Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Making Your Educational Games Look Good With TinyTap

Last week I introduced you to the basics of creating your own educational games with TinyTap’s web-based educational game creation tool. In case you missed it, in that post I outlined how you can create an educational game in which students hear you reading questions aloud and then have to identify objects on the screen. This week we’re going to dive into more of TinyTap’s educational game creation tools including how to use some great drawing and design tools.

One of the things that I look for in any creation tool is the ability to help me, a person who doesn’t have an eye for design, make things that do look good. That’s why I use Canva for presentation design and why I like TinyTap’s Creation Packs and other integrated design tools for making educational games.

Styles and Layouts
When you start the process of creating an educational game with TinyTap you can apply any of the many premade styles and layouts to your game. You can apply these styles and layouts to the whole game or to just one scene within your game. You can even mix and match styles and layouts throughout the game.

Some of the many styles that you’ll find in TinyTap include solid color backgrounds, backgrounds that have gradients and patterns, and frames that you can apply to the background of your game. These are great for matching the look and feel of your game to the content of your game. For example, if I was creating a geography game I would probably pick one of the styles that includes a map in the background.

After selecting a style for your game or section of your game you can then choose a layout for your game or section of it. The default is a blank layout and there are dozens of different layouts that you can choose to use to replace the default layout. Some of those layout options are columns of different widths and frequency (two columns, three columns), grids of different sizes, and grids with circles in place of traditional box shapes. You can mix and match layouts throughout your game.

By using a variety of layout options you can create a game that gets progressively more challenging for players. In the case of building my geography game I might start with a slide that has a grid of four boxes for matching flags to the capitals of the countries they represent. Then as the game progresses I might use a layout that has a grid of six boxes to match flags, capitals, and regions of the world.
Images and Animations
The visuals are a critical component of any good educational game. TinyTap provides easy ways to add visuals to the educational games that you design.

One easy option for adding visuals to your TinyTap game is to upload an image that you have stored on your computer. This could be a photograph, drawing, or animated GIF that you created or one that you have the rights to use. Once you’ve uploaded an image you can resize it by simply clicking and dragging the edges of it. Likewise, you can reposition the image by clicking and dragging it on your screen. There are a few image editing tools available as well. You can use those to remove whitespace and to flip the orientation of your uploaded images.

Using your own images in TinyTap is a good way to create a game in which students learn about their school building, school personnel, or the neighborhood around the school. You could upload images of school personnel to create a game in which elementary school students practice identifying the principal, secretary, guidance counselor, librarian, and nurse.

TinyTap offers an integrated image, drawing, and animation search tool. Through this search tool you can locate royalty-free images, drawings, and animations to use in your games. Simply enter a search term then choose whether you want to find photographs, clip art, line art, or animations. When you find something you like, just click on it to add it to the game scene you’re working on.

Just like with uploaded images, you can use the editing tools with images you find through TinyTap’s integrated image, drawing, and animation search. And one of my favorite parts of the integrated search is that you can specify that you only want background-free images so that you don’t have to worry about images that have distracting backgrounds or that simply don’t match with the general aesthetic of your game.

The integrated search option in TinyTap is useful for creating games about things that you might have a hard time drawing or photographing yourself. Games about animal tracks come to mind when thinking about making a game about things that are difficult to draw well or photograph.
Creation Packs
If you need some inspiration for a game or you went through the image search process above and didn’t find exactly what you were looking for, take a look at the Creation Packs in TinyTap.

Creation Packs are found in the same place as the styles and layouts in TinyTap’s game editor. Creation Packs feature thematically organized premade game styles and artwork to use in your games. Some of the many Creation Packs that you’ll find include “Back to School,” “Feelings,” and “Seasons.” You’ll also find Creation Packs that contain sets of animated icons, animated diagrams, cartoon faces, and cartoon animals. Harkening back to my days of teaching geography, I’m a big fan of the “Flags of the World” Creation Pack. Finally, if there’s a holiday coming up that you’d like to build a game about, there are Creation Packs that can help you do that. I might use the Halloween Creation Pack to build a game about Trick o’ Treating safety for my kids to play next fall.

It’s important to note that you can use all or just some of the elements from a Creation Pack in TinyTap. Furthermore, you can mix and match elements from multiple Creation Packs into one game. In other words, it’s possible to pick a couple of the flags from the “Flags of the World” Creation Pack and use them with content from the “Travel Puzzle” Creation Pack to create a game in which students match the flag to the corresponding country on a map.
Make Your Text Stand Out
As you might expect, TinyTap includes some text editing tools for you to use on every element of the games that you create. The text editing tools solve two problems for me. First, they allow me to create a game in which my students don’t have to rely on audio prompts. Second, the text editing tools let me create text that is easy to see. By using the text editing tools in TinyTap I can adjust the color, size, style, and placement of my text until I’m certain that it’s easy to see and read when students play my game.

See all of these game design tools in action!
I made a video to provide an overview of all of the game design tools mentioned in this blog post. You can watch the video right here. Or if you’re like me and the best way to learn is to just dive in and try things, you can do so by creating a free TinyTap account right here.

Disclosure: TinyTap is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

50 Tech Tech Tuesday Tips - And a Free Webinar

At the end of 2021 I released a new ebook for tech coaches, media specialists, and anyone else who is responsible for delivering short professional development sessions in their schools. The ebook is called 50 Tech Tuesday Tips. It was curated from more than 400 editions of The Practical Ed Tech Newsletter

On January 31st at 4pm ET I'm going to host a webinar just for those who have purchased a copy of 50 Tech Tuesday Tips. If you've already purchased a copy, thank you! You'll be getting an email with webinar information later today. If you haven't yet purchased a copy, get one by January 30th and you'll be able to join us. 

In the webinar, A Framework for Technology Integration, I'll share my framework for helping teachers use technology in meaningful ways in their classrooms. I'll also provide some examples of how I've done it in the past and how you can replicate them in your school.  

About the eBook:

50 Tech Tuesday Tips provides you with ideas for lots of helpful things that you can teach to your colleagues and to students. Throughout the eBook you'll find tutorials and handouts that you can pass along in your school. 

Some of the many things you'll find in 50 Tech Tuesday Tips include:

  • What to do when a web app isn't working as you expect.
  • Building your own search engine.
  • How to create green screen videos.
  • Improving instructional videos. 
  • Streamlining email management.
  • Creating educational games. 
  • DIY app creation.
  • Podcasting tips for teachers and students. 

Get your copy of 50 Tech Tuesday Tips right here!

No, this ebook isn't free but the tools that feature within it is free to use. Creating something like this takes many, many hours but reading it can save you many, many hours. Purchases of 50 Tech Tuesday Tips make it possible for me to create other free resources like The Practical Ed Tech Handbook that I update and give away to thousands of teachers every year.

Monday, January 17, 2022

A Couple of Good Places to Find Science Activities for School or Home

While standing around watching my daughters' ski lesson on Sunday I ended up chatting with another parent. The conversation inevitably turned to "what do you do?" When she found out what I do she excited, and with a tinge of relief, asked if I had any suggestions for science activities she can do at home with her elementary school age students. My immediate suggestions were to take a look at Exploratorium's Science Snacks and Microsoft's Hacking STEM. 

Exploratorium's Science Snacks website has dozens and dozens of hands-on science and engineering projects for students of all ages. There is a subsection of the site called Family-Friendly Snacks that offers activities specifically designed for parents to do at home with their kids. The vast majority of the projects can be done with common household items. And in response to the COVID-19 outbreak Exploratorium has a selection of activities and videos about viruses.

Hacking STEM is a Microsoft website that offers a couple dozen hands-on science and engineering lessons. The activities are a mix of things that students can probably do on their own and some that probably can't be done without the supervision of a teacher or parent with working knowledge of the concept(s) being taught. For example, the mini solar house project that I've done with ninth grade students was done safely without my direct supervision (I removed the hot glue gun component and had them use tape). But the "party lights" activity on the same page is not something I'd have students do on their own without direct supervision. 

Five Uses for QR Codes in School Settings

Over the weekend I shared a neat QR code generator called QRToon that lets you create a QR code that includes a cartoon version of yourself in it. Writing that post got me thinking about how far QR codes have come since I first saw them while working for Roadway Package Systems (now called FedEx Ground) in the late 90's. As a package handler and later as a dock coordinator, I hated QR codes because the tiniest smudge and made the code nearly impossible to scan with the big, clunky scanners we had. And generating the QR code labels seemed to take forever. Fast-forward a quarter century and QR codes are easy to make and easy to scan on mobile phones. 

Five Uses for QR Codes in School Settings
Now that QR codes are easy to make and easy to scan with mobile phones and tablets, they can be helpful in accomplishing a lot of things in school settings. Here's a short list of ways to consider using QR codes in your school. 
  • Share sign-in/sign-out sheets via QR code. If you're using Google Forms or Microsoft Forms to maintain sign-in/sign-out sheets, post a QR code on the wall of the room to be signed into or out of to make it easy for students or colleagues to access those forms. Here's a demonstration of using QR Code Monkey for that purpose. 

  • Share links to important and frequently updated webpages like the school lunch menu. Last year the daily lunch menu was plastered all over my school in the form of a QR code that students could scan to get the day's menu and place orders in advance. One of the easiest ways to make a QR code for that purpose is to use the QR code generator that is built into Google Chrome. Here's a demo how that works

  • Create QR codes to access voice messages. With the Mote Chrome extension installed you can simply click the Mote icon to record voice notes. When you're done speaking simply click the share button and you'll have an option to view and download a QR code. Anyone who scans your QR code will be able to listen to your voice recording. Watch this short video to learn how you can share voice notes via Mote QR codes.  

  • QR codes can be useful for distributing important contact information to parents and students. QR Code Monkey lets you not only create QR codes for URLs, but also create QR codes to distribute contact information like phone numbers and email addresses. 

  • I forget which school I that I first saw it in, but a handful of years ago I visited a school library in which there was a selection of books that had QR codes inside the dust jacket. The QR codes linked to book trailer videos that students had made about those books. 

How to Make QR Codes
I've linked to a few tutorials above. I'm also listing them below for easier access.

Create QR Codes With QR Code Monkey

Create QR Codes With QRToon

Create QR Codes With Google Chrome

Sunday, January 16, 2022

QRToon - Cartoons in Your QR Codes

QR codes are handy for making long URLs easy to access on mobile devices. Last year I used QR codes to make my classroom sign-in/sign-out forms easy for students to access on their phones. I typically use either QRCode Monkey or the QR code generator built into Chrome. Recently, I discovered another neat QR code generator called QRToon

Like all QR code generators, QRToon will create a QR code for any URL that you specify. The difference between QRToon and other QR code creators that you might have tried is that QRToon will let you upload a picture to use in your QR code. That picture is then turned into a cartoon version. The QR code in this post includes a cartoon version of a headshot of myself that I uploaded to QRToon. 

Using QRToon is easy and it does not require registration. Simply head to the site, enter the URL that you want to turn into a QR code, and then upload a picture. QRToon will generate the QR code with your cartoonized portrait in it. You can download your QR code as PNG file to print and use wherever you like. 

It's worth noting that QRToon will only work with pictures that have just one human face in them. It didn't work when I tried to use it with pictures that had me and my kids in it. It also didn't work when I tried to use pictures of my dogs and cats.

Applications for Education
Does the world need another QR code generator? Probably not. Is it nice to have a personalized QR code that includes your likeness? Sure. The utility of QRToon is probably in just being able to personalize your QR codes to include your likeness in them for your students to recognize.

By the way, the QR code in this post will direct you to my eBook, 50 Tech Tuesday Tips