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Monday
Jul182011

Falling Stars

What is it?

Falling Stars by Kraft New Services, Inc. is a highly addictive app that allows the user to compose music and sound effects visually.  Confused?  Check this out:

 

Unlike anything you've seen before, right?  I must tell you, when I first downloaded this app, I sat and played with it for over an hour without looking up.  It.  Is.  Mesmerizing.  Why?  It bewitches the user by involving three of the five senses at once—vision, hearing, and touch.  (I suppose if you just pop in a stick of Trident, as the app is actually intended to persuade you to do, then taste and smell would come into play as well!)  

Lesson Ideas:

Descriptive Writing: Students compose their own music on the app, and then write descriptive pieces—using imagery—to either describe the music itself or serve as a process paper, detailing the steps and motivation behind their composition processes.

Creative Writing Prompt: We English teachers usually give written essay prompts, and occasionally we mix it up by using a visual prompt (such as a painting or thought provoking photograph).  But what about using a sound prompt?  As a bellringer/journal prompt, how about playing an original Falling Stars composition for the students and then asking them to write a creative narrative that fits the mood and tempo of the music? Perhaps the teacher could provide the first piece, and then students could take turns sharing their own musical compositions for the daily class focus thereafter.  

Mood, Suspense, Tone:  To assess the students' understanding of the mood of a certain work of literature, ask them to compose a piece of music on Falling Stars that fits the scene/chapter that the class has just read.  When sharing their music, encourage the students to explain their thought process, referring to specific quotes from the text that influenced their musical choices.  

Dramatic Interpretation, Poetry Recitation:  For student read-alouds, dramatic interpretation of text, or poetry recitation, pair-up the students.  As partners, the students plan ahead, one creating music that compliments the text that will be read by the other, and vice versa.  During the presentation, one reads as the other plays the music he/she composed to accompany the partner's text.  Then, they switch.  Assessment should center on appropriateness of the mood created by the musical composition as well as the tempo.  Both should reflect the mood, themes, and tone of the literature.  

Bellringer: Ok, this is simple.  When our students walk into class they are often frazzled, distracted, and stressed—in other words, in no state of mind to quickly sit down and start drafting the next great American novel (or even the next great American journal entry!). How about letting them settle in, put their earbuds in their ears, and play with Falling Stars for five or ten minutes?  I'm telling you, aside from sparking creativity, there is also something almost meditative about this app.  Let the kiddos have some time with it at the beginning of class, and afterward you just might find them calm, focused, and ready to think artistically about literature and writing.

Teacher Tip: At time of publication, there is no method of exporting tunes created on Falling Stars into other applications.  However, one can easily save the compositions directly on the app, upload them to Twitter & Facebook, or email them.  

Screenshots:

         

Barista's Rating:     

Triple shot for teacher ease, student enjoyment, and applicability.

Cost:  FREE!

Falling Stars by Trident Vitality Gum - Kraft New Services, Inc.

Friday
Jul012011

3:15

What is it?

One can hardly log on to Twitter, read the YALSA blog, or check out the latest literature news these days without reading something about interactive digital literature for children, teens, and tweens.  I mean, if nothing else, we've all at least heard of Pottermore, right?!?

3:15 leads the mulitimedia lit pack with this well executed, intriguing app for iOS devices.  The app consists of a series of short, creepy stories written by Patrick Carmen of the famed Skeleton Creek books.  Each story/episode is made up of three parts (hence the "3" in 3:15): an audio teaser (listen), a short story in written text (read), and an end-of-story video (watch).  The whole experience lasts about fifteen minutes (here's where the "15" comes in).  Of course, the fun really only just begins there.  When readers finish a story, they tend to find themselves compelled to visit the official 3:15 website, participate in online discussions, read Carmen's tweets . . .  Oh, and did I mention the secret coded clues and passwords embedded within the text? I imagine readers could spend hours trying to decipher the hidden meaning behind those! 

So, here's what's really cool about this app from a reading teacher's perspective—students actually have to read silently for about ten minutes to glean understanding from the multimedia goodies.  The teaser is just that, a teaser.  And, the video at the end makes no sense without the story.  For the ten minutes in between the two, the student is engaged in good 'ole fashioned reading.  Nice!

Lesson Ideas:

Bellringer, Making Predictions, Inference, Assertion & Evidence: I know what you're thinking right now, teachers. . . BELLRINGERS!  Yes, the fifteen minute element of each story really lends itself to acting as a quick intro to the class period.  If you're on a traditional schedule, you might use just the audio teaser as the bellringer.  Require the students to listen to the teaser, and then record their predictions about the story in their journals.  Of course, for each prediction/assertion they should include evidence from the teaser (preferably in the form of a quote) that supports their assertions.  If you're on a block schedule and therefore have a bit more time at the beginning of class, the entire fifteen minute experience could be the focus of your lesson.  Either way, the students will be immediately engaged and excited about discussing the story.

Elements of Plot, Plot Diagrams: I've said this before, and I'll say it again: Short stories are great for brief lessons on the elements of plot.  Students, especially in the middle grades, often have a difficult time discerning between rising action and climax, falling action and denouement.  The design of these stories—with the written text ending and transitioning to the video segment almost always at the climax of the story—helps readers clearly distinguish between big moments in the rising action and the big moment of climax.  Students can draw plot diagrams and label them with details from the story.  My students have always loved making digital plot diagrams (They like the freedom of being able to choose the color scheme, add images, etc.).  Keynote - Apple  would be a great app for doing so directly on an iOS device.  

Creative Writing, Digital Storytelling, Multimedia: After experiencing several episodes of 3:15, students write and produce their own episodes using Pages - Apple® for drafting and writing, and iMovie - Apple® and/or Super 8™ for the filming and editing. Putting all three elements together for viewing could take many forms. . . perhaps somewhere on a blog?  If you're using Schoology with your classes, you can most certainly allow the students to post their work as blog entries, knowing that all would be available for viewing yet posted in a secure setting.  

Screenshots:

         

       

Barista's Rating:    

Triple shot for teacher ease, LOADS of student enjoyment, and applicability.

Cost: App and first episode free, each episode thereafter $0.99

3:15 - PC Studio, Inc

Special Shout Out:

I have to give a special thanks to one of my students, Becca, who turned me on to Patrick Carmen recently when she posted this on Schoology:

"I just finished this awesome series called the Skeleton Creek.  It is a horror series and it is kind of gross.  There are 4 books named
"Skeleton Creek"
"The Ghost in the Machine"
"The Crossbones"
and "The Raven"
So if anyone is interested in horror books PLEASE give them a try they are awesome!!"

Monday
Jun272011

TransFire

What is it?

Out of the many free language translation apps available for iOS devices, TransFire by TNT Creations is a step ahead of the rest.  I have tested several of these apps recently including iTranslate by White-Tape and Google Translate (both of which topped my preferred list until I tried TransFire), and I've now deleted them from my home screen and fully committed to TransFire.  It does all the things the others do, but frankly, it looks better doing them.  And, there are additional features that set this app apart from the others such as it's sleek UI, social networking capabilities, and (are you ready for this?) its ability to translate during live chat.  Yes, two people speaking different languages can chat live using Google Chat accounts from within the app. Very cool.     

TransFire currently translates over 50 languages, and it does so with pretty impressive accuracy.  I tested it out with my brother-in-law who speaks Latvian, and with a few of my Spanish-speaking co-workers.  All were amazed.  

Lesson Ideas:

Interpreting Translated Text, Inference, Context Clues, Literal vs. Figurative Language:  I must give credit where credit is due here. . . my students are the ones who initially shared with me the magic of using an online translator during reading.  While reading the Goodrich & Hackett Pulitzer Prize winning dramatization of Anne Frank's diary in class together, we would occasionally come across passages that were written in Hebrew or German.  Like a good reading teacher, I would stop and ask them to infer the meaning of the foreign text.  This was a nice inference lesson and all, and it worked just fine for my first couple of class periods, but then came my über precocious fourth period.  Right away a student raised her hand and suggested, "Why not put this into Google Translate?  We could even listen to how it sounds!" We did, and boy did they love the big moment when the text's true meaning was revealed after having first played around with inferring its meaning based on context clues. As a bonus for me, an excellent unintended teachable moment arose during the translations—a discussion about literal and figurative language.  When the literal translations produced by Google didn't quite make sense, we discussed the reasons behind this and also went back to having to make some inferences.  Good stuff.  Of course, this scenario involved Google Translate, not TransFire, but since then I have done my research and found TransFire to be superior.  From now on, TransFire will be what we use in class.

Word Choice, Idiomatic Language, Poetry, Evaluating Quality of Translated Text: When reading a work literature that has been translated from its original language, students compare and contrast the original text with the translated one.  They enter phrases from both versions into TransFire to reveal literal meaning and compare it with the words chosen by the translator.  Then, in the form of a critical essay or during class discussion, students evaluate the validity and accuracy of the translation, suggesting improvements along the way and supporting their assertions with textual evidence.  

International "ePals", Letter Writing, Research: Ok, this is one activity in which TransFire would out-perform its competition.  The teacher would coordinate a digital learning exchange with a teacher and students from another country. The purpose could be for researching cultures or finding commonalities or whatever other creative purpose a teacher might have.  Students communicate in live chat via TransFire (using in-app Google chat capabilities) with students speaking other languages.  Naturally, time zones would have to be taken into account, but this could be an eye-opening experience for all involved, showing all how "flat" today's world truly is.  Careful attention would be given to tone, word choice, cultural differences, etc.  This project would serve as a great means of improving the students' interpersonal skills.  

Teacher Tips: Encourage the students to check out your school's databases (or Google Scholar) for articles and essays that critically analyze literature translations. If your school reads Elie Wisel's Night, there's an interesting article in the January 19, 2006 NYT that touches on the controversy of its latest translation.  It may serve as a nice discussion starter.  

Screenshots:

       

Barista's Rating:      

Double shot for teacher ease and student enjoyment.

Cost: FREE!

Translation Fire - TNT Creations

Perfect Lit Pairings:

    

 

Tuesday
Jun212011

Strip Yourself

What is it?

Created by The Other Dingo (awesome name!), Strip Yourself is a new app that turns photos taken with an iOS device into individual comic book frames.  At this point (first version released just two weeks ago) the app is very simple—take one pic at a time, choose a speech bubble, type in the desired text, and save to the camera roll.  There are no options for different photo effects, themes, or fonts, but this simplicity is actually refreshing.  It keeps students from getting bogged down in stylistic choices, so they can focus on fashioning and arranging the subjects of the photos rather than tinkering too long with special effects.  (As a teacher, I've seen students spend 30 minutes choosing colors, themes and fonts for a presentation that's due in only an hour's time, resulting in a lovely presentation wholly lacking in quality content.  Given Strip Yourself's streamlined design, this misdirection of focus shouldn't be an issue.) 

Lesson Idea:

Plot, Retelling a Story, Designing Comics, Understanding Dialogue: Students retell a short story, novel chapter, or scene from a work of literature in the form of a comic strip.  This would actually take quite a bit of planning on the students' part—maybe even a couple of weeks—beginning with considerable brainstorming and basic storyboarding.  Students could get creative with the subjects of the photos, posing in costume themselves or using puppets, toys, etc.  Once they have a clear plan and it's been approved by the teacher (for a project checkpoint grade, of course), they then take the photos, insert their creative dialogue, and save each completed frame to the camera roll on the iOS device.  Once all desired frames are completed, students can easily import them into a Pages - Apple® document and arrange them into one complete comic strip.  

Teacher Tips:  

  • At the time of publication, images cannot be imported from the iOS photo library into Strip Yourself for use in comic frames.  Only pictures taken from within the app can be used.  However, it is almost certain that later versions will add this feature. 
  • This entire assignment can be completed on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch using only two apps: Strip Yourself - The Other Dingo and Pages - Apple®.  Ahhh. . . the sweet, sweet simplicity of mobile learning. Go with it!
  • Individual frames can be uploaded to Facebook or sent via email, providing opportunities for shorter, simpler assignments than the one listed above.
  • If you're looking for a comic strip design app that uses student drawings rather than photographs, consider using Sketch Book.

Screenshots:

        

Barista's Rating:

Triple shot for teacher ease, student enjoyment, and applicability.

Cost: $0.99

Strip Yourself - The Other Dingo

 

Monday
Jun202011

Photogram

What is it?

If you've ever found yourself frustrated by the fact that your iOS device allows for uploading only one photo at a time to Facebook, Twitter, or via email, you're going to love Photogram by Timelines, Inc. Photogram not only allows you to share up to four pictures in a single email, Facebook post, or tweet, but it also makes it easy to do so in a fun, stylish way. 

Think postcards.  You're on vacation or out with friends, and you want to capture and share the moment.  Snap a few pics, choose an appropriate theme, attach a brief note, and send a Photogram!

Lesson Ideas:

Postcards, Point of View, Plot Details, Setting:  Each year my sixth grade students and I begin the year reading Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons.  In the novel, the main character Sal goes on a cross-country road trip with her grandparents.  They stop along the way in Chicago, at Yellowstone National Park, and many other scenic locations, cities, and landmarks. As we read, the students highlight and annotate all the info about stops along the way, and at the end of the book they choose their favorite ten. For each of the ten stops they choose, they create a postcard, complete with a vivid illustration of the setting and a note written as if from Sal to her father.  Each note briefly describes the location and the adventures had by the characters there.  Of course, Sal doesn't really send postcards in the novel, but for the purpose of the project, we imagine what she might have written if she had. 

In the past, I've had my students make the postcards on small pieces of poster board, construction paper, or digitally using PowerPoint or Keynote - Apple®.  However, now there's Photogram!  With this app, students could create postcards as they read and periodically email them to the teacher over the course of the novel study.  Students would find images of the locations visited in the novel from sites such as FlickrCC or Wikimedia Commons, save them to their photo libraries, and then pull them into Photogram for postcard creation.  

*Note: You don't have to be reading Walk Two Moons to make this project work for your students.  It'd be great with any road trip novel.   

Personal Narrative, "About Me", Neighborhood and Culture: Using postcards from Photogram, students share information about themselves, their neighborhoods, families, cultures, etc. via email (or via Facebook or Twitter for high school students, with privacy settings taken into consideration). This would be great for a beginning of the year "About Me" activity or for a self-study during reading of a work of literature that focuses on neighborhood, family, and culture. 

Poetry: Students write poems and pair them with pics.  Would be great with a book like Gary Soto's Neighborhood Odes.  They could take pictures in their own neighborhoods and write odes to go along with them!

Teacher Tips:

  • There's no character limit in the text field on the app, so students can write away!
  • In-app purchases include additional themes, but there are several great free ones.

Screenshots:

       

Barista's Rating:

Triple shot for teacher ease, student enjoyment (fun app!), and applicability. 

Cost: FREE!

 Photogram - Timelines, Inc.

Perfect Lit Pairings:

 

Walk Two Moons - Sharon Creech          Going Bovine - Libba Bray