Toca Boca and Digital Toys

Toca Boca and the importance of play

Toca Boca is a suite of applications that provides spaces within which to explore and play.


I often hear teachers complain that all students do on tablets is play games. This is supposedly in lieu of supposed ‘real work’. Although I would not consider myself as being a part of the anti-gamer community, I think that there are some which are more prone to consuming our attention, rather than creativity and critical thinking. (See the recent discussion associated with Coolmaths and Chromebooks) A company trying to counter this focus on consumption is Toca Boca. Started in 2010 in Sweden, Toca Boca create digital environments. The purpose is not to complete games or progress through levels, but instead work within the parameters set to participate in imaginative, open-ended play. As the Björn Jeffery explains:

I don’t think we are going to digitize all play, and it wasn’t our goal, either. It’s just a new way to play, so it has its benefits and its drawbacks. Obvious benefits are that it’s portable, so we do very well on airplanes or dinners, for that matter — situations where parents need to occupy their children. Kids get super-bored after fifteen minutes at a restaurant, whereas parents want to sit for another two hours. Bringing your Lego kit to the restaurant is a little tricky, and so maybe an iPad is more convenient. But, of course, there is also a time and a place.

Some of the different applications that I have explored with my daughters include:

  • House: Users move around a house to complete numerous chores and activities,
  • Town: Users move between a shop, police station, a house and a park. Each space includes different characters and objects to engage with.
  • Kitchen: Working between the fridge, a bench space and a cooking area, users prepare various meals. Through this process they are able to learn about how different produce changes when it is cooked, chopped and blended.
  • Car: Given a small car, users drive around within an environment that has various objects and obstacles jump over or avoid.
  • Band: There is a stage with three tiers, each with their own intensity. Each character plays a different instrument, which users can drag around the stage or they can placed on the top pedestal which allows users to control the particular instrument.
  • Hair Salon: Using a range of tools and products, including scissors, dryer, coloured spray and magic liquid which makes hair grow, users are able to create their own hair styles. Once complete, they can then create their own hairdos.
  • Fairy Tales and Tailor: Users choose clothes, apply various patterns and then accessories in the development of their own characters. They can also capture a snapshot of their finished creation.
  • Lab: Users are provided with a virtual laboratory within which to explore the elements of nature in a fun and playful way. Through a range of virtual experiments, users heat, boil, spin and cool various objects to see what happens.
  • Birthday Party & Tea Party: These apps allow users to lay out a table cloth for a party involving cake and drinks. This can be either played collaboratively or individually. Once someone has eaten or drank what have, you can then give them more. In addition to this, every so often something will spill which you need to clean up before doing anything else.
  • Builders Lab: Something of a take on Minecraft, users are given a blank space on which to build upon. There are a range of robots to help you, each offering a particular skill, whether it be creating a block, moving a block or painting the space.
  • Nature: Similar to Sim City, you are given a plot of land which you can add vegetation too, create mountains and dig out waterways. Once this is done, you can zoom in and go in search of the various flora and fauna that inhabits this created space. There is a range of objects you can collect and then feed the various animals. When you find something there is the option then to take a picture of your discovery.

In many respects these apps are about learning, they have been described as ‘digital toys for children’. This is not learning in the way that Mathletics helps with Maths, but rather applications capturing the different forms of play:

  • Active play, which is like chasing each other, playing sport, running around.
  • Make-believe play, which is imagination and role play.
  • Manipulative play, which is puzzles, construction, building, Lego, making, creating.
  • Creative play, which is arts, crafts, drawing, music.
  • Learning play, which is games and books — they are defined as learning because they are linear. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This collection is continuing to grow and evolve. So what about you? Are there any open-ended applications that you or your students use? As always, comments welcome.


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One iPad Classroom – A Crowdsourced Reference


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Although some schools are going one-to-one iPads, there is a growing trend of teachers purchasing their own iPad and bringing them into the classroom. This is a different proposition. Where I have written about how an iPad can support teacher’s professional and personal learning, I have not written about how iPads can be used to support learning within the classroom. I therefore put out a call for thoughts and ideas on Twitter:

Here then are the responses I got (tweets in brackets):

  • Engaging With and Demonstrating Learning (Michelle Meracis, Jonathan Nalder and Corrie Barclay) – Whereas interactive whiteboards demand a focus on the front of the room, having an iPad provides a portable medium to share with. I myself spent six months running an intervention group using the iPad as a means for students to sketch out ideas. Although I just used Paper53 in the past, something like Explain Everything provides more functionality in regards to text and shapes. In addition to this, Richard Wells describes how you can even using Explain Everything as a recordable whiteboard. Depending on the set up of the school, the content on the iPad can then be projected on a larger screen using a range of means, including Apple TV, Reflector or Air Server. Engaging with learning from a different perspective, Plickers allows you to easily gauge student feedback with only one device, while Post-It Notes and iBrainstorm provide different means to build ideas.
  • Teacher’s PDA (John Thomas and Corrie Barclay) – Beautiful handwriting? Capture it! Great clay modelling? Capture it! Clever oral presentation? Capture it! The portability of an iPad allows for the ongoing documentation of learning that is and isn’t digital. This can range from still images, audio and video. What is great is that you can now auto-backup to Google Drive, taking away the pain of having to connect with the computer to transfer files. In addition to this, Bec Spink has shared how she uses Evernote to support this endeavour. While Brett Sinnett has written about how he uses Google Sheets offline to keep all of his formative assessment. Another possibility is to simply post content on a private blog or an application like Easy Portfolio to store information. What is good about making notes digital is the ability to easily organise information using tags and folders, making it much easier to sort things at a later date.
  • Connecting with the World (Jenny Ashby) – Another suggestion is that the iPad can become the permanent connection with the wider world. Whether it be using Twitter to share learning or engaging an expert, such as an author; publishing work on a school YouTube Channel; using Skype to engage with another class from around the world; or maintaining a class blog to celebrate and reflect upon the learning that is occurring in the classroom. There are so many ways in which students can get outside of the classroom these days, the question is which means fits the context.
  • Capturing and Creating – Going beyond just documenting work, the iPad provides a means for creating different products as a part of the learning process. Lately, my students have really taken to Adobe Voice, creating everything from radio advertisements to sharing thoughts and reflections. However, applications like Book Creator and Explain Everything provide the same possibilities. For example, Bec Spink has made books using Book Creator with Preps. Beyond these three applications, Tony Vincent provides a range of applications for making and creating on both mobile and the web which is useful. In regards to creating, there as just so many possibilities, it all comes back to what you are trying to do and why.

For more ideas in regards to iPads, I highly recommend Tony Vincent’s fantastic infographic on the iPad as the ‘Teacher’s Pet’.

iPad as Teachers Pet by Tony Vincent

As well as scrolling through Alex Herbert’s extensive list of resources on Pinterest which was shared with me by Corrie Barclay.


At the end of the day, I have found the biggest challenge with only having one iPad in the class is that you can’t do all three things at once. You might have a group creating a video, while you are wanting to document learning. This is why it is so important to think about how you do things. By using applications like Google Apps, it means that if you do not have the iPad, you can at least fall back to the laptop to do your work.

What about you? Do you teach in a one iPad classroom? What has worked? What have been the challenges? As always, would love to hear your throughts.


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Introducing iPads with Preps

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16533930637

Introducing technology has its challenges. Although technology has been a part of who we are since cave men started painting pictures on walls, adding something new and seemingly different is often confronting to the status quo and how we think things should be.

My school recently purchased a class set of iPads, as well as one for each of the teachers. This was a bold move considering up until now we had been largely dependent on banks of netbooks. The question though is where to start. I am well aware of the need to build the confidence of staff long before you introduce them into the classroom. A point made by Richard Lambert. My question then is where should staff start. I have reflected on iPads in education before, but got wondering where do we start in the context of a Prep classroom. So I put out the call out to a few teachers I knew had experience with iPads in the Early Years.

These are the responses I got:

  • Creating an eBook – Bec Spink made the suggestion of creating a book using Book Creator and then publish it to iTunes. When I got told that we were getting iPads, this was the first thing that I thought of. I have commented on this before in regards to publishing for an authentic audience.
  • Drawing – Jenny Ashby suggested drawing with the iPads. Her first idea was to use Book Creator to take a selfie and trace the outline. Then remove the original image and recording a narrative. While her second idea was using Explain Everything to record and replay to reflect.
  • Taking Pictures – Richard Wells pointed out that simply using the camera is fun enough. I remember being told once about a school that gets their Prep students to simply go around and take pictures of objects beginning with a specific letter.
  • Recording Stories – Going beyond Jenny Ashby’s selfie stories, Michelle Meracis suggested using Adobe Voice to record social stories. I love Adobe Voice and have used it from everything to retelling a story to work on fluency to providing a guide how to do something. I have also used it with minimal support with my own three year old.
  • Rotation Station – Melissa Dunn spoke about literacy and numeracy rotations. This could be creating something, but it could also involve exploring. I love Toca Boca and the open possibilities that their applications provide.
  • Develop a Digital Licence – Sam Irwin suggested getting parents involved through the creating an iPad licence for students (and staff?) associated with big celebrations once achieved.
  • Projecting the iPad – Going beyond using Apple TV, Neil Lavitt suggested using either Air Server or Reflector to show what is on the iPads on the a bigger screen via a PC.
  • Organising the iPads – Michelle Meracis made the suggestion of replacing the background with a number, while Tony Richards suggested giving them animal names as this is more personal.
  • Sharing Information – There were a few ideas suggested for sharing information from devices. Jenny Ashby spoke about setting up a class Dropbox account, while Melissa Dunn suggested Showbie.

 

I know that there are issues with ‘quick wins‘, something pointed out by Bec Spink. I understand that to bring change you need more than a few quick wins to drive change. For example, Alan Thwaites has suggested that devices and how we use them are just another point of differentiation in the classroom. While Eric Jenson has put forward the argument that the only people you need to convince are students. For me, it starts with why. However, here are at least a few places to start and gather momentum.


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