Necessity is … “Making”

A couple of years ago I was working with a teacher doing some audio recording using iPads. The students were creating book trailers to sell their favourite books and were they ever focused in trying to describe their chosen books without really giving anything away. What transpired were constant redo’s as they reviewed their Tellagami‘s (avatar app) to get better and better at their speeches. No long boring talks either as recordings could only be maximum 90 seconds.  No one was told they had to redo but as they watched their own videos, a few, then more and more decided the end result wasn’t good enough YET. So off they went to practice and redo and redo. What unfolded was spontaneous self reflection, ownership and oh so “core competencies” in action when that wasn’t even a term.

Since then, I’ve wondered how to get those recordings without the ‘hub-bub’ of background noise – a difficult one as there really isn’t any place that students can go that is truly quiet in a school. (And no, I don’t own a hammer so anytime I think of these wild creations I go and borrow from neighbours.) In my world the simpler the concoction, the easier it will fly so scrounging I went – starting with a plain box and a bunch of foam found in the recyling bins (this is when I’m super glad that I work in the same building as IT – so much treasure in their junk boxes). Result? A portable sound booth! Testing and re-testing found that students didn’t have to crawl in to get the effect. As long as the ipad was surrounded by some sort of insulation it appeared to work. (A hint if you decide to try this – hot gluing the foam pieces on the box helps to keep things in place.)

Fast forward to now –> This year we launched the redesigned curriculum – Applied Design, Skills and Technology (ADST). The K-5 curricula focuses on the act of design and thinking (what I would like to offer as “make, test and remake and enjoy”. These skills are the core foundation of all later work in technologies. My foray into having a real world problem (how to get rid of background noise) readily connects to ADST. In those terms:

  • “ideate” – come up with an idea and try it
  • “prototype” – make a creation and test it out; assess my results and redo it
  • share – tell and share 
  • sit back and be proud of the results. And imagine what’s next… wondering if egg cartons will work??

This process takes a lot of practice to move towards developing a mindset of making, critical problem solving, creative thinking, perseverance and resilience (especially when things don’t go well).  What are you doing in your classes that connect to ADST? You might have to just identify those processes with language. 

We’d love to hear from you – drop us a comment. We need your stories. 

Updated Top 20 Apps for 2017

Finally rounding off our list of vetted “must have” TOP 20 APPS for 2017. While these are in no order, the apps can be categorized into two areas – student voice/design/creativity and productivity. Stay tuned for future posts on how you might use some of these apps. 

 Design –*Communication, Creative Competencies app_piccollagekids


 Pic Collage Kids (elementary), Pic Collage (secondary) (free) – Bring creative options to the forefront by layering your images with a variety of tools (draw, highlight, add multiple layers and stickers) to extend your story. Consider using this for Literature Circles or defending your research thesis.
 Productivity tool – workflow  app_documents  Documents (free) – My “can’t do without” app for downloading and saving music clips or other files for import to other apps. Now you know my secret for expanding multimedia options. Tell your story with umph! 
  Audio/Visual -*Communication Competencies app_telestory  Tellestory (free) – video creation using the augmented reality camera. Use the themes or choose your own to write and record your story. Sing in a band, report the news, float in outer space, add special effects and costumes. The app has face tracking to offset the costumes. Save to camera library and share. 
 Applied Design – 
*Communication, Critical, Creative Competencies
app_scratchjr  Scratch Junior (free) – Inspired by MIT’s Scratch, learn how to program an interactive story or game to solve problems or design projects. This is using coding to learn communication skills. Use the graphical programming blocks to snap together to make characters move.  
 Productivity tool – workflow  app_splice  Splice (free) – Video editor that adds pizzazz to your videos. Use to trim, adjust transitions, add slow motion effects to create the ultimate story.
  Design – 
*Personal, Creative Competencies
app_weemoji  WeeMoji ($3.99) – Create an avatar to personalize your story, your web presence or your presentations. Many options to bring your essence and bling to projects. Extend by adding voice. Elementary safe (for Secondary try Bitmoji). 
 Productivity – 
*Communication, Personal Competencies
 app_mstranslator  Microsoft Translator (free) – We have many students from many countries. Communication is challenging when there is no one in the room to translate. Translate text or speech (whew!) into other languages. Think of real-time conversation on the device or across devices. Best with single sentences.
 Audio –*Communication Competencies app_voicerecordpro  Voice Record Pro (free) – Professional voice recorder that uses visual feedback to show how loud your voice is recording. Possibilities for use might include supporting reading fluency,  self-assessment, speeches, radio show or embed in other videos. Save in standard formats. 
 Audio/Visual –*Communication Competencies app_chatterpix_kid  ChatterPix Kid (free) – Take a photo, draw a line to represent a mouth and record your voice. Teach a lesson, share a story,  sing a song, do a rap. You’re only limited by your imagination. Share it on your class blogs. Stitch a few videos together to make a longer video. Or keep to “shorts”. There’s something to be said for brevity (30 seconds or less).
  Audio/Visual –*Communication Competencies app_tellegamiedu  Tellagami-Edu ($6.99) – Create a custom avatar to share your story, lesson or learning. Includes backgrounds, draw your own or take a background picture. Products can be saved to the camera library. Great for oral language development and speeches, explaining processes (records up to 90 seconds). No in-app purchases needed. There is a free version that saves 30-second videos. (*Hint: use other apps to stitch the ‘shorts’ together.)
 Image Editor – *Communication, Creative Competencies  PicMonkey Photo Editing Effects ($2.79) – Our favourite web tool is now an app! Use it to resize your images before uploading, and edit using a range of effects. Personalize any image and use in your presentations, photo albums, eportfolios, posters, infographics. 
 Design/Draw –*Communication, Creative Competencies app_drawingpad  Drawing Pad ($2.79) – Everyone needs an art/sketch app to give possibility to your creative self. Use photo-realistic crayons, markers, paint brushes, coloured pencils, stickers, roller pens. An entire box of tools is at your finger tips. Products are saved in the camera library for export or upload. Use to enhance artistic voice, upload to eportfolios or blogs, presentations or smash with other apps like ChatterPix, Pic Collage Kid and WeeMoji.
 Design/Draw –*Communication, Creative Competencies app_paper   Paper by FiftyThree (free) – Sketch notes are all the rage now. This app gives freedom to design, take notes, create diagrams in detail. A stylus pen is helpful but not necessary. More complex than Drawing Pad. 
 Video –  *Communication, Creative Competencies adobesparkapp   Adobe Spark Video (free) – Create stunning videos with voice, music and images. Add cinematographic motion and share your product. Saves to camera library for easy export. As if this wasn’t enough, use this to illustrate ‘work flow’ in organization. *Requires a login account.
 Design/Video –  *Communication, Creative, Thinking Competencies app_greenscreen  Green Screen by Do Ink ($3.99) – Use any green coloured background and turn it into your own TV studio. Tell a story, teach an  idea, share your research, be a newscaster and include an interactive weather map or video behind you. Consider how this might access oral speech, critical thinking, sequencing, design, dramatic skills.
 Design/Video –  *Communication, Creative, Thinking Competencies app_explaineverything  Explain Everything 3.0 ($5.49) – “They know when they can teach it.” Communicate learning by screencasting and using an interactive whiteboard to annotate,  teach, narrate and animate. New feature – collaboration! Incorporate products from other apps. Export to/from anywhere, making this app incredibly flexible. 
 Design –  *Communication, Creative, Thinking, Personal Competencies app_bookcreator   Book Creator ($6.99) – Create stunning ebooks that can be saved, uploaded, or saved as pdf.  Incorporate images, video, audio, music, text. Import your ChatterPix, Tellagami, or Explain Everything files. Turn the pages like a book and see the magic unfold before you. A great tool for a portfolio presentation.
 Productivity tool – workflow app_compressor  Compressor (free) – While using the video camera on an iPad is great, what happens if you want to upload the results to a blog, eportfolio or other web presence? iPads are notorious for huge file sizes. This app compresses a video file size using a target slider – what could be easier? Saves to camera library ready for you to upload to any other site. 
 Video Editor – *Communication, Creative Competencies videoslimmer_ap  Video Slimmer ($3.99) – While there are many in this category, this one is worth the price if you use video a lot and would like to upload the results to a web presence (eg. from camera, iMovie, Adobe Spark, Book Creator …). Shrinks video files while keeping the quality. Simple editing tools include trim, merge multiple videos, rotate, and customise. Saves to camera library. 
Productivity plus –  *Communication, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Personal Competencies  app_googledrive   Google Drive (free) – Still at the top of our “go to” list. This suite of tools include Docs, Slides, Drawing, Forms, Sheets allowing for writing, collaboration with teams any time, anywhere, commenting in real-time (*think formative assessment), an accurate speech-to-text synthesizer (imagine having those words magically appear on the page as you speak). The app version has word prediction. Contact your Learning Technologies team for more information. The educational suite is G Suite. (*To apply for a GSuite account > click FORMS. We do the rest to set up your classes. An authentic place to practice digital citizenship and collaborative communication!) 

We’d love to hear about your “Must Have” list. Drop an idea in the comment box. 

Assistive Software and More

There are a number of assistive software or add-ons that may support students with access to learning. Much like i-device apps, this area is constantly changing. A great start is to “know your purpose” when considering the following. (If you need support with these, please contact our Learning Technologies team.) 


  • EASE of ACCESS: This group of tools offers word prediction (on-screen keyboard), magnifier (for vision support)… Click here for instructions (*Note: different ways to gain access for teacher or student).
  • Word Talk on MSWord:  Text-to-Speech toolbar is part of computer images (click on the tab, ADD-INS). This toolbar provides reading as well as a simple word prediction dictionary.


  • Kidspiration, Inspiration, and Inspiration French (graphic organizer to writing):  While this is technically not assistive software, it does have several options that are helpful for written output: graphic organizer with built-in library of images, sound recorder to support memory or as an audio file embedded within the graphic organizer, conversion to outline view to aid in writing. This provides a seamless process from ideas generation to written output.  All SD41 teachers can have a personal full copy of the software for home use. (See our FORMS page for information on TAKE-HOME software.)
  • Kurzweil 3000 (for purchase): This software is the cadillac of assistive softwares. It will read almost any digital information (print, electronic, pdf or the Web) in clear, synthetic speech, while a dual highlighting feature adds visual reinforcement.  This provides a digital means of engaging with text and supports those students who require alternative methods for accessing, writing and recording information. Click here for more information.
  • Add language keyboards to Win7 devices – access other languages through added keyboards. Click here for instructions.


  • SpeakIt:  Google Chrome extension that provides text-to-speech for web content. Has a range of voices and languages to choose. Options are available for speaking rate and pitch. This is a good one.
  • ClaroSpeak: Google Chrome extension is a simple text-to-speech reader with word prediction, editing, proofing and speaking dictionary. There is also a more powerful paid app for ipads.
  • Speech Recognition: Google Chrome extension offers speech-to-text (in multiple languages) for Google Docs.
  • Grammarly: Checks spelling and grammar as you type. This is a Chrome extension for teachers and students. Click on link to see more.
  • Easy Bib toolbar: cites websites with a click. Chrome extension 


  • Rewordify: This is a site that I’ve written about before and worth repeating. (Click here for previous post) Any text can be pasted into the box and it will return a simplified version – very quickly I might add. One of the options deserves highlighting. Retaining the original word within the text, while offering a simpler form provides two things: increase of comprehension and increase of vocabulary. Sitting side by side, relationships between the difficult term and easier one is visually connected. As well, the integrated dictionary allows access to almost all of the words in the selection. Finally, the content can be printed and stored.
  • Google Drive: This suite of online software includes G-Docs, G-Sheets, G-Forms, G-Drawing, G-Presentation. G-Docs supports speech-to-text called Voice Typing. Turning it on allows the writer the option of using voice – a good option for any class especially when speaking is faster than keyboarding skills. (*Note: if you are interested in a class account [G-Suite for Education], please apply under FORMS.) 
    • Text Help Study Skills: Provides highlighters for note-taking or reading supports (used in G-Docs) 
    • Thesaurus Pro: offers suggestions for additional words to increase vocabulary (used in G-Docs)  


  • iWordQ-CA ($28.99): This is an ipad app that mimics a simple version (in Canadian) of what you would expect from Kurzweil. In writing mode, text editor includes word prediction, spell checker, dictionary and speech recognition. In reading mode, text-to-speech offers proofing and reading options.
  • Google Drive: This suite of online software includes G-Docs, G-Sheets, G-Forms, G-Drawing, G-Presentation. This version allows “word prediction” automatically when your keyboard is accessed. (*Note: if you are interested in a class account [G-Suite for Education], please apply under FORMS.)