Steve takes a look at the new zoo-themed app Virry which allows users unparalleled access to some of the stunning animals at Al Ain Zoo. He breaks down what the app has to offer and then lays out ten different teaching ideas that can be delivered using the app as a stimulus.
I originally intended to write a simple review of the Virry app but seeing as it centres on the inhabitants of the simply magnificent Al Ain Zoo here in the UAE, it seemed fitting to work up something grander for our iUAE section. Hopefully educators both within the UAE and from further afield will find something useful here that they too can use.
Al Ain Zoo is the best zoo I have ever been to and with a 2 year old and a 4 year old, I can tell you that I've been to my fair share of zoos! The whole place is incredibly well unkept but what struck me the most was the huge living areas that the animals each enjoyed (a stark contrast to the horrendous state of Dubai Zoo!) there's a huge range of wildlife to see and learn more about from white tigers to camels to meerkats. Both the giraffe feeding and bird feeding experiences are particular highlights.
If you live in the UAE or are visiting, I can't recommend it enough.
Virry is aimed at those that cannot visit the zoo in real life. Even if you live in the UAE you may not have been there though - I've lived in Dubai seven years and only recently finally made the trek out to Al Ain and it is definitely too far for a school trip.
The app focuses on four animals at the zoo - Limun the lion, the meerkats, the giraffes and Bubar the rhino. It does need clarifying that only the lion is available with the free version of the app and in-app purchases are required to access the other creatures. These are a little pricey but the good news is that any purchase also opens up a bank of additional video footage and the camera feed to one of the mixed exhibits.
Upon selecting one of the four, you are presented with the choice to interact with them or watch the live video feed. The live video feeds are quite clear and allow you to snap a screenshot whilst tagging the activity taking place. Depending on where you are in the world, one thing you do need to consider when using this function is the time difference, as the animals may be inactive.
The other part of the app is quite special. Using interactive video clips, the app allows kids to interact with the animals both through the touchscreen and voice commands. For each creature, a series of informative exercises are laid out including feeding and playing with them. These are interspersed with facts and interactive questions to help kids understand more about the animals as well as identify how they differ from us. Points are awarded for correctly completing tasks and questions. Users can then review their progress via the Me tab on the main menu screen.
The developers, Fountain Digital Labs, have done an amazing job in aligning the content to Early Years development targets. There's even more detail available on these via this link they have shared, with every interactive outlined and the learning purpose explained clearly. You have to love it when educational apps show this level of dedication to actual learning!
Teaching Ideas Beyond Early Years development, there's a lot of potential applications for an app like Virry in the classroom. Here are ten concepts you could try out.
One of the best additions to the app is the diary section. Students can observe the animals and snap a screenshot. These can then be paired with additional notes. You could then export these screens into an app like Shadow Puppet Edu, iMovie or even Book Creator to collate and document a remote study of a creature. All of these apps would allow for narration to be added to further enhance the presentation.
Picture Collage If the diary concept is a little much for your students, why not snap images periodically to capture the animal during different activities and then use the super simple Pic Collage app to collate and present them. Remember that you can always snap screenshots during the interactive video clips too - you'll get some amazing images that way!
Instructional Writing The app presents instructions to students in a clear, concise way, complete with visual prompts. These could be used as the stimulus for an instructional writing task eg describe how you used the app to feed the lion. Definitely more engaging than the classic "making a cup of tea" task!
Virtual Trip Recounts Whethe you've actually been lucky enough to visit the zoo itself and used the app as a follow up activity or you're using it in isolation, writing a recount of the (virtual) trip is a great idea for a task. Digitally, this could be composed in Pages, Book Creator or even a presentation app like Keynote. Factor in a little Apple/Google Maps to pinpoint the location and you could have quite a polished multimedia project on your hands.
Report Writing An obvious but valid option would be to use the information learnt in the app to compose a non-chronological report about one of the animals. This has a natural cross-curricular edge through links to science via habitats and adaptations. Alternatively, the report could actually be about Al Ain Zoo itself.
Data Handling The statistics used in the app could be applied in a maths lesson quite effectively. For example the amount of hours a day that a lion sleeps (20) could become the stimulus for some further research and data presentation using an app like Easy Chart or even Numbers. Such data could then further be used to generate mathematical problems eg how much longer does a lion sleep in a day than a human?
A variation on the concept I recently covered for UKED Magazine (read it here.) have students use the Thinglink app to create an interactive world map, tagged with relevant content. They could locate Al Ain in Google Maps and tag an image of the zoo to the map to start with then research places that the creatures are found in the wild and tag images of them to these locations too.
Talking Pictures A great choice for young students to show what they know, Chatterpix could be used to give a voice to an image of one of the animals. Young learners could speak in character as the animal and describe what they do in a day using the information they have learnt. NB you may find more suitable images (ie front facing) via the web.
You could use the app as a stimulus for an engaging letter writing task. Perhaps have your students write to the zoo and ask for further information about one of the animals? Alternatively you could have them write a persuasive letter making their case for a new animal to be spotlighted in a future update to the app. Apple's Pages app has letter templates if you wanted to do this on an iPad and allow students to create a polished, professional looking letter quickly.
Quiz Creation Using the information that they learn from the app, students could use Kahoot (get kahoot.com) to creat their own simple quizzes about the animals and how they are looked after at the zoo. Kahoot is a real crowd-pleaser and definitely well worth a look if you're yet to explore it.
Ok that's all for now. Ironically writing this article has made me eager to go back to the zoo! My two year old has just completed the lion activities too and is now asking if she can go and see her. Good thing it's the spring break huh?