Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wrapping Up (Maybe) Animonths: Draw a Stickman, Episode 2

I feel like I have possibly a few more posts on animation in me, but maybe not.  I saw The Hunger Games movie this weekend and my head is so cloudy...I loved it (HUGE fan of the books) and am consumed with thinking about it! It's affecting my executive functioning...so we'll have to see.

Anyway, I was excited to recently receive an email from the folks at hitcents.com (I must have put myself on their mailing list) announcing the 2nd Episode of Draw a Stickman.  I had written about this website previously as a fun little exercise in cause and effect and narrative development.  Growing Kids Therapy also did a very good post on the activity recently with a number of language development suggestions.

Episode 2 takes your Stickman (and that's the fun, you get to draw the character and much of the relevant props) up a tree, and I don't want to give much more away!  Again, there are great story mapping, cause-effect and conditional discussions to be had while using this site.  I would recommend playing the episodes with kids in order, especially since Episode 2 actually interacts with Episode 1!  This kind of meta-awareness makes the site a possible pairing (for older kids who can get it) with books like The Three Pigs, The Character in the Book, or We are in a Book, all fun volumes in which characters become self-aware and interact with other stories.  Another way to place this website in a bigger context with extension activities is to use Domo Animate's Stickman theme and make some of your own Stickman Narratives, or do the same with DoInk! on your iPad.

From a technical perspective, the arrival of Episode 2 represents the continuation of the practice of developing great interactives on the web using HTML5 instead of Flash.  This is wonderful for iPad users as both Episode 1 and 2 can be accessed and played out right in your Safari browser.  There is an app available, but I am not sure why you would want to take up memory and icon space to access what you can use perfectly well in Safari.  Enjoy, and draw away!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Animonths: Use Splashtop Remote to Access Flash Animation

There are a lot of great interactive animated activities online that were created using Adobe Flash, the multimedia platform that was once the medium of choice to add interactivity to webpages. When iPhone and, subsequently, iPad came on the scene, there was quite a lot of hubbub about Apple's decision to not support Flash on these devices.  It turns out that inclusion of Flash really drained the devices' batteries, among other problems. Adobe eventually admitted to this when they stated they wouldn't be developing Flash for even Android devices anymore. In the future, web interactivity is likely to be fostered using web standards such as HTML5, which iDevices are all A-OK with (just try running this HTML5-based activity on your iPad in Safari).

Beyond this history of web drama, I have a point.  These Flash resources are still out there on the web and sure would be great to be able to access on your iPad.  Take the BBC's Science Clips.  This is one of my favorite resources ever, as it provides interactive animations and a context for categorization, cause-effect, and following directions, all in the context of key science concepts relating to what is being taught in the classroom:

The "Helping Plants Grow Well" activity, in which you add water and heat at the appropriate time to help the plant grow to its full height.
When used on a computer, these activities are pretty engaging, but for younger kids, it's really hard to do the click-and-drag necessary to complete it, especially if you are using a newer Mac with a multitouch trackpad (that doesn't have a button).  Note that Science Clips activities all come with language-based contextual worksheets, such as this one that goes with the above activity.

Enter Splashtop Remote Desktop ($4.99, iPad only).  This app allows you to control your computer screen from your iPad, thereby making previously inaccessible flash-based activities function as apps

Here it is in action, with a student of mine easily interacting with the Flash-based Crayola Create & Color website.
Here's how it works.  Purchase the app from the iTunes store (see link above). After installation, you will be given instructions on how to install a program called Splashtop Streamer on your computer- this will allow the app to control your computer. You will setup the app with a passcode that allows you to connect to your computer as well. After that, anytime you open the app, it will "find" your computer and let you connect and control the screen! To return your computer to its normal state, simply exit the app.

I have found this app very useful despite a few caveats I need to offer here, so proceed using your own judgment.
1. You need to have your iPad and computer on the same wireless network for the connection to function.  If this is not possible at your workplace, don't purchase the app.
2. I have found on large networks with lots of traffic (e.g. hotel conference centers) where I am trying to demonstrate this to people, it never works. It works well at my school and private practice.
3. Consistently, it takes me like 3 tries of putting in my password to connect successfully. I don't know why.

I realize that those caveats may turn you off this new-ish app, but just to show another use for Splashtop Remote Desktop:

That's Splashtop connected to my computer, which is running Intellitools Classroom Suite, effectively making the iPad into an Intellikeys keyboard! I don't know if they even make Intellikeys anymore (the website says "out of stock"), and I could never get the darn things to work, but I have always liked this software and the Intellitools Activity Exchange.  I have a few kiddos who can really benefit from activities such as this "Easy Writing" one, but wouldn't really engage as well with a computer as they would with the iPad.  Splashtop to the rescue!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Announcing Fun & Functional (v. 1.1)

One of my first clinical experiences in graduate school involved planning and implementing classroom-based lessons in the school setting.  It really shaped my thinking for the years to come, as I learned how important semantics was to students' functioning in the classroom.  We would do book-themed lessons and many activities in which students would describe items related to the activity.  It seemed strange to me at the time when my awesome supervisor, Joan Hargrave, who I think reads this blog from China (Hi, Joan!), emphasized how important it was that we were teaching the kids to describe by function.  You know how you don't learn much about language therapy until you do it?  In the years to come, I would see the importance of function as an attribute in so many places- just try administering the Word Test or CELF-4 Expressive Vocabulary and looking at the scoring standards, let alone the "functional" curriculum-based applications of describing by function. Aside from category, it is probably the most salient descriptive attribute.

It was very exciting, then, when my first project with Smarty Ears Apps involved working with prolific author Rosie Simms on an app that targets identifying and describing items by function! Fun & Functional was a great learning experience and it hit the app store about a month ago. I sort of haven't had a chance to write about it until now! Please check out the video tutorial below, and I hope you find the app helpful:

Fun & Functional 1.1 from Sean Sweeney on Vimeo.

Disclosure: Author has a contractual relationship with Smarty Ears Apps and receives a portion of the profit of the sales of this app.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Animonths- Explaining + Animation = Explanimation

When interactive whiteboards (IWBs) first arrived on the scene with their accompanying software, one of the best aspects was teachers' easy access to recording features so that they could preserve each lesson as a video file and share it later via their webpages or other means.  This assisted students who needed information repeated, and also made really good use of the visual teaching capabilities of IWBs.  It also is extremely motivating for students to be able to use this technology themselves in order to explain or apply a curriculum concept, and then hear/see their work and evaluate how well they did!

This kind of "screen recording," or "Explanimation" technology is now available through a number of easy-to-use apps.  In this post, I am going to highlight two I really like, though there are others that are popular and well-reviewed.  I was excited to see this technology applied in a very user-friendly app geared toward use with younger children, Doodlecast for Kids ($1.99, iPad only). In the words of Tickle Tap Apps "Doodlecast combines your drawing and voice to create short videos."  Check it out in action here:

Applying a language lens, this app has many potential uses:
-My graduate student intern and I have found that this app has been very motivating to several articulation students working at the sentence and carryover levels.  We use it in combination with articulation word lists and have the students make up sentences and stories using their target sounds.
-I have also found this to be a really useful tool when working with targets such as multiple meaning words, figurative language and vocabulary.
-The app has a built-in lens on setting and emotions, as the home screen allows you to pick settings such as "water" or "sky" such that those are pre-drawn on the screen, and you can add to them.  These aspects contribute to the app's usefulness as a narrative development tool.

There is now an older brother of Doodlecast For Kids, Doodlecast Pro ($3.99, iPad only) Though Doodlecast for Kids is recommended for ages 3-5, it's applicable for much older kids, and I have used it with middle school students. expands the functionality of Explanimation technology greatly by allowing you to insert images into the animation and adding more customizable tools.  As a result, you can take an image on any topic (see our Essential Tech Skill Tip regarding using Google Images on iPad) and draw and speak about it.

Both Doodlecast for Kids and Doodlecast Pro let you save the video to the iPad (it will be in the Photos app/Camera Roll, not the Videos app) for easy review/sharing at a later time. Videos can be uploaded to YouTube directly from the Doodlecast Pro app, or within the Photos app for videos created with Doodlecast for kids.

For a free app that is similar to Doodlecast Pro, try ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard or Educreations Interactive Whiteboard.  I do like that Doodlecast lets you save to your iPad where ShowMe, for example, only lets you export to their website.

So, readers, what do you think of Explanimation? What other uses do you see for this technology in Speech-Language Pathology?  Let us know in the comments.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Animonths: Art Maker

Though we in the states will have no idea what the context is about, since the app is based on Australian children's television show Play School, the new app Art Maker (currently FREE, iPad only) provides a great tool to harness animation for speech and language development. The app allows you to choose from  6 settings (beach, farm, etc), use a plain colored paper background, or a photo from your camera roll "to bring Play School into your world." After you add characters and other props, you record as you speak and move items around the screen in order to create an animated movie that is saved within the app.

The doggie built a sandcastle, but it is about to be destroyed by a wave!
Art Maker is essentially a simplified version of Toontastic, in that it allows you to just create one scene, but its look and feel (kind of a paper-and-fabric craftsy motif) are well worth checking out. I like that the app also allows you to take a snapshot of your scene. Also, when you click on any of the characters and props with a puzzle piece icon, you'll be able to assemble that element as a "puzzle" before using it in the scene (a good opportunity to work on describing by parts).

This app will definitely appeal to preschool and primary school students in order to target vocabulary, concepts, sentence formulation, cause and effect relationships, sequencing, narrative, social skills, and articulation, voice or fluency (with recorded feedback).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Animonths: Go! Animate's Full Featured Video Maker

In my last several posts, I discussed Domo Animate, a video maker geared to both younger and older students, and Go! Animate's Quick Video Maker , used to generate simple animated dialogues. Another tool to point out is Go! Animate's Full Featured Video Maker (flash-based, not iPad friendly). This tool does everything that Domo Animate's video maker does, but also allows you to utilize text-to-voice (so, what you type, it speaks) and recorded voice.  See below:

You make your character talk by selecting the character on the "stage," using the voice tab, and either typing in the dialogue or selecting "Mic Recording" (click on drop-down and change Text-to-Voice to Mic Recording)
This expands the usefulness of Domo Animate, as kids love to hear their own voices and you can target articulation or fluency skills with this tool.  Again, Go! Animate has limitations on what you can do for free (I was able to add a number of characters with the points I had with a free account), and be aware of how much you "explore" videos not of your own creation- they are not moderated. Nevertheless, it's a fun, nicely designed tool with great instructional potential.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Animonths: Go! Animate's Quick Video Maker

Go! Animate's Quick Video Maker is a web tool (flash-based, not iPad friendly) you can use to create simple dialogues between animated characters in a particular setting.  Go! Animate allows you to do quite a bit, though with limitations, with your free account.  Within the Quick Video Maker itself, certain settings and characters require a "plus" account, and you are limited to 10 lines of dialogue. Creating the video is simple:

Go! Animate's Birthday Card Creator
Just type, and your characters will say what you like! The Quick Video Maker is somewhat like a simpler version of xtranormal.

Be aware, as I have said in my post about Domo Animate, Go! Animate is not moderated.  You will not want to click the Explore tab as you may encounter videos that have inappropriate language. Also, the human characters, particularly females, in Go! Animate are a bit more...developed. So I would limit use of those character sets to middle or high school students.  That said, there are a number of cute character sets for use with lower elementary students.

Why would SLPs want to use this tool? Click here for a video about the "language lens" and Go! Animate.

Click through to see the video...