November 20, 2017

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Three Maker Apps to Spark Young Imaginations

What to look for in maker apps

Fun software abounds on the market. As you begin to explore products that might work in your library’s maker space, consider the questions below. Your answers should give you and your colleagues a sense of whether or not the app is one worth integrating into your programming.

• How does this product help a child or teen learn a new skill or extend what they already know?

• In what ways does this app provide opportunities to innovate and create something original?

• How does the app make it possible for users to iterate their making? Are they able to design, test, rework, and test again?

Last year, at an event where teens showcased apps that they created for a competition, I spoke with the high school boys who won first prize. They expressed surprise at their achievement. “We built something, thought it worked, tested it, only to find out that there were snags,” one of them said. “We started again, got a little farther along, and had to stop again. This happened over and over.”

Their comments highlight what the maker movement is and isn’t. It’s not about the stuff: the 3-D printers, the soldering irons, the sewing machines, the iPads, or the craft materials. A successful experience is about learning and innovation. That’s what those teenagers discovered as they worked through the iterations of their app, and it’s something to keep in mind as you consider software for your libraries. Below are three of my favorite maker apps.

Foldify

Compatible with iPad running iOS8 or later $3.99, available in a number of languages
The object is quite simple: create 3-D figures out of paper. A key selling point of Foldify is that while a 3-D printer isn’t required, the app is a great first step to understanding 3-D modeling. Just having Foldify available in maker spaces is guaranteed to generate design conversation and ideas.

1505-APP-Foldify_Screen

The first step when opening Foldify is selecting a template. Once it’s chosen, users can add colors, images, and even photos from their personal library. Figuring out the placement of the pictures and color is the challenge. Here is where the app’s preview component is essential: users can view how the images, patterns, and colors they have selected will display in the finished product. Touch-screen features, such as the two-finger enlarge-or-shrink function, will assist with adjustments. When finished, the template can be printed via AirPrint, cut, and folded. No glue, tape, or stapling is required. The final product can also be emailed as a .pdf, uploaded to Dropbox or the Foldify website, saved in the iPad’s photo library, or posted on Facebook or Twitter.

Seeing is believing with Foldify, so be sure to visit the developer’s website and examine the delightful creations displayed there. Foldify Zoo, another app from the same developer, features wild animals.

TINKERPLAY

Compatible with Apple, Google, and Window devices, Free

1505_APP-Tinkerplay_officialWhen a 3-D printer lands in a library, it’s never a plug-and-play experience. Learning to use the equipment takes time, and Tinkerplay (above), from Autodesk, will help users conceptualize what’s necessary to create 3-D objects. The app’s interface is perfect for touch devices, incorporating drag-and-drop and two-finger touch to move, expand, or shrink objects.

Users can create characters—from robots to monsters—with one of the app’s templates, or from scratch. Once a figure is started, body parts and objects are added. One challenge is designing so that the pieces and parts fit together. Does the arm connect with the torso correctly? If not, the body part will simply float in the workspace. (If it does fit, it will lock into place.)

Color, embossing, and engraving can also be added. As a result, getting to the point where a figure is 3-D printer-ready can take time. Here the auto-save feature comes in handy; makers can store their work and return to finish it later.

While users are designing with Tinkerplay, the dimensions and weight of the end product and printing time can be determined. The larger and heavier the object, the longer the print time—something to keep in mind in the library environment.

The app is designed to interface directly with MakerBot printers. However, since the print files can be downloaded and saved as .stl files (CAD files used in 3-D modeling), printing on other 3-D printers is possible.

GAMEPRESS

Compatible with iPad running iOS 6 or later, Free

1505-APP-GamePriPadDISTORTCreating digital games is another popular maker activity, and GamePress allows patrons to build one without having to learn a programming language. However, the process can be time consuming—taking anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

GamePress is a collaborative platform—another plus. Several people can work on a project at the same time, and it can be edited by others if the game developer(s) choose to switch on that feature. Programmable options include crafting character behaviors and movements, sound effects, and animation.

The app is a perfect example of software that can be incorporated into a program series. Tweens or teens might start by playing some of their favorite games and analyzing what it is that they like or don’t like about them, then brainstorming about those they would like to create. Working in groups for storyboarding and planning would come next, followed by programming and testing. Groups can make suggestions to one another using the editing feature. When a design is complete and the editing option switched off, the game can be made available for free via the GamePress app, or published to the iTunes store using the Hyperpad app (hyperpad.com).

GamePress is somewhat complicated to use, but throughout the development process, help screens are accessible. Video tutorials are also available.

About those high school boys who won the app competition. Success came to them through trial and error. Give the kids you work with the same opportunity to shine by providing access to products that are challenging, lead to learning, and unleash innovation.

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Linda W. Braun About Linda W. Braun

Linda W. Braun (lbraun@leonline.com) is an educational technology consultant and a past president of YALSA.

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