Augmented Reality is a hugely engaging phenomenon that has never been more accessible. Explaining what Augmented Reality is, is a bit like trying to describe the difference between a 3D shape and a 2D shape. Seeing it and using it will give you a much better understanding of what it is. Essentially, augmented reality creates a three dimensional animation that can be viewed through the iPad’s camera. This creates the effect of the animation being a physical structure in the room with you that you can interact with through an app. Again, to show is much easier than to describe, and so this blog will do just that.
Before I dive in to my personal favourites, I feel that it is important to highlight the educational implications of augmented reality apps. Yes, the ability to use this kind of technology is impressive and engaging, but what does it bring to teaching and learning? Well, there are a number of ways that it can help to spur on creativity, story writing, research, computing skills and so on. I will explain each app’s potential and educational impact as we go along…
At number five, I would highly recommend the amazing ‘Spacecraft 3D’ app made by NASA themselves. As you can probably imagine, this is an app that is perhaps best placed within science or space-topic-teaching. Simply download the application from the app store, print off the ‘markers’ (that are easy to find within the app or on the internet) and use the iPad’s camera to make a three dimensional spacecraft appear in front of your very eyes. You can choose from a selection of Rovers, Satellites and Telescopes and get a real idea of their structures. Some of the crafts have moveable parts and all of them can be rotated so that you can see all angles of the technology. This alone is a great way of engaging children in science and space exploration. However, the app offers even more when it comes to teaching and learning. All of the crafts are accompanied by information and links to enable research in a new and interesting way. It can single handedly bring a research lesson to life. There’s no reason why this app couldn’t enhance story writing or non-chronological report writing. It could even be useful in art lessons. However, I feel that it is at its most powerful when it is used within the context of science.
Augmented Reality and SEN is not always the most immediately obvious coupling. However, I would argue that it can make a big impact in this area of education. Butterfly Fingers is a perfect example of an app that can be used to great effect within the complex world of SEN. The app essentially places animated butterflies in the room as you look through the camera of the iPad. The beautifully colourful insects fly around and perch on objects. It is the perfect calming tool for children who become agitated in the classroom. On top of this, it is an app that those not rely on fine motor skills. It is as simple as pointing the camera and watching the screen. The effect is as immersive as any of the calming lights or kinaesthetic resources that are gifted to some children with special educational needs. This app can also help to spur on imaginative ideas or even become embedded within a mini-beast topic. Whereas Spacecraft 3D sits firmly within the key stage 2 or 3 camp, I would say that Butterflies could be used by all age groups.
3) Colar Mix
Using an augmented reality app can often mean that you are pointing the iPad camera at something and watching the effect. You can interact with it on the screen but there is nothing physical about the endeavour. Colar Mix changes that fact. You can physically customise the augmented object in a fun and artistic way. Simply download and print off ‘markers’ (on an A4 piece of paper) that you can colour in and re-design yourself. Again, it’s easier to see than explain (see video below). One marker allows a child to colour in a robot and sketch designs on it’s armour. Opening the app and pointing the iPad’s camera at your coloured robot marker, turns your image into a three dimensional animation with moveable parts. Other ‘markers’ include circles that turn into rotating spheres, ducks that turn into 3D birds and so on. There are obvious implications for artistic learning when using this app but I would say that it’s ability to aid story writing is more poignant. For example, the 3D robot could be a character in a story. In terms of characterisation, using this app and the ‘markers’ can allow children to really think about the finer details of their robot. They can describe the colours and the nature of the robots armour because they have had hands on interactions with it’s creation. Whats more, the ‘character’ is able to become three dimensional and can therefore give a child more of an idea about that way it moves and it’s characteristics. Creating and writing about characters is quite an abstract idea. It relies largely on imagination and the ability to delve deeply into the small details. Using this app can help a child to visualise a character and stimulate more creative ideas.
At number two, I’ve got to nod towards the Aurasma app. It has been used within education for a while now and some of the creative avenues that teachers and pupils have gone down with the app is truly astonishing. Aurasma enables a teacher, or a child, to create their own augmented reality interactions. The app enables you to attach your own videos or pre-made 3D animations to trigger images that are essentially like the ‘makers’ that are used by Color Effects and Spacecraft 3D. These are called ‘Auras’ and are really easy to make. This power means that you can make still images come to life and of course, if you are using your own pre-recorded video, you can decide on the content and meaning of the ‘Aura’. Therefore, teachers can make school displays come to life or add interactive content to worksheets. I have seen teachers use the app in conjunction with trigger images to create multi-media treasure hunts. The effect is mind blowing and can really turn a simple piece of work into a multi-modal project. The only reason that it doesn’t top my list is because it is a bit fiddly. It is probably more realistic that teachers would use this tool or older children in key stage two onwards. However, once you’ve got the knack then you’re away!
My number one has to be AR Flashcards! It’s as simple as it is brilliant. You download the AR flashcards from the app’s website where you will find a card for each letter of the alphabet. As I’m sure you’ve gathered from the title of the app, there is one animated animal for every letter. Straight away, this is a huge plus. Ultimately, it gifts you twenty six augmented reality animals to play with. But the app doesn’t stop there! You will also find a huge number of dinosaur flashcards which broadens the horizons of the app even further. Whats more, it is all available for free! The educational implications are pretty endless. For a start, the app can be used to great effect within phonics teaching and early language development. The bond between animal associations to letters and phonic sounds has been a part of language learning for a long time. This app helps children to make these associations with added awe and wonder. The flashcards can be stuck in the classroom so that children can freely explore them and see the three dimensional animals pop up in front of them. On top of the phonological implications, the app definitely has some baring within topic learning. Dinosaurs are a popular focus for term-long-topics and their popularity is only going to be enhanced by the recent release of ‘Jurassic World’. Embedding these flashcards and it’s accompanying app into long term planning can help children to visualise these animals. In turn, this could aid story writing, artistic endeavours, research projects, scientific learning and so on. It’s open ended nature, the amount of content and the fact that it is free are all important factors. However, it’s usability is also a reason why AR Flashcards top my list. It is so easy to use. Simply point the camera at the flash card and tap the screen to hear a child’s voice say the name of the animal. The interactive qualities of Aurasma and Color Effect are awesome. The information that comes with Spacecraft 3D is incredible. However, sometimes you just need simple easy hooks to keep children engaged in lessons. Sometimes, you just need snappy ideas that can help to kick off a lesson in a new and interesting way. This app offers just that. Quick, simple, innovative and engaging options.