Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review: Ansel & Clair: Triassic Dinosaurs

 Ansel & Clair: Triassic Dinosaurs by Cognitive Kid, Inc. (iPad2 and later only, $1.99 at time of review)

Clair and Ansel are "Virtoosians" who need to learn about the world by flying around on their spacecraft, affectionately named Marley. Ansel & Clair: Triassic Dinosaurs  is the fifth app in this series from Cognitive Kid, Inc, which include Ansel & Clair: Paul Revere's Ride, Ansel and Clair: Cretaceous DinosaursAnsel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs and Ansel & Clair's Adventures in Africa (iPod version is named Ansel and Clair's Adventures in Africa ).  Update: Ansel and Clair: Little Green Island has recently joined the Ansel and Clair collection!  My two elementary school aged boys love all of the Ansel & Clair apps- as mentioned before, they do keep playing them over and over, which is something I don't mind- they truly are learning.

Ansel & Clair: Triassic Dinosaurs goes further into history to precede Ansel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs and Ansel & Clair: Cretaceous Dinosaurs.  There are lots of fascinating history and science facts from the Triassic period to enjoy, including tidbits about non-dinosaur animals living during this time period as well as vocabulary such as Pangaea, convergent evolution, and fossilization. And as I have come to expect, this latest Ansel & Clair app also uses a variety of media to introduce these facts in a way kids will understand.  We have learned about the lack of polar ice caps during this time due to climate, likely ancestors of the great Tyrannosaurus Rex, as well as water-dwelling creatures with giant shells; a puzzle activity even introduces  the life cycle of ferns, and of course there is also a dino "dig" to complete.  While each app is self standing, I appreciate how the apps are interconnected as well - for example, the ammonites that we learned the Hybodus snacked on in Ansel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs are featured in Ansel & Clair: Triassic Dinosaurs in greater depth.

Some screenshots taken during game play, compiled into a collage.

What I like:

Rich Media / Narrated Scenes
Just as in all the Ansel & Clair apps, graphics and animations are used generously to hold the kids' attention. The animals in the app (and a few other areas) can be tapped to listen to Ansel and Clair speak about them; there are additional pop-up images to support the interesting facts brought up in their conversation. The familiar "camera" feature from other Ansel & Clair apps allows the user to take snapshots of what he/she sees for his scrapbook.

Visual and Auditory Cues
I appreciate the use of visual and auditory cues. Throughout the app there are arrows, icons and narration to guide the user. *See Wish List

Learn and Retain Fun Facts
I do not consider myself a "history person", yet even I have managed to learn a great deal from this app. I now consider myself a reformed history-phobe!  The way material is presented absolutely makes a difference. This app makes learning more fun! I only wish we had had such a resource available when I was suffering through history classes.

Scrapbook/Journal with Writing Feature
Take snapshots during game play to place in a journal. There is a writing feature as well- use the keyboard to enter notes about what you have learned about each animal or item- this is such a useful feature for an educational setting. The journal can be accessed by tapping on the backpack symbol in the lower right hand side of the screen.


Triassic Sticker Scene
This is a fun feature seen in all the Ansel & Clair dinosaur apps that is embedded in the back of the Scrapbook/Journal.  Stickers for the sticker scene are collected by listening to facts about the Triassic period (via the light bulb icon).  I still love how when you drag a sticker on to the scene, you can place it on top of another sticker- I can sneak in language concepts such as 'in front of', 'behind', next to. You can also send a copy of your completed scene to someone via email. *See Wish List.

Embedded Sequencing Activity- Ferns  
This is a hidden feature- you must find the fern interaction to play.  Drag the icons onto the numbers to show the correct sequence for the fern life cycle. 

Make a Dino
Ansel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs also has this dino building activity- Mix and match parts using a variety of heads, bodies and tails; there are also a few different skins to choose from. You can give your new dinosaur a name, and play with it- it will react when you "tickle" it by touch, and you can also make your dinosaur jump, stomp or roar.  My kids like that there are several different dino roars too.  Your one-of-a-kind dino can be sent via email or saved to your iPad Photo Album.

 Dino Dig & Puzzles
Travel underground to unearth two different sets of dinosaur bones from the Triassic period. This was my favorite feature in Ansel and Clair: Cretaceous Dinosaurs, and is also a feature in Ansel & Clair: Jurassic Dinosaurs. The settings now allow more freedom to use any kind of tap to uncover the bones. The kids still find this fun, but I loved when it was more challenging and required specific taps to finish the task. (I just sit next to my youngest and encourage him to do it as instructed, for more fine motor practice!) After uncovering the bones, the user assembles the pieces to complete a dinosaur bone puzzle.

Turn off the Volume, or not!
There are separate controls to adjust volume and sound effects, which means if the background music is too much for a child, they can still enjoy the sound effects.  It even goes a step further by allowing us to adjust music volume to our liking.

Built-in Guide   Another favorite feature in the Ansel & Clair apps- a handy built in guide!  You can tap the book icon to access the guide with screenshots and accompanying descriptions for each page.

Parent Friendly Access to Social Media & Apps
I LOVE the new parent friendly feature for the "About" page, and also for the "More Apps" button on the main screen. To click out of the app, say to Facebook, you must answer a mathematical question. This was a parent requested feature that the developer has implemented, and it is much appreciated!  Through the About Page, you can also join Cognitive Kid's mailing list to get updates and information, share with a friend, contact support if you are having an issue, send feedback for improvements etc.

Wish List ( I always have one!)
Option to hide the Mail feature- I would love the option of shutting off the mail button available in the Make a Dino and Sticker  Scene sections of the app. I have visions of dino creations getting sent to random people in my contacts list, as an email address will pop up when entering the first few letters in the email field.  Per Previous statement- Developer Comment: We are considering this possibility.

Written explanations- When clicking to take a picture an audio fact is given- would like it to be written out as well, or perhaps at least display some key words, for those that have auditory comprehension difficulties- having a script to read would help the child understand what he/she is hearing better. Per Previous statement- Developer Comment: We are considering implementing this feature in the future- it is also a current feature available in  Ansel & Clair: Paul Revere's Ride. (Update: The latest Ansel and Clair app- Ansel and Clair: Little Green Island HD- has implemented written descriptions with audio support too!) 

Sticker Scene- I would love to be able to jump to the Sticker Scene and be able to adjust the size of the stickers in the scene with a pinching motion for more creative play.

Only if space is an issue:
The app is also bigger than stated, but since it has not caused issues with game play I have not been concerned about it. In case you are tight on space be aware that this app may take up about 2x more than the 223 MB stated in the App Store. Per Previous statement- Developer Comment: Unfortunately this size statement is set by the App Store.

Rafflecopter planned

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bookshare & Compatible apps for Print Disabilities

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Bookshare is an excellent resource for individuals with print disabilities or physical disabilities where a reader cannot hold a book.  Bookshare provides recorded books, including DAISY format, web readers and more. There are a variety of books, textbooks, newspapers and periodicals- including the latest and most popular selections for all ages- currently 197,988 titles in the collection. The great news is qualifying students and schools in the United States can access Bookshare for FREE! There are subscriptions available to qualifying individuals in many parts of the world as well. More information on Bookshare is available here.

Bookshare has its own app available, Read2Go (by Benetech, $19.99, iPhone/ iPad compatible); see video here

Some app developers have caught on to the importance of Bookshare and are Bookshare compatible.

Voice Dream Reader allows access to Bookshare for those that have an account. It also has many useful features for dyslexics as well as for those with vision impairment.  FULL REVIEW HERE

Read&Write Gold from Texthelp has an entire series of web apps to help struggling readers. Their web app, Ebook Reader, works with their Read&Write Gold program to read aloud Bookshare books with highlighting tools, a built-in dictionary and more. If you own their software, access is free.  More information on the software here. You will be happy to know they have an iPad app too, iReadWrite ( FULL REVIEW HERE; see video of app here).

Kurzweil 3000 supports Bookshare and has many other features such as brainstorming and outline tools, auditory spell check, text to speech etc.  More information here.  For subscribers, there is a free iPad app also, firefly K3000

For More Supports & Apps for Struggling or Reluctant Readers/Writers, see here.

Apps for Reluctant or Struggling Readers/Writers

Tips & Suggested Apps for Reluctant Readers 

Use voice technology to assess reading ability 
.Read Along by Ottercall INC. There is a Read Along Spanish option too. The reader will need clear articulation for the technology to be effective, and the stories right now could improve, but this app did encourage my son to read aloud.  For a similar app practicing words only, try Sight Words - The Future of Flashcards by Sprite Labs.

Let the child "decide"
Remember the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books? Brush of Truth by Story Bayou might be just the techie answer for encouraging a love of reading. From iTunes description: "You choose how the action folds in this interactive book app for kids 8-12. Geared to third through sixth graders, Brush of Truth, told in "your" voice, has 65 decision points and 20 possible endings." 

Julie Landry Laviolette, founder of Story Bayou, Inc., is a parenting journalist, mom, and educational book app developer who created the book app, Brush of Truth, to appeal to reluctant readers. She has written several guest blog posts about the app industry, and about using non-traditional ways to engage kids in reading. Here are her suggestions for reaching reluctant readers: “Tips to Get Kids Reading”

Make it personalized
Some story apps have a record your own voice feature and/or the ability to change text.I Don't Lie - Starring you - An Interactive reading app by Sparky Kids, Inc. allows you to create personalized avatars of your child. You can also personalize the story with your child's name, and record his/her own voice. The story is free to download, with a small in-app purchase (currently $2.99) to get the above features. The free version is ad-supported.

Love You to the Moon & Back, an interactive bedtime book for kids by Sue Shanahan (presented by Auryn) allows you to record your own voice and change the text of the story. It also has another neat feature highlighted below, "tap to label" - touch an object in the scene to hear and see its written label.

Use Musical Story Apps
Cassandra the Cow by Animalations is a huge hit with students, as are some of the apps from Perplext - my favorite from this developer is The Little Red Hen.  The Perplext apps have a great pause feature so we can stop and practice each part of the story at our own pace.

Make reading irresistibly fun
Here's a version of Little Red Riding Hood that kids have a hard time saying no to: Grimm's Red Riding Hood ~ 3D Interactive Pop-up Book  by StoryToys Entertainment Limited (there are more titles to choose from in this series, you can see them all  here.)  Each story has interactive elements and related games embedded in its pages.

More ideas for Struggling Readers

Try a story app with a Dyslexia-friendly font
Three Billy Goats Gruff- An Interactive Children's Book by Backseat Driver, LLC This is one of five story apps from this developer (Princess and the Pea, The Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk, and 'Twas the night before Christmas); all of the apps offer a dyslexia font as an option.

Look for apps that highlight each word in the story as it is spoken.
A number of story apps do this.  Read this blog post and this blog post for some places to start. 

Try apps with a "tap to label" feature
Stories like The Poky Little Puppy from Random House allow the reader to teach each word of the story to hear it spoken. Oceanhouse Media has familiar story apps that allow you to tap an image in the story to hear and see the label of that image.  Auryn Inc. also has many apps with this feature as well. 

Use Modeled Writing with "Write to Read"
The app Write to Read by WriteReader Aps is perfectly named as it serves as a good reminder that you can become a better reader through writing. This app is a story maker that uses the child's invented spelling and a correct spelling model from an adult. You can insert a picture and accompanying audio on each page, with a place for the child to write and a spot for the adult to write the "translation" below. The finished stories can be printed out with the child's captions, the adult's or both.

Create your own stories
There are also a number of story maker apps or apps with story making components, which really warrant a separate blog post. Here are a few favorites: Kid in Story Book Maker (by Locomotive Labs)Storybook Maker (by Merge Mobile), Little Story Maker (by GrasshopperApps.com), SEE  BELOW  "Make your own adapted stories and lessons"" for more customizable story apps.

Use audiobooks and ereaders.
Bookshare has a vast library of books, textbooks, newspapers and periodicals for all ages and access in the United States is FREE for qualifying schools, and students with a print disability or physical disability that impedes access to typical books. Bookshare has its own app available, Read2Go, and there are several other Bookshare-compatible apps in the App Store, including Voice Dream Reader, iReadWrite, and firefly k3000For more information on Bookshare, and compatible apps, see here.

Consider Adapted Apps & Other Apps with Visual Supports

Premade Adapted Stories
A great online resource for adapted Boardmaker books (you will need the Boardmaker software) is http://www.baltimorecityschools.org/site/Default.aspx?PageID=1446

Marblesoft has premade readers with picture symbol support, including A Leader Is and My Country. These apps are switch accessible too. (for more switch accessible stories and games from Marblesoft see here; also take a look at  Inclusive Technology Ltd.)

Attainment's Read to Learn by Attainment Company uses real photos for visual support and has features such as highlighting of words, auto page turn and more. The app has stories with graded comprehension exercises; the stories are divided into three categories: Safety Skills, Life Skills, Focus on Feelings.  This app is capable of scanning and is switch accessible.

iGet It Apps has premade apps with a diverse set of life skills topics such as "Going to the Beach", "People in My Community", "Going to the Playground", "Going to Birthday Parties" - view them all here, You can choose to customize each story with your own pictures, audio recordings and written labels.

GrasshopperApps.com  has several dozen premade (but customizable) story apps, such as 2nd Grade Reading - I Like Horses and I Like Animals - Learning to Read Books - all 37 books are available in one app title I Like Books - 37 Picture Books for Kids in 1 App You can edit the audio recordings and words on each page- as well as embed "pop up" labels that show when a part of the image is touched. You can touch any word to hear it spoken. The apps also offer word highlighting.

Two more "general education" apps you may also find helpful for creating custom lessons: Bitsboard Pro and Sentence Maker.

Make your own Adapted Stories & Lessons
Create your own stories from scratch, with or without picture symbol support, using Niki Story. This app has a unique feature that allows you to shrink your own images to make symbol sentence strips. You can then add your own media- including videos, or even draw your own images in the app. This app has a dyslexia font option (shown). You can use the app to create stories, and to read stories. FULL REVIEW HERE

For a switch accessible story maker, try Alexicom Elements Story Maker .

AutisMate - If you are looking for an app that allows you to create visual scenes and stories with picture, video, image and audio support and can also can serve as an AAC/ communication tool, this is worth a serious look. FULL REVIEW HERE

GoTalk Now by Attainment Company is another versatile AAC app that allows you to create books and has a visual scene mode. You can even embed Internet links and music into app buttons. There is also a library of user created materials available. 

Scene Speak by Good Karma apps is a fully customizable visual scene app that allows custom written/audio labels (with recorded or text to speech) to pop up when a designated area is touched.  This is a flexible app with easy to use features.  You can add images to the app via your iPad, or even use Google and Bing search.

Abilipad is a custom keyboard app and much, much more.  Create your own adapted keyboards for literacy support- you can use the customized keyboards to write within the app, with text to speech and word prediction.  You can assign pictures to each keyboard's buttons and make them color coded, pick from a variety of fonts and record your own custom sounds for buttons. 

More Writing & Spelling Supports

Crick Software is the maker of Clicker 6 and several other writing tools, including the app Clicker Sentences, featured above. For more information see here. Crick Software also has three writing support apps in the App Store:

Clicker Sentences from Crick Software supports beginning writers in assembling sentences;  Sentences can be hidden completely with a spoken model provided, temporarily displayed for copying before a child begins writing, or shown permanently for students who need a visual model shown to copy. Picture Support is also an option.  Once punctuation is added, the sentence is read aloud.  This app has access to many Sentence Sets via an integrated "LearningGrids" site- sets are downloaded and run from within the app.  FULL REVIEW HERE

Clicker Docs is a writing support app with several key features, including editable word banks with selectable keys, text to speech, and access to 50+ classroom writing resources (with free registration). These "LearningGrids" include "Story Setting Adjectives", "Adverb Bank", "Alternatives to Said". "Beach Words", "Communities A-Z", and many more. The resources are targeted to 7-11 yr. olds, the majority being for upper elementary. FULL REVIEW PLANNED

WriteOnline is a writing support app for ages 11 and up.  This third app from Crick Software builds on its sister apps with more sophisticated vocabulary for older students, as well as word prediction capabilities, a talking spellchecker, and useful features like Dropbox support.  The app also contains downloadable LearningGrid resources.

Ghotit Real Writer&Reader 3 is a software program for Mac, Windows or Linux (Update: it is available for Android now too)

Ghotit Real Writer&Reader 3 is an integrated writing and reading solution comprising several advanced assistive technologies tailor-made for people with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other specific learning disabilities. The solution helps children and adults with dyslexia and dysgraphia to write, read, and correct texts in any application and includes:
• Word-prediction with grammar and phonetics awareness • Context-sensitive and phonetic spell checker • Advanced grammar and punctuation corrector • An effective proofreader • Speak as you write (speech feedback) • Integrated dictionary • Reading assistance with dual highlighting
Ghotit Real Writer&Reader 3 can be used with any text editor or as a simple to use “Dyslexia Text Editor” at Windows (including tablets), Mac, Linux, and Android (tablets and smartphones).
For additional information visit Ghotit web site at http://www.ghotit.com

iReadWrite by Texthelp, Ltd. is an adaptive app geared toward struggling readers and writers. Users have access to a variety of tools within the app, including text to speech (TTS), predictive text, spell checking and homophone checker, a dictionary with picture icons and auditory support, customizable color schemes and fonts, and choice of voices. The app also supports sharing and importation of other documents. FULL REVIEW HERE

For more iOS apps with spellchecking support take a look at Typ-O HD, Writing Buddy (iPhone/iPod), American Wordspeller or Spell Better VPP

You may also be interested in a previous blog post about Text To Speech /TTS apps and devices here and apps compatible with Bookshare, a FREE service for students in the United States who have a qualifying print or physical disability, here.