Yakit, Hack it

by @chocolateteacher

I love Yakit kids. All the apps in which one can manipulate pictures tend to make me smile. It seems I’m easily assumed.  Yakit kids can be applied to many aspects of your classroom besides the obvious ones.  This app can tilt the “Dopeness” scale positively and it’s really easy to use.  Even my kindergarten friends on my day job can manipulative it pretty adroitly.

A Portrait of a Student as a Strange Man (or Woman)

I was never a great artist.  Try as I might, my dream of being Van Gogh took a rather large tumble quite early in life.  I still love to doodle and draw however.  If you want to integrate a bit of art into your classroom duirng your literacy block, you might do this…

1. Have students choose a character from a story that you’re reading.  It could be independent reading or a story everyone is enjoying.

2. Give out some construction paper or printer paper and ask students to choose a scenario that the character finds herselfr or himself in.  They should be mindful of the setting, the character’s attitude, and actions during the scenario.

3.  Have the students draw the character by beginning with a large circle (or another shape) as the head.  DO NOT HAVE STUDENT ADD EYES, EYEBROWS, LIPS, OR A NOSE.

4. Add a rendition of the setting that the character finds herself or himself in the background.

5.  Open the Yakit App on your iDevice and click on the camera to take a picture of the newly drawn artistic work.

6.  Have students add whatever flourishes they’d like, including the eyes, nose, mouth, etc., and then record themselves as if they are the character.

7.  Finished products can be shared by text message, AirDrop, Cloud Storage, or with an app like WeTransfer rather easily.

Tutorials

Now, this one takes a little more imagination.  Apps like Doceri, Educreations, Showme are far easier apps to pull tutorials off. They’re not half as much fun to use as Tellagami or Yakit kids because you can add an avatar or speaking image and you have to use a little ingenuity.

One way you might use Yakit kids to have students do tutorials, say in math, is the following.

1. Have students write a math problem down on something.  I’d use a white board personally, but you could just use a sheet of paper. Then take a picture of the white board from within the Yakit kids app.

2. Have students script how the problem would be solved.  Using storyboarding here would be awesome.

3. Armed with a script, pull in one of the characters into the scene in Yakit kids.  Have students record the first part of script/storyboard, then immediately stop as soon as they are done.

4. Press “Add a Scene” and change your math problem to fit the criteria necessary for the next part of the script/storyboard.

5. Add the new picture and continue the same process until the problem is explained.

*The only issue with this functionality is that there is a limit amount of recording time. 

You can just keep it Basic

So if you want to be basic, just use Yakit to take a selfie and make it run it’s mouth.  This is great for any subject area.  Also, you can just bring in any picture of any figure from historical period and then make him or her bend to your will.  To avoid complications with copyrights, one might acquire pictures from a site like Photos for Class so citations will be made for you.

The Final Frontier: A Kinder, Friendlier American History

by @chocolateteacher

Heroes?  We don't need no stinkin' heroes.

Heroes? We don’t need no stinkin’ heroes.

Always on the look out for new apps and fun games to play,  I happened upon an app called “Frontier Heroes,” from A&E which depicts a pretty interesting version of American history.  The app is divided into 6 eras- Early America, The Colonies, American Revolution, The Frontier, California Gold Rush, and the Land of the Free.  I was quite excited to play the game. Each era is full of games depicting “life” during that era and DYKs (Did you Knows) that inform the player about life during the era. I thought this was a tool that would be great instructionally.  I was both very wrong and very right.

Early America (1600)

Them Natives?  They're all the same...

Them Natives? They’re all the same…

Nothing really exciting here. You shoot a bow and arrow and bang a drum.  Again, nothing really mind blowing. The remarkable thing about this is that in the DYKs Native Americans are lumped together, despite there being 566 Federally recognized tribes currently.  It’s great to lump people together, but then again, it’s not.

The Colonies (1607-1755)

Colonists?  Oh, they survived all by their lonesome.

Colonists? Oh, they survived all by their lonesome.

Early America only lasts seven years. (Who knew?) The colonists come into the picture with no mention of what has happened to the Native Americans.  The activities one engages in never even allude to the very real reliance of the original colonists on the Native tribes.  The only mention of “Native American” is that the main food in the Pilgrim’s diet was ‘Indian corn.’

American Revolution (1765-1783)

The American Revolution...a  enterprise devoid of diversity.

The American Revolution…a enterprise devoid of diversity.

So, it’s 1765.  Estevanico has been dead for 200 years now.  But in the world of the “Frontier”… there ain’t no sign of Negroes.  None. Oh, except the Affirmative Action blackish face that one encounters in an anachronistic rendition of Yankee Doodle Dandy.  By 1640, there were Africans on what is now the continental United States, yet they are conspicuously absent from any point of game play in this era.

There were black spies during the American Revolution. There were female spies during the American Revolution and women were integral to the success of the war. There were black slaves during the American Revolution.  There were blacks that fought for the British during the American Revolution.  Heck the first dude to die for “American Freedom” was a black dude, but…you wouldn’t know that if you used the app.

The Frontier (1800-1848)

Manifest Destiny is ALIVE!

Manifest Destiny is ALIVE!

Home on the range and…still no sign of the Native Americans, who by this point are being forced off their ancestral lands or killed.  There is a red face dude that looks severely sunburned who might (maybe) be a white guy in red face when one simulates the Pony Express.  No mention of Spanish missions. The only people involved in Manifest Destiny were white dudes.  True story.

California Gold Rush (1848-1865)

 

What? Who what have thought the Gold Rush was more important than the Civil War?

What? Who what have thought the Gold Rush was more important than the Civil War?

Different era…same song.  It is interesting that this era encompasses the years of the Civil War.  No Abe Lincoln.  No Jeff Davis.  No Frederick Douglass.  No Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Just toothless miners. Totally glossing over the war that freed the slaves?  Kinda inexcusable.

 

Land of the Free

I left this one undone because obviously, the brothers were still in chains.

I left this one undone because obviously, the brothers were still in chains.

The Land of the Free being locked is a metaphor for this entire game.  One cannot arrive at the reasons why our country now has a level of freedom for all those that reach it’s shore through the game play of the app. It would seem to reinforce the fact that white men are the only people that have and will make history here…and that’s a real shame.

QR Codes and Watch Dogs

Watch Dogs is a video game that reminds me of some of the early 90s movies I grew up with, like The Net and Hackers.  Cinema of this kind played on fears of the unknown, underground, darker side of technology that often involved making use of back doors hidden in systems, uncovering some vast illegal plot that a group of seemingly ne’er do well-type individuals were the only chance of thwarting.  Watch Dogs takes that idea on a sandbox-style ride, sadly rife with stereotypes and predictable tropes in the form of the main playable character being an angsty white male.

 

Character qualms aside, this video game has a really interesting feature that serves as a side activity that can fill in some pieces of the storyline.  You are charged with tracking down QR codes, scanning them and then listening to the audio files as pieces to a puzzle in the storyline.  It’s not as simple as hunting down the QR codes and taking a snapshot with your cell phone.  In Watch Dogs, you have to be standing in a very specific place to image the QR code, otherwise part of it is obstructed.

 

The hunt begins!

The hunt begins!

This is one of the QR codes that can clearly only be scanned from the right position on a nearby rooftop.

This is one of the QR codes that can clearly only be scanned from the right position on a nearby rooftop.

Once in the right position, you can look at the QR code straight on and take a snapshot of it with the camera on your cell phone.

Once in the right position, you can look at the QR code straight on and take a snapshot of it with the camera on your cell phone.

QR codes, if you aren’t familiar, are a fantastic way to condense a whole lot of information into a tiny pixelated label. You will see these on product packing, shipments, price labels; they are incredibly helpful for a variety of industries. Naturally, these codes have some excellent applications for education. If space is limited with whatever students are producing or you need a link to provide more information, it’s QR codes to the rescue.

Here’s a short list of ideas I find to be very effective at harnessing the power of QR codes:

  • Put in the library, when scanned they open a student-made audio or video review of the book in hand.
  • Attached to dioramas, art projects, or any other physical creations, they link to an online report, a journal, or some additional information generated by the student to describe the item in more detail.
  • Added to a poster board with limited space, they can easily double the content of a presentation by linking to a Prezi, PowerPoint or some other digital tool.

The list above is mainly for students to make use of, but what if teachers want to find a place for QR codes in their own assignments?

It’s completely doable and the main reason I connect it to a video game such as Watch Dogs. In the game you are required to hunt around for the perfect location to capture all of the pixels in the QR code, otherwise the link to the audio file will not activate. It sounds like a perfect treasure-hunting type activity for some kinesthetic learning in the classroom. Print oversized versions of the codes so that they can be broken into pieces that either have to be assembled or can only be scanned from certain positions in the room. In this way, half the fun is figuring out the correct positioning before you can even get to the reward of what’s behind the QR code itself.

RPGs For PBL

by @davidatpcs

Let’s talk about role playing games for a moment.  RPGs, as they are more affectionately known by their acronym, are a combination of imagination, acting, storytelling, and math.  Different players emphasize and concentrate on different aspects of RPGs, but the concept lends itself to a limitless number of universes and stories.

The staple equipment for any RPG.

 

Why, oh why, do I not see this happening in the classroom?  I think that some of the social stigma attached to a hobby like playing pen and paper RPGs is one factor.  Another is surely the logistics of organizing an activity that may seem very daunting to the average teacher who may not be familiar with RPGs.  I’m here to tell you that RPGs lend themselves fantastically to another acronym: PBL.  PBL, or project based learning, focuses on long term lessons that may span days, weeks, or months.  These are the kinds of projects that have a timetable, many successive steps to reach an end goal, and often encourage collaboration from classmates and other classrooms.  All three of these characteristics sound exactly like elements of your typical role playing game.  The beauty of RPGs is that you are welcome to make them as complicated or as simple as you like.  Yes, there are rulebooks galore if you’re into that sort of thing, but there are also a wide variety of games that concentrate far more on the storytelling and imagination aspects, with little reliance on hard and fast rules to adhere to.

RPGs don't have to be intimidating or ridiculous.

 

Creativity, storytelling, progressing towards a goal, and imagination all sound like qualities that teachers would do well to foster in any English, Social Studies, or History classroom project.  Think about these example scenarios that would make for ideal settings in PBL RPGs:

 

  1. World War II, Poland.  The German tanks can be heard rumbling closer and closer, coming directly towards your home.  You’re not trained for war and your sleepy town consists of only farmers and day laborers.  What do you do?
  2. Maya Civilization, Yucatan Peninsula.  Rain hasn’t fallen in weeks.  The high priest is demanding a sacrifice.  Will you follow his wishes or try and find an alternative solution that doesn’t involve killing an individual?
  3. You are actually living through Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, as it happens.  You already know how the ‘story’ ends.  Can you manipulate the outcome and stop the tragedy from occurring or is fate too stubborn to bend to your will?

 

All of these scenarios and more can be played out with as many ‘rules’ as you want to create or with none at all.  Students can be the great drivers – crowd source a list of edicts that govern how students are allowed to behave as characters.  Students then vote on the top five or ten that they feel are the most fair and appropriate.  In this way, everyone is rewarded for participating, playing in character, and thinking about how the rules steer the direction of the game and relate to the material studied in class.

It's the story and camaraderie that makes the game.

 

Students are empowered to use imagination and creativity during character creation and storytelling.  They use their knowledge of World War II, Mayan civilization or Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to insert a personality and description that would feel right at home in that setting, with the individual student’s personal flair.  One particularly knowledgeable student can act as the main storyteller (Game Master or Dungeon Master, to use the RPG vernacular) or a teacher can craft and guide the story for students.  Alternatively, small groups can each have the same scenario to play out in whatever way they choose, making for a fantastic compare and contrast debriefing activity after all is said and done.


To sum up, role playing games can be anything you make of them.  They can be alternative histories played out to the entertainment of the audience.  They can be vast unexplored universes with untold landscapes.  They can be the seemingly most mundane day of your entire existence, with a fantastical twist.  The limitless possibilities of RPGs make for an unrivaled immersive experience for students.  They have all the makings of one of those moments where the students exclaim, “I can’t believe I was doing this and learning the whole time!