App Review: 123D Creature

Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 8.47.46 PM

I am pretty sure I found this app from Richard Byrne. I realize that many of the cool apps that I try out on the iPad often come suggested from Richard (Thanks, man!). Along with his amazing Free Tech for Teachers blog site, Richard also runs the periodic app review at his iPad Apps for School site. Both are worth following.

Anyway, this app — 123D Creatures — is a nifty three-dimensional creation tool that allows you to design and “cook” creatures, and it’s free. What I liked about it is the simplicity of instructions (the app walks you through the entire process) and the range of ways you can invent something new, something crazy, something interesting. You are in charge of body shape, texture, colors and even poses as you go through the process. The “cooking” part if when you are done, and the app renders your creature as an image that you can then export. (It occurred to me, too, that if you used the new ThingLink app with this image, you could perhaps create an interesting “story” or “informational text” layered on top of it. That’s for another day, perhaps.)

Here’s what I created one afternoon:
3d Creature
Cute, eh?

The process reminded me a lot of our claymation work — in which kids are using their hands and minds to create something out of a giant blob of nothing. Here, with the 123D Creature app, that nothing is virtual, and yet, you could easily make connections to the way engineers design things using CAD (computer aided design) software programs. A lot of the same steps that would go into an engineer design also goes into creating a creature here.

Peace (in the mold),

PS — I see in the reviews of the app that some folks had trouble with the rendering. I did not. But it’s good to read reviews just to get a sense of potential troubles.


Playing Around with Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality: Digital Writing Cover
For some time now, I’ve been intrigued by the movement towards more “augmented reality” apps are allowing people to layer information on top of the view of physical objects. I suppose this idea has been given a great big push forward with the emergence of the Google Glass project.

But, how to experiment with it?

Erin Klein, a friend in several teaching networks, shared a post this weekend at her blog that helped show one way forward. She describes in great detail how she is beginning to use an Augmented Reality app called Aurasma, which is a free and allows you to set up a virtual layer of information on top of images. (The layer is called the “aura” by the app.) What’s nice is that it is not overly complicated. You essentially choose the layer (either one that comes with the app or you make your own), then choose what it is that you want to layer information over, take a photograph of it, and then whenever you look at that image through the mobile device screen, the layered information magically becomes visible. While there is a bank of “auras” built into the app, Erin assures me that you can create your own media (video, etc.) and use that as the layer, too.

You can even publish the augmented reality layer at the Aurasma website, and share it with others.

I experimented first with a little dancing ninja popping up on a flower pattern on one of our rugs, and then brought my 8 year old in to check it out. Yeah. He was jazzed about it.  He kept putting his hands down to the ground, wondering where the ninja was. But, the thing is, you would need to have my rug in your viewer in order to see what I am even talking about. No offense, but I am not inviting the world into our sun room to watch the ninja in action.

So, I looked around my bookshelf for a book that I thought others might have access to. Since so many of my friends are in the National Writing Project, I pulled out Because Digital Writing Matters, and layered a floating Earth on top of it.

Want to see?

Tap to view my Aura.

If you don’t have the book itself, you can point your mobile device at this image of the book and click on the link above (This is where you will need to juggle your mobile device with your computer, I suspect. Oh, and you have to have the Aurasma app downloaded, too. I should have mentioned that. Center the image with the app open, and the layer should start by itself). It should still work by using the embedded image of the book, although you have be sure to carefully situate the view in the screen.

(I just tried it with the embedded image and it worked!)

So, what’s the point? There’s the cool factor, for sure, but is there more to it than that? Erin does a much better job explaining how you might begin to conceive using Augmented Reality in the classroom for learning, and she has plenty of great information about her work and ideas at her blog. She even has a free guide to using the Aurasma app, as well as some handy videos. I love it when other teachers share what they are doing. Thanks, Erin!

I could see this technology being used in a classroom (with access to mobile devices, by the way) where presentation posters hang on the walls, and students use the app to create layers of information about their projects; or in a library, where book reviews might be embedded as invisible overlays; or perhaps the layers are part of an informational treasure hunt around the room, or school; or … well, who knows? The ease of Augmented Reality is still pretty new, and so, the possibilities are still unknown.

What would you do? What will you do? If you make something, share it out in the comment section, so I can check it out.

Peace (in the reality, slightly augmented),




App Review: Topps Pennant

When my youngest son started his recent fascination with baseball cards, I figured there must be some cool apps for the iPad that could give him some more information about collecting and information on players. I haven’t found that App yet, but I did stumble upon this pretty nifty App from Topps called Pennant. It allows you to choose a team, and with a very interesting visual, infographic-style interface, you can see all the stats from every game from 1952 to 2012.

There are a couple of ways to look at the data. A timeline view allows you toggle through the years. A spinning wheel for each game allows you to view every inning, and every play. Other elements take you into a view of the entire season of a team, and even the winners and losers of divisions over the years. A map of the country allows you to find team to examine, and there are more features here than we have explored.

This Topps Pennant App really is what they say it is: “…the modern box score” document. It costs 99 cents, but it was worth it for our family of baseball fanatics.

Peace (in the history),

PS — here is a video overview:

Topps Pennant Full Trailer from Topps Digital on Vimeo.



App Review: Upstanders

I really wanted to like Upstanders HD, an app for the iPad that suggests it will give players the tools to stand up to bullies and not be just a simple bystander, watching the action unfold.  I was lured in by the title, of course. (Smart move, that title.) Unfortunately, it is a simple game couched with the jargon of the moment, and not only is the game not very exciting but the learning is minimal. The game professes to put players in difficult situations and have them take action. The only real action is jumping around the school, grabbing bananas and other things, and “making friends” by jumping into people, so that you have enough confidence to “stand” in between the bully and the victim.

Empowered? Not really.

I’m not sure what I would do different for a game that teaches young people how to become more than a bystander to bullying. I think it is important and I do work with my students on this topic, particularly how it relates to digital platforms. I had been hoping this game might be an extension activity. But it won’t be. It just doesn’t have enough substance for a teaching moment or, a true mark against it, the gameplay to make the game worth playing. I don’t often post negative reviews but this was one dollar I wish I had back.

Peace (in taking action),

PS — A better way to share upstanding behavior is to check out the Upstanders, Not Bystanders project and the Stepping Up Project through Digital ID website


Interactive Story App Review: Infinite Canvas

I am loving that so many visitors here at my blog are leaving comments and suggestions as I explore interactive fiction. Yesterday, Sally suggested I check out Infinite Canvas, an app for the iPad that is built around the concept of an expandable story map, which Scott McCloud has touted as one of the more interesting and creative elements of comics. I did spend some time yesterday, with Infinite Canvas, and I liked it, although I think there is a bit of a steep climb for beginners.

The app reminded me of something I had once thought of in relation to Prezi. I love the canvas element of Prezi, where you can see the whole presentation from above and build it out. But I always wanted to be able to vary the paths of users of a presentation. Unfortunately, there is only one path in Prezi (as far as I can tell). Infinite Canvas addresses that by allowing a creator to set up multiple paths for exploration of images, audio, video and text. Think of it like a massive blank wall, and you are putting post-its up there, and then creating opportunities for connecting those post-its together in a myriad of ways. That’s the idea here.

The interactive part is that you could create a project with multiple paths, and let the viewer/reader/player make decisions that brings you along various paths of a story. You could even created “squares” in which slightly different elements of the same scene reconnect back with each other, sort of like alternative realities. Infinite Canvas allows you to import images and record audio narration right in the app, as well as text layers. Once I got the hang of the app, I was fine. But even with the tutorial (which is nicely done), it took me a while to get my head around what I was doing. There are a lot of tools built into the app, and it wasn’t always intuitive on where to go to do what I wanted to do. (Which might be an issue if you were to use this app with students. Or not. They might just dive in and figure it out easily enough).

And I have not yet figured out the best way to share a story from Infinite Canvas to a general audience (such as you). The app is free and you can create basic 12-frame stories (and download stories from its library), there is an upgrade of $2.99 per story to expand the tools and how to share it (with Dropbox, it seems). With the free version, you can share it to yourself via iTunes. But I think the files are in a certain format that is not universal, so I am not sure how you share it out unless the reader has the app. I need to check this out more.

Ultimately, Infinite Canvas does an interesting job of showing a different way to create a story, and it connects nicely to my inquiry around interactive fiction and technology. I appreciate that Sally suggested it.

Peace (along the canvas),
PS — here are the developers, talking about the app.


Interactive Story App Review: Versu


This free app — Versu — is very different from The Dreamhold, the interactive fiction app I reviewed yesterday. In the stories in Versu (there are a few free ones and then you can purchase others in a library), the reader makes choices about the dialogue and actions of a character in the story, and those choices shift the narrative. The first story — An Introduction to Society — has a main character, Lucy, interacting with her grandmother as she prepares to meet other members of high society. It’s like an English novel of manners, with choices for behavior and actions.

The story unfolds mostly in dialogue and decisions, and as new characters enter the scene, they are depicted as icons down below. A click on their pictures reveals what each character is thinking at a given moment in the story. While the story is rather highbrow, the choices invite you (as Lucy) to be either very civil (and therefore, boring) or rebellious by having the main character act rude, say foolish things, or be provocative in the way she holds herself. (So, for example, as I had Lucy tell the visitors that her grandmother thinks one of them is a “clod,” I completed one of the story’s achievements: sowing discord. Yes!)

And at some points, the grandmother breaks out of her role in the story to become a narrator to how to play the game (which, to be frank, is slightly odd when it first happens because you think you are still reading the story and you realize the grandmother is talking to you.) While I did find the interface interesting, this is clearly a story that might interest an adult more than a student (and no doubt, it was not designed for teaching interactive fiction).  However, it could work with high school students who are studying English literature.

Oddly enough, I felt less agency as a reader/player with the Versu story than I did with The Dreamhold (which I reviewed yesterday). It was more like a neat diversion piece of reading than a full immersive experience. Maybe this is because you have to choose from a menu of choices provided by the story. But the Versu app is worth checking out, particularly for the way that writers Emily Short and Richard Evans uses character motivations and thoughts as well as dialogue to pace the story forward. The emotional wrinkle to interactive fiction is pretty interesting, and something I have not yet come across in my adventures exploring this kind of story/game.

And I am intrigued by the mentions of players writing their own stories, although I don’t quite see that option yet. (Versu is pretty new, so maybe that kind of writing component will fold out later).

Peace (in the app),

PS — here is the promo for the app:

PSS — here is a link to all the posts I have been sharing out around interactive fiction.





Interactive Story App Review: The Dreamhold

(Thanks to my friend, Ryan, who shared a few links with me yesterday about interactive fiction apps and sites. I spent a bit of time exploring this one, and then stumbled on a few more, too.)

iPhone Screenshot 1

The Dreamhold is an interactive fiction story that is designed to introduce readers to the concept of exploring story via text only (No graphics. No animation. Only words and imagination). A free app from iTunes, The Dreamhold puts the reader/player into exploration mode, as you wander around a castle of some sort, and you slowly realize that it might be a place of magic. There are a lot of things to like about The Dreamhold. It’s free for both iPad and iPod/iPhone, it has a helpful system of “hints” built into the interface, and it simplifies the experience just enough to allow even the most novice of interactive fiction readers (like me) to have fun and understand the concept.

I like how the app is laid out, too, with a handy place for finding common commands for movement and examination, and how you can save your progress and return to the story later. A map section also shows you a bit of an overview of where you are in the Dreamhold (and reminds you of how much of the story has yet to unfold). All in all, if you are seeking a way to experiment with reading/playing an interactive fiction story, The Dreamhold is a good place to start. (I notice that the company — Zarfhome — has also put out other IF stories that cost 99 cents, which is still a pretty good deal.)

Here’s what I am wondering:  can I get this app onto our school iPod touches and use it as an introduction to IF with my students? (Short answer: yes. Longer answer: we have old generation touches, so what I wonder is whether it will work on all generations of Touches. I think it will. I am going to try it.)

See you in the castle!

Peace (in the interactions),


Interactive eBook Review: Underground Kingdom

As I explore Interactive Fiction and Choose Your Adventure genres, I realized that I have an app that is all that on my Ipad. I had forgotten about Underground Kingdom, for some reason, and yesterday, I returned to the interactive ebook to see how it might help me think about my students reading and writing interactive stories. Underground Kingdom does a nice job of adapting the old Choose Your Adventure story concept (there are 23 possible endings and you can access a map that shows your path and your dead ends, so you can always jump back into the story at different points).

Underground Kingdom was financed via Kickstarter, and the app (which costs $2.99 at the iTunes App Store) takes advantage of the technology by integrating motion graphics, simple animations and, of course, the hyperlinked tree effect, which allows a reader to jump around the story arc based on choices made. The plot of the book has to do with a black hole at the center of the earth, a strong gravitational field, and a hidden kingdom … of monkeys. Yeah. So, you can get a sense of the fun and adventure that this sort of story brings to an iPad (Underground Kingdom is not yet available for other devices.)


I had fun reading/playing this story, although I wasn’t all that overwhelmed by the graphics and the story is still pretty text-heavy. Still, the plot moved at a rapid pace, and the use of second person narrative making choices was effective. I liked that when I hit a dead end, I could venture back to the story map and keep going in another direction. In fact, after 25 minutes of reading/playing, I still seemed to have a long way to go with the story.

It makes me wonder if there are other Choose Your Adventure stories out there in ebook/interactive format. Do you know of any others?

Peace (in the paths),


CommonSense Media: App Collection for Special Needs Students

CommonSense Media just put out an interesting guide to Apps called PowerUp that might help students with special needs and learning disabilities. I think one of the possibilities of touchscreen and multimedia devices is that it can make a wider array of content more available to a wider range of students. But, let’s face it, there is a lot of junk apps out there, too. CommonSense Media does a nice job of annotating the apps in this  free list (which is also downloadable as a PDF) and putting them into various categories, and then sorted by difficulty/age levels, that can be helpful for teachers and parents to consider.

The apps are sorted into:

  • Communication
  • Social Interaction
  • Organization
  • Reading
  • Math
  • Motor Skills

Not all of the apps are free, however. But they do seem like an interesting collection worth a gander.

Here’s what they say about their list:

“No matter which hurdles your kid faces, the apps and other media included in Power Up can give them an added boost. We don’t expect an app to be a complete solution, of course. Working with kids who face challenges requires lots of time, attention, and patience on the part of a parent, teacher, or other adult caregiver. Our goal is to offer you a host of fun, well-designed apps that were recommended and tested by field experts. We hope they can become a part of your toolkit as you work with your child.” — CommonSense Media PowerUp

Peace (in the powering up),



App Review: GarageBand

For less than five bucks, the Garageband App on the iPad is an amazing steal. I hadn’t quite realized it until I sat down yesterday morning to work on a new song that my guitarist/friend John had started writing as a sort of theme song for our band, Duke Rushmore. The idea is to have a short, jumpy song to get us into the night. He asked me to write some lyrics, and I decided to use GarageBand on the iPad to replicate his riff and add some drums.

I am still waiting for an adaptor that will allow me to connect my Snowball Microphone directly into the iPad, so I had to bounce down tracks and email the master file to my laptop, where I worked on adding the vocals. But the music was all done directly on the iPad. I really love the drum feature, which is built as an intuitive touchscreen creator. You move elements of the drums around a cartesian coordinate system (loud/soft, simple/complex) and the beat changes. For the bass and keyboards, I turned off the automatic chords (which are fun to play with) and plucked strings/hit chords and notes on the keyboard to create the music, and while it is not perfect, it worked for a demo.

I also handed the app to my 8 year old son and my 12 year old son, and within minutes, they were creating songs, and having a blast. It’s that simple to use. And I like the feature that allows you to email the file or set up an account on Soundcloud to instantly share the music that way, too. There’s a lot to like, and for $4.99 — it’s got to be on the best deals out there.

Here is the song that I ended up with: Dancing with the Duke. Remember, it’s only a demo. We’re going to funk it up a whole lot more than this.

Peace (in the muse),
PS — this is a great tutorial site for the app.