Toontastic

In this post we look at Toontastic in an audio interview format with BC Seoul teacher Ailsa Mantelow.

Toontastic

To accompany Ailsa’s interview, we’ve provided an in-depth look at how Toontastic can be utilised

Toontastic markets itself an educational aid which allows early learners to develop linguistic and creative skills. As one might reasonably speculate from the name of the app, Toontastic allows children to create their own animated cartoons. Budding Walt Disneys get the chance to choose sets, characters, and music and bring their creations to life using animation and dialogue.

What’s in it?

Toontastic starts by providing five story scenes to animate. Each of these scenes is given a title such as background, conflict, and resolution. These will most likely go way over the heads of our students, and should probably be ignored, as should the rather annoying instructions which accompany the initial setup.

For each scene, the user needs to make a number of choices before beginning their animation.

Firstly, they need to choose a location for the scene. There are four attractive preset locations provided including a castle, a lunarscape, and a pirate ship. Children also get the option to paint their own scene on screen, though the likelihood is that, like mine, their set will appear as an unsightly blob. My criticism here is that with only four preset backgrounds, users should have the option of copying and pasting sets from another location or of accessing a bank of different sets.

Next, children get to choose what characters and objects they will place in their scene. Most of these are what might be expected to match the sets provided, such as a space alien, a shark, and a Princess. Others are a little more bizarre, such as a giant clam and a showjumping fence. Once again, children get the chance to draw their own character, but this is likely to be rather difficult for younger learners to manage. The characters are fun and children will enjoy using them, but again there is simply not enough choice.

Now we are ready to make their animation. This process is fairly straightforward. In real-time, users move the characters around the screen while speaking their dialogue or narration into the iPad’s microphone. This software automatically records the audio and visual action. Although this is a very simple way to allow young learners to make their own animation, is also rather difficult to master the technique of moving characters and speaking at the same time, especially as the microphone is at the back of the ipad.

A useful feature of the animation is that characters legs move a walking motion as you manoeuvre them around the screen. Their arms are also movable, and they can be viewed in front or side profile.  However, moving the characters around is rather awkward as they rarely seem to go the way you want them to. This is especially frustrating as you are animating in real-time, so you have to start again if you make a mistake.

The final addition to a scene is the music. Musical choices are displayed as emoticons on the screen, so for instance, the user will tap the happy, sorrowful or a angry face to access the appropriate music. This visual display makes the process of choosing music easier and more fun for young learners. However, most of the music is either classical or cinematic and may not appeal to a child’s tastes.

Students repeat this process for each scene, until they finish their movie. They then add a title and credits to the finished animation. Children can then choose to upload the video to the Toontastic online video sharing site called ToonTube. This is a very professionally laid out and engaging site where students can watch videos made by children from all over the world. Alternatively, your students can just watch it in class with their friends.  There does not appear to be a Social Media sharing option which is a pity

Uses and Misuses

To get the most out of this software, it is better to be prepared in advance.  There are so many options, that younger children may become frustrated and confused. For this reason, it would be better if you learnt to use the software before introducing it to your students. It would also be helpful if you gave them an initial 15-20 minute playtime with the software to allow them to become more familiar with it. Showing them a movie which you made yourself or one from ToonTube would also help to generate enthusiasm.

For best results, students could make the animation as a project over 3 to 4 classes. This would give them time to think of characters, draw storyboards, and write dialogue. Though, it would also be perfectly possible to make a basic 1-2 scene story with in one class.

One thing that I would not recommend, is using this app as an impulse activity to take up half an hour when you have nothing else to do. It takes at least 15 to 20 minutes for children to work out even how to use the software, so trying to create something meaningful without preparation in a short space of time is likely to produce a complete turkey.

In Short

Toontastic does have its limitations, it is probably too difficult for younger children to operate (although they might have fun trying), and perhaps too limited in its resources to maintain the interest of older children for a length of time. However, if well prepped and used sparingly, this app may well encourage the fun and creative use of language in the classroom, gives children something tangible to show their mum and dad after class.

What’s in a webquest?

So, what’s in a webquest? Before starting, though, let’s take a minute to consider some of the following questions. (You might jot down some of your own ideas if you’re truly ambitious!)

  • What is a webquest? Is it the same thing as doing online research?
  • What is the purpose of a webquest? What sorts of language skills are they meant to develop? What about thinking skills?
  • How should a webquest be structured?
  • Are there any resources available online for finding, adapting, exploiting or creating webquests?

Alright, enough with the questions. Let’s get to some of the answers.

What is a webquest?

Bernie Dodge, largely considered the father of modern webquests, has defined webquests as “…an inquiry-oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the internet“.  Tom March went further, offering this definition:

“A WebQuest is a scaffolded learning structure that uses links to essential resources on the World Wide Web and an authentic task to motivate students’ investigation of a central, open-ended question, development of individual expertise and participation in a final group process that attempts to transform newly acquired information into a more sophisticated understanding.”

Ok, great! But how does it work in practice?

Structuring a Webquest

It turns out, webquest enthusiasts have largely agreed on a fundamental structure that most webquests can employ. The stages are:

  1. Introduction: where the overall theme of the quest is introduced
  2. Task: where the learners are instructed on what they have to do
  3. Process: the activity stage that the learners work through
  4. Evaluation: a final stage which is designed to encourage learner self-evaluation and reflection

If you’re interested in more details about these stages, check this article on the BC’s Teaching English page.

Skills Development

One of the criticisms launched against webquests is that they develop/promote low-order thinking skills (copy & pasting answers from websites). Advocates of webquests disagree, suggesting that webquests are a constructivist, inquiry-oriented learning process that develop higher order thinking skills–not simply “internet scavenger hunts.” The fault, they suggest, lies in poor design. In terms of language education, poor webquests encourage learners to simply copy/paste answers from a text, whereas a well designed webquest will require learners to respond to newly encountered information in a meaningful, productive task. (For more on this, consider listening to this podcast interview of Bernie Dodge)

Moving Forward with Webquests

Are you interested in seeing more examples of ‘good’ webquests? Consider visiting the following sites:

Questions? Please post them in the comment thread below this post.

Quick Voice Pro

What is it?

Quick Voice Pro is a voice recorder for the iPad. Unlike it’s predecessor Quick Voice, this version has the capacity to email larger files. I’ve so far managed to email recordings up to 20 minutes long, which is a vast improvement on the last version, which allowed only a few minutes.

What can I do with it?

The main difference with this and other voice recording apps, like Audioboo, is that the files are stored on the iPad and not on the internet. The files can also be removed and stored on a computer, via email.

Why record things?

Recordings could be made of speaking tasks for later correction, or as a diagnostic. Tasks can be compared in a TBL format. Or simply, students could record specific information to give them a reason to speak, e.g. talk about your experience of studying at the British Council to share with another class, or British Council centre. I’ve found in the past that this app works particularly well with IELTS candidate students who record their speaking part 2 turns and listen to review.

You, the teacher, could also use the app to make recordings for listening activities in the classroom. The quality and clarity is much better than a digital reorder, and is a lot easier to use.