New Kid on the Bloxel!

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Apologies for the cheesy headline! I’ve been keenly awaiting the arrival of Bloxels. As a fan of the Floors app and approach, I have had high expectations of Bloxels.

So what is it? Well, Bloxels is an app based process for making retro arcade style games on the iPad. This involves designing game play spaces, characters, enemies, and objects. The designs are restricted to a 13 x13 board that is both physical if you choose to buy one and virtual within the free app. The idea is to design all aspects of the game on the board with plastic cubes (hence the 13 bit builder tag). The board is like a tray that holds coloured plastic cubes. Curious?

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So what is it? Well, Bloxels is a creative process for making retro arcade style games. The process involves designing game play spaces, characters, enemies, and objects. The designs are restricted to a 13 x 13 board that is both physical if you choose to buy one and virtual within the free app. The idea is to design all aspects of the game on the board with plastic cubes (hence the 13 bit builder tag).

It comes is a nice old games style box from the pre-digital era, backing the day when we used to sit around, talk and engage with each other – remember those days? Obviously the fact that you can use motor skills to physically organise the board talk and plan is very attractive.

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We design/plan on the board and then use the “in app camera” to digitise the design. There is a simple colour code for the elements. Each colour block represents a different function. The green blocks are terrain/platforms blue water, red is a hazard. Some of these functions can then be developed. For example, the “power up” blocks can be used for adding “life/health” to your character or provide them with a jet back or ammunition. My one criticism of the experience is guns and bombs but it is unfortunately part of this type of gaming genre. Of course children can be encouraged to design something less negative and that is the joy of Bloxels. It screams creativity and not simple gratification. As part of the process the user creates both characters and objects.

Here is my enemy character.

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One unexpected surprise is the creative element. Characters and objects can all be animated. They can even have three animated states, idle, walk and jump. This immediately offers fantastic differentiation opportunities. This last week I worked with both y3 and y6 (digital leaders) quickly creating and thinking conceptually about how to get the best animated effects.

The overall process is as follows create a game, add boards complete with platforms, exploding blocks, water, lava pits, then decorate them. You can design all of your decorations. So if a pixelated pink and yellow Kath Kitson polker dot look is you thing – you can have it! Likewise, Characters and objects are only limited to your imagination within the 13×13 space.

The app is free and weighs in at 198mb. There are no in app purchases and I guess Pixel Press are thinking the revenue will come from the boards and cubes. It possible to create without the blocks and cubes, but there something satisfying about physically making and planning as opposed to everything being on the screen.

Projects and assets remain on the device. It possible to have accounts. This is so that you can play, earn coins via playing other peoples games and using shared assets, in effect creating a “social community” of “Bloxelers”. Again your class can create without an account, but you will have to keep track of devices if they are being shared.

My only gripe is the number of cubes in the additional packs of cubes is very small. The  basic box ships with 250 cubes. The additional packs are 8 x 15 cubes which isn’t enough to spread across the additional 4 boards in the 5 pack.

As a version 1.1.2 app this is a great start. It does need some fine tuning and the workflow at times can be a little daunting. There are no real instructions although there are some good Vimeo tutorial clips. I managed to create games with Y3. Like wise, Y6 digital leaders really caught the character animation bug and were very creative.

 

Google Apps on the iPad

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See the original here I couldn’t embed it for some reason!

I do like the collaborative elements of Google Apps for Education (GAFE). They are easy for teachers to adopt and embed in the classroom. I also like the small footprint compared to the Apple equivalents. The downside is from a designer point of view, it can be a challenge to make content look good. Keynote, whilst weighing in at over 600MB does offer an engaging outcome and a fun creative process.

The reason for using GAFE is the ease of Google Classroom for tracking student’s work and collaboration. Apple are a long way behind in this respect.

I also expected  GAFE to be a pain on the shared iPad ( no pun intended). Not so. When a student logs into either Google Docs or Google drive the other GAFE are accessible. Logging out on one Google app, logs out all other Google apps.

So unlimited storage and great realtime collaboration makes this very very attractive, esp when combined with the more creative and engaging apps on the iPad.

 

Digital Confidence

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There are still a few places on my Digital Confidence course at the lovely St Silas Primary in Liverpool. Drop me a line if you or your colleagues would like a place. The course consists of  5x 2hour twilights designed to build skills and confidence in the classroom using the iPad. Most of the apps we are using are free. There will be on-going remote support between the sessions using iTunesU.

 

Seesaw – makes light work of so many classroom tech challenges

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Seesaw possibly the best iPad app in a long while….

Seesaw is free app and service. I’ve been using for about four weeks since it was mentioned to me by Mr Leach @Y5Florence Melly Primary school in Liverpool. It works like a simple class blog. It enables children to post their “in progress” work and final outcomes for teacher and peer feedback. The set up process is easy and quick. The class can access the space using a unique QR code or though a Google Apps for Education email address. The teacher and class use the same app. The teacher signs in and the children connect easily with the QR code. There is no need for passwords for the learners.

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When the QR code is read, the class have 6 options for adding content to Seesaw portfolio. They also have the “Open in” option from other apps. This simple approach makes light work of archiving work from class sets of iPads. There is even a simple drawing tool and note maker for writing and sharing written work.

What makes this really effective is the ability for the class to “like” and comment on each others work. A real audience is created so reflection and peer assessment can take place. Feedback can be in text comment or voice recorded format. The main window appears like a scrolling blog with the most recent work at the top. It has a Twitter and Facebook feel and so is appealing to many children.

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The children’s names can have simple avatars or their own selfie style photos. This is a teacher  decision. The visual icons help younger learners navigate. The teacher can also create folders for projects to be stored. For example there could be a Literacy, Maths and Science folders. The work can also be viewed in calendar view so we can see how a piece has developed over time.

The class Seesaw space is private. Only the teacher and class can see it. It is safe and a good place to start exploring digital citizenship and etiquette. Parents can be invited so they can see their own child’s work.

Whilst it is incredibly easy to use, it is sophisticated to the extent that individual post can be shared where appropriately on public school blogs. If you are a fan of publishing apps like Adobe Voice and the music app Auxy, the links from these apps will also paste with a link beautifully into Seesaw.

So where is the catch? The file sizes are limited to 50Mb and five minutes in length video/audio. There is no total storage limit. A teacher can have up to ten concurrent classes and archive them to create space for new ones. Seesaw state that they are committed to making this a free tool for teachers. There are paid versions for school-wide visibility and accessing data related to parental engagement.

If you need a free and easy to use digital portfolio tool look no further. This is really is an app that teachers will find helpful in and beyond the classroom.

The Reflector Student App

Back in the early days of screen mirroring, Reflector seemed to have the lead on Air Server. Reflector had screen recording in place well before Airserver and it just looked cooler!  The latter recently seems to be devoting its time to supporting the dark side (Windows). So three big cheers to Air Squirrels (the makers of Reflector) for moving things forward again.

So with the new Reflector 2 software, you have to buy it, it isn’t a free upgrade and install it on your Mac. The free Student Reflector app enables the teacher to broadcast their iPad to each of the student iPads in the classroom.

The students use the app to connect to your Reflector software.

So think of it as the reverse of the kids sharing their screens with you! You are mirroring onto their iPad screens.

The real value of this where the teacher has an expensive app and wants the content to appear on the student’s iPad. This could be useful where you don’t have a large LCD screen or projector, but also great for sharing content that the class could be screen grabbing for their own learning.

It’s an interesting shift and some would say against the grain of student centred learning, but there are times when the teacher needs to lead and take control!

Reflector has also introduced an app called Reflector Director. This allows the teacher to manage Airplay connections. It shows which iPads have connected and allows you to take control of when they mirror. It’s not an exact science in terms of connections, but that is down to Airplay itself. I’m really enjoying using Reflector, Reflector Director and will soon be trying the Reflector Student out with classes.

Note about the app being used here….

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The app that I am using here with Reflector is part of a new suite apps by Arloon. These apps combine Science and Maths content with great visuals and hands on Augmented Reality. They are pitched between primary and Keystage 3. I’ve only just started to explore them, but they do look good!

All Go with Summer App Updates for the New Term

10 App Surprises Awaiting Your Classes 

Over the summer, app developers are always busy adding new functions to many of the apps we use. Keeping up to speed with changes is a challenge. I’m sure most of us at some point have opened an app and suddenly everything has changed. So here’s a quick run down of some useful changes that have been made in popular apps over the summer.

1.Explain Everything is one of the “go to apps” for many teachers using iPads. The new version offers two interface options.  There is a simple user interface for younger learners/beginners which can be switched to the full and more complex interface. We think this will be helpful to many primary teachers and learners. The interface can be easily toggled between simple and standard in the settings section of the app. Exporting projects has also been simplified. This is now much easier with a single pane of options.

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2. Hopscotch has been a very popular app for teachers delivering computing and programming. Sounds have now been added to the app.  Sounds can now be programmed to play when objects collide or are touched, so it is very helpful for creating more exciting games. If you have created games with Hopscotch, you will probably have used some of the great Youtube tutorials shared by the lovely people at Hopscotch. The great news is that video tutorials are built into the app. We can play and stop and then rewind to catch the explanation as many times as we need, without leaving the app. This is a fantastic tool for budding game designers and programmers and it’s free!

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3. Showbie is a popular way of managing class projects. Over the summer, the developers  have added a much requested function to the Pro version, a grade/mark book. As with adding a comment, we can now add a grade, a percentage, a letter and these grades appear in the class list after the pupil’s name. Grades lists can be exported as CSV, HTML formats and can be emailed.

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4. Book Creator is one of the most popular education apps. It is such a flexible and easy way to capture learning using multimedia tools on the iPad. Designing engaging book covers though has been a challenge with the limited set of system fonts that Apple provides. Book Creator now has its own in app fonts.

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Designing and choosing fonts for a specific audience is now much easier. The word on the digital street is the Book Creator has more exciting updates to follow soon!

5. If you have been to an iPad training day, the Green Screen app was probably an app that was featured. Doink’s app has made the green screen process very easy and fun to manage in the classroom. Now we can resize the video tracks. This is very useful if you want to  look tiny in front of a volcano background. The app also offers the ability to paint and crop to mask objects in the video clip.

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6. Adobe Voice is popular for show and tell type activities. It now allows devices to remain logged in and we have more control over customisation of themes, fonts and colour schemes. To access these options we need to tap on customise theme.

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Once open, the Theme Lab (as Adobe calls it) enables us to change the background colour, the icon colour, the main and secondary text colours. There are 12 fonts choices as well.

7. Squeebles Spelling app has been a favourite but managing additional word lists has been until now, time consuming. The new version (a free upgrade) includes UK specific pre-recorded words. All are free to download! There is a limit though of seven devices to each Squeebles account, although it is possible to create more than one account.

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8. This change has been in the public domain for a while now but Scratch Jnr files can be shared not only by Airdrop but also by Showbie. This is great for gathering evidence. We can do this by tapping the page curl in the top right of the Scratch screen. Here we will be given the choice of sharing the project by email or by Airdrop. If we choose Airdrop we will also have the ‘open in’ option of other apps and Showbie will be one of these options.

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9. The developers of free and fabulous music app Auxy, have recently added the option to publish the track and share the url. There are no messy accounts that need to be created. The files are shared to Auxy’s server and can be linked to easily by QR codes.

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Students don’t have to supply any personal information, so their identities are safe. It’s worth pointing out that Auxy projects can also be opened in iMovie, so it is a great app for creating backing tracks for video projects.

10. There is now a fully fledged Padlet app (free) as opposed to creating your collaborative notes within Safari. It’s still very early days for this app, but the ‘copy the embed code’ option is really helpful for use with the class blog.

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Of course, we all have iOS 9 to look forward to in the next few weeks, just after we’ve set everything up in the holidays!  Change is constant when it comes to working with technology!

8 iPads sold – after 3 years – Interesting Return on investment

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It’s hard to imagine using technology for 3 years and then being able to sell it for more than 50% of its original value. I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be the case with other brands. So this isn’t the end of the 8 the iPads way, I’ve just upgraded to new and faster iPads. The Apple app like Keynote and Pages are very sluggish on older iPads. There may well be a new product launch in the next few weeks, but I need to be up and running for this week! If schools can trade in older iPads for new ones it would make sense to do it asap as the next wave of products will mean the second-hand market value of current kit will drop again.