Inspiration, Innovation & Information for school libraries and learning.
Are you a Janus? A Lucian? An Ekaterina? A Tomas? Or even (gasp) a Madrigal?
If you aren’t sure then you probably haven’t read The 39 Clues series (http://www.the39clues.com/) and you should get to your library as soon as possible!
The series follows the adventures of Dan and Amy Cahill, who discover that they are members of the most powerful family in history. When their grandmother dies Dan and Amy are given a choice: they can accept a check for a million dollars or risk it all and join the hunt for the 39 clues.
The catch? They will be competing against their unscrupulous family members who will stop at nothing to find the clues first. The reward? Whoever finds the clues becomes the most powerful person in the world.
The books are wonderful and kids love following Amy and Dan as they tour the world with their cat in tow, searching for clues and evading their sneaky cousins and dangerous aunts and uncles. The reading experience doesn’t stop on the page though. The website offers readers a chance to join in the hunt. They can create an identity, figure out which branch of the family they come from (Janus, Lucian, Ekaterina, Tomas or Madrigal), and use the cards that come in the books to solve mysteries. More than 1.4 million readers have registered on the website and with a new series launching recently and a movie in development those numbers are only going to go up.
There is also an app called The 39 Clues Madrigal Maze for the iPhone and the iPod Touch. Go here to get more information and see a video. At $0.99 US cents the app is a great deal and will appeal to fans of the books as it offers them the chance to unlock a secret encryption key to help them solve clues on the website.
Scholastic has pulled out all the stops with this series and there is extensive educator material on the website. This includes book excerpts, audio excerpts, video interviews and lots of other goodies that teachers can use, along with the app, to hook reluctant readers and extend those students who just can’t get enough of the Cahills.
If you interested in other reading apps check out this post on our Create Readers blog.
Have you read The 39 Clues series? Are your students fans?
flickr image by bon_here
Sort out your notifications and permissions!
Do you know which apps have access to your personal information? It’s easy to lose track, but mypermissions.org is here to help. The site features a list of common social media apps including Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. You click on the link, sign in and are taken directly to the list of apps that can access your account. Once there you can revoke access to any apps you are not comfortable with.
The results may surprise you! For example, if you have used Twitter to sign in to a site like Pinterest or Storify then those apps can access your Twitter account.
Is your inbox full of annoying notifications from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.? Clicking around the sites to find the notifications setting pages can be time-consuming, so we often just never quite get around to stemming the flow of messages.
Notification Control provides a quick and easy solution to this irritating problem. Invented by two teenagers, it works a lot like mypermissions.org and offers a list of sites. You click, sign in and are taken straight to the notifications setting page, where you make any changes you like. It only takes a minute, but it can make a real difference to your inbox.
These two sites are worth sharing with your students when you discuss their digital lives. Many of them (and us!) are all too likely to click on permissions and notifications agreements without reading the fine print, and they may not understand the possible consequences of pressing that green button.
How do you keep track of your digital life?
image by noii’s
Looking for interesting and engaging short stories? Storyville can help! It is an app for the iPhone or iPad that delivers a quality short story straight to your device every week.
Most stories are by reputable authors and are sourced from recently published collections, though the creators also promise ‘unearthed gems by masters of the form.’ A six month subscription is $4.99 (USD), which is a good price for twenty-plus stories. The app allows you to receive your stories on more than one personal device and makes it easy to share what you are reading through Facebook and Twitter (though friends will have to buy the app themselves to access the actual story). The app is available through the iTunes.
This could be a great way for teachers and librarians to discover new short story writers and collections to stock for older students. Short stories have been in the news lately, with the BBC announcing that it would cut back to one short story reading a week on Radio 4 next spring. Authors such as Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris responded with a tweetathon designed to support the short story form and Gaiman wrote a great blog post outlining his views in The Guardian.
Do you find it difficult to find engaging short stories for yourself and your students? Do you think Storyville could help?
image by Steve Rhodes
By Glenda F
A New Zealand based company Kiwa Media converts print books into QBooks – these are exciting interactive digital children’s books for touch screen devices such as the iPad and iPhone.
In April they won the e-learning and Education category of the World Summit Awards for the e-learning and Education category.
QBook is an interactive read-along digital colour picture book format designed by Kiwa Media for young children. QBook is an eBook, iPhone and iPad app that combines a narrator’s voice with original picture illustrations and touchable text that is synchronised to highlight and sound when words are touched.
They include exciting features such as the ability to play back the story at your own pace, to hear each word sounded or spelled out, to record the story yourself and to colour in the pages. Each QBook is also multi-lingual. Languages can be selected from English, Maori, Spanish, French, Dutch and Cantonese.
QBooks would be a great addition to paper based texts for classrooms and school libraries. They are interactive and fun and help develop reading and comprehension skills for students.
Many of the books published in this Qbook format are familiar and much loved New Zealand titles as well as retelling of traditional stories. They are all able to be downloaded from the iTune App Store
More information and a demonstration of Qbook can be found on the Kiwa Media website.
The Waste Land app by Touch Press and Faber and Faber is absolutely amazing. It will push an iPad straight to the top of your wish list and make you fall in love with T.S. Eliot’s poem in a whole new way.
The app includes the entire text and with one click you can hear it read aloud by Eliot himself (at two different times in his life), Alec Guinness, Viggo Mortensen or Ted Hughes. The lines are highlighted as the masters read so you can easily follow along. Don’t understand a reference? No problem. Simply turn your iPad to the side and touch the lines you are not sure about. Detailed notes will pop up with an explanation.
Still curious about something? There are video interviews with over 35 experts discussing the poem as well as a stunning performance of the entire text by Fiona Shaw (it’s a whole new side to Aunt Petunia!). The original manuscript is also included, along with notes that Ezra Pound wrote for Eliot. A gallery of related images rounds out this stunning example of what a book app can be.
At $14USD this app is expensive, but it is well worth the price for any library or English department focussing on Eliot’s work. Even students who are not studying The Waste Land would benefit from the dynamic performances that show how poetry can be brought to life. Head over to the app store for more information or check out this video interview with the Faber poetry editor and head of Faber digital.
image by Poughkeepsie Day School
The app is incredibly easy to use, and much less fiddly than the old star chart/ torch combo that many of us amateur astronomers have relied on in the past! You just point your phone at the sky to see which stars, constellations and planets (neatly labelled) you are looking at. As you move your phone the map scrolls automatically and shows you the celestial objects in every direction. You can also switch to manual mode and explore the star charts yourself.
Looking for a specific star? Want to check out Mars? There is a very handy search function. You type in the object you want to see and an arrow directing you there will pop up on your screen. I really appreciate the constellation maps as they make it simple to pick out the complicated shapes in the sky, and I also like being able to quickly put names to the visible planets.
Any students studying astronomy would benefit hugely from this app, and it will turn stargazing homework into an easy and enjoyable family activity, so their parents will love it too! Sky Map would also be attractive to any student interested in Greek mythology (or Percy Jackson fans) and I would suggest promoting it in conjunction with a quality book of myths and legends so that students can read all about the stars’ namesakes. It will work during the daytime, so you could even use it during class to get your students hooked.
Have you ever used Google Sky Map? Are there any similar apps that you like?
image by mirindas27
CamScanner is a simple app for Android and the iPhone that will turn your phone into a scanner. It only takes a minute to put the app on your phone and it is easy and intuitive to use.
You take a picture of whatever you want to scan (a document, your whiteboard, your colleague’s notes, an article…) and CamScanner lets you crop it using your touchscreen and turn it into a PDF. The app also processes the image to enhance the quality and can auto-detect edges and auto-crop, which results in a better image than you would get with your camera alone.
When your PDF is ready you can share it through email or upload it to Evernote , Dropbox or a Google Doc. CamScanner has a free version and a paid version. The free version includes advertisements and creates PDF files with a watermark, but those things might not bother you, depending on how you are planning to use the documents. Check out the Android Market and itunes for more information and how to get started.
With more and more students carrying smartphones in their blazer pockets, CamScanner could be a great tool to use in your library or classroom. Students can scan group brainstorms on paper and the whiteboard, quickly capture information for bibliographies and copy each other’s notes. If you run across a document you would like to share with the class you can instantly scan it, email it and put it on your class Moodle page without even leaving the room! CamScanner also offers you an opportunity to easily lighten your paper load by turning more things digital without having to haul documents all over the school looking for a free copier.
Have you used CamScanner? Would it be useful in your classroom or library?
image by osde8info
An App that allows you to create and go on real world scavenger hunts.
SCVNGR is a fun app that turns the world into one big scavenger hunt. You can take part in challenges, earn points and get rewards. To get started simply put the app on your phone and hit ‘places.’ The app will read your location and show you places nearby. You can then check in (and share it on Facebook or Twitter), make a comment or snap a picture. If somebody has set up a challenge at the place, you can also give that a go. For example, a restaurant may challenge you to make an origami crane out of a napkin, take a picture of a menu or find the answer to a question. After you submit your photo or answer you earn points, which can be used toward a reward of the restaurant’s choosing (possible free coffee!).
This looks like fun (though the app is fairly new and based in the US, so there might not be a lot of local challenges available yet), but for me the real attraction of SCVNGR is that you can make your own scavenger hunts, or treks. Want to jazz up that field trip? Tell your students to bring along their cell phones and set up a Te Papa scavenger hunt! You can make it competitive and set challenges that require photos, specific text answers or an open response.
The website has great tutorial videos that guide you through both participating in and creating challenges. After watching these I quickly set up an account (you can create up to five treks with a free basic account) and got started. Setting up the challenge was fast and intuitive, and students would love it. Teachers and librarians could send students on a hunt around the library or school, or even use SCVNGR in the classroom as a way to answer questions about a book. Students could also set up challenges for each other and then compete as they complete them.
Never lose another file!
I recently attended the Reading Matters conference and heard author Rebecca Stead discuss how she started her writing career crafting short stories for adults. She was ready to start sending them out when her young son damaged her laptop so badly that all her stories were lost. Forever. If she’d had Dropbox this would not have happened.
Dropbox is a service that allows you to access your files, photos and videos anywhere. When you save a file to your Dropbox folder it automatically saves to your computer, phone, tablet and the Dropbox website. This means that you can access your files from any of these devices (or any other device with a web browser) anytime. You can drop your phone in the sink, lose your computer and sit on your I-Pad…but your files will still be safe!
Each time you edit a document the changes are automatically saved to all of your devices. You can start a report on the work computer and type in some changes on your phone during the train ride home. When you fire up your laptop later that night the latest version will be available to you. No USB sticks or emailing files to yourself! If you make changes when you are not online then the account will sync up all your devices as soon as your Internet connection is restored.
You can invite other people to view and edit files as well, so this could be a great tool for students who are collaborating on a group project. The basic plan (2GB space) is free, all you need to do is set up an account, download Dropbox to your computer and put the app on your phone.
Do you use Dropbox?
SpiderScribe is a stunning mind mapping application that is easy and fun to use. Maps can be created individually or collaboratively and they are quickly shared through email or a unique link.
What impressed me about SpiderScribe is that your mind maps can include much more than just text. You can put entire files (Word documents, PDF files, etc.) into a ‘bubble’ and open them with one click. You can also insert Google maps, images, calendar events and text. The click and drag system makes it simple to insert and connect elements, and you are able to easily edit each entry, so resizing images and formatting text is not a problem. If you type in a link it is automatically live and the website is only a click away.
I also appreciated how easy it is to share maps. You can invite people to view a map through email or a unique link and choose whether you want them to be readers or editors. This makes SpiderScribe a fantastic tool for students to use in group work because any member can access the project from any computer at any time. All they need is a web browser. Students could also create maps as a way to present information and then send their teacher a viewing invitation. Teachers could mark and comment on the map itself: no more dragging paper assignments in and out of the classroom!
SpiderScribe is free and it only takes a moment to sign up.
Go for a product tour and then give it a try!
Do you use digital mind mapping tools? What do you think of SpiderScribe?
image by Sylvia Currie
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