Tuesday, June 12, 2012

StoryBuilder App (Schoolhouse Crew review)


Brennan and Lauren love playing iPod games, Brennan on his own iPod and Lauren when she gets a chance to borrow mine. I love that the iPod is easy entertainment when we're stuck at a doctor's appointment for the better part of a morning.

I've been searching for ways to use my iPod for educational purposes as well as entertainment purposes. Mobile Education Tools has developed some educational apps that work on language skills, and I'm pleased to see how useful they could be for my two younger children.

StoryBuilder is simple for children (and parents) to use. The child is shown a cartoon picture and then asked a series of questions. When the child is ready to answer, they push a button to record their sentence. At the end of the questions, the separate recordings are played one after another to create a story.

Lauren (age 6) worked on Level 1. Four questions were asked about the picture, and most related directly to it. Here's her story:
"The man fell in the water because the horse knocked him in.  He feels angry. The horse is laughing because he thinks it is funny. 'Hee. Hee. Haw.' The man will get out and then get on the horse."
Brennan (age 11) used Level 2. The app asked seven question, some of which required him to make inferences in regards to what happened both before and after the scene shown.
"The polo player galloped across the field. But then he fell in the lake. The horse is laughing because his rider is soaked. The man feels upset. He feels that way because he fell in the lake. He will get dry clothes from his car. After he gets dry clothes, he will continue playing polo."
In both of the levels that they were playing, the app gives a suggested first few words for the answer. For instance, in the picture above, Lauren's first question was "How did the man get in the water?" and the suggested sentence opener read, "The man fell in the water when..." The sentence prompt is not read to the child, though. I usually worked alongside Lauren so it was not a big deal to help her if we wanted to use the suggested opener.

The impressive part for me is how many language arts skills can be practiced using this simple, fun program. Right off the bat, I realized that Lauren and sometimes Brennan needed practice with speaking in complete sentences. The questions themselves worked on essential language skills such as making inferences, predicting the outcome of a story, and putting events into a logical sequence. Nearly all of the pictures also asked the student to think about how the characters in the cartoon felt, either to identify an emotion or to tell why the character felt that way.

As we worked on more stories, I found that I could incorporate some of the lessons from our regular writing program. I asked Brennan if he could use strong verbs or adverbs in some of the sentences. With time, we'll also work on adding in details so that his stories are more interesting.

Part of the educational value of this app comes from the way that I worked with Lauren to answer the sentences and create a story. The app is easy enough for her to use on her own, though. Brennan often recorded his stories on his own. After listening to the complete story, he opted to email a recording of the story to me so that I could hear that he had finished it.

I counted at least 40-50 pictures in the app so we should be able to continue practicing for a long time to come.

StoryBuilder by Mobile Education tools is available from iTunes for $5.99 and can be used on either an iPhone or an iPod touch. It does require a microphone; on my older iPod, that means that we need the earbuds with the built-in microphone in order to use it.

Mobile Education Tools also created several other Apps designed to build language skills, including Sentence Builder and Question Builder for iPhone/iTouch and plenty of other choices for an iPad. Some of the other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew have been using Rainbow Sentences (for iPad) during this review period.

Disclaimer: I received the Storybuilder App for my iPod as a member of the 2012 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.


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