Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I used to teach fifth graders in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. After classroom teaching, I became my school's technology coach, teaching grades kindergarten through fifth and their teachers. I started a class website in 1998 when school websites were uncommon and in 2001 each of my fifth graders had a Palm Pilot. I witnessed how empowering it was for students to have a very portable computer filled with apps for learning and creativity. A section of our class website, Planet 5th, was devoted to our use of handheld computers. It was called Learning in Hand. Eventually Learning in Hand became its own website and is now my home base on the web.
After doing innovative things at my school, I found myself presenting at nearby conferences. It was rewarding to inspire other teachers. Eventually my fall, spring, and summer breaks were filled with travel out of state to work with educators at schools and conferences. I was just too busy, so I made myself choose between working at my school and consulting. I chose the consulting route and it has been an incredible experience. Over the last eight years I have traveled to 40 states, Canada, Australia, England, and the Caribbean to facilitate workshops, teach classes, and make presentations.
Currently I live in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. When I’m not traveling, I spend my time in my home office researching, curating, and creating resources for teachers. I love to make things, so my website is the place where I share videos, infographics, comics, and other digital creations I’ve made for teachers.
What inspired you to the develop Stick Around?
Stick Around is an iPad app for playing, creating, and sharing, labeling, sorting, and matching puzzles. I like to think of it as turning what you know (or want to know) into a game. I’ve had the idea for Stick Around in the back of my mind for years. I kept thinking that I would find a sorting/labeling/matching app that would be even better than my idea, so kept waiting. The apps and games I kept finding in the App Store already had the content programmed into them. My idea was to make an app where users can create their own study aids with their own content.
I often model lessons in classrooms. Before the lesson I collaborate with the teacher. One day in 2012 a Spanish teacher I was working with wanted an activity on fourth graders’ iPads where they could label body parts in Spanish. Oh, how I wished my concept for a labeling app was a real life app. It would have made an awesome lesson.
Since those fourth graders all had Keynote, I used that app for the body parts lesson. I put a funny clip art monster on a series of slides. On each slide I made text boxes with Spanish words for various body parts. I moved all of the text boxes to the side of each slide. I copied this Keynote file to Dropbox and shared the link to it as a QR code to the students as we began the lesson. The fourth graders had a great time moving the text boxes on top of the monsters’ body parts. I then displayed correctly labeled monsters on the projector screen so students could determine if their Keynote slides matched the answer key.
After the success of this lesson, I knew I had to get Stick Around developed. The lesson was great, but Keynote wasn’t designed for this type of activity. It needs drawing tools and the ability to create an answer key. Not being a programmer, I was going to have to commission the app. I made mock-ups of what the app might look like and wrote up a set of specifications. But now where to go to get the app developed?
I sent the mockups and specifications to several app developers, and I was hoping that MorrisCooke would present the best bid. I was very familiar with MorrisCooke’s education app, Explain Everything. I had heard Bartosz Gonczarek and Piotr Sliwinski talk about app development on a podcast and they seemed like they’d be great to work with.
Bart and Piotr weren’t very interested in being contractors–they wanted to be partners on the project! I had not considered this type of arrangement. Bart and Piotr explained that being partners would mean that MorrisCooke would have strong motivation to make the best app possible because they would be co-owners. I agreed and the contract to begin work on Stick Around was signed in May 2012.
Stick Around was released in December 2013. The app is one of my proudest accomplishments. Not only is Stick Around the app I wish I had for that Spanish lesson, but it’s the app I really wish I had when I was teaching fifth grade.
What are the key features of the app that make it stand out?
You can find labeling, sorting, and matching apps in the App Store. However, those apps already have the content programmed in them. For instance, you can sort words by sound, label the human body, identify plants, and match animals with their sounds. But there’s often not an exact correlation to what students are learning.
Creating a puzzle in Stick Around is done in four steps.
1. Use drawing tools and/or import photos to make a background.
2. Add stickers with text, images, drawing, arrows, and/or sound.
3. Indicate where stickers belong by making an answer key.
4. Test your puzzle by playing it.
Because Stick Around is built using the same engine behind Explain Everything, Stick Around has exceptional import and drawing tools. The tools and options will be very familiar to anyone who uses Explain Everything. You can import from your Photo Library, Google Drive, Dropbox, and WebDAV.
We don’t want your creations to be trapped on one iPad, so Stick Around supports opening from and saving to different places. You can save your Stick Around puzzle to Google Drive, Dropbox, WebDAV, email, and other apps that store files from the Open in… menu. On another iPad with Stick Around installed, you can open puzzle files from those same services.
Perhaps the best way to get an idea of what Stick Around can do is to watch the teaser video (on the left.) I made this 99 second video to show some sample puzzles and how to make your own.
Stick Around is a hugely versatile app for the modern educator. Could you tell us about any creative uses teachers have found for it?
Teachers are making some fantastic puzzles for their students. Examples include puzzles about homophones, the U.S. Constitution, life cycles, computer parts, measuring, parts of speech, and equivalent fractions. You can see many of these examples on the Stick Around Pinterest board. Because stickers can have audio or web links attached to them, speech pathologists and other special educators are using Stick Around to make puzzles that accommodate their students’ special needs.Brent Catlett in Bellevue Public Schools in Nebraska is coaching over two dozen iPad-using classrooms. He has rigged up a shared Google Drive folder for teachers and student to share their Stick Around puzzles. I often see them on Twitter thanking each other for their creations.
It's definitely an app that students can be using themselves too isn't it?
Yes! While I it’s great that teachers can make custom puzzles for their students, I’m much more excited about students making their own puzzles. I like to say, “When students make their own study aids, it aids in their own studying.” The process of creating the puzzle gets learners thinking about the content. And by the time they create the background, add stickers, create the answer key, and test out their puzzle, they probably already know the content. It’s a big bonus that they’ve created a game in the process of learning.
I’ve been asked if we would make a free version of Stick Around that would only play puzzles. Because we have a limited budget, it’s just not practical for us to make a second version at this time. But a bigger reason we don’t have a play-only version is that at its core Stick Around is a creation app. We want learners to be making puzzles, not just playing them.
Stick Around is part of Apple’s Volume Purchase Program, so schools do receive a 50% discount on the app. While I know it’s much easier for teachers to integrate free apps, I think $1.49 is a pretty good deal for an app that can be used with just about every subject area and any grade level.
What other sorts of apps do you use regularly that you might recommend to our readers?
My focus with mobile apps has always been on apps that empower students to make things. So the apps I recommend and use in my workshops are ones that are open-ended and give students avenues for sharing what they have learned.
Here are some of them:
Book Creator: Make your own digital books by adding any combination of text, images, drawings, sound, and videos to each page.
Pic Collage: Create posters by cutting out images and adding text.
Explain Everything: Record your voice as you narrated drawings, images, and videos.
30hands: Attach an audio recording to a series of images to make a narrated slideshow.
Videolicious: Film a 60 second video that looks like a documentary with cuts to photos and videos while you talk.
Splice: Edit photos and videos in your Photo Library into one movie.
What's next for you?
A major reason I wanted to get into app development was to follow the process and learn along the way. I’ve already learned a lot, and continue to learn as we support Stick Around and update it to make it better. Perhaps someday I’ll make another app. But for now, I want to to focus on Stick Around.
I will continue to travel to speak and lead workshops for educators. Typically I travel once a week. It’s so great to connect with other teachers. I am constantly learning and refining what I present to them. I’m excited to travel to Sydney, Australia in June for the Slide2Learn conference. I’m also thrilled to be keynoting Miami Device in Florida in November.
As always, I’ll be posting resources on my website at learninginhand.com.
How can people get in touch with you or keep up to date with what you're up to?
Thanks for speaking with us Tony, it has been incredibly informative and definitely inspiring. We hope to hear from you again here at iPad Educators.