Category Archives: Apps

Zoombinis

A few months ago I gushed about a Kickstarter campaign that promised to bring one of my favorite computer games ever, Zoombinis, to the 21st century.  Due to the success of that campaign, the Zoombinis app is now available on iTunes and Google Play. Windows, Mac, and Kindle Fire versions will be available later this year.

I was excited to download the app a few weeks ago when it finally became available to Kickstarter supporters. Back when we were allowed to download our own software, I had the game in my classroom for my students to play.  I highly respected the logic skills the game promoted, so when my daughter was younger, I bought a version for her to try at home.

My daughter is now 12, and vaguely remembers playing the original game.  I guessed that she would like the app, but I did not predict the high level of engagement that I’ve observed the last few weeks.

The Zoombinis game is all about logic.  Your goal is to get the Zoombinis to their new home, navigating through perilous puzzles along the way.  Each Zoombini has the following attributes that can be mixed and matched: hair, eyes, feet, and noses.  The challenges are based on those attributes.

For example, the Allergy Cliffs have 2 bridges.  If you place a Zoombini on the correct bridge, the little guy will quickly cross.  If it’s the wrong bridge, the cliff sneezes him or her off.  You have to figure out the “rule” for each bridge.  Only blue noses?  Only the ones with glasses?  Carefully test your theories before too many sneezes make you lose some Zoombinis.

AllergyCliffs

There are several different types of puzzles along the journey. If you aren’t good at one, that’s okay; the puzzle remains on that level until you’ve mastered it. Each puzzle is tailored to your skills, so after a few trips to the end you may end up with different puzzles on different levels of difficulty.

mapOne particular favorite is the pizza puzzle.  You must figure out exactly what toppings Arno wants on his pizza.  Children quickly learn that you need to be methodical because random guesses will end up with a Zoombini or two getting booted off the screen.
Pizza

Playing Zoombinis together is a fun way for my daughter and I to bond.  It’s also a great opportunity to model problem-solving skills. One of the most frustrating qualities of the game is also one of the best qualities – very few instructions are given.  Watching a child struggle is never easy, but the way his or her face lights up when solving a Zoombinis problem makes it all worthwhile.

The Zoombinis app is $4.99.  This may seem like an enormous amount for an app, but I guarantee that it’s worth it.  It teaches so many thinking skills and sustains interest for a very long time.  If you are a teacher or a parent of multiple children, you will be happy to know that different students can save games on the same iPad so their progress won’t be lost.

This game is cute, fun, and educational.  What are you waiting for? Download it today!

 

Crowd Mics

Raise your hand if you teach in a portable.

Why aren’t you raising your hand?

Oh, you can’t hear me.  

WHY CAN’T YOU HEAR ME?

Oh yes, because of the deafening roar of the air conditioner, which will sooner or later be replaced by the deafening roar of the heater.

No problem.  I can talk louder.

CAN YOU TALK LOUDER? 

Various versions of the above conversation happen daily in my classroom.  I was spoiled by having a sound system in my last school and I have been looking for a low-cost alternative ever since I moved into my portable classroom 4 years ago.

I think I may have found a solution – at least for those of you who have a couple of mobile devices you would be willing to dedicate to the cause.

Crowd Mics is a free app available on iTunes and Google Play.  The concept is simple.  Download the app on two different devices.  One device will be the receiver, and you will need to plug a good speaker into the headphone jack.  The other device will be the microphone.

Open the app connected to your speaker and create an event as a presenter.  You don’t have to log in, although that is an option. Make a 3-digit password that microphone users will enter when they join your event.  Choose if you want people to use the microphone whenever they want (Open Mic) or if you want to give them permission first (Select Mic).

The microphone device needs to be using the same wi-fi network as the receiver.  Open Crowd Mics on the microphone device and choose the event you created and enter  the 3-digit password.

Press down on the indicated area of your screen and speak.

Crowd Mics

If you have the same good fortune that shined on me, the microphone voice will be amplified so everyone in the room can hear it.

The free version of Crowd Mics will work with up to 5 “microphone” devices. If you are a frequent presenter at large conferences, you might want to look at the paid version for larger crowds.

Some caveats: this won’t work through bluetooth (the speaker must be plugged into the headphone jack) and both microphone and receiver must be on the same wi-fi network.  Also, this will only sound as good as your speakers.  I tried it with one of my small, portable speakers and could barely hear a thing at top volume. When I plugged the receiver iPad into my classroom speakers, however, the magic happened.

This solution is only low-cost if you have the equipment already.  My plan is to have an iPad/microphone at each table so it doesn’t have to be passed around, and other apps can still be used during class. Since construction is about to start right outside my window, I hope this plan works!

Digital Curation Step #4 – Learn a New Code

Okay.  So let’s recap here.  This week we are talking about how to overcome your digital hoarding addiction.  Here’s what has happened so far:

  • Step #1 – Admit You Have a Problem
  • Step #2 – Restore Sanity
  • Step #3 – Examine Your Past Errors (such as thinking one tool would solve all of your problems or thinking another tool won’t help you at all.) My problem was that I couldn’t “Pocket” screen shots b/c they need to have a link.

For Step #4 you are going to learn a new code.  Don’t worry; it’s easy…

IFTTT

IF This, Then That

IFTTT is THE essential tool.  It’s the  Leatherman of the digital world. In brief, it will let you connect practically anything to anything.

I’m not going to spend this whole post shouting out the virtues of IFTTT.  Just go ahead and sign up for a free account and then:

*Note: These steps might be easier to do on a computer than a mobile device.  No worries, though.  You only have to do them once.

  1. Go to “Channels” and search for either iOS Photos or Android Photos.
  2. Click on the appropriate one.  You will need to give information to connect your Photos to IFTTT.
  3. Go back to “Channels” and search for Bitly, and connect that, too (If you did Step #3 yesterday, then you should have a Bit.ly account already.) Connect it.
  4. Go back to “Channels” and search for Pocket.  Connect that one as well.
  5. Next, click on “My Recipes” at the top.
  6. Click on “Create a Recipe.”
  7. Your first recipe will be

IFTTT Recipe #1

Of course, if you have an Android device, choose that instead of iOS. And this, my friends, is how confident I am that you will get IFTTT right away.

I’m not going to show you how to make the recipe. ;)

8.  You aren’t done.  You’ve basically just told IFTTT to make a public hyperlink for any screenshot you take on your mobile device.  Now, you need to tell IFTTT to send the link from Bit.ly to Pocket.

IFTTT #2

Now, you’re done.  I do need to warn you to give IFTTT a little time to rumble through these new recipes.  After about 15 minutes, try taking a screenshot.  Don’t expect it to show up on your Pocket list right away.  It will probably take another 10-15 minutes.

But when it does, you will see how super cool IFTTT is.  From now, every screenshot you take will be added to Pocket for you.

It will look something like this on your Pocket list (you probably won’t have a bulldog in your screenshot, though).

IFTTT Pocket

Now if you’ve followed instructions on these 4 posts, you should have everything streamlining into Pocket, where you can then search, tag, and curate to your heart’s content.

If you want, check out the other Channels on IFTTT.  You can send things to Evernote if you prefer – or even Google Drive.  I’m not claiming my way is the only way to gather info effectively.

It’s just the only way that has preserved my sanity ;)

Digital Curation Step #3 – Examine Past Errors

Click on these links if you missed them: Step #1 and Step #2.

As I mentioned yesterday, I got thrown a curve in my quest to conquer my digital hoarding addiction.  I thought the Pocket app would solve my problems by putting everything I wanted to save from Tweets and other online sources in one searchable list – until I noticed that I wasn’t always given the option to “Send to Pocket.”  It took me awhile to see my error.  If a Tweet didn’t have a link, I couldn’t send it to Pocket.

Now, I know there are other ways to save things.  I could, for example, take a screen shot.  But that would mean I wouldn’t have everything in one place – which is critical for me.

So, I did a bit more research and discovered a possible “workaround.”  What if I could take a screen shot, and automatically give it a link?  Then Pocket would accept it.  But that would still require me having to find the link and send it to Pocket :(

Unless…

Ah ha! I found a workaround for the workaround!  Perfect!

Now, you’re going to have to have a little faith here.  For Step #3, I’m going to tell you to create a Bit.ly account.  Don’t worry.  Like Pocket, Bit.ly is also free.  Perhaps you already have a Bit.ly account, and you are wondering how  in the world this is going to help streamline your digital curation.

That will be revealed tomorrow in Step #4 – learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior or, for short, learning a new code ;)

Bit.ly

Digital Curation Step #2 – Restore Sanity

So, in yesterday’s post, I admitted that I have a digital hoarding problem that is way out of control. Think of it as storing the food in your pantry all over the house and then trying to remember where you hid the marshmallows.

I decided to undertake the task of creating a more streamlined process for saving the great articles and ideas I collect from all over the web.  You can see the criteria in my last post.

Step #1 was admitting I have a problem.  Step #2 was to restore my sanity by looking for someone who knows more than me – which is pretty much anyone on the internet.

I Googled “digital content curation” and found tons of advice. Unfortunately, most of it was for marketing purposes.  However, I found many articles about using “Pocket” as a read-later utility.  It is available as an app and/or bookmarklet for any device.  You can find more information here.

With Pocket, I can save an awesome Tweet on my iPhone by tapping on the three circles at the bottom of a Tweet and choosing to “Send to Pocket.”  I can also do this on the browser and Flipboard.   (The Pocket website gives you easy-peasy directions for connecting other apps to Pocket.)  If I am on my home computer, I can do the same by using the Pocket bookmarklet in my Chrome browser.

Whenever I want to see what I’ve saved, I can look at my Pocket app on my mobile devices or my computer.  This is what part of my Pocket list currently looks like:

Pocket List

Note that there is a Search function in the top right (magnifying glass) so I can look for anything I saved if I remember a key word from the title or the source.  On computers, you can tag items as you save them – or even afterwards.  Unfortunately, you can’t do this on mobile devices.  However, I can go back and tag entries later if I want.

I also like that I can click on any entry that came from Twitter and see the original Tweet.  This allows me to give credit to the person who shared it.

Now, my sanity has been restored.  Everything goes to one place.

However…

there was one little sticking point with Pocket that was bothering me.

Pocket only saves links.  So, if a Tweet does not include a link I can’t save it.  This is a problem.  Often people will say great things or include pictures that I want to refer to later.  Without a link, Pocket is useless.

This problem threatened to throw my sanity back out of whack – but I decided to go to my “higher power” one more time and see what the internet advised me.

I found a “workaround” that fixed this problem.  It adds a little work to the back end initially but will stay true to my “no more than 2 steps” criteria once I lay the groundwork.

Interested?

Read tomorrow’s post for how I examined my past errors to arrive at a solution for my digital hoarding addiction!

Digital Curation Step #1 – Admit You Are a Hoarder

I’ve Scooped, Flipped, Bookmarked, Pinned, and Evernoted. My favorite hobby is collecting information.  In fact, I can pretty much brag that I am GREAT at searching for information and saving it.  The problem is that I am not good at remembering where I saved it.

“Did I save that article in Flipboard or on one of my Google Sheets?  No, I think I Pinned it,” I mumble. Often.

After I spent 20 minutes looking for an article that I knew I had saved on whether or not I am more like Sherlock Holmes or John Watson (Sherlock Holmes, surprisingly), and realizing I could have found it in 3 seconds by using Google, I had to admit I had a problem.

I am a digital hoarder.

I decided to spend this summer looking for a way to streamline the digital content I collect.  Here is my criteria:

  • One place to store everything
  • Accessible on any device and in any web browser, Twitter, Flipboard and other places from which I gather info
  • No more than 2 steps to save
  • Taggable
  • Searchable
  • Maintains the source information (especially if obtained on Twitter)
  • Free
  • Unlimited Storage

It may seem a bit counterintuitive, but I actually found a way to hoard more information – yet become more organized.

I’ll explain more in Step #2 tomorrow.

In the meantime, go ahead and feel free to join the Digital Hoarders Anonymous Program.  The first step – admit you have a problem ;)

image by Grap from Wikimedia
The perfect metaphor for my digital curation before I entered my own Step Program. ~image by Grap from Wikimedia

 

 

 

Google Slides Templates (Updated)

This week, I’ve decided to reblog some of my more popular posts with some updates. Since I’ve posted this piece on Google Slides Templates, I’ve found some other resources to add to the list.  You will find most of the updates at the bottom of this post.

Now that our campus has a set of Chromebooks, my students have been delighting in exploring Google Drive.  One tool that has been an asset is the Presentation tool also known as Slides.  Similar to Powerpoint, the Google version has a few advantages in our environment: automatic saving (extremely helpful when the network isn’t always reliable), the rockin’ Research Tool, and the ability to use Google image search within the presentation. Even more importantly, a shared presentation invites collaboration.  I’ve enjoyed having the students work on slides in the same show simultaneously, such as the metaphor presentation I’ve embedded below. (UPDATE: Alice Keeler has a great post on how students can submit work on a collaborative Google Slide Presentation.)

There aren’t a whole lot of themes available in Slides.  But a growing number of templates are popping up online.  You can start with Google, itself, for public presentation templates that are free to download. Another fun resource, though somewhat limited right now, is Slides Carnival.

One of my favorite templates that I’ve run across recently comes from the DavidLeeEdTech blog.  This virtual museum template is so cool!  Scroll down to the comments section on his blog to get the direct link for downloading the template.

from David Lee's Virtual Museum Slides Template
from David Lee’s Virtual Museum Slides Template

Another option is to download a Powerpoint template that you like, and then to import the slides into your Google Drive presentation.

To download most templates, you will need to be signed in to your Google Drive. If the link provided for a template does not give you a direct copy, then you may have a “View Only” version, and will need to make a copy yourself. When applicable, always leave the proper source citations for the template on the slide show, but do whatever other editing you would like once you make a copy.

Tired of the limited fonts available for your Slides Presentation? Check out these instructions for adding more.

And, if you are feeling very enterprising and graphic-designy and would like to make your own template, Alice Keeler has step-by-step instructions for doing just that.

UPDATED 6/22/15:  More Google Slides Templates Resources