In this month's column for the ASHA Leader App-Titude series, I discussed how relevant science concepts and content can be used as a context for language therapy (see the great work of Barbara Ehren on curriculum-relevant interventions). Like science, social studies has much opportunity to teach language underpinnings involving the skills that our students can struggle with, thereby providing rationale for our interventions. Social Studies is full of narrative, vocabulary and definitions, sequences of events, categories and cause-effect relationships, as well as the spacial concepts needed to understand geography. This month I will be posting a series running parallel to this column exploring technology resources that can provide an easy context to build language skills supporting our students' success in social studies.
Up first, Hoopa City by Dr. Panda Games, one of my favorite publishers (available for iOS and Android, $2.99). Imagine the interactivity and engagement involved in a tool that allows you to build a city. I have always enjoyed aspects of SimCity for this, but it becomes very complex. Hoopa City can be used for the simplest city-building activities, but has enough complexity for us to engage even upper-elementary learners. Basically, Hoopa City allows you to add buildings and city features to an open space by tapping on a material (heart, coin, lightning bolt, road, brick, water, leaf) and then on a block of land to place the element. However, you can go far beyond the hospitals, shops, roads, houses, etc that go with a simple use of one material by combining materials. Simply select a different material and tap again on the space where you have placed an element of your city.
So, for example, if you tap a brick, then a square of land to place it, you create a house.
Tap the heart and then the same square you placed the house, it becomes a school!
I love the figurative and semantic combinations that can be discovered and discussed in this game, such as combining a brick and heart to create a building that nurtures, i.e. a school.
Once you have created buildings, Dr. Panda characters move about and interact with them subtly (you can't control, but can observe this). Now, you could use this game in an exploratory manner with students to see (and make guesses about while using if/then language) what combinations might produce, but it is helpful to have a guide, so see Geeks With Juniors comprehensive list of what you can create with Hoopa City.
Language (and Social Studies) Lens:
-Use Hoopa City to build categories such as community buildings, vehicles, bodies of water, types of stores, etc, as well as language around the functions and associations (e.g. what might be inside) of buildings.
-Pair with Doodle Buddy to sketch what might be inside of your buildings, thereby developing visualization and further description skills.
-Your "map" can be used as a writing or speaking activity for giving directions around the town or describing positions spatially (with left or right, etc or N, S, E, W).
Note: the one improvement I would suggest, besides some elaboration within the app of how to produce a few select combinations (I almost abandoned the app, until a bit more research unlocked this element), would be the ability to save and work on different cities. For now, you can sweep the "globe" and build cities in different locations. [EDIT: the free update released on 9/17/14 addressed this issue; you can now save multiple cities, making this app more useful for multiple students or groups]
What language and social studies applications do you see in Hoopa Cities? Let us know in the comments...