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Review: Rainbow Sentences


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Another app -the eleventh, to be exact- from Mobile Education Tools. This developer has accustomed us to a continuous release of educational applications designed to develop expressive, receptive and writing language. A year ago we analyzed Language Builder at iAutism, and now it’s time for Rainbow Sentences.

In short, Rainbow Sentences offers 168 exercises, highly configurable, to practice the construction of sentences of increasing difficulty that combine elements of who, what, where, why and to whom. A system of hints based on colors (hence the “rainbow” part of the name of the app) and three double difficulty levels let you tailor the use at various levels of students.

First, the settings
The first time you run Rainbow Sentences, the settings screen will appear. There you can determine a number of parameters that I will explain later. But almost the first thing you have to do is to create a user by entering their name and surname. Each user can record audio clips and generate stats of the exercises performed, and hence the need for a user management.

And then you can start with the exercises. You will see an image in the center of the screen showing a situation. Below, there are the elements that compose the sentence that describes this situation. In this first case, they are just two: subject and verb. Each has a different color. Above, there are two lines of the same two colors.

From here, the student must move each part of the sentence to its correct position. Each time you move a part, you hear it aloud (with a male voice). In this case, with only two parties and the hint of the colors, the exercise is relatively simple, but after you will be able to make it much more difficult. Once you have moved a part, you can still move it again to another location.

When you finish building the sentence, some more buttons appear: ‘Play’ allows you to hear the whole sentence; ‘Hide’ hides the buttons; ‘Play Lesson’ shows a screen that explains how to build sentences belonging to the current level; and ‘I’m Done’ will let you know if you built the sentence correctly.

By selecting ‘I’m Done’, if you have misplaced some parts of the sentence, Rainbow Sentences will notify you that there are parts in the wrong places and will move them back to the bottom of the screen. If you place them wrong a second time, you will see the lesson on how to build sentences.

If you have build everything right, you will be able to record an audio clip with your voice reading the sentences, play it as many times as you like, save it for later, or move to the next sentence.

There’s more. Below the main image, a message informs you about how many sentences you have to do to get a piece of a puzzle as a reward or reinforcement (generally every five sentences). The game has three levels of phrases, each with its puzzle. When you complete a puzzle, it shows an animation of it that lasts a few seconds.

The images are illustrations, not pictures, and in many cases show animals, as in cartoons. Thus, you will see a girl reading a book, but also a cat driving a car. That makes Rainbow Sentences more fun, but at the same time is something that some educators try to avoid for certain students.

All application screens are in portrait mode. Given the design that the Rainbow Sentences has, this orientation is the one that makes more sense.

More settings
Back to the settings screen of Rainbow Sentences, its first three options allow you to decide whether or not to hear audio instructions and messages informing you that the sentence is right, and to decide if you want option to record audio clips.

You can also choose the level of complexity of sentences. Each level includes 56 phrases. At level 1, they are relatively simple sentences with subject and verb. When you have built a good part of them, other sentences with an object (after the verb) appear. Level 2 adds the ‘where’ part of the sentence (and, again, the object after building several sentences.) And level 3 adds the ‘why’ part of the sentence. So we have three selectable difficulty levels and two sublevels of difficulty in each.

The three final options let you choose whether or not the lines and words are to be colored depending on which part of the sentence they belong to (subject, verb, where, why, to whom), and whether or not to each part of the sentence goes together or you have only separate words.

Thus, if we work with separate words but keep the help of colors and reach level 2, the exercises start to be more complicated. However, the colors are very helpful to place the words correctly. The subject is always blue, the verb is always red, the place is always green, and so on.

If you opt for separate words, no colors, and level 3, you will find sentences of more than 10 words that you will have to sort with no hint besides the length of the lines, as shown in the image. The hint of the length of the lines is the only one that can not be deactivated.

Extras
Rainbow Sentences includes some more features. Every time you build a sentence correctly, you are given the option to record an audio clip that you can also save. And the ‘Archive’ screen allows you to play those clips, delete them or send them by email. The image is sent as a PNG file, and the audio clip as a CAF file (a format promoted by Apple, more flexible than the well-known WAV, and that is playable on Windows computers also using QuickTime Player or other audio/video apps).

The ‘Stats’ screen allows you to see the usage statistics. There you can see how many correct sentences of each level have been built in the first, second and third -or later-try. You can also see the puzzles (and the animations, if the puzzles are completed), sent the statistics report by email and reset all counters.

Little more remains. Rainbow Sentences includes an instruction manual and allows you, from the settings screen, to access the Facebook page of the application and to view a tutorial video located in YouTube. The video is particularly suited to know everything that you can make with the app.

Assessment
As I said at the beginning, Mobile Education Tools is well known for its range of apps designed to develop oral and written language at the level of sentences. Rainbow Sentences is one of a collection, and has common elements with other apps, but has focused on the construction of sentences from their words.

With 168 sentences and images, three difficulty levels (and two types of sentences in each one) and a highly configurable hints system, the truth is that Rainbow Sentences gives for many hours of practice. It includes a basic system of reinforcements and statistical records, so it is a quite complete tool. As I mentioned, I would like to be able to deactivate the hint of the length of words, but in fact level 3 with no color aids is hard enough.

Who can use Rainbow Sentences? As with other apps of Mobile Education Tools, the user may well be a student with special needs but a fairly high level of language -expressive, receptive and written- as well a neurotypical student who wants a tool with which to practice building sentences. And in the case of Rainbow Sentences, a valid user can also be a non-native English speaker who want to practice building sentences, expand vocabulary and practice pronunciation.

-Francesc Sistach

Rainbow
Links: iTunes
Company: Mobile Education Tools
Languages: English
Functions: 168 exercises for constructing sentences from the words or blocks that comprise it.
Versions: Only for the iPad
Price: $7.99 / €5.99

 


Review: Speech With Milo: Sequencing


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Third part of the adventures of Milo mouse and his friend Melvin. Doonan Speech Therapy, the developer of two apps for learning verbs and prepositions (both available in English and Spanish), offers now Speech With Milo: Sequencing, devoted to sequences of daily routines and common activities.

In brief, this app for iPad/iPhone/iPod touch allows you to practice with 36 sequences, by ordering the images that form them, reading the descriptions of each of the three images of each sequence, hearing the explanation of the complete sequence, etc., and all this in a fun way. The ultimate goal: to know these sequences and to practice narrative and even reading skills.

Sequences

Speech with Milo: Sequencing comes with 36 sequences, each one consisting of three images showing the Milo (sometimes accompanied by Melvin) performing a series of actions. There are several sequences of habits, such as dressing, washing hands, brushing teeth, tying shoes, eating a hamburger, going to school, getting up or going to sleep, etc.

Other sequences show sports and other leisure activities, like reading a book, going to the movies, building a sand castle, sliding at park or celebrating birthday. Yet another group shows parents activities, such as driving a car or baking a cake. Finally, there is one about Milo driving a rocket to the moon.

Speech with Milo: Sequencing can work with all the sequences or you may choose one by one which sequences will be used. This is something that can easily be done by checking or unchecking them. You can also choose if they are going to appear in order or randomly.

Playing

Once selected the sequences, you can start. Operation of Speech with Milo: Sequencing is always the same: a screen appears showing in the top the three images of the sequence in any order, and three empty boxes below.

You hear “Put the Cards in Order” and from there, the child has to drag each image into its correct position. Each time an image is well positioned you hear applauses, and when misplaced you hear a typical “wrong” sound while the image moves automatically to its original position.

At any time we touch the “Phrase” button, which plays a short phrase describing the sequence.

And so on, until the child has placed the three images correctly.

At that time, with Milo Speech: Sequencing offers two options: move on to the next sequence, or play an animation based on the sequence in full screen.

After 10 sequences, Milo takes a break and begins to dance a little (but without background music unless you have it turned on permanently).

Settings

Speech with Milo: Sequencing has a settings screen that allows you to adjust some aspects of the operation: if you want to hear the right and wrong sounds (usually, yes), the background music, and the texts under each image and at the bottom of the screen.

By disabling some of these options you will get a cleaner screen and possibly more suitable for children without reading skills or precisely for children with more advanced that do not need any hints.

The application also includes a manual, which explains briefly how it works and provides clues on how to use it with children by accompanying them and providing explanations, for example.

Finally, we can send comments to Doonan Speech Therapy, an e-mail to a friend or visit the company website to subscribe to its newsletter.

Rating

The first feeling I got with Milo Speech: Sequencing was ‘quality’, especially for its graphics. It is an attractive application, and animations will help get the interest of the child.

I wish that when Milo dances you could always hear a music, and the team of therapists of Fundación Planeta Imaginario that work with my daughter told me it would be nice to be able to force the kid to build the sequence in order (first the image that goes left).

And obviously, I wish there were more sequences, and that the texts were in other languages. But as it is now, Speech with Milo: Sequencing is already a very interesting and attractive app, which can be very helpful for children with special needs both to learn sequences and practice storytelling and reading skills.

-Francesc Sistach

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Speech with Milo: Sequencing  1.1.1

Web: http://www.speechwithmilo.com

Company: Doonan Speech Therapy

Languages: English.

Functions: Ordering sequences of habits and social stories.

iPhone/iPod touch version: Yes.

iPad version: Yes.

Price: $2.99 / € 2.39

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Review: Talking Flashcards


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Every month there are more apps for the so-called flashcards. They allow you to work with cards that consist of an image, text and an associated audio clip, usually grouped by topic (with the audio clip being just the pronunciation of the text). Seeing cards and hearing the associated sound allow you to practice oral and written language and helps group related concepts into categories.

Some of these apps can add more decks of cards by buying them or even by adding images manually and constructing new cards one by one. But Talking Flashcards goes further and provides a powerful flashcard system that allows you not only to create them but also to import them from Quizlet.com, a website containing a few million! decks for downloading free of charge which cover all kinds of subjects and languages.

On the other hand, and I prefer to say it now, you will need to dig into all these decks to find the cards that you are looking for. Also, Talking Flashcards is clearly intended for a self-sufficient student –or even an adult– and, therefore, it has not built-in reinforcement mechanisms (like music) or a particularly striking and colorful interface that make Talking Flashcards a very attractive app for children with autism. Pronunciations, moreover, are exclusively in English (although other languages will be supported in the future). But if we use other external reinforcements to the app or the student is already a youth or an adult, Talking Flashcards and the service Quizlet.com can result an interesting combination.

Decks

Just at the start, the screen shows the sets of cards (or decks) that we have installed, and we can create new ones, import or delete them and also access to the main options menu.

The import option leads to another screen where you can find decks based on keywords or authors at Quizlet.com, see the details of each deck (author, themes, number of cards and images) and import those that you want.

I would like to explain here that there are several apps for the iPad, even more for the iPhone and some for devices based on other environments (such as Android, Palm webOS and Windows Phone) that are compatible with the format of Quizlet.com decks. The number of decks is intoxicating, but you have to be aware that many do not include images, but “only” words (or words and their definitions). There are decks in about 50 languages, including Klingon (a language spoken by a race of warriors from the Star Trek television series that has plenty of fans in real life).

You simply register at Quizlet.com and you can create your own decks by writing the word associated with each card, a more detailed description or definition, and also an image that you can search directly on the Internet. Quizlet.com plans to add sound clips to their system in the near future.

Talking Flashcards also allows you to create decks from within the app, defining the text and selecting an image, but without the ability to record sound. Once created, you can even send the deck by email from the app itself. However, the recommended option is to do it directly from Quizlet.com, which will also allow us to share our decks with all the users.

The app also lets you create mathematical decks, in which the cards generate basic mathematical operations and, depending on which playback mode, the results of these operations are calculated.


Practice

After selecting a deck to use, you see the list of words listed in it. You can add and delete words, sort alphabetically or shuffle them and, most importantly, practice, something that can be done in two modes: study and play.

In the study mode, each card appears and the user can hit three buttons: one to play the associated sound (which is generated, not recorded, in English from the text) and two to mark correct or incorrect. The idea is that students see the picture and try to say it, before or after they hear the sound associated with the image, and then his/her teacher hits the appropriate button. At the end of the deck, we see a screen with the total score of correct and incorrect answers, the percentage correct and the total time spent on the exercise.

In the play mode, Talking Flashcards shows the cards one after another and plays the sound associated until it reaches the end of the deck. A single pause button allows the student to temporarily stop the playback.

In both modes, there are several settings that are selected for the entire deck, such as a spelling mode, if we view the text on the top of the image or on the “backside” of the card that is accessible through a tab, if we want to display the images, what font size the text should appear, or locking the editing of cards, etc.

The main configuration option of the app also allows you to configure many details of the operation, including choosing between a male or female voices and the rate of speech of that voice. In general, the level of app configuration is very high and includes many details.

Rating

I cannot consider Talking Flashcards as a particularly ASD-friendly app, but for youth and adults with some oral or written language, I think Talking Flashcards deserves a look at least, and also Quizlet.com. There is much potential there, but you’ll have to work a little.

Following this idea, Talking Flashcards can even be used not only as a learning tool, but also as a communication tool. You can load into the app as many decks as you like, and a youth or adult with autism can scroll through the decks and their cards and choose what to say (a card), and show the image or the text or even play the associated text-to-speech audio. The app could be more attractive, but you have a system with many decks, a website to create new ones easily, and all this for a very small price.

-Francesc Sistach & Susana Vila with the contribution of Angie Lamb

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Talking Flashcards 2.0

Web: http://www.theratechsolutions.com

Developer: TheraTech Solutions, LLC

Languages: English, spanish and italian,

Functions: Create, import and exercises with flashcards (cards that combine image, text and sound).

iPhone/iPod touch version: Yes.

iPad version: Yes.

Price: $3.99 / €2.99.

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Review: Language Builder


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To improve sentence ideation, to practice their creation and to improve receptive and expressive language are the three objectives of Language Builder, the latest creation of Mobile Education Tools for people with autism or sensory processing disorders.

Functionality

Available in iPad and iPhone / iPod touch versions, the app has the typical interface in which options appear as buttons or tabs at the bottom of the screen.

The “Settings” tab, which is what initially appears, allows you to enter the student’s name, select the level of hints and purchase additional thematic packs of photos (there are 10, each with 20 images and dedicated to hobbies, pets, inside playtime, medical, places, playground, school, sports, water and winter).

In the “Play” tab, operation is always the same: a photo that depicts a scene appears and at the bottom several buttons are shown and allow you to record an audio clip (presumably with a sentence on the scene), play it, turn that clip into an audio file to preserve and move on to the next image.

If have we selected to have hints, we will also have a button to get them. There are three levels of hints: at level 1, a sentence –always in English– which lacks a few words appears; level 2 only shows the beginning of the sentence; and at level 3 nothing appears but you hear a voice that encourages you to make a sentence that includes one or two particular words.

The “Archive” tab shows all audio recordings which we have previously decided to save as files. Each one displays the associated image and can be played again, deleted or sent by email in the form of a message with the audio clip (in CAF format) and the photo (in JPG format). This option opens the door to keep recordings in which the student has special difficulties, send them to other therapists if you are working as a team or for a consultation, keep a historical record of the evolution of the student, etc.

Finally, the “Info” tab shows a short instruction manual for the app.

Rating

Obviously, Language Builder is designed for children or older people with autism and with good verbal skills and even reading skills depending on the type of hints to be used. To these people, the app will give photos quite remarkable (and, photographically speaking, very well done) and the reinforcement of recording and hear themselves. The interface design is very well done, and I would like to highlight that although not strictly required in this case the developer has bothered to make a specific version for the iPad.

With 50 photos in the base app, it is likely to want to buy additional packs of photos, potentially raising the total number of images to 250 (and the total price to $23.89 or €18.89). Also, Mobile Education Store has three other apps (Sentence Builder, Question Builder and Story Builder) with different approaches but that can help to improve language skills too.

Overall, therefore, the developer offers a good set of tools for the development of the language, but only for English. But that does not impede using the app without using the hints to record and hear our children speaking any other language.

-Francesc Sistach & Susana Vila

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Language Builder 1.1

Web: http://mobile-educationstore.com

Developer: Mobile Education Tools

Languages: English.

Functions: Help to create, record and playblack sentences based on images.

iPhone/iPod touch version: Yes.

iPad version: Yes.

Price: $3.99 / €2.99 (and 10 packs of 20 photos at $1.99 / €1.59 each one)

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