Create Animated Infographics with Animaker

I love a good infographic. There is something special about the creative combination of art elements, design principles, data, and information that just makes my eyes and brain happy. Give me a well-designed animated infographic and my eyes and brain are overjoyed!

As much as I love looking at them, I love creating them even more! I’m always on the lookout for new tools to help me create beautiful things with data. Today, I found Animaker. Today is a happy day.

Creation Made Easy

View of the editing screen.
View of the editing screen.

Animaker is a web-based platform designed to give businesses, students, and teachers the power to create amazing animated infographics, posters, presentations, and videos. The interface is fairly simple to use.

I spent about an hour creating my first six scene video complete with moving text, animated logos, and data. I didn’t start with any tutorials. I just jumped right in with a template as my guide. The editing interface is similar to many of the other tools out there. There is a timeline for each scene where you can manage the effects and timing of your assets. The premade templates are very helpful because you can use them as a guide as you create your own scene. However, even if you start with a blank scene, it is easy to layout your design and create something new. It didn’t take long to figure out how to use the design tool to create my video. I love a tool with a small learning curve.

When you are done creating, you can save your project. With the free plan, the video can be exported to Facebook or YouTube. Upgrade your account for more creation tools and sharing options. Here the pricing schedule for individuals and businesses.

Educator Plan

Educator Dashboard
Educator Dashboard

For the educators out there, there is Animaker Class. Get started with a free account and you can give the tool a try with up to 25 students. From your educator dashboard, you can manage your projects, create a class roster, manage class assignments, and send students messages. You have limited space and features with the free account. Upgrading to the premium opens up a lot of tools and functionality. The cost is $10/month per teacher and $.02/month per student. Read more about the differences between the two plans on their pricing page.

This was a fun tool to explore. I can see tons of ways teachers and student can use this in the classroom. Have your students collect some data and then use this tool to communicate their findings. Discuss the use of goods design principles and data visualization strategies. Let them loos in the tool and see what they create.

Here is my first video. Not too bad for my first try. Have fun creating amazing infographics!

HoloGLOBE: A World of Data in the Palm of Your Hand

I’ve already written about the MERGE Cube but we have only touched on the different MERGE Cube apps you can use in the classroom. If real-time data visualization is your thing then you need to get HoloGLOBE by Institute for Earth Observations at Palmyra Cove.

Data in Your HandScreenshot_20181114-055240

Using the MERGE Cube, HoloGLOBE uses satellite imagery to create a beautiful 3D image of the Earth.  Viewers can then add overlays of near-real-time data from NASA and NOAA.

There is a lot of data packed into this handheld version of our big blue marble. Using the in-app controls, you and your students can view current weather conditions and clouds, land and sea temperatures, wildfires, drought conditions, snow and ice coverage, and real-time earthquakes. It is amazing to see the data mapped across the surface of the earth.

In the satellite view, you can track satellites and see the relationship between the position of the sun and the seasons. There are also some videos embedded in the app that display on the virtual Earth. Learn about tracking the big three hurricanes from the 2017 season.

Different data views from HoloGLOBE.
Different data views from HoloGLOBE.

HoloGLOBE is intended to be a tool for exploring the Earths systems through satellite data and helping students learn how to make observations from data. According to the Palmyra Cove website, there are some expansions under development that will allow students and citizen scientists to share their observations and interpretations.

The Details

HoloGLOBE is free and available for both Andriod and iOS platforms. You can use it without the MERGE Cube but there is something cool about holding the Earth in your hands. You can also pair this with a VR/AR headset, such as the MERGE Goggles, for a stereoscopic view. The app is recommended for grades 5 – 12.

In the Classroom

There are many different ways to use this in the classroom. In addition to having students explore the data available, you could have them connect their observations to current articles, news headlines, or research reports to see if the data supports the claims made in the texts. Or, they could start with the texts and make predictions about what they will see when they look at the data. For example, have them research current earthquake reports or wildfire reports. Based on their research, what would they expect the data to look like? Then have them explore the data visualizations to see if their predictions were accurate. Spend some time reflecting on what they read versus what they saw. For me, I was surprised to see the number of earthquakes mapped across the globe.

For some virtual collaboration, why not have classrooms in different parts of the world, discuss their local data. The students could share photographs of their environment compared to screenshots of their HoloGLOBE data and discuss how they are experiencing the conditions found in the data.

There are a lot of great classroom applications for this app. Whether you are integrating it into a classroom lesson or just using it to give your students a different view of global data, HoloGLOBE is a beautiful application that will help you and your students appreciate this amazing planet.

 

Learn Genetics through Dragon Breeding

I remember my high school biology class. Being fascinated by dominant and recessive traits such as eye color, and tongue rolling. I remember learning about how an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel experimented on pea plants to learn about inherited traits and genetics. It was one of the cooler biology topics. You know what would have made it cooler? DRAGONS!

Well, thanks to SpongeLab, your students can now explore Mendelian Genetics by breeding their own dragons with Dragon Breeder.

Rise of the Dragons

Genetics Lab
Genetics Lab

In Dragon Breeder, you are an apprentice breeder, breeding different types of dragons to earn rewards and hone your skills. There are two types of gameplay, campaign-based and free play.  The campaign is a story based game that moves your through the journal of Esse Ipsum as he analyzes the genetic makeup of different body traits such as body shape, head shape, and wing type. As you move through the story, you receive work orders and take on specific breeding challenges. You earn rewards as you successfully complete challenges. Use those rewards to purchase skills and level up. In free play you practice your breeding skills by breeding and selling dragons with different traits. There is also sky mode where you fly a dragon around the sky looking for chests of rewards.

Learning Tools

Tutorial - The Dragon Breeding Handbook
Tutorial – The Dragon Breeding Handbook

Breeding dragons is not easy. Luckily, there is a tutorial level that walks you through the process. The tutorial level is easy to follow and works to build your understanding of both the game and basic genetics. I would recommend walking through the 8 tutorial levels before starting the game. They are very helpful. I only completed up to level 4 and then started the game. It was fun to click around and see what you can do in the game. However, I think I would have been more productive if I would have finished the entire tutorial.

Worth the Play

It has been a long time since I explored Mendelian Genetics. I think high school me would have enjoyed playing this game. Because, really, who doesn’t like dragons? The gameplay is a little clunky but the game is in beta. Also, I didn’t play through all the tutorial levels before going into campaign mode. So, that is on me.

If you are teaching genetics, give this a try. It might be what you need to hook your reluctant geneticists.

 

An Interactive Story with 57° North for MERGE Cube

This app goes out to all my fellow children of the 80s who loved a good Choose Your Own Adventure book. The team at Mighty Coconut have created a beautiful augment reality choose your own adventure story for the MERGE Cube called 57° North.

The Story

57° North is the story of two cousins who are stranded on an island in the Alaskan wilderness. Their survival is in your hands as you choose the direction of the story. The story is intense and action-packed. (I’m going to try to give no spoilers here – so this will be vague.) It is part survival, part mystery as you help the two main characters navigate through the plot. According to the Mighty Coconut website, the story is for 10 and up and should take about an hour to go through once. However, just like any good CYOA story, you have to go back and try all the different paths to see how the story changes.

The Artwork

As you can see from the video and the screenshots, the artwork is gorgeous. Viewing this on the MERGE Cube gives you some depth to the artwork. As you can see in the video, you can move the scene around. The music also pairs really well with the feel of the story. Overall, it is a very nice piece of media.

Playing the StoryScreenshot_20181104-160407.png

To watch the story, you need a Merge Cube (read more about MERGE Cube here), a device, and the 57° North app. The app will run on both iOS and Android. It costs a mere $2.99, less than an ebook. You might also want a set of headphone. The sound works best with headphones and you won’t have nosy folks looking over your shoulder won=der what you are watching. To start the story, open the app with your device and scan the MERGE Cube. The story will launch. What I really like is that you do not need to finish the whole story in one sitting. If you close the app mid story, it will remember where you are and pick up where you left off. You move through the scene by rotating the MERGE Cube. As you can see in the video, when you come to a decision point, you rotate the cube to make your choice. It is a fun way to experience the story.  You can also play this using MERGE VR/AR goggles instead of the MERGE Cube.

In the Classroom

There are many different ways you could use this in the classroom. Here are just a few ideas.

  • Engage those reluctant readers. Get them hooked with this type of interactive storytelling and then hand them a vintage CYOA book or a great graphic novel.
  • Use the plot points in the story to explore STEAM concepts – STEM Read style. Visit the STEM Read website for inspiration. There are some great STEAM concepts in this story to explore.
  • Have your students create their own branching story. They can write one and leave it as a text-based story or turn it into a graphic novel.  Have them create a virtual version of their story. Go old school text-based with a tool like Twine. Read my review of Twine from last year’s 30 in 30. Or use visual tools like PowerPoint, Google slides or even Prezi, to create a digital version of their non-linear story.  I would love to figure out a way to have students create their own virtual stories on MERGE Cube. Maybe I will discover that as I explore the other apps.

I hope this is just the beginning of this type of storytelling. I also hope that Mighty Coconut continues to make interactive stories. I visited their website and there are a couple more VR/AR games available. They are not stories like 57 North but they do look cool. I really want to check out Laser Mazer! I might have to add that to this months list!

Inspiring Stories: Breaking Boundaries in Science from Filament Games

Inspiring kids to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is a large part of what I do on a daily basis. Now, thanks to Filament Games, we have a beautiful new VR experience to add to our toolbox – Breaking Boundaries in Science.

The Experience

Filament Games is known for their high quality, fun, educational games. Breaking Boundaries in Science is no exception. Created for Samsung VR and Oculus Go, Breaking Boundaries lets you or your students explore the working spaces of three groundbreaking female scientists: Jane Goodall, Grace Hopper, and Marie Curie. When you first enter the experience, you are standing in a great hall in front of portraits of the great women. Selecting a portrait sends you to a beautifully detailed virtual recreation of their workspaces. Once you are in these spaces, you can move through and explore these amazing spaces. In the space, you can select items and hear, in the scientist’s voice, a bit about their own story as it related to the item. Cool fun fact – Jane Goodall herself voiced her vignette. It is incredible to hear about her work from her.

BREAKING BOUNDARIES IN SCIENCE
A Screenshot of the scientists from the Breaking Boundaries website.

The gameplay experience is open exploration. The developers at Filament call it a form of non-linear storytelling, told through objects that held personal meaning to the scientists. It is almost like an unstructured Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. Using this strategy, Breaking Boundaries tells a multi-faceted story about the scientific breakthroughs that made these women pioneers in their field and, more importantly, an intimate portrait of who these women were as people.

My Experience

My colleague and I had the opportunity to play Breaking Boundaries back in late August at the Filament Games offices. The experience was impressive. I had to sit while my colleague played first. I sat with anticipation while she oohed and aahed over what she saw in-world.  I was a bit impatient for her to finish so I could have my turn. If you are using it with your students, be prepared for a few impatient cries of “Is it my turn yet?”

When I (finally) got to play, I could see what she was oohing and aahing about. The detail in-world was gorgeous. From the stars in the sky and bugs on the ground in Jane Goodall’s camp to the sparking equipment and dusty chalkboards of Grace Hopper’s office. Marie Curie’s lab ceiling even leaked when it rained. It was inspiring to hear their stories in their own voices. (The voice actors for Hopper and Curie were spot on.)

I didn’t get to experience it, but my colleague selected the right things to get Marie Curie herself to appear! I wanted to keep trying but, we couldn’t stay there forever.

Classroom Uses

If you have a Samsung VR or Oculus Go, I highly recommend this VR experience. It is a free download. There are lots of ways you can use this in the classroom. Full disclosure – my office at NIU worked with Filament to write the accompanying activity guide. So – check it out for ideas on using this in the classroom. You can access the resources here.  It was a lot of fun to think about all the ways to use this with students.

Extras

While we were at Filament, we had the opportunity to sit down with Dan Norton, the Cheif Creative Officer of Filament and Ethan Cayko, the producer of Breaking Boundaries. We picked their brain about all kinds of things. Everything from designing educational video games, career paths in the gaming industry, and their own paths to get them to where they are today. It was a fascinating interview with two fascinating people.

STEM Read Podcast!
STEM Read Podcast!

You can listen to our interview with them and author Jennifer L. Holm on Episode 12: Games, Goldfish, and Greatness.

I hope you and your students enjoy Breaking Boundaries in Science as much as I did!

Hold a Solar System in your Hand with MERGE Cube

One of my new favorite augmented reality tools to hit the market is MERGE Cube. This unassuming little foam cube is a powerhouse when it comes to affordable AR. In this post I will just touch on some MERGE Cube basics. I’ll highlight some of my favorite apps, such as 57 North in upcoming posts. Today I just want to talk about the basics.

The Cube

MergeCube
MERGE Cube

The cube itself is a small squishy foam cube that looks like it is covered in alien glyphs. It is those glyphs or markings that make the cube work. When you scan the cube with your device, and look at through your screen, those strange symbols turn into something amazing! The first app I tried was Galactic Explorer.  I held the cube in my hand, opened the app, and, oh my goodness…I was holding the sun with eight tiny planets slowly orbiting. When I tapped on one of the planets, I zoomed in and there was an information bubble that told me about the planet. At that moment, I was hooked. Then I found Tilt Ball.

MERGECubeSun
Just me, Chilling on the couch, holding the solar system.

Tilt Ball reminds me of the old marble labyrinths of my childhood. Remember the ones with the tilty table? Tilt Ball is like that but you play in virtual space. Use the device to scan MERGE Cube with the app and now the cube is covered in a maze path. Your job is to move a marble through the maze by moving the cube. It takes way more hand eye coordination than you would expect.

I went on to try out several of the other free apps: Mr. Body, Th!ngs, Defused! and Dig!. All of them were easy to use and really kind of cool. Dig! is especially cool for all those MINECRAFT fans out there. Using MERGE Cube, and Dig! you can create MINECRAFT-like worlds in the palm of your hand. Good bye free time.

Pros and Cons

As I said before, I will dig deeper into specific apps later this month. I have a few favorites. As for the MERGE Cube in general, there are a lot of positives.

  • Cheap – To get started with MERGE Cube, you need a cube. I got mine on Amazon for $6.00. Yes, that is not a decimal point error. $6.00. I see them now for about $15.00 at all major stores. Also, save your packaging. It is a phone holder. You will need that!
  • Good free content – There are quite a few great free apps for the MERGE Cube. Many that will engage your students in this new technology and have them asking questions – which is always the point, right? You can find a list of some of the apps available over on the MERGE Cube Miniverse site.  There are some great paid apps too.
  • Growing body of content – It seems like everyday I read about a new app or some other companion app. The MERGE Cube ecosystem is growing for sure. I can’t wait to see what will be out this time next year.
  • Active AR – When VR and AR first came on to the scene, the engagement was very passive. You watched. With MERGE cube, it is much more interactive.
  • Active Community – I joined the MERGE Educators group on Facebook and love seeing all the creative ways educators are using MERGE cube in their classrooms. Get involved in their community and you will be amazed what you learn. Here is an article about some middle schools students who partnered with a local museum to create virtual exhibits. So cool! The ideas are endless.

I’m not sure if I have any cons. I really like the MERGE Cube. I now have 4.

I’ll dig deeper into classroom connections in later posts when I talk about some of the apps in more details. For now, my suggestion is to spend the $6 – $15 and get your hands on one of these.

Do you have a MERGE Cube? How are you using it? Tell me in the comments!

30 Tech Tools in 30 Days: 3D Bear

AR with 3D Bear

If you have been paying attention in ed tech lately you have noticed that virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality have arrived in the classroom. If you were at the ISTE conference in Chicago back in July, you probably noticed that expo hall, playgrounds, and breakout sessions were abuzz with the possibilities of VR and AR.

For me personally, I’ve been tinkering with VR and AR over the past few years – starting with Google Cardboard’s immersive VR experiences and dabbling a little with some of the AR apps available for the Merge Cube (more on Merge Cube in upcoming posts). It has been fun to play with but I have not yet really explored how VR or AR could be used in the classroom. Until now.

Hello, 3D Bear!

3D Bear  is a free augmented reality app that works on Apple or Android devices. (Chrome coming soon – maybe? Hopefully!) With 3D Bear, students can create virtual scenes and dioramas using 3D models and their real-wold space. For example, in this lesson, based on The Martian by Andy Weir, students can design their own Martian colony. (Full disclosure – NIU STEM Read worked with 3D Bear and featured this lesson a our PD Party in Space with Andy Weir back in July.)

Imagine having your classroom filled with a bunch of virtual space colonies! What’s really cool is that 3D Bear integrates with Thingaverse so that the models you use in virtual space can also be printed. The image below is from the Thingaverse lesson page and shows virtual astronauts and rovers in a real box of sand.

Mars
Mars Colony in a sandbox. Picture from Thingaverse Lesson Page. https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3084537

 

Pros and Cons

I really like this application. It is free (there is a paid teacher portal and I’ll get to that in a second) and fairly easy to use. One drawback for me is that my phone and tablets are all kind of old. 3D Bear works on the older devices but there are some features that don’t work. For example, on my phone I need an anchor point to keep my virtual creations tethered to the real world. Newer devices do not have an anchor point so it is easier to build. Other than that the app is functional on older devices. That is really my only negative. So, I just need to get some updated tech. I’ll let my husband know that Christmas is coming. (haha.)

Here are some of the really cool features of this app.

Dino garden
My virtual dino garden. My cat is not amused.
  •  Integrates with Thingaverse – you can use Thingaverse models or upload your own to Thingaverse and use your own models.
  • Model skinning – you can customize your 3D models with your own custom textures. Including your face. Cool and creepy!
  • Animated models – Your 3D models do not have to be static. There are animated models in the library as well.
  • Lesson ideas – The website and the teacher dashboard have some nicely written, standard-aligned lessons for you. It is always helpful to have lesson ideas there and ready to go.
  • Great team – the 3D Bear team is awesome! You can tell they are passionate about what they do.

Teacher Features

The newest release includes some great teacher classroom features. These features are not free, classroom pricing for one teacher and up to 30 students is $199/year. That price includes classroom management tools such as student IDs, teacher dashboard, and lesson plans. If you are going to be using this tool a lot, those tools might be worth the price tag for you. Here is more information on pricing.  Teachers, you can sign-up for a free trial. Sign up here – Free Trial.

Classroom Ideas

Here are a few ideas for how to use 3D Bear in the classroom.

  • Storytelling – students create virtual illustrations of their own stories.
  • Book connections – recreate their favorite scenes or setting of classroom books.
  • Design – students redesign their classroom or create a new space. Then 3D print the models and make a real-life model.
  • Historical places – recreate historical places.

The ideas are endless!

In short – this is a fun tool. I think we are just seeing the tip of the learning iceberg when it comes to AR. And 3D Bear is a great place to start. The interface is easy to use even for the most novice beginner, yet the results are powerful. Download it today and give it a try.

Are you using 3D Bear in your classroom? Let me know how in the comments. I’d love to hear how you and your students are using this awesome app.

Happy creating!

Doodlers and Daydreamers: STEM Read Podcast Ep 6

The STEM Read Podcast Episode 6: Doodlers and Daydreamers. Talking creativity with Dr. Rhonda Robinson and Tom Lichtenheld.

We’ve all seen those kids. Off in the corner of the room. Staring out the window. Drawing in their notebooks instead of taking notes. We know those kids. Heck, maybe you were one of those kids. The Doodlers and the Daydreamers. The creative spirits who, with the right encouragement and support, might someday change the world.

Doodles
A peek at some of my doodle masterpieces.

In this episode of STEM Read Podcast, Gillian (@gkingcargile) and I talk to two of our favorite doodlers and daydreamers, Dr. Rhonda Robinson and author/illustrator Tom Lichtenheld.

This was a fun episode. Not only did we get to talk to two amazing people about fun topics like visual literacy, creativity, perseverance, and collaboration, we recorded in Tom’s studio surrounded by art, books, and inspiration. And there were cookies there to boot. It was amazing!

Head over to the STEM Read Podcast page to give the episode a listen and check out the show notes. We have links to all of the books we discussed, information on visual literacy, and pics from the studio.

You can find the STEM Read Podcast on iTunes or on our home page on Northern Public Radio. Check out past episodes and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss new episodes. Also, check out all our resources over on stemread.com.

Want to learn more about teaching visual literacy and creativity in the classroom? Check out these past posts,  Friday Five: Build Visual Literacy Skills and Five Tips for Unleashing Your Creative Self in 2018.

 

 

STEM Read Podcast – E4: Learning by Doing

Listen to episode 4 of the STEM Read podcast – Learning by Doing for strategies for engaging girls in STEM.

STEM Read Podcast Episode 4 is Live!!

In case you missed it last Friday, the fourth installment of the STEM Read podcast is now live. Follow the link to listen and view the show notes – Learning by Doing! 

You can hear all the episode on the STEM Read podcast page on WNIJ.

In this episode, we discuss different ways to engage girls in STEM (or any student who might not see themselves as a “STEM” person) and help all see the possibilities of a STEM career. I reflect a little about my own experiences as a female engineer, from college to career. We discuss what helped to boost my confidence as young female engineer in the world of cold forming. Gillian also has some fun with my former job title.

Our first two guests are NIU engineering students and STEM educators with STEM Outreach and NIU STEAM, Jasmine Carey and Mackenzie Thompson. They talk about their experiences as female engineering students, the work they do to encourage girls in STEM and STEM Divas!

The second segment is a panel discussion with Gillian (@gkingcargile), author Nancy Cavanaugh (@NancyJCavanaugh) and NIU Literacy faculty member, Melanie Koss (@melaniekoss) recorded at NIU STEMfest in October 2017. They talk about the power of children’s literature in supporting students’ interest in STEM. Come for the discussion, stay for the fun fish facts.

If you are looking for tips and ideas for helping all kids gain confidence in STEM and learn by doing as well as some giggles, give it a listen. We’d love to hear what you think. Leave us a review or comment.

 

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 30 Lightbot

Get ready for CSED week and Hour of Code with LightBot.

Day 30: Lightbot

First off, Day 30! Whoo Hoo!

Ok, now that that is out of the way, let’s talk coding. Computer Science Education Week and Hour of Code are just around the corner (December 4 – 10). Next week, people all over the world will play games, create games, program robots, and engage in a whole host of activities as they explore the world of computer science, computational thinking, and coding. There are many, many different websites and apps out there that will help you and your students join in the Hour of Code fun. One such app is LightBot.

Use the symbols to move the robot and light the tiles.
Use the symbols to move the robot and light the tiles.

LightBot is a puzzle game where you help a cute little robot light all the blue tiles on the screen. The game teaches you how to program as you use icons to create sequences that will move your robot around the puzzle board. Seems simple enough, right? The gameplay is easy but the puzzles do take some careful thinking. I’ll admit, it took me a couple tries to get past level three. Yes, I use to write code. No, don’t judge me.

As you solve the puzzles, you are learning programming logic and terms such as sequences, procedures, and loops. Your little robot friend is there to help you along the way with just-in-time support and guidance. Program your solution by touching the symbols and creating your sequence. Press play to run your solution.

Little robot introduces new vocabulary as you move through the game levels.
Little robot introduces new vocabulary as you move through the game levels.

 Cost

It is available for Windows and Macs as well as pretty much every mobile platform. The app costs $2.99 or $4.99 depending on your platform. LightBox is geared for ages 9 and up. There is also a LightBot Jr app for the younger coders. For those of you not ready to commit to that type of cash, check out the FREE LightBox: Code Hour version.

Teacher Resources

Not quite sure how LightBot puzzles connect to learning how to code? They have a quick guide that explains how their games introduce students to programming logic. They also have additional resources covering topics like how to use LightBox for Hour of Code and some lesson plans. It’s not a huge number of resources but there is good information about teaching programming in the classroom.

LightBot and the free LightBot Code Hour are cute and fun little games that cover some complex programming concepts. You and your students will enjoy this game. It is a great addition to your Hour of Code toolbox.