Apps to reinforce Chinese learning that kids enjoy

There are many parents who are opposed to children using any kind of apps for entertainment or learning.  This is understandable considering there are many studies that have proven how ineffective and addicting iPad apps can be.  From an educator’s perspective, most apps place the child into a passive mode of learning- even the  interactive apps have the child passively sitting in front of a digital device answering questions or swiping left to right.  There are literally tens of thousands of ‘educational apps’ out there.  If parents decide to select an app for their child’s learning, they must be clear on what their goal is in having their child use that particular app.
I have some reservations about letting my children use apps to learn.  However, there are currently 2 apps that I have been using with benefits that I have witnessed so far.  One of which is a Chinese character learning app called MagikidChinese

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At home, my child’s experience with learning Chinese is a positive one.  Learning Chinese characters is always associated with playing games, spending time together and having fun.  my son is an active child who responds well to kinesthetic learning, so one of his favorite games is using flashcards to make highways.  As his car passes by the cards, he reads out each character.


However, as his vocabulary increases, the characters get more complicated, and I need other ways to deepen his impression of new Chinese characters, and to enhance his visual memory.  That is when I decided to look into Chinese learning apps. I downloaded around 5 apps but there was only one that I kept and paid for.
There are 4 modes of learning:  Flashcards, Story, Games and Song, all of which help reinforce the learning of new vocabulary.
Here are some reason why I like this app:


  • The Chinese characters are NOT presented as theme-based word list, but rather, as commonly-use words.  For instance, 火 (fire),星 (star),口 (mouth),它 (it),气 (air),空 (empty) are not chosen by theme, and not related to each other.  They are, though, commonly found in children’s stories.


  • The Chinese characters are presented as collocations 固定搭配.  Collocations refer to a group of words that habitually appear together.  For example, the character 口 (mouth) is followed by the word 窗口 (window)


  • A story is read out to the child with the key vocabulary highlighted so the child gets to learn how it is used in context.

GAMES (There are 3 sets of mini-games)

  • It starts with a simplest VISUAL recognition game where the child drags the character to the box that is read out, with pinyin on top (for those who can already read)  It gives hint when the wait time is too long.
  • In the next game, child must drag the same set of characters to a box where it is used in context.  They must LISTEN for the right word (there is no pinyin)
  • It like how it progresses to the 3rd game where the child has to drag the entire phrase (with the key character embedded) up to the box.  The child learns to listen to the pronunciation, as well as identify the Chinese character in a new context.



  • The target characters are sung in a song. This again put the words in a slightly different context that is both authentic and interesting for children.

Some suggestions when using this app to learn Chinese:

  • I taught the words before letting my son use the app.  The reason for that is, I don’t think practicing each exercise once will enable a child to learn the characters.  You would have to at least repeat each game several times, which is not ideal because of the amount of screentime that would be required to master the set of characters.  I pre-teach by making real flashcards, and using them in games.  Here is a great post on 15 Simple Flashcards Games
  • I only do one module every few days, so 6 characters are introduced in every module, and I repeat the mini-games until Kai is familiar.  Sometimes, I go back to previous games to see whether he still remembers
  • This app is more suitable for children who already understand some Chinese.  Otherwise, the songs, the stories would not be helpful!
  • This app is probably best for ages 3 and up


Language learning is a long journey, and it helps when it is fun and interactive.  If you are open-minded to let your child use iPad apps, do give this a try.

Teaching Reinforces Learning: how Common Craft Video Enhances Subject Knowledge

Digital storytelling  allows students to tell a story that usually revolves around a specific theme or topic.   It is channeled through medium such a video, text, pictures, music or recorded audio.  Digital storytelling is a great way to have students make sense of what they have learned, and re-present their knowledge in a personal and creative way.

In my current Unit of Inquiry, I wanted my students to demonstrate their understanding of natural disasters, and be able to articulate how they work as one of their lines of inquiry.  Students researched on their chosen natural disaster, and after a few mini-lessons on note-taking strategies, they hand wrote their research notes, and then turned them into sentences and paragraphs onto Google Slides.

julia's notes1

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Now, just because my students have read books and articles, and then took notes on their topic, does NOT necessarily mean they understand how natural disasters happen! I knew at this point that if I give students the opportunity to “teach”, they will deepen their own understanding of the key concepts. There is where I decided to have them create common craft videos.

In a nutshell, common craft videos look like this:

Common craft videos are effective in offering students a different way to present their work.  Students do not have to worry about traditional forms of presentation skills such as making eye contacts, worrying about good posture, and memorizing their lines.  Rather, they can rely on other factors such as art, technology, teamwork and communication!   Common craft videos provide learners ample time to articulate their ideas and thoughts:  They can practice their content over and over again until they are completely satisfied.

Other benefits of common craft videos are listed below:

– allows students to make sense of their notes and TEACH others

– gives opportunities for students to EXPLAIN a difficult concept

– provides room for CREATIVITY in the way they draw and manipulate their props

– requires only basic apps like Camera and iMovie

The whole process of creating common craft videos is simple and straight forward if students have already prepared their “script”. This could very much be their research notes!

My students were very excited after I introduced common craft videos to them.  We watched different examples of common craft videos, and together developed a simple criteria for an effective common craft video.

Criteria for Common Craft Videos

Following this criteria, students observed as I created a common craft video on the spot using picture props that I prepared in advance.


Then, students were off to work individually or in groups to plan their own videos!

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Students were very engaged during the process. They referred frequently to their notes for reference.

Here a my student’s explanation on drought:

Here is another common craft video on avalanche:

One last one on hurricane:

They were so focused that by the time they completed their videos, I could tell they were much more familiar with their topics.  They have not only successfully taught others about their natural disaster, but also, deepened their own understanding through the process.

Trialed & Tested & Solution found: Thanks to “OurPact”

One of the main source of conflicts between parents and teenagers these days is the excessive use of cellphone.  And this conflict often leads to other issues such as:  high data plan bill, cyberbullying and sexting, or lack of communication with family members.

This WAS (yes…used to be) very true in our household with a 15 year old teenager.

There were constant battles over:

  • convincing my stepson to put his phone aside during homework time
  • making sure the phone is charged in OUR room before bedtime
  • discussing issues with friends that arise on social media

And more…

Does this sound familiar to any of you?

At one point, I was fed up with the constant power struggle over technology.  I needed some kind of parent control app that enables me to guide my teenager to more responsible technology use.  I need an app that helps HIM take a break from device use so he can explore other activity options during his downtime.  This app would ideally involve controlling his phone remotely without physically taking it away.  Perhaps, it’d involve locking his phone during bedtime or homework time? Does such an app exist!?

After looking into several options, I decided to try out “OurPact”  From the start, I knew I needed the Premium version where I have access to features that were more specific.


In a nutshell, Ourpact manages devices in three ways:

1.  Schedules

I use “Schedule” to check off times during the day when certain apps should be allowed or blocked.  For instance, during homework hours, only educational tools or apps such as Calculator, Google Classroom, Quizlet, Calendar are activated. During bedtime, only Spotify and Alarm are on.

Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 9.20.47 PM.pngI know my stepson is at an age when he should really be self-regulating rather than relying on an app to block distractions for him, but this is another discussion worth a post of its own.  Long story short, there are some kids who are ready to self-regulate, and there are others who need a little bit more help to get ‘self-regulation’ into a habit.

The “Schedule” function on OurPact has really helped our family because I no longer need to pry the phone away during homework time, or lock up the phone in our room at 11:30pm sharp (bedtime).  It’s a game changer because I can now go to bed early with the comfort of knowing OurPact will shut off the apps after I fall asleep.


2.  Grant

“Grant” is another handy function.  I use it when, for example, my stepson is scheduled to have 3 hour study time during exams period (when all social media apps are shut off), but he comes to me and wants a 15 minute break.  With the “Grant” function, I could allowa 15 min – 8 hours break without affecting his scheduled apps time.

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3.  Block

“Block” works in a similar way as “Grant”.  If my stepson is scheduled to have his freeapps time, but he has forgotten to do his mountain of


laundry, I can quickly block his apps for a specific time frame without affecting his daily scheduled technology time.

One other extremely function on OurPact for my younger stepsons is…

4.  Allowance

This “Screentime allowance” function works very well with my younger stepsons (twin boys) who are in 6th grade.  Setting a daily technology limit is a great way to teach time management.  Each day, I allot 3 hours of “iPad time” to them, and it’s up to them how they want to budget their time. To start the timer, they just need to press PLAY on the OurPact Junior app, and if they want to save the remaining minutes for later, they press “PAUSE.”  Once the 3 hour allowance is used up, their apps will once again be blocked.

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What’s also great is that each day can have its own allowance.  For example, I can give them a 5 hour allowance on weekends.

The “Allowance” function has been extremely useful because I no longer need to set the timer on my own watch, and supervise them during their free time.  The app does the work for me counting how much time they have spent on their device, and blocking the apps when their allowance time expires.


Finally, what’s great about the functions on OurPact is that the setting of each function can be different for each child.  I have three boys at home, and their schedule, and allowance are all tailored to their routines and needs (OurPact can manage up to 20 devices!)

You can read more about OurPact on their website here.  The visuals and step-by-step instructions and online tutorials are very clear, and the online support is quick to reply and offer assistance.  I am aware that there are other similar apps out there, but it did take some time to figure OurPact, and try out all the functions for my three stepkids.  I decided to stick with OurPact.  It’s been 4 months since I started using it, and besides a few issues here and there (for instance, kids trying to unpair their devices from Ourpact), this parental control app has trained my boys toward more responsible iPad use.


REVIEW: Why a busy mom can’t live without her Apple Watch (Series 3)

I didn’t think I’d ever need to get a watch.  Who needs a watch these days when there is an iPad and iPhone to tell time, with much more interesting information and entertainment?  That is… until I got myself an Apple Watch Series 3!
Here are some reasons why everyone, especially busy moms need an Apple Watch:

Camera Remote

  • One problem for many moms is they never have time to take photos of themselves WITH their babies, and if they rely on their husbands, the result isn’t always desirable.
  • Although the Apple Watch doesn’t have a camera, it has a Camera Remote app that connects to the iPhone’s camera.
  • This means I can set my phone on the side, and remotely take photos or videos using my watch.
  • For moms who are always behind the camera, capturing images of your family, the Camera Remote is especially handy for taking photos of yourself and your kids

Answering phone calls, Text Messaging / Whatsapp

  • The Apple Watch IS a phone on your wrist: an eSIM can be embedded so phone calls can be received and made without your iPhone close by.   It even has a built-in speaker and microphone so you can talk directly to your watch.
  • Here is a very good post on how this can be done:
  • The Series 3 also lets you reply incoming message notifications (WhatsApp, WeChat, iMessage) by dictating your message or scribbling your reply.

Water Resistance

  • Because of this reason, I keep my watch on the whole day!


  • I never got into the habit of using Siri on my phone.  However, with a watch on my wrist, it’s easier using Siri to ask for today’s weather, setting the timer for your cooking, etc.


Pop Up Notifications

  • When you are juggling different things and multitasking, you don’t always have an extra hand to hold onto your phone.
  • Whatever pops up on your phone will show up on your watch: Google Calendar events, text messages, Uber car arrival, news headlines, and much more.  This, again, makes it easier to put down my phone and focus on my kids, or my lessons while being instantaneously connected with what is happening.
  • I ran into the problem of NOT being able to see my notifications initially, so here is a good post on some of the reasons why:

Exercise / Workout

Playing with my two boys, picking up and dropping them off at school and running after them technically count as working out, so I know I am active enough to stay healthy, but having an actual workout app on your Apple Watch just makes me more conscious of how active I am throughout the day.  I get ‘rewarded’ by the everyday hustle and bustle when I see all my ‘activity rings’ close, an indication that I have met my calories burn goal.  These rings are reminders that I am on target, and that I should continue to stay active.   However, what really motivated me to start exercising was the Activity Sharing feature on my watch.  When I take my boys for stroll in the neighbourhood or swim with them in the pool, I now consciously check the appropriate exercise option in the built-in Workout App.  Once the exercise is complete, a notification will be sent to people whom I have connected with, as a reminder that “Hey I have finished my workout, have you?” This just adds a bit of competitive element to exercising, which apparently is a stronger motivator. Another bonus is because the watch is waterproof, I can wear it while swimming and it will calculate how many laps I’ve done based on the length of the pool.

Here is a great post that explains how both apps work:  Apple Watch Activity and Workout App- Explored and Explained 

Comparison of Digital Storytelling apps- Puppet Pals VS Toontastic

The Grade 1 students will be focusing on the Central Idea that “Solutions to problems can be found through cooperation.”  This topic lends itself for integrating technology into this Unit of Inquiry (UOI), where the students will be asked to come up with digital stories that show the students’ creative side in solving problems within their group.

Here is a simple script that I created in order to create my own story using both Puppet Pals and Toontastic. I believe that for students to have success when creating digital stories, planning and writing out a logical script or outline is the key no matter what app / technology is used!


Not only are digital stories a great way for shy and withdrawn students to express their creativity and ideas, but also, they enable other students to practice their storytelling skills at their own pace and comfort level.

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 9.40.50 AM.pngFor this UOI, Puppet Pals HD (Director’s Pass $3.99US) is an easy app that students can use to create their own problems and solutions through story telling.

With the paid version, students can take photos of each other to use as characters, and they can even customize their own background by selecting photos from their Camera Roll.


Here is a video I created as an example using Puppet Pals to show conflict resolution during recess:

Note: students can also use action figures / lego figures.

Another app that is suitable for storytelling is Toontastic HD.   Some difficulties I find when using Puppet Pals is that students can end up rambling if they don’t write up a script beforehand.  Therefore, what I like about Toontastic is the Beginning/Middle/End prompts that are sectioned for ease of use.   Students can take their time to record each part of the story, step by step.  Then, they can re-enact the story using the characters provided.


Although Toontastic HD does not allow students to use customized characters from their camera roll, it does enable students to put their faces on the characters.  Also, unlike Puppet Pals whose characters cannot move, Toontastic characters have moving body parts.

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-11-54-27-amToontastic does not allow a direct import of photos as background from the Camera Roll.  Users can, however, draw their own background which might be difficult for younger students.  To customize my own background, I painted the backdrop in green, and then used Green Screen by DoInk to incorporate my chosen photo as the background.  This, again, might be complicated for younger users.

Here is before the editing using Green Screen by DoInk


Here is the after edit:

In summary, here is a comparison of Toontastic HD and Puppet Pals:


In conclusion, I feel that Toontastic has a more structured format that may be good with classes whose students need more guidance and prompts.  However, if classroom teachers spend enough time to plan, write and edit students’ scripts and dialogues, stories created using Puppet Pals would turn out just as logical and complete.








Sticking with basic Apple Apps- Integrating Math with “Numbers”

Although there is a ton of very specific Math apps, you will find that ICT integration doesn’t take a costly app to be effective. It is good to take a look at some of the basic Mac apps that you already have on your iPad, and see how you can use them to enhance your Math lessons.

“Numbers” is one that I find to be user friendly and easy for students when  for example turning data into graphs. At the start of last year when I was working with G4s, I introduced a typing website so they could bookmark it and practice typing.  Trouble was, I wanted to integrate typing with what they were learning in Math: figuring out mean, medium and mode, as well as creating graphs.

I distributed the following chart to students, and had them complete each lesson 10 times (very easy, beginner level task that took less than a minute to complete).  Then, they calculated the mean and median.  screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-3-10-42-pmAfterwards, the following lesson turned our data into graphs on Numbers.  A great feature of Numbers is students can select from various type of graphs, so it is a “teaching moment” to discuss what type of graph was most suitable to demonstrate progress over time.


Here is the criteria of a good graph:


Although there are certainly Math apps that converts data into beautiful graphs, Numbers was more than sufficient for the purpose of a G4 lesson.  It allows students to input data, create different types of graphs. Numbers could also potentially be used during other Math units later on during the year. All in all, it is a versatile app that allows for ICT integration and it isn’t restricted to one specific feature like many Math apps that are available in the market.

G2 Poetry using Google Slides

The Grade 2 students have been writing different types of poems as part of their “How we express ourselves” Unit of . I thought this was a great opportunity to introduce Google Slides as a collaboration tool. Google Slides would allow students to create their acrostic poems digitally, and compile an anthology together as a class. Students would be inspirrd by others’ poems while writing their own, and the anthology could be easily shared with parents when it is completed.

1. To get started, I created a simple template of the Google anthology for all my classes, and dropped it in a folder that’s already been shared with students from previous projects.

2. To clear up confusions that might
happen if I let students choose their own slide to work on, I pre-typed their names on individual slides so they’d know exactly which one to use.

Google Anthology- blank slide

3. I then typed up my sample acrostic poem using my name.


In class…

4.   Students located the Google anthology in the “Shared with me folder”

5.  I reminded students on how to write an acrostic poem and showed them my example.

At this point, it’s crucial to explain some rules when working collaboratively on Google apps.  Since students are typing simultaneously on a single presentation, they are encouraged to view others’ poems, but not allowed to edit their classmates’ slides.  They must work on their own slide only.

6.  I did a quick demo on changing font colours and size, adding images and shapes on Google Slides.

7.  To help Grade 2 students get ideas on words that begin with letters of their names, I showed them this Adjectives vocabulary word-list from a-z from Enchanted Learning.

8.  Finally, the students began writing!

Here are some of the acrostic poems that they wrote:



Sienna Perry



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Here is another acrostic poem that a student wrote of their choice: