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App review: Gus on the Go French

App review: Gus on the Go French

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Language vocabulary apps – it sounds like a chore just thinking about them, let alone suggesting my son should try one. Memories of boring lists illustrated with dated line drawings pop up in my mind.

The other day, however, I woke up from a nap (bliss!) and I was body tackled by my 4 year old, asking me whether I knew the word for watermelon in French. And, well, no, I didn’t.

‘Pastèque!’

Hang on, he didn’t know any French when I fell asleep. What happened?

Apparently, my husband had downloaded Gus on the Go for French on our iPad.

Through a combination of picture matching, repetition, and games, Gus on the Go covers an amazing amount of vocabulary. In that hour I had been sleeping, Elliot picked up 30 or more words, and the next day another 20. The third day he skipped all the instructional elements and went straight to the games – there was hardly any loss of knowledge at all. I know this is an example of preschoolers being little sponges, but it amazed me.

The process is this: your child touches simple illustrations, organized into sets like home, animals, food, transportation, etc and hears the words spoken by a native language speaker. Once they’ve completed some simple matching quizzes, the games are unlocked. To be honest, these are more matching images to the spoken words, but in the guise of helping Gus the owl fly up a tree, helping a horse win a race, capturing the right objects with bubbles, and that sort of thing. Getting most of the matches correct wins a trophy and unlocks more games.

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Even though children progress through different vocabulary sections, the games still throw in a few from sections they’ve already completed. So when they’re capturing numbers with bubbles after hearing the French words, a cow will appear, or a pair of shoes, to keep their knowledge of the previous sections fresh.

The best children’s apps are navigable by a little person from the start, and Gus on the Go is right up there. He pops it open and is deep in learning new words within a minute. It’s been incredibly well designed, both in the speed of forward progress and navigation. My son chooses it quite often all on his own, which is an impressive badge of approval. He loves to show off his skill with the app to all his friends and family.

I checked out the developer’s website when I was writing this review, and they have a lovely selection of free language printables for downloading including number flashcards, mix-and-match clothing vocabulary blocks, zoo animal fortune teller, and a transportation wheel.

Incredibly, Gus on the Go is available for 22 languages: French, German, Cantonese, Spanish and more, on both iOS and Android. For only $3.99, this is an incredible deal for a solid language app. Suggested age range: 2-6 years.

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Playdough impressions game

Playdough impressions game

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We stumbled on this game by mistake, but it occupied my 4 year old for an hour – I don’t think he’s wanted to play any game for an hour before! Make your own play dough or use store-bought, it doesn’t matter. I also love that this game just uses things you have lying around, there’s no fancy equipment. In fact, all you need is play dough and some things to press into it, like chopsticks, utensils, lego, small figures, toy cars – that kind of thing.

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Directions
Shape the play dough into a large pancake, about an inch thick.

All other players close their eyes, while the first player picks two objects and makes impressions of them in the play dough.

When they’re finished, they ask everyone to guess which objects made the shapes – players are encouraged to try making impressions with objects to see what looks like the original.

You can either leave all the possible objects on the table, or for older children, put away the objects and have them guess with no help.

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App review: Endless Reader

App review: Endless Reader

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One of our favourite apps last year was Endless Alphabet, a well-made game that managed to make spelling both funny and interesting. Good quality animation and silly sounds together with creative word choices (‘humungous’, ‘bellow’) kept my son coming back to play.

We were thrilled to find a new app from Originator, Endless Reader.

Using a similar format, Endless Reader gets children to pull the letters into order, each one making its phonetic sound, as in Endless Alphabet. This app goes one further, however, and offers a sentence to assemble as well. The word the child has just spelled is waiting to be put in the right place, as is two or three other words. These ones are ‘sight words’ – like the, and, is and to – that are hard to sound out phonetically, don’t have meanings that are easy to illustrate in picture form, and come up often. The goal is for the child to recognize these words by their shape, and learn how they work in context.

Once the sentence is complete, the narrator reads the sentence and the monsters act it out. There is a repeat button, and my son often watches the animations two or three times after completing a sentence.

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This all sounds quite simple, but what sets it apart is the quality of both the narration and animation. The whimsical monsters are perfect – funny, a bit weird, and incredibly flexible. The voice acting is professional and clear. I’m disappointed so many app developers are unwilling to pay for proper voice overs; it is so frustrating to listen to badly read stories or even mispronounced words in what is ostensibly an education app. That’s one of the reasons the Endless apps are such a joy – the narrator sounds like she would be great fun to play with.

The initial app is free, with packs of additional new words costing $2.99. Download Endless Reader from the App Store.

 

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Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day: Hedy Lamarr

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day: Hedy Lamarr

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Connecting to the wifi network in a cafe wouldn’t immediately bring to mind a gorgeous film star of the 1930s and 40s, but it should. Hedy Lamarr was both a famous actor and the inventor of ‘frequency hopping’ (together with composer George Antheil) which forms the basis for wireless communication today.

Her achievement was recognised with a Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1997. EFF Staff Counsel Mike Godwin said at the time: ‘The special award for Lamarr and Antheil is remarkable for other reasons besides its recognition of a woman whose contributions were thought to be solely in the field of entertainment.’ Partly this is because Lamarr and Antheil had hoped that the military applications of their invention would play a role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. ‘Ironically, this tool they developed to defend democracy half a century ago promises to extend democracy in the 21st century.’

You can read about her achievements in graphic novel form, or in good old wikipedia. Or you could frame a photo of her and keep it on your mantle, which I did for years.

 

A celebration of women in science, technology, engineering and maths, Ada Lovelace Day aims to highlight female role models in STEM fields. It’s also a way to help journalists and conference organisers find women in these fields to quote and invite. Read more about what’s going on in the UK over on the Guardian. This is my small contribution.

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Do a science with Snapshot Serengeti

Do a science with Snapshot Serengeti

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I can tell the difference between a Thompson’s gazelle and a Grant’s gazelle from the back quarter of a leg.

Well, now I can, anyway, since starting my obsession with Snapshot Serengeti.

The University of Minnesota Lion Project has 225 motion-activated cameras across Tanzania, waiting to capture animal activity as it happens. Of course, this means there are thousands upon thousands of images to sort through. Differentiating between waving grass and three zebras in the middle distance is one of those things humans are very good at, and computer image recognition software is not.

Enter crowd sourcing!

Through an easy to use little website, we can all help identify animals in the motion capture photos for the researchers. There is a great tutorial to walk you through the simple system, and then off you go. The opportunities for older children are obvious – learn about what the animals look like and get a window into what they’re doing in the wild.

The images are strangely intimate – my cheetah face above is from my first go at identifying. I’ve seen a crowd of hippos at night, a giraffe’s chest backlit by the setting sun, a herd of wildebeest napping right in front of the lens, gazelles running past.

Thankfully, the project met their Indie-go-go funding goal with less than 24 hours to go, so we can continue to peer into the lives of these animals for awhile longer.

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