Teaching Apps

Paris Map Tour

The Paris Map Tour app reminded me of the trip I took to France with the French Club in high school. I visited all of the places in ParisMapTour’s destination list on that trip. For my modification, I added the destination that was most

Jim Morrison's grave

Me as a teenager at Jim Morrison’s grave

important to me at the time—a side trip I took with a lone friend while the rest of the group went shopping—the Pere Lachaise Cemetery (I am still unsure how to include diacritical marks in the AI2 Blocks editor), home of Jim Morrison’s grave. Now that I’m a mother and have been a high school teacher, I’m not sure why they let two freshmen run off by themselves to the graffiti-covered grave/shrine of a rock star whose strung-out older fans had made themselves at home there.

When building the first version of this app, I was amazed at how easy it was to program it to find a URL via the ActivityStarter. I did not know the trick about adding /?q= to the end of a URL, which almost seemed to work better than specifying a bit.ly link in version 2. However, I did not understand how AI2 was able to use the ActivityStarter, WebViewer, and PresidentsQuiz action files I downloaded without my uploading them into the program. This was a challenging app to build, in part because the textbook switched to using tables in the directions. But once I got the hang of it, I was once again impressed with what this technology can do!

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Presidents Quiz

As I started building PresidentsQuiz, I could immediately see the potential for this sort of app in education. Teachers could easily create an app for any quick quiz, provided the students had mobile devices with which to access it. Of course, data collection would be a separate issue, but it would work for students to self-check their understanding. As there was no direction to program a tally or final score, I assume a quiz like this would be administered for that purpose. In this particular case, the quiz might not be an accurate measure of comprehension anyway, simply because the picture shown with each question (except the atom bomb question) could give away the answer if students know what the presidents look like. Assuming this quiz would not be graded, I added as my modification a “Previous” button, copying the blocks for the “Next” button but changing greater than to less than in the equation. One glitch I discovered is that the Android device’s keyboard may automatically insert a space after the student types his/her answer, which causes the answer to show as incorrect. The teacher would need to explain this in advance of administering the quiz. Also, the answers are case sensitive, so students would need to know it is important to capitalize proper nouns.

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Arcade Apps

Whack-a-Mole

After building the static apps HelloPurr and PaintPot, it was fun to get active with my app design and make something move! This classic game of Whack-a-Mole took a gentler twist in the mobile playing field (although I did tend to tap the mole pretty hard—out of habit, I suppose). Speaking of the playing field, I decided to make the canvas background green, as if the mole were popping up through holes in a grassy colony—perhaps built on a golf course, as with the gophers who perpetually plagued groundskeeper Bill Murray in the film “Caddyshack.” Another modification I made was to make the gopher not only vibrate but croak when “mashed” (using the frog’s “ribbit” from LadybugChase) for comedic relief. I am happy to say I encountered no problems when building this app.

If you have time to waste, check out the app and a “Caddyshack”-inspired music video:

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Look out, Ladybug!

Building LadybugChase really felt like creating a game. For the first time, I was using multiple players who were interacting with one another. The random nature of such games became real to me for the first time when using the random integers math functions in AI2, as did the threat of this randomness causing characters to reset on top of one another, which required more math and logic to avoid. I must admit I felt a little out of my element with this app, but the textbook’s detailed direction guided me to the finish line. Speaking of lines, the one feature that didn’t seem to work quite right was the energy bar. It may be that the energy canvas is not big enough for the bar to expand any further whenever the ladybug gets energy from eating the aphid. I’m curious if anyone else ran into this problem. My modification to this app was flipping the frog image in Photoshop so, instead of going at the ladybug with his back side, the frog was facing the ladybug as he devoured it. Another fun project!

Check out the app by scanning this QR code:

ladybugqr

 

Designing Apps Is the Cat’s Meow

Hello Roar

Rather than purring, this harmless-looking kitty roars when you pet her or shake your phone (even inadvertently, as our textbook forewarns). The lion’s roar was not my first idea for modification to the HelloPurr tutorial app; initially, I changed the picture to the cartoon cat mascot from Scratch, which is another MIT application with programming functions quite similar to Blocks in App Inventor 2. But I was having some issues with a parsing/packaging error and thought the new image might be the problem. When resizing it didn’t work, I went with the roar and ensured it was the same file type and size as the original cat’s meow. I still got the error but realized later that the problem was with how I was generating my QR codes. Thanks to some helpful colleagues, particularly Nicolas Hernandez, I was able to resolve my QR code issues and share my first app!

Check it out by scanning this QR code:

hellopurr

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 PaintPot Primary

This app was a lot of fun to build and allowed me to explore more functions in App Inventor 2. My son had fun taking pictures of our family via the TakePicture button, which automatically replaced the image of the kitty, and then drawing on our faces and covering us with big and small dots. Needless to say, the Wipe button was indispensable! For my modification, I changed the green button to yellow so all the colors in the top palette were primary. My experience building a game in Scratch for EdTech 597 (Intro to Edutainment) came in handy when using Blocks in AI2. Both programs were developed by MIT, and the functions are similar. I look forward to experimenting and learning more!

Check it out by scanning this QR code:

paintpot

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There Will Be an App for That

In their discussion of the “app mentality,” Howard Gardner and Katie Davis express the view that today’s youth largely adhere to the mindset that “if an app doesn’t exist to satisfy the desire or answer the question, then someone should create it. Further, if the required app cannot be created, then the desire or question doesn’t or shouldn’t matter” (Gardner & Davis, 2013).

This mentality is expressed in exquisite simplicity in the iPhone commercial stating, “There’s an app for that.” (Of course it’s not really “only on the iPhone.”)

But what if there isn’t an app? What if you can’t immediately have anything you want? As Gardner and Davis state, the young person with app mentality’s response is that “someone should create it,” namely someone else. But if the person who desires the app feels empowered to be that someone, then this reality ceases to be a problem and becomes a fertile environment for creativity and innovation.

In the words of famous writer and illustrator Shel Silverstein, “If there is a book you want to read but isn’t written yet, write it” (Bennett & Roffey, 1980).

shelsilversteinifthereisabookyouwanttoreadThe museum world has accepted this challenge in regard to apps: “With the advent of apps, there has been a burst of truly creative energy as museums use mobiles to extend the museum experience to locations both within and beyond the gallery” (Johnson, Adams, & Witchey, 2011).

I have been on a museum tour that is “self-guided” via an app that tells you about each exhibit as you work your way through the building. It’s like having your own expert guide right there with you, moving at your own pace and pausing the tour if your child has a random outburst of highly important perspective to convey … or just has to go to the bathroom.

Perhaps because he is only 5, my son is uninhibited by an understanding of the technical skill necessary to create an app. He also feels empowered to take on the creative challenge, suggesting that we create an app for anything he wants that we cannot find. He strongly encouraged me to take this class and intends to learn alongside me—or at the very least to express his opinion as we explore the other side of mobile computing, from the programmer’s perspective.

My first attempt at programming was in EdTech 597, Intro to Edutainment, where we designed a basic game using the drag-and-drop functionality of Scratch. The next fall, when my son started kindergarten, I volunteered for Hour of Code at his school. Our family also occasionally writes simple code for Dash and Dot robots on an Android tablet and plays Robot Turtles, a board game designed to teach kids basic coding skills.

My experience with apps is also Android-based and largely son-centric. We have installed a number of educational apps on his tablet, as well as on my smart phone. The apps I use in my daily life are your standard weather, calendar, grocery list, music player, map, translator—nothing fancy or exciting. And at work, people much more skilled than myself have been gradually making apps for some of our programs and ensuring that any new websites are designed to work well on mobile devices.

It is my hope that the EDUCAUSE online publication 7 Things You Should Know about Android hit the nail on the head when suggesting that:

If App Inventor proves easy enough for non-developers to use, faculty members and students alike may build custom Android applications for research projects, learning challenges, and classroom use. This could engage student interest in the work they do and also in the tools they use, thereby transforming them from consumers of existing applications to creators of apps designed to meet their needs. (EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2008)

If such a transformation is occurring, then young people will get out of the “app mentality” and think of themselves as app creators. I know that I am looking forward to becoming an app inventor this summer!

References

Bennett, J., & Roffey, M. (1980). Roger was a razor fish, and other poems. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2008). 7 things you should know about Android. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/7-things-you-should-know-about-android

Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world.

Johnson, L., Adams, S., and Witchey, H. (2011). The NMC Horizon Report: 2011 Museum Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Go with the Flow

Perhaps not coincidentally, this assignment came at the same time a new yoga class was starting at my favorite studio. The class coordinates movements and poses with chakras, or energy centers (literally wheels), in the body. Each chakra is associated with a color and quality.

I decided to explore how these qualities relate to traits of an effective leader, and specifically the 21st century educational technology leader I aspire to be. Read more.

LeadershipChakras_K.Strickland

From Blog to e-Dossier

Who knew it could be this easy to create a website? I no longer have to keep kicking myself for not sticking with Dreamweaver after completing EdTech 502. Although I have completely forgotten all the cool tricks I learned in my web design class, the second core course in my MET program, it no longer matters. Why not? Because there are now tools like Weebly.

My first assignment in EdTech 554, Managing Technology Integration in Schools, was to create a new website. This old blog would not do; it needed to be unique to the EdTech554 coursework … and to have a fancy French name: “e-dossier.”

I must admit, I had to look that one up, and was never quite comfortable with the pronunciation (good thing I never had to say it out loud to anyone by virtue of being a 100% online student).

In a Moodle forum designed to aid in our decision of which ridiculously simple website creation software to choose, my peers seemed to agree that Google Sites and Weebly are two of the tools most commonly used in schools. I chose Weebly over Google Sites because of compatibility issues with Google and other platforms.

And the rest is history.

(Visit my site at http://kathystrickland.weebly.com)

Game Plan

People typically remember best the last things that happen in a course, and I am no exception. However, I do feel that designing a game was the epitome of my EdTech 597 experience, and from it came my most profound revelation about the work I did this semester.

With every project in this course—from creating a comic strip, to making an animated video, to designing a Scratch game—my 4-year-old son has been right behind me. As I learn the technology, I’ve been introducing it to him. He has become an avid cartoonist in ToonDoo, a costar in GoAnimate, and is currently working on a game based on his favorite TV show in Scratch (with more than a little assistance, of course).

My husband has been joking that a 4-year-old can do all of the things I’ve been learning. While working on this last project, I realized that he hit the nail on the head—that’s the point! The fact that kids are able to quickly learn this technology makes it an empowering tool for teaching and learning. Edutainment not only engages students; it empowers them.

All controversy over learning styles and modalities aside, children and adults alike learn by doing. In the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.”

Unlike those of some of my peers, the projects I created for this course are not professional quality. They might be slightly more entertaining to kids than a traditional lecture with no multimedia, but they aren’t going to win any awards or earn a page in my career portfolio. When working on my final project—a plan for an engaging gamification project—I was tempted to try to incorporate my cartoon or video as a “cool extension.” But that’s not what gamification is about. These artifacts had no purpose within the learning environment I was creating. So I took the advice I learned in Journalism School: “When in doubt, leave it out.”

I have witnessed in the industry some negative connotations around the term “gamification.” As Kapp points out in his discussion of “serious games” vs. “gamification,” some view the latter as “a trivial use of game mechanics to artificially engage learners and others in activities in which they would otherwise not engage” (Kapp, 2012, p. 43).

Gamification is not about adorning or embellishing the instruction you deliver. It’s not about adding bells, whistles, and rewards to what’s inherently a boring task. Instead, it’s about using game elements and techniques to engage students and promote learning.

As Prensky says, “we can no longer decide for our students; we must decide with them” and “… we must engage them in the 21st century way: electronically. Not through expensive graphics or multimedia, but through what the kids call ‘gameplay.’ We need to incorporate into our classrooms the same combination of desirable goals, interesting choices, immediate and useful feedback, and opportunities to ‘level up’ (that is, to see yourself improve) that engage kids in their favorite complex computer games” (Prensky, 2005/2006, p. 2).

 

References:

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Prensky, M. (2005, December/2006, January). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4), 8-13.