PrepositionBuilder

Preposition builder icon 2 PrepositionBuilder by Mobile Education Store

For iPad – AUD$8.49

I was excited about the prospect of using PrepositionBuilder in the classroom. Students sometimes have difficulties understanding that prepositions link nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence. Bring in the iPad and PrepositionBuilder and you can use it as part of your literacy block activities.

PB1Like all Mobile Education Store apps, PrepositionBuilder launches on the settings screen, where you can add multiple students and customise the app settings for each profile. You can switch on or off the following:

  • audio instructions,
  • correct answer reinforcement, and
  • the option to record the correct answer.

I went through all nine preposition categories with my students; and each category had 21 preposition questions with between 3-4 preposition words to work on. The goal is for the student to view a cartoon image and partial sentence and then drag the word they think is correct from a choice of 3 similar prepositions up to the sentence strip. Overall, the students I used PrepositionBuilder with were able to visually interpret the pictures correctly on their first to third attempt. The images are appealing to children in the 5-10 year age category. Some students thought that they were really funny and wanted to create their own funny images after using the app.

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In our literacy unit we were learning about reading visual literacy. This is the ability to see, to understand, and ultimately to think, create, and communicate graphically. Generally speaking, the visually literate viewer looks at an image critically with an eye for the intentions of the image’s creator. The first level of visual literacy is the basic identification of the subject or elements in a graphic. Understanding what we see and comprehending visual relationships is important. These higher-level visual literacy skills require critical thinking, and they are essential to a student’s success where information is conveyed through visual formats. It is great that every question in PrepositionBuilder requires students to ‘read’ the visuals as well as the written sentence.

While I generally liked the format and images associated with PrepositionBuilder, I thought that some of the images could be (and were) interpreted by students incorrectly. One student was visibly perplexed when explaining to me that “The family was driving to the grocery store.” because the car was not parked and was moving towards the store and it couldn’t possibly be ‘at’ the grocery store when the wheels were still moving. We do teach our students to be critical thinkers!

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Another student thought that “The girl is riding her bike to school.” was more appropriate than ‘at’ because people were waving at her as if she had just got there.

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All of my students answered the question wrong about the library. They thought it should be “The girl is reading a book at the library.” rather than ‘to’ the library because it didn’t make sense to them and the girl was at the library – just not inside. I had to explain that they had to look at all of the clues in this picture. The library had a face and a speech bubble.

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All of these student discussions led to the students using more expressive language. I wasn’t expecting this to happen on such a large and lively scale, which made it a fun and teachable moment!

What do I like about PrepositionBuilder?

  • I like the cartoon images and the humour in them, which I have come to expect from Mobile Education Store. Students tend to respond better to learning which involves some form of visual supports.
  • I also like that you can have multiple users and can email results to parents or teachers.
  • I think that the stepped animations were a great idea to help motivate students to successfully reach the end of the next level (so they could view the next part).
  • It is great to see that when a student gets an incorrect answer, the app will show a picture and a written sentence of that preposition in its correct form.

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What could be improved?

  • Although I had lively discussions with my students about some of their answers and explanations about preposition questions, I think that some of the pictures were a little confusing. Perhaps short animations could be added in a future version or update (similar to those included in TenseBuilder).
  • I would like to be able to generate a batch email that could include all of my student’s progression through the app, instead of single emails for each user. While it is good to see that a user can access their individual results, it would be more beneficial to see the actual question they got incorrect (and perhaps the answer they originally input). This could help me plan further follow-up activities.
  • I found it confusing that the app didn’t advise the user that they had finished the section (other than the animation), it kept going, repeating only certain questions over and over again. This repetition did not seem to be related to any incorrect answers recorded earlier. It would be great if you could use a pop-up option to return to the same set or continue on a different set.
  • More prepositions please or the ability to change the combinations of the preposition sets.

Overall, I like the format of PrepositionBuilder. It is in an easy to use format, and is visually appealing to students. It is a great tool for the classroom.

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Guided Access in the Classroom

Guided Access for iDevices was a topic of great interest for educators at a recent Professional Development that I presented at a local university. It is also the solution to ongoing enquiries from educators and members of the iTeach: Apps for the Classroom community about how to disable certain functions on their devices when they are under the control of their learners. In this post I will briefly explain some of the basic Guided Access features available to iDevices with the latest iOS6 update.  There are two main enquiry types that have been made, so I will outline how Guided Access may be used for each.

 What is Guided Access?

Guided Access keeps the iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone in a single app, and allows you to control which features are available or disabled to prevent students from performing specific actions that are not in alignment with the tasks that are set. Running it disables the home button and, depending on the selected settings, may also be used to disable touch or motion.

Problem 1 – My learner keeps exiting the educational app that I want them to use and then plays a game app!

Solution : This action can be prevented by running Guided Access. The only way to exit the application will involve pressing the home button three times and, when prompted, entering a secret four letter password that you have pre-set. The learner will be unable to enter a correct password and cannot exit the application without it. To find out how to set up Guided Access, see below.

Problem 2 – When using a designated app or video the learner alters settings in a way that is not suitable or appropriate to the educator or parent. This may include situations where the learner accesses in-app settings on an educational app to change or alter content (preventing effective learning). It also includes students continually stopping and starting an application or changing the volume levels up and down excessively.

Solution:  Under the Guided Access feature, these actions can be prevented by disabling a section of the screen that contains the button that controls these functions. To find out how to set your device to include this feature see below. 

How do I set up Guided Access?

Settings icon

To set up Guided Access click the Settings icon from the Home screen.

From the left-hand sidebar select General. From the right-hand sidebar select Accessibility. The right-hand sidebar will open a range of Accessibility options, select Guided Access. The Guided Access screen will be displayed. Move the Guided Access Slider to the ON position and select Set Passcode. Enter a password that you will use to control Guided Access as an administrator, re-enter your password and exit out of settings.

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Enter the app that you want to run Guided Access in. I have used a movie from my videos section for the demonstration. After the program (or app) opens, triple click the home button (if prompted select Guided Access). Select the START button from the top-right corner. You will be notified with a pop-up that Guided Access has started. Your learner may now use the app without being able to exit it and play other applications. To exit guided access just triple click the home button and enter your password.

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How do I disable part of the screen with Guided Access?

Enter the app that you want to run Guided Access in. I have used a movie from my videos section for this demonstration as well. After the program (or app) opens, triple click the home button (if prompted select Guided Access). You can draw with your finger a freehand shape around the area you want to disable. In the images below, I selected the on-screen play and volume slider area. If I wanted the whole of the selected area to be inaccessible, I would not need to do any more and I would just press the START button at the top-right corner.

However, I might want to allow my user to have access to the play/pause button but not the volume button. After I have drawn my shape around the button, I can now drag it to increase or decrease the area I want inaccessible. I decreased the height of mine to disable the volume. I can then press the START button in the top-right corner. The disabled section is shaded when you run the program or app.

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To exit the app or stop using Guided Acces, triple click home and when prompted, enter your password code. You will need to remove the selected areas if you want to remove this feature from the app/program.

A Word of Warning

Guided Access is widely considered to be the solution to access issues on iDevices with students. While it is a great feature, it is important to note that this feature might not be appropriate if you want to use an app with multiple screens and areas. Under Guided Access, that whole section when anywhere in the app or program will be disabled (even if there are no buttons or areas on subsequent levels or pages). While you won’t have to change and alter Guided Access for every movie you watch (because it is the one program), you will need to set it up for each app that you want to use Guided Access with.

Overall, I like the capablilities of the Guided Access feature for classroom use. Many students that have special needs quite often are very savvy with iDevices and it is hard to keep them from touching and changing settings that you would rather them not have access to. This feature solves the problem.

The next post in this series shows you how to overcome issues with Guided Access – HELP – I have a Guided Access Problem

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Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are

Middle school confidential 1Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are

By Electric Eggplant (valued at $2.99)

Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are is a graphic novel, written by Annie Fox, which takes a serious look at issues involving children aged between 8-14 years. Book 1, ‘Be Confident in Who You Are’, brings to light our appearance, others’ opinions of us, losing our temper, standing up for ourselves, making assumptions about people, being stressed, and liking ourselves. The scenarios in the book are the kinds of issues I see in school environments every day.

I was recently given the opportunity to use ‘Be Confident in Who You Are’ with some students with special needs aged between 9 and 13. These students had issues that come up almost every day about speaking unkindly to other people, being stressed and losing their temper (this happened on multiple occasions every day), putting themselves down and letting other people walk all over them. This is not uncommon with all children in this age group.

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I placed the app up on the interactive whiteboard and it immediately aroused curiosity. This wasn’t the type of novel that they normally read. There weren’t a lot of words and one student said that he liked it but didn’t think he could learn anything with a comic book. How wrong he was! The book is designed so that there is only a limited amount of text, which is brilliant. This provides a framework for students to be able to read the visuals and make inferences.

Each chapter in the book provides a scenario about a particular issue. At the end of each chapter there is a quiz, comment, or solution that provokes deep thinking and challenges the reader to be more proactive and positive in their personal lives. I did not read the book as a whole; I decided to work around each chapter. For example, chapter 1 focuses on appearance and how others might make remarks about it. The characters discussed how they felt and I could see nods of agreement from my students. We discussed how important it was for our health and wellbeing to stay positive and try and be more active and healthy in our everyday lives. We also discussed how we feel when these things happen to us. As a class, we brainstormed for ideas about how to be healthier and happy.

‘Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are’ was a huge success in our classroom. I used it every day in order to address real issues that were happening with my students. Often they found it hard to express themselves out loud. In this context, students were given opportunities to express themselves and their opinions and explain why they felt the way they did. It helped to further develop speaking and listening skills, and empathy.

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As part of our assessment for the English curriculum, the students were required to use visuals in order to create their own presentation. ‘Be Confident in Who You Are’ provides a rich source of visual imagery, and without these, the user would have difficulty understanding the text. As a group, students critically analyzed the layout and organization, stance and expression of the characters in the novel. This helped the students to develop their presentations using appropriate visual supports.

While I really like the format of ‘Be Confident in Who You Are’, I would like to see an option for non-readers to hear audio of the text (with different voices for the characters). Some of the students that I worked with, although in the correct age range for the book, had reading levels at grade one and would find it difficult to actually read the words.

‘Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are’ could be used in a Reader’s Theatre activity. Students become excited and enthusiastic about reading when they are presented with the opportunity to participate in Readers Theatre. Students could develop scripts, perform in groups, and practice using their voice to depict characters from the text. Through this activity, students would have the opportunity to develop fluency and further enhance comprehension of what they are reading.

Overall, ‘Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are’ was a great discussion starter and led to further engagement with values, and social and emotional health and wellbeing topics. I believe that this app helps educators and associated professionals to connect with their students in a meaningful and authentic way.

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TenseBuilder

 TenseBuilder

by Mobile Education Store ($20.99AUD)

I was really excited when I first saw TenseBuilder. I knew right away that this app could make a difference for our learners who have learning difficulties, special needs, or just simply do not understand the concepts behind time and tense. I think that the most exciting features of this app are the mini animations which help set-up the context for the sentence and learning. Like all Mobile Education Store apps, this app begins with the settings screen. This is the heart of the TenseBuilder app, where nine different adjustments can be made so that it aligns to your learner needs, including:

  • The audio instruction, correct answer reinforcement and record correct answer features can be turned on or off;
  • The level of play, and number of level choices (between 3-7);
  • The tense you would like to focus on (past, present, future, or all);
  • The types of verbs (regular, irregular, or all);
  • Individual verbs can be selected;
  • Long or short lesson; and
  • It is also where you can find a comprehensive Video Tutorial about how to use and customise the app.

I really like the fact that this app has two levels. Level 1 aims to improve receptive language skills. It features short animations and then the user is presented with a tense sentence and three image choices. The user is required to tap the correct image which corresponds with the tense sentence at the top of the screen. I have set the app to have long lessons, future tense, and level 1. The following will happen, depending on the user’s choice.

  • If they answer correctly (and you have audio and correct answer reinforcement turned on), the user will be praised, the sentence will be spoken, and the user will have the option to record and save the sentence for review by an educator or parent at a later stage.
  • If they answer incorrectly, the app brings up a pop-up animation showing the correct tense in action. The user is then guided back to the selection screen to choose again.
  • If the user is unsure they are able to click the Play Full Lesson button. This will bring up the short animations of each of the tenses. The app uses audio and visual cues to show each tense and how it looks in written form. I think this feature is wonderful!

Level 2 aims to improve expressive language skills. The user is shown a short animation. A partially completed sentence will appear in the sentence strip and the user will be asked to complete the missing part of the sentence so that it aligns with the stated tense (selected via the settings menu). A selection of between 3-7 answers will be displayed at the bottom of the screen. The user drags their chosen verb to the top sentence and the app reads out the sentence. The following will happen, depending on the user’s choice:

  • If they chose the correct verb tense the user will be praised, and they will be given the choice to record and save the sentence for review by an educator or parent at a later stage. They can then move on to another verb animation and lesson.
  • If they choose the incorrect verb tense, the app brings up a pop-up animation showing the correct tense and word structure for the sentence. The user is then guided back to the selection screen to choose again.
  • As in Level 1, if the user is unsure they are able to click the Play Full Lesson button. This will bring up the short animations of each of the tenses. The app uses audio and visual cues to show each tense and how it looks in written form. Did I mention previously that I think this feature is wonderful?

What do I like about TenseBuilder?

I like how you are able to skip verbs lessons and go to the next one without having to complete each and every lesson in a particular order. This is really important because it could help keep learners engaged and on-task. In addition, particular verb(s) can be selected to work on from the settings menu.

I like how particular attention is paid to irregular verbs, which are hard for many students, with or without special needs, to comprehend. The visuals support these concepts nicely. The app features 48 video lessons, which is ideal if you want to work on 1 verb each week.

I really love that TenseBuilder incorporates animations to help set the scene and show how past, present and future tense actually works for each verb. They say that a picture tells a thousand words, if that’s the case then this app must tell a million!

As an educator, I like that you can be emailed results and track a user’s progress; however, you need to ensure your device has an enabled email account attached to it for this feature to work.

What could be included in future updates?

I think that the ability to switch between accents would be a great compliment to TenseBuilder. Although it wouldn’t be realistic to expect every accent to be included, incorporating a male/female option and up to five different language accents would be great.

As a classroom educator knowing that I would need to use TenseBuilder with anywhere up to 28 different users, I think that having the capacity to input multiple user profiles which can be stored, tracked and accessed by selecting a user from a list would be ideal for assessment and reporting purposes.

Conclusion

Overall, I really like the animations. They are what makes TenseBuilder stand above other apps on the same topic. Both expressive and receptive language skills are important for everyday communication. TenseBuilder helps to improve, maintain and generalise these skills so that the user is effectively scaffolded for conversations using the correct verb tense and form. As an added bonus, the humour within the animations can be explored in detail with learners who have Autism and other special needs.

TenseBuilder is one of the best apps I have come across in the language arts area. Educators, Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, and parents should consider downloading this app to help their children/learners understand how to use tense and verb form properly.

To look at TenseBuilder in action, please view the slideshow below:

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Rounds: Franklin Frog

Rounds: Franklin Frog

by Nosy Crow ($5.49AUD)

Rounds: Franklin Frog is a non-fiction interactive app which looks at the lifecycle of a frog in a fun and appealing way. The genre is a simple narrative, and is well designed with lovely graphics and music. This app is suitable for children in primary and special education schools. It is easy to use and navigate and has a help section. Rounds: Franklin Frog begins with the home screen where the user can view information about how to use the app or select their preferred reading option. There are two reading options:

  • Read and play – this option is read by a child narrator. Words can be highlighted as the text is being read or this feature can be turned off.
  • Read by myself – this option allows the user to select different transition speeds.

The Read and play section is fantastic because the user plays an important part helping the characters through the frog lifecycle. They help Franklin get food; hibernate; swim; find a mate; and help Felicity lay frogspawn and protect them from hungry fish. After this, we are introduced to Fraser, who we help get out of his egg; eat food and grow into a tadpole, froglet and a frog. Users are then taken through the same cycle until we meet Fletcher, and then it all repeats again. Throughout this learning journey, interesting facts about frogs and their lifecycles are given to the user in the form of comments by the character(s). The correct scientific terminology is used and communicated in such a way that it doesn’t confuse young learners.

Rounds: Franklin Frog is a perfect way to teach children about the biology of frogs using the metalanguage of science, at an appropriate level for children up to about age 10. It is interactive and fun for young learners, with enough science facts to promote deep knowledge and understanding. The app features 100s of facts about: habitats; food chains; predators and prey; mating; and the actual stages in a frog’s lifecycle. The ‘rounds’ nature of the book is great for two reasons: 1) it shows the repetitive nature of the lifecycle of a frog, and 2) the repetition helps students understand and learn the lifecycle stages more deeply.

While reading the story, I accidently pressed the home button on my device. When I re-opened the app, the help screen popped up and asked me if I would like to continue reading, change my settings, or restart the story. This feature is great because a lot of children may tap the wrong button in error.

Future Educational Recommendations: I think this app could be rounded off with some simple activities so that the user can demonstrate their understanding of the frog’s lifecycle. For example, putting together the stages in a frog’s lifecycle on a circular chart, or a quick quiz. However, the learning content in Rounds: Franklin Frog makes this app well worth the download.

Overall, Rounds: Franklin Frog is exactly the type of app that makes mLearning fun and motivating for young students. The simple narrative genre hides the fact that students are actually learning.

Check out my screenshots of Rounds: Franklin Frog and the official trailer below:

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Disclaimer: The opinions on this blog are entirely the authors.

Rainbow Sentences

Rainbow Sentences

by Mobile Education Store ($8.49AUD)

The Rainbow Sentences iPad app helps students build grammatically correct sentences. The parts of a sentence are colour-coded according to a pre-set template or they can be customised according to your own system of colour coding. The app starts off in the settings mode. This is where students are added; line and word colour-coding is changed; the difficulty level is adjusted; a customised colour theme can be added; and other items such as audio, reinforcement, and word grouping can be turned on or off.

Rainbow Sentences helps students who have trouble understanding the different parts of a sentence by grouping words into chunks. Once you have set up the app for a user, you can hand it over to your student and they can start right away. There are 55 sentences within each of the three levels:

  • Level 1 focuses on who the sentence is about and what they are doing. An example of this would be ‘The frog (who) is swimming (what)’. As the user becomes more proficient, the colour-coding can be turned off.
  • Level 2 builds on level 1 and includes who the sentence is about, what they are doing, and adds where they are doing it. An example of this would be: ‘The monkey (who) is sitting (what) next to the bananas (where)’.
  • Level 3 builds on levels 1 & 2 and includes who the sentence is about, what they are doing, where they are doing it, and adds why they are doing it. An example of this would be: ‘The dog (who) is jumping (what) toward the Frisbee (where) to try to catch it (why)’.

Check out the video below, or the images at the end of this blog, to see Rainbow Sentences in action:

The parts of the sentences are presented at the bottom of the screen out of order. There is an image depicting what the sentence is about as a visual reinforcement for the user. If you have line and word colour-coding turned on, the parts of the sentence will be in a matching colour to the lines presented at the top of the screen. The user has to drag and drop the parts onto the sentence strip at the top of the screen. The words are spoken as each part is dragged. If they are correct, the sentence is repeated back to them. They are then given the choice to record and playback their sentence and save it for later review.

The app also features a ‘show’ button in which the app will build and speak the sentence for them if they are experiencing difficulties. If the user incorrectly builds a sentence the parts are placed back down to the bottom of the screen. After a second incorrect attempt, the app will demonstrate it for the user. As the user becomes more proficient, the colour-coding can be turned off to enable full mastery of the concepts.

The user receives positive reinforcement and encouragement throughout the building process. Correct answers will result in an added bonus of a puzzle piece. The more answers that are answered correctly, the more pieces will be added. Rainbow Sentences is designed in such a way that the beginner right through to the advanced user can navigate and respond in an appropriate way for their own academic level. The colour-coding of words and lines is a fantastic way for the user to understand the concepts of grammatically correct sentences and to build them successfully, which is important to early literacy development and self-esteem. There is a section within the app called ‘Stats’ and this is where the user can view and email their performance to an educator or parent.

As an Australian educator who utilises functional grammar in the classroom, I can easily see this successfully implemented in my classroom. There were some minor issues with the custom colour-coding prior to the latest update; however, Mobile Education Store responded to my inquiry, fixed these issues, and updated Rainbow Sentences through Apple within two weeks of my original query. One little voice was heard and action was taken – thank you!

In the ‘Settings’ area there is an option to change the colour themes, which is what I have done to align the app with Australian functional grammar. Functional grammar utilises 3 colours: red for the participant (who/what), green for the process (what they are doing), and blue for the circumstance (where/why they are doing it). Check the images below to see how I set this up in Rainbow Sentences. I was delighted to find that my custom colour-coding worked perfectly and aligned with the way that I teach grammar. I know many educators will be very pleased with the ability to change the colour themes to suit their needs.

Overall, Rainbow Sentences is very easy to use, is really great for language and grammar use, and provides visual and audio stimuli for different styles of learning. The incorporation of positive reinforcement helps promote successful learning outcomes. The default format is clear, easy to use and easy to understand. The user(s) are guided by the program and they can obtain help if they need it. I really love Rainbow Sentences because it addresses curriculum statements. It also makes it easier to have successful lessons which integrate the iPad, fulfilling the need to use ICTs and mLearning in education today.

I recommend Rainbow Sentences to educators, parents, and other professionals for regular and targeted use with their students or children.

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Disclaimer: The opinions on this blog are entirely the author’s.