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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Stick Around App - puzzles for learning

Image from Tony Vincent's website: http://learninginhand.com/

I was glad to receive a promo code for Stick Around from Tony Vincent, the app's inventor. I had heard positive things about it from others on Twitter. I also was excited to see it because it was developed by the same team that made Explain Everything, one of my favorite apps creating tutorials. I installed it right away and tried out a few of the sample puzzles that came with it.

The educational value of the puzzles is immediately evident. Each puzzle requires the user to move the "stickers" to the correct place on the background image. As an example, a sticker in the one sample has the term "cell membrane" on it. The goal is to move it, as well as the other 10 stickers in that puzzle, so all parts of the pictured cell are labeled. Some stickers have an arrow so you can easily point to the correct area of the background image.

The action of positioning stickers also allows for "sort in order" questions and for arranging items in Venn diagrams.

When a user thinks the stickers are in the right place, he or she can press the Check button. The app indicates whether or not it is correct. If so, a badge is displayed and the user can save a picture of the completed puzzle to the Camera Roll. From there it would be easy to send to the teacher or share in other ways.

To me, the big benefit of Stick Around is the ability to create your own puzzles and share them with others. While this obviously will let a teacher make puzzles that fit her students' needs perfectly and quality puzzles will be easily shared among all users, it also makes for a great project option. Students can create puzzles as a final stage of a PBL activity. One of my favorite types of assignments in technology classes is to have older students create content for younger students. This app will be perfect for that and I hope to try it with some students in the near future.

I took some time to explore the puzzle creation features. Most tools are intuitive and anyone who has used Explain Everything will recognize similarities in the interfaces. Whether you've got the app or you're still considering it, be sure to check out Tony Vincent's tutorials. They are well done and I learned some things about setting up stickers that I might have missed at first glance.

Here are my favorite features so far:

  • Imported pictures can be used as backgrounds or as stickers and you can trim them to any shape. Having your picture or photos of the classroom in the puzzle adds to the fun for students. You (and they) can make the learning relate to their world and their personal interests.
  • Stickers can include additional text notes or hyperlinks to web pages so students can find related information. 
  • You can even record audio on a sticker. Stickers with recordings have a small Play button that users can tap to hear what you recorded. This makes it easy to add short comments to a sticker that might be helpful for completing the puzzle or maybe for additional information.
And here are a few things I noticed that were negatives or possible obstacles. I'm sure all of these can be easily addressed in an update if enough users also find them worth mentioning.
  • Answer regions (where the stickers have to be for correct placement) cannot be touching. That makes sense, but I found in my custom puzzle they actually had to be spaced apart more than I expected. Since my puzzle was based on an photo, I didn't have a lot of choice as to where two of my regions were. I had to move them apart more and more until the app would finally accept them. This is not a big deal, but you need to keep it in mind before spending a lot of time on a puzzle only to find your regions will be too close. In the future, I'll make and test any regions that might be close, then finish the rest of my puzzle once I know those work.
  • I'm normally not into the bells and whistles of educational apps, but I was surprised there weren't more sound effects for actions while a puzzle is completed. Sounds of picking up and placing stickers would have been a nice touch, though obviously not essential. Also, when a puzzle is checked, there's no sound for correct or incorrect submissions. In fact, the message for an incorrect attempt looks like a system dialogue box, simply indicating the puzzle was not solved correctly. There is an image of a medal for correct solutions, but compared to most interactive learning experiences the students are used to, these features didn't seem to get much attention from the developer.
  • I want to work with this more to see how much of a problem it is, but the one sticker I made from a photo did not seem to work right when I added an arrow to it. It was fine at first, but when I came back to it later, the arrow was missing. When the app checked for a correct solution, it didn't seem to matter any longer where I placed that sticker in the puzzle. When I edited the puzzle and added the arrow again, it then showed up behind the information/edit box, so I couldn't even tap or drag it to stretch or position it. I need to experiment with that more to see if it happens frequently with image stickers or if something else caused it.
All things considered, I'm very happy to have Stick Around as another learning tool for my students. I plan to share this information with all teachers in my district, since I'm sure the app can be useful in all grades and subject areas.

I will be working with a high school Digital Media class next week and I look forward to having students create puzzles and share them. I will update this post as I see the app in action, both for solving and creating puzzles.

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