Thursday, June 9, 2016

What's Next? Osmo Coding

In January I wrote about Osmo: "I can't wait to see what Osmo apps they develop next." An Osmo is a plastic base that an iPad sits in and a little mirror that sits over the front camera on the iPad. This setup allows the user to do things on a tabletop in front of the iPad and simultaneously interact with the iPad. Osmo already had 5 apps available, but Coding is the latest in their line. Today I tried out the latest Osmo app, Coding, and it was terrific!

The kit that you need for the game includes plastic blocks that are magnetic. The blocks show different movements (run, jump) or numbers (1-5) and a play button. The object of the app is to move a cute guy called Awbie through a forest maze to collect strawberries. The way you move Awbie through the maze is to arrange the coding blocks and press play. Then he moves in whatever way you have coded. Like many other games, the player can see tutorial-type hints, clear levels and move on to harder challenges. 

Something that distinguishes this app from others like it, though, is that it combines the coding with some of the nice features of games like Animal Jam or Club Penguin. All the strawberry collecting leads to seeds that can be planted to grow fruits that are currency in the game. Gather the right ingredients and you can get Awbie a sleeping bag for his campsite or change his fire circle to rainbow rocks.

My ten year old daughter eagerly attacked the first four levels or so as soon as I took the materials out of the package. It's hard not to love Awbie and want to feed him all the strawberries in the world. When my daughter spotted a dog for Awbie, she was determined to code a path to get him that dog. Then she wanted to collect enough currency that she could build the dog a shelter. Every time she mastered one challenge, she was ready for another.

This tool is very well-designed. The plastic coding blocks lock together with magnets for easy play, but they also nest magnetically for easy store. The graphics are dynamite - great colors, clean layouts, adorable characters. There are just the right number of hints for younger kids but many opportunities to solve problems in unique ways to keep many kids interested. I like that the action happens on a tabletop so that the work can be more collaborative than when kids work at terminals.

Applause, applause, Osmo! I can't wait to show this to teachers in my iPad class next week and to use at coding camp later this month! Ready to order one? Just click here!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Written Feedback Comments Come to The Answer Pad!

Do you have a favorite tool, one that you're sure couldn't possibly get any better? But then it does! That's how I am feeling about The Answer Pad today! Yesterday this already fantastic tool got a little bit better with the addition of written feedback comments.

If you haven't used The Answer Pad, let me give you a quick summary. There is a (very generous) free service and a (so reasonably priced) premium service. No matter which you have, you can use the Quick Interactive mode to start an interactive session with students. They sign in using a 5 letter code. No need for accounts if you don't want to use accounts. Then, while you teach, you send out screens for students to input answers. You don't need to do anything before the lesson except create your account and think of your questions.

Now for the good part. Kids submit answers and you can provide feedback. I wrote about the feedback loop last fall. You can give colored feedback with three colored dots and unlock the screen so students can try again. As of yesterday, you can also provide comments. I love that I can quickly add in a sentence to redirect the work so the student knows exactly where to start again!

The Answer Pad is available as a web tool and as a mobile device app. And the interactive features are only half of what it can do. You can read more about how I have used it here and here and here. I'm planning to use it at an upcoming conference to get audience feedback. Maybe you can do the same? Or try it out with summer school students. If not, keep it on your list for the fall!

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Mysterious New Coding App

As I get ready for coding camp later this month, I am previewing coding apps and tools to curate the list of things we will use. The kind folks at Her Interactive gifted me a copy of the iOS app Nancy Drew Codes and Clues so I could check out the latest chapter of our favorite sleuth. 

Aimed at girls 6-8, Codes and Clues is really three different games in one that wrap around the mystery of who is sabotaging the projects at the tech fair. First, the girls need disguises to fit in the different areas they investigate. That means that the player gets to choose outfits for Nancy and BFFs Bess and George. Girls in the targeted age range would get a kick out of choosing the disguises. Then the girls interview people and search for clues in a hidden object game. In early levels, the player sees the exact image she is looking for. In later levels, we see only shadow images and have to match the real image to the shadow. Here are pictures of both types of levels.

At the end of each chapter in the app, there is a puzzle to code so that Nancy's robot puppy can accomplish a task. Nancy gives us a quick tutorial and then we use the drag and drop blocks to move the pup. Move, jump, kick, push, back, turnaround, and loops are all introduced in different places in the app.

What I liked: The app has excellent graphics and a good storyline. I like the idea of three different tasks wrapped into one app. It's all nicely chunked so that girls 6-8 will be appropriately challenged. The app includes good written text that can be listened to or read (if the sound is turned down) so it will appeal to strong and emerging readers. It's hard to argue with Nancy Drew as a model for girls - smart and plucky. Of course, she is programming a robot dog! The app has no shortage of role model girls who are hanging out at a tech fair!

What I am hoping for in updates: There are a lot of hidden pictures and not as much coding. I'd like to see them more equally represented. I'd love to see the addition of robot puppy "lab" so we could complete more coding challenges or create some of our own - try out the work that Nancy presumably did in order to enter that pup in the tech fair! Also, the app crashed my tired iPad mini 1 over and over again. I don't see evidence of this in the reviews, so I am guessing that this doesn't happen on later iPad models. The crash always came at the end of a sequence, so the mystery part of the story got a little lost on me. Still, each time I restarted, none of my progress had been lost, so it was a nuisance more than anything else. Here's hoping, too, that updates will bring more mysteries!

Both of my kids (12 year old boy, 10 year old girl - not the target audience) entered the room while I was playing and had the same reaction, "Hey, what is that?" and tried to take the iPad from me. Nancy Drew: Codes and Clues will appeal to kids. It has 31 ratings in the iOS store and 23 in the android store, most of them with 4 or 5 stars. If you have or work with kids in the 6-8 year old range, this one is worth checking out. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Looking Forward to Snagit 13

This morning I participated in a preview of TechSmith's Snagit 13. Last month TechSmith announced that they were closing down the Snagit Chrome extension and apps Knomia and ScreenChomp to keep the focus on Snagit and Camtasia for desktops, so I was excited to see what this heightened focus will bring. The results are pretty cool.

Snagit 13 will still have many of the features that users already love - the ability to capture still images and video, the ability to make animated GIFs, the ability to annotate images with robust tools. These features are complemented by some new ones like the ability to capture panoramically. In Snagit 13, users will be able to use panoramic capture to grab a screenshot by scrolling around on the screen, even in an unusual shape. 

Making a GIF will never be easier. Once you have a video captured (screencast or from webcam), just highlight the section you want to loop and click a GIF button. Instant GIF!

Another feature I liked a lot was the ability to magnify a spot on an image. Once you have grabbed a screenshot, you can use the magnifier tool to grab a spot on the image (like the green circle above) and magnify it. I love the idea of this feature for a map. In science, I might also use this feature to screenshot a measurement tool and then magnify the graduations to make it easy to read.

Snagit 13 will also have the ability to create presets for the functions that someone uses most often. Let's say you often put a red 3 pt border on your screenshots. Now you will be able to create a preset for this so that it happens to screenshots instantly, with the click of a preset button. Customization is also available in the editor itself so if there are features you use more often than not, you can click and drag those to the toolbar for easy access.

New Snagit will be available on June 7, 2016! To be sure, many users were disappointed with the news that the Chrome extension would no longer be supported. Still, it looks like the new product is going to offer more options, often customizable, for users. Techsmith is also offering a single license of both Snagit and Camtasia at 50% off for a limited time with the promo code DESKTOPDISCOUNT. This is a great deal, cheaper than with the already available education discount!