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Tap Tangram by PKCLsoft

16 Mar

taptangramsappiconPKCLsoft has come up with a new game combining trivia, Mathematics and tangrams that will appeal to teachers and parents.  The game is simple to use while being highly customisable to suit a wide range of ages and abilities.

Playing the game

Tap Tangram is very simple to use. Single player and Multiplayer games operate in much the same way:

  1. Select the number of tangram puzzles you wish to complete from options of 1, 3, 5 or 10 (depending on how long you wish the game to last.)
  2. Select a puzzle from the many options. Multiplayer contestants can choose different puzzles from each other if they wish.
  3. Tap Go to begin the game.
  4. Answer the question by either typing in the correct number or selecting the correct multiple choice answer.
  5. Correct answers result in a tan being added to your player scratch pad that can be used immediately or held until later.
  6. Drag tan pieces to the working area and move, flip and rotate them to create the tangram.

Multiplayer games also have a race element where players try to beat their opponents in completing their tangrams.

IMG_5245Multiplayer Games

You can play with two players on a single iPad or iPad 6+ in a beat-the-clock game, or up to six players over wifi.  If you answer 3 questions correctly in a row in the multiplayer game, you may request a tan from another player.  A player that assists another by giving them a tan will receive extra points.  As each player is playing at their own level, children operating at a higher level will not have an unfair advantage over other players. (Hmmmmmm.  This could be a good way to determine who picks tonight’s DVD or other little sibling squabbles.)

You can see Tap Tangram in action in the YouTube app trailer below.

Mathematics skills

Maths questions are presented as either  equations  or as sentences, and students answer by either typing in the number or selecting the correct answer from four multiple choice options.  Questions focus on the four operations:

  • Addition
  • Subtraction
  • Division
  • Multiplication

You can fine-tune Mathematics questions by selecting a difficulty level and adjusting the number range, making the app suitable for children aged from about 6 years to 12 or even older.

Trivia Questions

You can turn this option on or off, but I think it adds a little fun to the task.  So far I’ve been asked trivia questions related to popular culture, movies (such as Star Wars), Geography, literature, Sport, and Science and Nature, but the list seems quite extensive and I haven’t had the same question twice.  Each question has 4 answers to choose from.

IMG_5238Tangrams

Each correct answer gives you a tangram piece that you can then add to your tangram picture, or save to add later after you have earned a few more pieces.  (Personally, I find it easier to earn all my pieces first and then solve the puzzle, but you may differ.) You can tap on a piece to bring it to the work area, then tap to rotate, flip and move the piece to the desired spot, and even lock it into place.  You can also move the piece by dragging.  The information section on the main page, marked by a big question mark, has some detailed instructions that are illustrated and animated to help you if you have difficulties.

Most people are familiar with tangrams.  They originated in China, possibly during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) and made their way to Europe in the 19th century.  Apart from the entertainment value that a puzzle brings, tangrams are also very useful in Mathematics.  They are useful in teaching geometry, logic, fractions ratio and more.  You can google “tangrams in mathematics” to come up with endless material on why this little puzzle game is a very good Mathematics, but I’ve just included a link below to an excellent article about the use of tangrams in Education that might be of interest.

Tangram in Mathematics for Lower Secondary School – Jaroslav Brincková, Miroslav Haviar and Iveta Dzúriková

Customising Tap Tangrams

User Profiles:  Tap Tangram has been designed with the classroom in mind, although the classroom-friendly features also work well with families who will have multiple children using the app at different levels of ability. Teachers can add unlimited individual student profiles, and for each profile can:

  • Set level of difficulty and number ranges
  • Select which operations they wish to concentrate on
  • Opt for multiple choice answers only.
  • Monitor who each child performs at their mathematics tasks as the app records:
    • total scores
    • accuracy of answers in each game
    • speed for answering each question.

Avatars:  Children can customise avatars via their profile page. Just tap the avatar to access the simple  controls.  You can change:

  • Skin tone
  • Eyes
  • Eyebrows
  • Nose
  • Hair style and colour (after you choose a style, you are the. Prompted to choose a colour)
  • Mouth
  • Accessories

 

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 Wish List

There is so much to love about this app that it is hard to come up with a wish list, but I’ll just put it out there that I’d love to be able to put in my list of trivia questions.  If I could do that, perhaps I could relate it to homework or get them to come up with their own questions.

Verdict

It is clear that PKCLsoft has designed this app with the classroom in mind and I think it fits really well.  I can see the app being used to reinforce content learned in class, building speed and accuracy with basic facts and mental arithmetic, and perhaps used as a motivational tool.  That is even before you get to the tangrams activity!


Developer: PKCLsoft
Universal. Requires iOS 7.0 or later
Price: $4.49

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Apps for Money Skills Part 1: Counting Money from STAAPS Interactive

25 May

A friend on my Facebook group recently asked for some apps to help her son learn some money skills.  There are heaps of money apps out there, including general Mathematics apps that include some money activities, but many of them are specific to just one currency.  I have several apps on my iPad that use our Australian currency and others and I intend to write a review of each of them for you over the next week or so.

aussie kidsFirst cab off the rank is Aussie Kids Count Coins from from STAAPS Interactive. International readers, don’t let the name put you off, as there are three other versions available for the USA, New Zealand and Europe.  Each has a different name, but all use the same activities and all use both notes and coins.

Activities

There are six activities:

  • Pay for things – drag the exact amount of cash to a box to pay for an item.
  • Lemonade Stand – calculate the cost of a customer’s order by typing on the keyboard.  It is great for “mental Maths”calculations, but some children may need to have a pencil and paper handy to work things out.
  • Give Change – The customer pays for an item and you give them the correct change from the till. If you put too much change or don’t give enough, the customers will let you know and you can try again.
  • Piggy Bank – Smash the piggy bank and count the money inside.
  • Go Shopping – Spend an exact amount of money by dragging an exact number of items from a shelf. This is a pretty difficult task and requires a bit of logical thinking and problem solving.  The feedback for errors is supportive as it gives the child a clue as to why the answer is incorrect, e.g. “You haven’t spent enough money.”
  • Who Has More – Two creatures have different amounts of money. You need to tap the one with the most. Children can’t get off the hook by random choices, as they are then asked to add up the money for the creature they have chosen, and then both collections of money are totalled.

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Features

  • The app uses images of real currency.
  • The parent section show how many times your child has played each of the game modes.
  • You can change the difficulty level to restrict activities to coins only (parents section).
  • There is an incentive system that awards stars as children reach target in the activities.
  • The app is compatible with iOS 4.0 and above so will work on the original iPad.

Wish List

  • Individual profiles would be an advantage for families and for classrooms.
  • More feedback – The reporting system is only useful in that you can see if your child has been playing the game.  I’d like a little more feedback so that I could see if there were areas where they made lots of errors and needed more support.

Verdict

This is a great app for children who can already identify currency but need to practice the transactional skills involved with money, e.g. selecting change. The app is aimed at children aged 6 to 8 but some activities will be quite challenging even for children in upper primary.  Use of “real currency” images will help children translate these skills into real life.  The app is great value for the price.

As mentioned earlier, there are four international versions for this app. All of the apps are $2.49 Aus but prices will be different in other international stores. All apps are iPad only and require iOS 4.0 or higher.

Australia: Aussie Kids Count Coins

 

USA: Kids Count Money USA

New Zealand: Kids Count Money NZ

Kids Count Money: Europe

9 Letters

20 Nov

9 Letters App iconI am a big fan of word puzzles and usually have one or two on my iPad to do in those times where I’m doing that universal Mum thing:  waiting for my children to finish school or whatever activity they are doing.  I love word games and puzzles because they help keep my brain active, and my favourite are anagram games, particularly the 9 letter puzzles, so I was very excited to hear PKCLsoft was developing 9 Letters, and even more delighted when I was given a copy to review.  PKCLsoft is an independent Australian developer and a member of MOMs with apps.

 

How It Works

9 Letters is exactly what the name suggests: a game with 9 letters that you use to make as many words as you can.  The rules are simple:

  • Each letter can only be used once (although if the same letter appears more than once, you can use it as many times as it appears)
  • Words must be a minimum of 3 letters long.
  • Longer words score more points

In the top left of the screen is a pop out table with the total number of words you have found, plus a table indicating how many words of each length can be found.  In the example below, for instance, I have found 14 of 19 three-letter words, 3 of 9 six-letter words, and neither of the single eight or nine letter words.  You can tap on the table to hide or reveal it.  A running score is kept as you play.

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Options

There are several options to make the game easier, harder or more accessible, which can be turned on or off in settings.  These include:

  • Target mode – the central letter must be used in every word (usually a standard rule in similar games but optional here).  When target mode is on, the central letter is darkened.
  • Hint every ten words
  • Highlight valid words (a word appears green if it is valid)
  • automatic detection of ‘s’ endings (if you type a word and there is an available s to pluralise it, both words will be added to the list.)
  • apply time limit for each word
  • Sound effects and music can be turned on or off.
  • An alternative font is available
  • Display lower case letters

You can see how the game works in this YouTube video.


Apart from the free hints every 10 words, prompts occasionally appear to offer you the chance to buy a 7 letter word or a hint via your iTunes account.  I haven’t bothered with these but enthusiasts may.  Of course, your iTunes password is required to make a purchase, and you can prevent unauthorised in-App purchases (IAPs) but turning this option off in your device settings.

Things I love

The game is as fast or as slow as you want – If you turn the timer off, you can sit with a word as long as you like. Personally, I like the challenge of working against a timer, and I usually am playing during a quick break so that works better for me.

The huge variety of 9 letter words – I have several of these games and I enjoy them all, but for most I keep coming across the same letter combos all the time.   I’ve played 9 Letters for nearly a fortnight at every available opportunity (because I love to be thorough when putting apps through their paces for reviews….. and because it is addictive!) and not once have I come across a repeated word.

New vocabulary – While I recognise most of the 9 letter word solutions, some of the words are unfamiliar to me. I’m enjoying learning new words such as  empyreans and multiplet.  I’m pleased to hear that a future update will allow you to get definitions of words.  Lots of smaller words are unfamiliar, so if you put together what you think are nonsense words, sometimes you come up with a winner.

Handoff Feature – 9 Letters supports Handoff, Apple’s new continuity feature, so you can start a game on your iPhone but then transfer the same game to your iPad later.  You can see how it work’s in PKCLsoft’s demo YouTube video below.

 

Wish List

Definitions – This one is already in the pipeline, and I can’t wait to be able to link quickly to definitions of words.  I’m hoping this will not only apply to the larger words but some of the smaller words too.

Colour choices – The colour scheme is high contrast which is great, but I’d love the option to change it to my favourite colour – blue.  Not a biggie, but it would be nice.

Difficulty options – I’d love to be able to make the game harder (or not) by having an option to have a 4-letter minimum word length.  The 3-letter minimum is great, as most other games start at 4, but it would be fun.  Also, perhaps the option to reject the plural s, so that book would count, but books wouldn’t, (unless the central letter was an s).

Verdict

I love this game and it has become my “go-to” game when I’m having a break.  I’m enjoying the variety of words, the challenge level and learning new words.  Being able to turn off the target letters and time limits will make the game a little more user-friendly for some who might like to play word games but find most a bit difficult.  Scrabble and Boggle lovers will be sure to love it.

Secret Santa season is coming up and if you have a friend of family member who is in to word games, you could gift them a copy and I’m sure it would be much appreciated.  9 Letters is only in its first version and it is already wonderful, so I look forward to the future updates.
9 Letters - pkclSoft
Publisher: pkclSoft
Price:  $1.29 (Australia – 99 cents USA) until 26th November 2014, then $2.49.
iPad and iPhone (requires iOS 7.0 or later)

 

 

Junior Storytellers: School Edition

28 May

Junior Storytellers app iconJunior Storytellers  puts your child in the director’s seat to create simple animated stories with narration, using a variety of settings, characters and props.  It is a great way for children to learn about how to build a story while engaging in creative play.  There are two versions of the app available. I am reviewing the School Edition, which includes all content with the one price.  The free version has limited content, with more story theme packs available with in-app purchase.

The main screen of the app is separated into four main sections: Create Story, My Stories, Awards and Settings.

Create Story

There are two main story sections: Sandbox and Challenge.

Sandbox Mode  – This section has two options:  a learning mode and a create mode.

  • Learn to Play guides children through making a story. It explains how to choose scenes, and to add, pose and change characters and props, and uses items from the Jungle theme only.  It is a great place to start, and might also be helpful for children who might otherwise get a bit overwhelmed with choice.
  • Create A Story gives children full access to the range of settings, characters and props.  Children create a story one page at a time and can create stories of any length they choose.

Challenge Mode –   This mode challenges children to create stories using a specific number of scenes. The first level is a single scene story and is a good place to start. Subsequent levels challenge children to create stories with several scenes. The first Level 1 has a single scene story, Level 3 has stories of 5 scenes, and Level 5  has stories with 9 scenes. The challenge mode starts with a quick video modelling the creation and recording of a story. After you have seen it a few times, it gets a bit tired, but you can tap on the big red cross in the top corner to turn it off. You can also turn the tutorial off using the app settings. Continue reading

School Writing Revisited – Version 2 delivers

23 Aug

School Writing App iconLast year I reviewed School Writing by Demografix, an app that I bought to help my children with their handwriting and one that I’ve come to consider my favourite educational app.  That is a big call, I know, as I have  a lot of favourites, but this app really delivers.  The great thing is that, since I’ve bought School Writing, several updates have been released and each one has added even more supportive features.  With the recent release of Version 2, I thought it was about time I updated my original review.   I could have simply made a list of the new features, but for readers who haven’t read my original review, I thought it might be better to use most of the original review, and to highlight new features throughout.

School Writing is a handwriting app that includes fonts for Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the UK, and now South Africa and home schooling.  You might be mistaken for thinking it is only a handwriting App, when it is really a versatile App that can be used across the curriculum and is suitable for all ages. School Writing is for iPad only, but iPhone and iPod Touch users should still keep reading as there Demografix has an iPhone App, School Fonts, that is very similar, lacking only one of the major activities.

Features

3 Handwriting Activities for Numbers, lower case and upper case

  • Trace over each letter or number with pencils of varying thickness.
  • Tracings are recorded and can be replayed or sent to the teacher.
  • Three tracing modes are available for beginner scripts – Outline, a dotted letter or a solid letter.  The outline also features a start point and arrows indicating the order and direction of each stroke.
  • A Learn button shows an animation of the letter or number being drawn for beginner scripts.  This feature is not available for the Cursive scripts, however teachers and parents can add their own recordings of letter tracings using the Customise section.
  • Illustrations – Tap on the camera icon to bring up pictures relating to the number (e.g. 6 flutes for the number six) or letter (initial letter sound, such as A is for Apple)

NEW FEATURES

  • Tracing accuracy – After students trace letters or numbers, they can receive a star or half star for tracing accuracy.  If they are not very accurate with the tracing, they will receive a prompt to try again.  They can have three attempts before progressing to the next letter or number.  There are three levels of difficulty for tracing:  Easy, Medium and Hard.  You might start beginners on the easy level, but then increase it as their accuracy improved.  Tracing accuracy can also be turned off.
  • Dotted thirds guidelines for Victorian schools
  • New Fonts – plain and cursive fonts for South Africa, and some fonts commonly used by Home Schoolers, (HWT Beginners, and Getty-Dubay in plain and cursive)

Words

In addition to the 37 lessons in this section, teachers can create and import their own.  There are examples of lessons from Prep to Year 7 levels including (but not limited to):

  • Upper and lowercase letters
  • Spelling
  • Sight words (using Dolch sight words)
  • Phonics
  • Simple word tracing
  • Writing names of family and friends
  • Identifying incorrect spelling
  • NEW – The Mioow Magic Word lists have been added.  My Prep-aged son has been bringing these sight word lists home so we are delighted.

It is really easy to add words or to edit the word list. I was able to create a custom “Lesson” with 10 words, all with audio and photographs, in under a minute. Some ways I could see this section being used include:

  • Weekly spelling and sight word lists – As it is easy to set up a class set of iPads using DropBox, it would be really easy to change lists weekly.
  • Personal information for students with special needs –  including writing their phone numbers, names addresses and other personal information.
  • Practice writing names – A class list with the child’s names plus his family and/or friends’ names as well would be a perfect prep activity.
School Writing screen shot featuring "Sarah's iPad" in beginner script

Whiteboard activities

The iPad is used as a whiteboard where students complete activities. (This is the activity not available in School Fonts) There are more than 20 activities that install with the App, covering pre-writing, shapes, math problems, and vocabulary exercises, and even Chinese Characters. It is easy to create your own activity by importing images or drawing freehand on the Whiteboard. This is the section that most lends itself to cross-curricula activities.   It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see the possibilities, particularly with such an extensive list of examples pre-installed with the App, but here are a couple of ideas that I would love to have been able to do with my past students:

  • Cloze activities – close activities are where students fill in the missing words in a piece of text.  Word lists may or may not be provided.  The text for these activities can come from just about any subject.
  • Mathematics Activities – Some of the strategies I discussed in an earlier post, Using Painting and Drawing Apps for more than just pictures, would apply here.  Children could count objects and write the number, write sums, group tens, show groups for multiplication or complete patterns. The list is by no means exhaustive.
  • Following directions – present the child with a picture and the instructions to draw items in particular places, for example Put a cat on the mat, or  Put a ball under the table.
  • Mapping skills – Trace routes or locate specific places on maps. You could trace the fire escape plan for your classroom, show different routes to get from A to B, or simply identify places in your neighbourhood.
  • LOTE (Language Other Than English) – Writing Chinese or Japanese Characters, matching items to words.

Individual Student Profiles

You can add unlimited student profiles.   Records of how many lessons each student has completed are recorded.  Student names are used when sending reports to teachers and parents. The video below shows the main features of the App.

Demographix has more detailed videos available on YouTube and their website that show the various features in-depth.  See below for the link to the Demografix website.

Customizing

  • Handwriting Styles – Beginner and Cursive styles are available for all Australian States and Territories, New Zealand, U.K and U.S.  (both D’Nealian and Zaner-Bloser)
  • Guidelines – available as standard or dotted thirds, with an optional mid-line.  Guidelines can also be removed.
  • Sounds – three sounds are available for tracing, plus encouragement sounds.  These can b e turned off.
  • Emails – teachers can have letter and number exercises sent to a nominated email address for review.
  • Security – The App can be locked to prevent content and profiles being removed or edited.  An option exists for students to be able to add profiles while the App is locked, however this is easily turned off.
  • Import/Export lessons – by email, weblink, or DropBox.

New customizing features

  • Custom encouragement sounds – You can now record your own custom reward/encouragement sounds.  Applause at the end of activities is also available and can be turned on or off.  Encouragement sounds are set to off as a default.
  • Bluetooth sharing for  whiteboard lessons  and word lists.
  • Palm guard – can be turned on or off.  The lower section of the screen is “turned off” while children are writing.

Other Features

External links are available on the main page but can be turned off through settings, as Demografix obviously respects the need for internet security for students.

  • Share this App – through email, Twitter or Facebook
  • Help – links to Demografix website
  • Rate this App – linking to App Store.  (I hate apps that constantly beg for ratings so it is nice to see this one able to be turned off.)
  • About Demografix – contact page within the app with links to other apps, social networking, the Demografix website and newsletter.
  • New Feature – Customise the Logo on the homescreen.  You can now add your own graphic, such as a school banner or photo, to the app homescreen.

Suggestions

Importing and Exporting activities – If you buy this App, I’d seriously consider keeping an eye on the Demografix website for more activities that you will be able to add to your App.  I’d also consider submitting activities to the site. Use a Stylus – Tracing with a finger is one way to reinforce letter and number shapes, but I’d strongly recommend using a stylus to help develop good writing skills with a good pencil grip.  There are heaps available, but the one I would use for beginner writers is the Gecko Glow stylus with its non-slip rubber exterior and its tripod grip. Watch the Demografix YouTube videos as they cover every aspect of the App in detail.  Apart from the general video above, you can also see how to:

  • Create Word Activities
  • Create Whiteboard Lessons
  • Customise Handwriting Lessons
  • Import and Export Activities via Email
  • Using DropBox to set up a classroom of iPads

Posture – iPads are transportable, so sometimes they may not be used with classic good-handwriting posture.  Do your best to make sure children are seated well when practicing their hand writing.  I know it doesn’t sound important, but good lower-body stability is important so that children can use their upper body to concentrate on the writing task and not having to stabilise themselves with their arms too.

 

Wish list

In my original review I had a few  wishes, but they have mostly been addressed.  There are two features I wanted that haven’t been added, but they are no longer issues for me.

  • Resize, zoom and move images when creating and editing lessons.  When you add an image to an activity, you still can’t manipulate the image.  Now that I’m using an iPad 3, this isn’t so much of an issue for me as I can edit photos on the iPad before I enter them into the app.
  • More than 12 character text limit in Word activity – I wanted to be able to put words longer than 12 characters into the activity, for example my nephew’s surname would not fit.  While you still can’t do this, Demografix has another brilliant iPad app, Literacy, that allows you to do this and more.  I love both apps and consider them partner apps.

Verdict

School Writing is an open-ended App that will allow teachers and parents the flexibility to use it with their own content focusing on individual and class needs.   As indicated by the number of features added since my original review, the developer is very responsive to user feedback.  Please contact Demografix if you’d like to see any features added, or if you have any ideas on how the app could work better for you.   I stand by my original comments that School Writing “is one of the best-designed Apps I’ve seen and delivers great value for the price.”

School Writing – Learn to write the ABC, numbers, words and more. (Australia/New Zealand) - demografix pty ltd
Publisher: Demografix
Price: $5.49
iPad only

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Seven Super Stories by Susan Syddall

28 Feb

I couldn’t resist using some alliteration in the heading for today’s post. Susan Syddall is an Australian author and illustrator who also has a website, Stories and Children, which is full of great educational ideas and resources and more information about her apps. Today I am reviewing the seven story apps Susan has published to date. Most have been supplied by Susan, but I acquired one of them while it was on sale recently.

A page from Hog and Frog

A page from Hog and Frog by Susan Syddall

Features

The following features are common to the apps.

  • Beautiful illustrations
  • Two reading modesRead to Me or I’ll Read.
  • The narration is expressive with an Australian accent. Most of the story apps I own have either an American or British accent, so it is a delight to hear a story in my accent, particularly one so well narrated. I don’t believe the accent would present difficulties for other countries, particularly now we have such global exposure to such a variety of accents.
  • How to section – explains the different features of the app.
  • Text presented in different ways – in addition to the standard text, you’ll see speech and thought bubbles, environmental text (labels, signs, books etc), and words presented in different graphic formats.
  • Subtle interactive elements – there are no animations, but some pages have interactive areas that will produce sounds. These pages are marked with an asterisk.
  • Extension activities – these differ for each book but include activities such as mazes, word finds, comprehension activities, spot the difference, counting, vocabulary and more. There are at least 5 extra activities for each book and these can be printed and/or completed in app.
  • Guide Notes – These printable activities include suggested focus questions for discussions, Language activities and extension ideas, and integrated curriculum ideas.
  • An introduction to each story – this is a feature you don’t often find in story apps, and it helps cue the child into the language and concepts explored in the story. In some cases,these introductions give background knowledge the child may not already have (see Lyrebird Park for a good example.)

More support materials can be found on the Stories and Children website. A free membership is required to access the materials.

Those are features common to each story app. Below are my notes on each book in the series. I’ve included some first impressions on some of the learning opportunities for each book, but if you dive into the supportive materials included with each app, you will find many more ideas.

The Stories

All of the stories are Universal, are published by Susan Syddall, and are priced at $2.99 each.

hogandfrogHog and Frog Hog and Frog - Susan Syddall– Hog tries to turn into a frog by changing his appearance and behaviour, until he hits the final hurdle. I’m not going to give away the plot, but this story had my 5 and 7 y.o. sons in stitches. There is much use of the “og” sound (and the short “o” sound), opportunities for children to guess how the hog will solve each problem, and of course you can explore the characteristics of frogs.

mathildaThere's Something in the Bush, Matilda - Susan SyddallThere’s Something in the Bush, Mathilda – Mathilda explores the Australian bush and finds different animals hiding in their different homes. There is a great rhythm to the story, and the pattern lends itself to word prediction activities. Each animal has its own action, providing a great opportunity to look at verbs and perhaps act them out. Other concepts in the story include counting to ten and different animal habitats.

groverbillGrover Bill and the Geckos - Susan SyddallGrover Bill and the Geckos – Poor Grover Bill has a very bland, gray life until some cheeky geckos go to town in his house with coloured paint. The big concern in this house was how Grover Bill would react when he woke up and saw what the geckos had done (memories of Changing Rooms). Again, there is a great rhyme and rhythm to the story, making it great to read aloud and very helpful for beginner readers. I love the way verbs are highlighted on each page. Master 5 decided to act out some of the verbs, but unfortunately I didn’t get it on video!

scaredycatScaredy Cat Scaredy Cat by Susan Syddall - Susan Syddall– This is a funny tale of a mouse waging psychological warfare on a cat, who is very hungry. There. You have to get it now! There is rhyme, repetition, and lots of highlighted adjectives enriching the text. My 8 y.o. is being encouraged to write “juicy” sentences for his homework, and I’ve used these highlighted words to show him how he can do that with adjectives and adverbs. Incidentally, there are clocks featured in illustrations throughout the story to emphasise the time the cat is going without food. The clocks are not specifically mentioned in the story, but there are opportunities to look at the time in hours, and count the hours that pass. As you tap on the clocks, you can count the chimes then hear the time spoken aloud.

lyrebirdparkLyrebird ParkLyrebird Park - Susan Syddall – Most Australians will be familiar with the lyrebird that graces our 10 cent coin, but others may not know about this fabulous mimic. The introduction to this book is slightly more detailed than the others so that children receive some background knowledge about this amazing Australian bird. (Non-believers should try searching the Internet for some recordings of the lyrebird, which are amazing and hilarious at the same time.) The story is quite funny, with the lyrebird playing tricks on a family to make them leave his park. Again, there are some fabulous adjectives and adverbs highlighted in the text. In addition to the story told in the text, a second story takes place in the illustrations, with the baby wise to the tricks that the adults are falling for. You might want to try retelling the story from the baby’s point of view, and you can also explore birds that can talk (the sulphur-crested cockatoo is introduced at the end of the book) and animal sounds.

farmer blakeFarmer Blake and Sneaky SnakeFarmer Blake and Sneaky Snake - Susan Syddall – The chickens team up to help stop sneaky snake from stealing Farmer Blake’s eggs in this amusing story. I love how the direct speech is highlighted in the text, and there is some great use of alliteration ( e.g. Snake slid silently in). My children came up with a couple of other ideas the Farmer could have tried.

baddaytobeflyIt’s a bad day to be a Fly! It's a BAD day to be a FLY! - Susan Syddall– There is a subtle reference to that great Aussie character, Louie the Fly, in the latest book in the series. (For my non-Aussie readers, Louie is a character who has starred in fly spray advertisements since the 1950s. I can still sing the jingle created by the late, legendary Bryce Courtney when he worked in advertising in the 60s.) Louie is a trainee fly and is learning how to harass Mr Sty. There are concepts of rhyme and direct speech, and the text is presented in lots of visually interesting ways to support the story, for example on one page it swirls around as Louie buzzes around the house. My children didn’t understand the picture of Louie wearing a gas mask, but were able to understand after a small discussion. (They also now understand why I don’t like to use chemical sprays.)

Wish List

There is a lot right with these apps already, but there are always a couple of things I’d like to see in story apps that are not yet present in these apps.

  • Highlighting words – it would be great if words could be highlighted as they are narrated to give that extra support for children attempting to read along.
  • Repeat text – an option to repeat text would be useful for children who miss part of the narration for reasons such as interruptions, environmental noise, or comprehension.
  • Individually spoken words – being able to hear words spoken as they are tapped, in either reading mode, would be supportive of students who are starting to read independently but who struggle with the odd word. It also allows you to “play” with the text on the page, for example highlighting words from your sight list, or those with a particular phonic element.

Verdict

Some stories are meant for reading pleasure, and others are meant for learning to read. Susan Syddall’s stories fall into both categories for me. They are entertaining and engaging, but also have lots of supportive elements that will make them a welcome addition to both home and school libraries, being particularly suited to emergent readers in Prep – Year 2. They are also age-appropriate for older children with special needs, and I can see these stories being popular with home schoolers too. Finally, it is nice to see some Australian content in story apps. I hope more are in the pipeline, as I’m keen to buy some more for the early readers in this house.

Literacy by Demografix

29 Oct

Literacy by Demografix app iconYou may have read my reviews of School Writing, School Fonts, and Ghost Type, three apps which I consider must-haves for teachers and parents alike. Today I’m reviewing a fourth app from Demografix, Literacy, that promises to be just as useful.  There are two main sections to the app:  Lessons – Words and Sentences, and Whiteboard activities.

Lessons – Words and Sentences

This section is similar to the lessons in the other Demografix apps. The big difference with Literacy is that you are not limited to a set number of characters (12 in School Writing and 10 in School Fonts). This makes it possible to enter a child’s full name along with sentences. You are also not limited to the length of the screen either, as text can be scrolled, either screen-by-screen or by free scroll. The first time we tried scrolling the text, it was a little awkward, but my children caught on quickly and now have no problems.   There are more than 40 activities and lessons included with the app, and these also serve as an example of what you might do with your own content.

Continue reading

Ghost Type by Demografix

3 Sep

Ghost type by demografix app iconTraditional typing tutors might be a great thing for traditional keyboards, but for the iPad you need something completely different. iPad keyboards do not have physical “home keys,” the tactile and audible feedback of keys being pressed, and are smaller than most physical keyboards, making it awkward for large hands to do two-handed touch-typing. Ghost Type by Demografix is designed to help people of all ages to type on the iPad with two hands, and you’ll also find it might help single-handed typists also, such as those with a physical impairment. I often find myself typing with a single hand (either left or right) due to the other being occupied by small people, and I’ve found Ghost Type has helped me with speed and accuracy. Continue reading

School Writing – the Must-Have App for all schools

2 Jul School Writing screen shot featuring "Sarah's iPad" in beginner script

School Writing App iconSchool Writing by Demografix is an App I’ve meant to review for some time.  It has handwriting fonts for Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the UK.  You might be mistaken for thinking it is only a handwriting App, when it is really a versatile App that can be used across the curriculum and is suitable for all ages. This App is for iPad only, but iPhone and iPod Touch users should still keep reading as there Demografix has an iPhone App, School Fonts, that is very similar, lacking only one of the major activities. Continue reading

There’s a Bear in there – Play School Art Maker

19 Jun

Play School Art Maker for iPad The flagship of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) has released an iPad App for children that is so good, I can hardly believe it is free.  Free in Australia, that is.  The App is also available in international iTunes stores as a paid app.  The name is probably not a good description, as Play School Art Maker is much more than the virtual sticker book it seems to be.  In reality, it is more like a virtual puppet theatre where children can create the scenes, control the actors and direct their stories.

Open the App and you’ll see a large scrapbook.  When you open the book, you can either watch the television show (only in Australia) or you can create pictures, movies and stories.  You can also view pictures, movies and stories that have been stored in the scrapbook. Continue reading

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