June 14

Jack Hunter – The Worlds First Augmented Reality Interactive Book?

Hmm.. bold claims indeed! The website for the latest book by author Martin King sings loud and proud about the interactive and augmented reality features of ‘The French Connection’ which promises to bring to life the adventures of Jack Hunter.

I should mention here that the publisher did send me a couple of copies of the book so I could have a play with it (and share it in school)! Thank you for that! I’d never gheard of it before – and would happily recommend it to those struggling to get readers hooked!

Augmented Reality

JH5The premise of the book is fairly simple – obviously you can enjoy the book as a story in itself- but to get the most out of it you download an app. (A code comes with the book to unlock the full features) – however completion of the game does unlock links to Book 3 – and an extra chapter.

 

The puzzles, images and games are triggered by the pictures in the books – and the first few times the children do this they are very, very impressed! It really does showcase how well augemented reality can be used!

The book tells the story and Jack Hunter and how his school life is interrupted through the seemingly haphazard discoveries he makes with his friends. The children do enjoy reading about other experiences of school and I really liked how the book started with this. It quickly expanded into an exciting adventure with plenty of danger!!  Having not read the other books it all made perfect sense and I didn’t feel we needed to know about the other adventure.  It’s not a book i’d choose to read aloud to the class – the language and dialogue can feel a little forced at times – but the pupils really got into it, and I know my 9yr old newphew will love it!

Interactive?

The idea then is to solve the problems in the book as you go, exploring fantasy settings and helping the main characters with puzzles – a kind of modern day ‘Choose your Own Adventure’ (for those of us old enough!) – I’ll be honest, I thought the children might find the links a little tenuous, and not bother,  but they were motivated! They were enthused to read on, and wanted to help one another with the puzzles.

JH4

 

 

The way in which the puzzles are set out, and the controls of the game, will be familiar to anyone who plays videogames. I found it very similar to many of the first person perspective games – although the touch screen controls can be fiddly – it all worked well! It gives plenty of on screen instructions as well, and there is a system of buying clues with ‘gold’ – presumably you could buy more of this with real life money, but we never needed to.

In the classroom?

JH2Obviously I was interested in how well it worked in the classroom, it did feel a tad ‘gimmicky’ at first, but it turned out that was only to me. The children lapped it up, and given some thought you could probably get some great writing from some of the settings, puzzles and history in the images. Non-fiction instruction writing, guides to the settings, adventure journals and so on… It’s definitely something I will be exploring.

 

The puzzles were difficult for some, usually those children who didn’t have much experience with games and puzzles, but they quickly caught on – or asked others. It’s fair to say that they would be a great addition to classrooms that have access to mobile tech.

The adventure is also linked nicely to a blog post on the website – giving the children the chance to continue the relationship with the main characters in the book.

 

Future?

Are these types of interactive books the future? It’s interesting as a concept because it does bridge the gap for those who are just not motivated to read, and I’m sorry to day that it can be chiefly boys. It does just add a layer of fun to the whole proceedings, but I often found myself thinking that if it was just an e-book it would all be so seamless. However, the ‘physical’ book does mean they get to read it wherever they like without any restrictions around access,

Thoughts around this type of literature in the classroom could be a whole other article!!

But this is just the beginning – I would like to see more ‘character’ in the games – interacting with the narrative more and even making choices which could potentially affect the treasure / chapter at the result. Changing the look of the characters, or making good / bad choices which feed into a story on the webpage for example. It is a genre type that can really be explored..

Final word?  It was definitely a hit with the children – and is worth investigating if you have access to the tech in your classroom!

 

JH1

April 29

Using Comic Books in the Classroom

 

I have regularly used comic books in class, and have been known to buy in bulk from charity shops / ebay – then spend hours trawling them to find suitable and good-condition ones! Happily, it seems tablet computers have made that a thing of the past! The crisp and clear screens are perfect for displaying the comics and they don't suffer from wear and tear!

Comics are useful in a variety of situations – and the 'classic' universes – Batman/Superman/X-Men and so on are very popular and well known with the children.

There are others available though, classic stories in comic form, other characters and less well-known superheroes. This means that, given some ownership, children could find comics that they enjoy and that they may not normally have access to. Forming opinions, reading for pleasure and following long story arcs are all perfectly possible.


Why Comics?

Comics allow for the children to read independently as well as group focus for guided reading. The characters and narrative tend to be well suited to focused work and many of the children are familiar with the setting as they recognise them from movies or games.

  • In guided reading, the visual aspect of comics means that children can practice many skills (inferring, predicting) without worrying too much about the actual text.
  • Use as you would a usual text – the same questioning and activities can still apply.
  • Remember as well that these texts may motivate the more reluctant reader to get involved.
  • Longer stories – Graphic Novels – or adapted stories can also be found on iBooks – searching for Graphic Novels will throw up many intriguing titles.
What apps can be used?


iPad:

Comics+Kids is a great app which has some brilliant free comics – including the Bone #1 – 'The Map

Comixology also contains many well known issues – but you will need to check the suitability!

Marvel's great app is here – again may not always be suitable for younger children.

The folks over at Me Books also have a great app – Me Comics! I wrote about Me Books here.



Android viewers can be found here

This is by no means an exhaustive list – but do give them a try – ask the children for their opinion! It's a great way to get them interested in their reading!

July 7

Using Me Books in the Classroom

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Being asked to try apps and ideas in school is always fun, but it’s rare that it works so well in the classroom… Me Books, by developer Made in Me has fitted in beautifully!

First of all, as I have discussed on this site, a big focus this year has been on reading, and particularly Guided Reading – see here for more information. The focus for us has been on the response to texts, children creating content and demonstrating their understanding. The iPad is a brilliant tool for that, allowing the children to choose a number of ways to respond to a tasks in creative and collaborative ways.

However accessing quality texts (whole books) and reading for pleasure is not so easy. Teachers can be put off by the sheer choice (and rubbish) on the iBook store, and pupils are not impressed by badly written or dull looking books. Conversely some of the interactive book apps, which I’ve written about here can be too exciting for independent work during sessions – too distracting!

Enter MeBooks – and what looks like a standard shelf app becomes a very useful tool for exploring and creating. As a declaration of interest here, I should mention that I have been given several free accounts to use from Me Books, and have shared these with the teachers I work with.

The app lets you download a book to individual iPads with seperate accounts. For the purpose of this project we were allowed multiple downloads to each account, and I know the developers are currently looking at straightforward ‘paper based’ ways school can order books for their accounts, so you can order 20 copies of the same book for your iPads for example.

The beauty of the app though is within the narration – and the sound ‘buttons’ – take a look at this screenshot.

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Those red splodges are in fact sound bubbles, which means that when these areas are tapped an appropiate sound is played. Also allowing the children to have a go at creating their own sound effects. These ‘custom’ versions can then be saved, alongside the original book. The original narration is usually beautifully acted (often by a recogniseable actor!) and really brings the books to life. The illustrations are normally faithful to the book – and yes that is a Ladybird Classic you see on the header image!

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The ability to record your own words and to choose where to place sound effects has a few surprising effects in the classroom. As you would expect there is a lot of fun to be had – give the children a purpose and it becomes about voice and audience. Ask them to record a version for the younger years and you have them working in groups to entertain, listening back to the clarity and checking their expression!

Then take this screenshot – here there are a number of characters. What are they thinking? Well exactly, the pupils can quite literally give the characters a voice. They have plenty of fun putting themselves into the characters shoes. Thinking about what is happening in the story, demonstrating understanding, asking questions and characterisation.

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Me Books has fitted in very well with our guided reading session at our schools, but it has also been a hit at other times. The Digital Leaders for examples, have really enjoyed recording their own versions of stories and sharing them with the younger children. They even created a mini guide to the app – take a look at their work here. I have started a project with some parents, looking at how they could offer some narrative in a native language, again giving the children a voice.

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Follow @me_books on Twitter for more information!

February 17

eBooks in the Classroom

Binary Books

It’s a common question. Is there a place for book apps alongside traditionally printed books? How should teachers make use of this new media?

Why should we use interactive books?

Always begin with this question, why are you considering buying eBooks? Do you have devices in school already that will make use of them? Have you considered purchasing costs? Are you buying copies of treasured books or working with new authors?

I think these questions are important because they will have an impact on the kinds of books you buy. How many iPads/devices do you have? Are you looking for textbooks for a 1:1 project? When will the books be accessed?

iBooks is easy to search and most books are dowloadable as samples first!
iBooks is easy to search and most books are dowloadable as samples.

Options are plentiful:
Web based services allow books to be accessed on screen, often compatible with many operating systems, but not always downloadable.
Britannica e-books is one such service.
Scholastic also run services where books can be accessed online, often through themes or authors focus.
More and more books now will come with digital copies, which are perfect for displaying on whiteboards.
Kindle runs as an app on iPads, online and within Kindle readers – great for regular access, though not as whizzy looking as ios apps. (This is changing as Kindle readers become full colour!) Kindle can be cheaper and as the app is android as well, very accessible to parents as well as teachers.

If you are looking for textbooks, use the iBookstore but also take a look at the DK range of apps. All very high quality.

I often get asked about book apps for iPads. My advice is to choose books that link well within unit teaching and make most of their interactivity. It is also a good idea to let the children choose themselves occasionally! Perhaps a project for school council or digital leaders? Here is a quick run through of some of the best book apps I’ve seen. Make use of creative apps for activites, see my guided reading apps for ideas.

Great for inference and problem solving!
Often find the children running through books or furiously swiping the screen? Try Bartleby’s Book of Buttons This book is one of the best I have seen. Each page poses a problem, with the solution hidden within the page. For example he may have a ticket with the time to leave on it, and the reader has to change the clock to that time before they can turn the page. Great illustrations and loads of options make this one you really should try. Perfect for inference and encouraging those higher level 3 readers to pay attention to the text!

Bartleby's Book of Buttons poses a problem, and solution within each page.
Bartleby’s Book of Buttons poses a problem, and solution within each page.

Great for character and dialogue.
Two things in book apps will really support young readers with character and dialogue. Firstly the quality of the voice acting, and secondly the ability to record the narrative themselves. Using book apps as a chance for drama, speaking and listening and creating characters is the perfect enhancement. For this, I found it tricky, many publishers are now warming to the idea of a record your own narrative feature. An example would be Ocean Media Houses’ Dr Seuss series. Some are put off because of the voice acting, (though what else would Dr Suess stories sound like?!) However the chance to record your own narrative changes that. Suddenly the possibilities are endless! A very special mention should also go to the Nosy Crow series. Their gorgeous looking apps are not only brilliantly narrated but tapping the characters in the story reveal more of their thoughts. Very useful for when you want to encourage discussion about dialogue, or encouraging children to sequence stories.

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks, brilliantly narrated and excellent for whole class storytelling.
Sir Charlie Stinky Socks, brilliantly narrated and excellent for whole class storytelling.

Other stories which are great for dialogue include Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and Cosmo. These also include some great activities, such as sequencing stories which can be useful.

Reading for Pleasure.
The other great thing about eBooks, is that it can motivate some children to read where they otherwise may not do. Ofsted recently saw a guided reading session where a group was using iPads and commented that the children were incredibly engaged, especially the boys. Purchasing some key texts, whether from iBooks, or as an app, could really support reading in the classroom. Try some of the comic apps as well, Comics4Kids offers some great comics, which are very child friendly. Some iBooks, such as David Walliams’ Gangster Granny offer video from the author, and reading aloud of the text. Try searching for ‘enhanced’ books in the store.
Special mentions should also go to Atomic Antelope’s adaption of Carroll’s Alice, which comes in an abridged and full version and has amazing visuals.

Atomic Antelope's adaptation of Alice will be a hit with Yr 5/6 readers.
Atomic Antelope’s adaptation of Alice will be a hit with Yr 5/6 readers.

Meanwhile, for younger readers there are many options, Collins Big Cats have a range of apps which allow the reader to completely rebuild and then share their own story!

Searching for non-fiction and topic books will yield some gems, such as this Bobo and Light.
Searching for non-fiction and topic books will yield some gems, such as this Bobo and Light.

Finally, another great thing about eBooks is that they can make use of the whiteboard in the classroom. See the link here for linking iPads to the whiteboard. Books that the children have copies of in the class library that can also be displayed for more focussed literacy work. The Heart and a Bottle deserves a special mention here as it is an amazing story and the app is delightful, with brilliant voice acting. However do search the iBookstore for your favourite authors, many of them are adapting their stories for the big screen!!

I will continue to add great book apps as I find them. Do please add any gems you’ve found in the comments sections!

February 1

Using iBooks

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iBooks is a brilliant app for buying, organising and buying books.

For teachers this choice can make finding great books a chore, meaning we are sticking to books we already have copies of in the classroom or we are missing some of the advantages of having ebooks.

So, are there are advantages of using iBooks for classroom texts?

Storage and ease of use – you can have books stored in one space that would take up valuable room in the school.
Motivation – undoubtedly some children enjoy using the devices.
In app features which aid learning – such as dictionary, thesaurus, adding notes.
Instant purchases – very useful when you need that new topic book or you want to show an author’s work on the whiteboard.
Fonts and size options can make some books more accessible.

There are of course disadvantages, an eBook won’t always replace the physical copy, but there are still many reasons to consider putting budget money aside for the purchase of some key texts in electronic format.

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This page from the brilliantly popular ‘Traction Man’ shows how selecting the words, and holding your finger on that word can bring up more options.

What can iBooks do?

Firstly. It’s worth remembering that there are two key different types of books on the book store. Enhanced and normal. Enhanced books have features which look like they would fit well into the app- they may have video clips, or an author’s podcast and even the whole book narrated.

These books, like David Walliam’s excellent Billionaire Boy, add that extra dimension to the text, and help to think specifically of author voice, or appealing to an audience.

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The introduction page from Billionaire Boy features a video from the author, David Walliams. The entire story can be read aloud too.

Normal eBooks may not have such interactivity, but they do allow you to select text, then define that word, hear the iPad read it aloud (warning of the pronunciation here!) or even leave notes for the pupils to respond to either in the app or on paper. This means that the children can read longer texts, be prompted with teacher comments and find out the meaning of unknown words. Very useful for the more advanced readers. Most of the books also allow you to search text, change font and size and alter screen brightness. Bookmarks can also be kept, and synced across devices by an option in settings.

How to navigate the store?

The app like any other book store is searchable by title and author, so if you know what you want it is easy to find. There are also ways to stumble across books too, very often some section of children’s books is featured in the front page. At the time if writing it was a lovely section on Children’s Picture Books – some of which had enhanced features. Unfortunately for teachers, ten minutes browsing can turn into an hour before you know it!!

Like the simple, enhanced offering from Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, a promotional from the movie, some iBooks are free but aimed squarely at entertaining. Worth looking out for.

Begin by thinking what the children will be doing with the book – if it is purely for guided reading perhaps you don’t want longer novels, perhaps short story collections would be better.If you have many specific needs in class, or a large number of children with English as an Additional Language then look for enhanced books where they can hear the language and the expression in the reading. For topic work and non-fiction there are some genuinely beautiful books by DK publishing, and these can really benefit the whole class, not just reading time sessions. Considering what exactly you will be using the book for will save you some time when purchasing.

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Part of the 100 Facts.. series 100 World Facts is a great free book to get you started.

Consider the needs of the pupils in the classroom and when they will access the books. Do you want to buy them copies of a book you are reading in class?
Finally, use the ‘related to’ search option within the menu, this may lead to authors and books which you wouldn’t normally consider!

iBook tips:

Remember that the children may not get the chance to read the whole book, it depends on their access to iPads.
Using monitors or pupil digital leaders? Let them browse the book store, or get the school council to choose some.
Integrate it with topic work – there are some brilliant non-fiction books on the store.
Spend some time browsing, and remember you can usually download a free sample.
Enhanced eBooks may be better for reluctant readers

October 29

Tech will save us… Right?

person using black and silver laptop computer
How the small school can be supported by Ed Tech

Earlier this month government announced that the expectations for remote education are to be statutory. These expectations cover a multitude of scenarios and can be found in their guidance for full opening.

The National Association of Small Schools are offering advice in their newsletter for schools who are exploring their home-school provision, and I wrote this to support that.

Extract from government guidance.
So, where do you start?
  • Do an audit of what subscription services you pay for.
    • this might prove surprising – especially if teachers have had a bit of freedom in the past to sign up for specific services. Have a good look at what you are getting for your money.
  • Make use of the curriculum-linked services available.
    • Not to everyone’s taste I know, but check your long term curriculum plan – are some things covered within Oak Academy? Or BBC services? Can teachers make loose links now within planning which, if needed, can be tightened and shared with parents?
  • Provide training for parents in your expectations, and what services they can use from home.
    • For example, if you use Google Classroom do some online workshops with parents. They don’t need to take long, or be particularly technical, but they will provide parents with a bit of familiarity.
  • Don’ t overload yourself! There is no point in purchasing every subscription just in case, develop the technical know how with what you have.

Finding the Right Service

It can be tricky to find services and support – every school has a different context. Start by thinking what you need the tech to do – for example something that can be used both at school and home – a way for parents and teachers to communicate, something to share files or something to allow real-time online lessons. Services such as Google G Suite, Microsoft 360, cover everything, including video chat and online apps. Some, such as Showbie and Tapestry allow for interaction between home and school and sharing files.

Asking schools in similar situations to yourself can be helpful as well – especially if you have local expertise and people who are willing to help train staff.

It should be said that I am a big fan of Google G Suite for Education – for a small school it really does provide everything you need.

Communication is Key

And luckily tech can help here – whether it is messaging families, or staying in touch during a lockdown. Social media can be a great way to get in touch with parents – just try not to use your own personal account. Creating groups for each class can mean the teacher can share updates in one go – and choosing a service carefully will also mean that you can share it with parents in advance. Linking to key updates on Facebook, creating a dedicated space on the school website and text messages reminding parents of where resources can be found are some ways that communication can help.

Put your provision on paper…

You need to be clear about what you can offer – no point in saying there will be daily maths and literacy lessons if your teachers have no access to the internet at home. Aim for weekly contact, and then some sessions, such as reading, which give a bit of connection with the teacher,

Ensure that parents and governors are all aware and make staff expectations reasonable. Small schools, with mixed age classes, particular need to ensure they are realistic – teaching online can be tricky and in some cases providing workbooks for classes may make life much easier.

Increase engagement

Finally, consider that families may find it tricky to keep engagement going – even if they do have the devices and the internet connection needed.

  • Have a set contact time each day – whether for answering / replying to emails of for video chats. A routine will be beneficial for staff and pupils and will help parents to manage expectations.
  • Share information in different formats – e.g. weekly overviews can be sent via Google Classroom and put on the website in PDF format.
  • Continue with school routines – e.g. whole school assemblies that follow the same format. Virtual meetings for groups like the School Council.
  • Create teacher videos, or record the online lessons – this will mean they can be watched at any time.
  • Train your pupils – for example our older children are using Google Classroom habitually now so that if they need to use it at home it’s familiar. Some classes watch a bit of Oak Academy, or use apps available at home, so that they will understand their use if they are at home.

Do you have any top tips or questions? Please let us know in the comments!