial and error will resolve questions or problems that seem annoying.

Ultimately, I believe it's critical that we in the library/media business start acquainting ourselves now about the tools that students are undoubtedly already using. If we're left behind, who will lead?