Last year’s school exchange to Okayama prefecture in Japan inspired me to once again start learning Japanese.

But where to start?

Our South Australian state library  ’One Card’ online booking system threw up some useful book resources but I needed more. So off to the Apple app store I went. And found…

Rather a lot.

So here, out of the dozens I trialled, are my top five.

1. Mirai Japanese

Mirai Japanese

This app really has it all.

  • It’s structured into bite-sized lessons. I take between 10 and 15 minutes to complete each one
  • It has two native-language speakers (Takako and Daiki) to demonstrate each phrase.
  • The lessons build and reinforce each other.
  • Pronunciation, grammar and writing are all covered.
  • It’s fresh, engaging, and a joy to navigate.
  • Lots of quizzes.
  • And more!

Mirai has formed the basis of my Japanese learning. I’ve finished lessons 1 through 20 (out of a possible 70) and have started reviewing them all again.

Because stuff takes a long tome to sink into my head.

Which is my fault, not Mirai’s!

2. Dr Moku’s Hiragana

Dr Moku's Hiragana app

I started learning the Hiragana syllabary first.

I highly recommend Dr. Moku’s mnemonic approach to remembering the symbols.

Super Sumo (‘su’), the Kneeling Ninja (‘ni’) and  Meep meep (‘mi’) (amongst others), all made memorising a reasonably quick process.

The app has pronunciation guides, quizzes (ah, the feeling the first time I scored 46/46 on the ‘Master’ quiz!’), stroke guides and a quick reference lookup.

The app’s website has lots of extras too, including pdfs, games and memory cards.

3. Dr Moku’s Katakana

Dr Moku's Katakana app

This is the sister app to the Dr. Moku’s Hiragana app.

It takes a similar approach, using mnemonics to learn the Katakana syllabary.

Several similar looking symbols are linked together (the ‘shi – so – tsu – no – n’ story sequence is a little risqué!) to further help with memorisation.

This app has more extensive background notes but also includes quizzes, stroke orders and a quick reference.

4.  Learn Japanese by Mindsnacks


The app is free, with fifty Japanese lessons costing you around $5 through an in-app purchase.

The app is built around learning phrases and words through games (such as ‘Swell’. ‘Chipper’, ‘Belly’ and ‘Bloon’).

The gameification is excellent, with tricky words being repeated more often and your mastery of lessons presented numerically.

There are quests to undertake, experience points to earn and the app is slick, slick, slick.

Despite my protestations of incompetency, the app pushed me onto new lessons when I still felt I needed extra work. Mastered words are added to a new list, so I found practising a new set difficult. To this end I logged on as a new user (for another $5, money well spent I thought). Then I discovered you can ‘un-master’ a lesson by resetting your progress. Clever, but … sigh.

This app really is brilliant and a great way to while away even two or three minutes.

5. Kanji Spy


This one’s a bit different .

Publisher Russell Willis has taken photographs of street signs around Hiroo in Tokyo.

The gorgeous full-screen shots show typical street scenes then zoom in on Kanji-rich signs and explain their meaning and pronunciation.

The app is simple-as – you scroll and read!

But it’s well set out, a menu option will read the sign to you and you can bookmark favourite pages. It’s simply a great way to explore a Japanese suburb with a helpful guide.

Lots of fun!

My first attempts at creating an animated visual of a journey (some 15 years ago) were laborious and frustrating and involved taking multiple screenshots of a small plane graphic as I moved it across a blurry background map.

Now you can purchase dedicated map-journey software such as PriMap or use freebie (yay!) online tools such as Map My Trip or Tripomatic.

My favourite though was the easy-as to use Tripline.

The web interface is easy to navigate, and creating an animated map is straightforward:

  1. Create an account. (Facebook login is an option)
  2. Create a new map.
  3. Add waypoints and locations. (Click on the map, search by name or add by decimal point latitude / longitude)
  4. Add descriptions and photographs. (The photo upload is VERY well implemented)
  5. Share your map. (I’ve added Tripline to our school website and Facebook page).

The completed project is slick, thoughtfully designed and presented and a easy for the casual user to use.

Classroom use

I’d highly recommend this online resource for classroom use. With the only downside being the registration requirements, Triplien could easily find a place in Geography and History lessons mapping out migration patterns, historic journeys or imaginary trips. The diary interface also suggests use in literacy lessons, whilst the ability to export distances suggests use in numeracy work.


You probably won’t need much hand-holding, but there are some excellent resources available:

You can also download a Tripline app for the iPad but the functionality – particularly the animated map – appears to be missing at this time.

Sample trip

As a music teacher, it’s a bit embarrassing to admit that my singing voice is most definitely not up to scratch.

In fact ‘scratch’ is probably a fair assessment of the tonal range and pitch qualities!

I’ve tried a few iPad apps in the hope they might – at the very least – provide me with a little more accuracy when singing. Of the several I’ve tested, one stands out from the pack; ‘Erol’s Singers Studio.

Data. data and more data

To improve my singing accuracy I need feedback on how I’m going, and Singers Studio provides that in spades.

Match your pitch to the blue notes.

Match your pitch to the blue notes.

Vocal exercises feature standard music notation plus a ‘piano roll’ style display with a graphed line of your vocal (in realtime) and notes that turn gradually greener according to your accuracy.

Each exercise  ends with a percentage score for each note. Top scores are recorded as a point value: overall percent for an exercise multiplied by the number of octaves covered.

A ‘range’ graph gradually solidifies as you progress with the exercises.

The green 'blob' shows your (hopefully) widening vocal range.


A solid range of exercises are included in the app. I started on the ‘Beginner Program 1′ and there was enough material to keep me going for three weeks, until I changed to ‘Beginner Program 2′, an in-app purchase.

By this time I was so enjoying the app I bought all the in-app purchases, which still totalled less than one decent lesson!

It’s worth a hunt through the users manual in the help section, as you’ll probably discover a few things you didn’t realise the app could do, such as being able to slow down exercises, or set a key.

It’s also worth while reading the comments on the different sections from users, which range from ideas for improvements through to questions of technique and progress.

Best of all is reading Erol’s replies; thoughtful, helpful and professional. Just what you need in an app that is a teaching tool.

Singers Studio is brilliant, Erol is brilliant and although my voice isn’t brilliant, it’s not as scratchy as it used to be.



App: $14.99

  1. Ear Training for Singers – $3.99
  2. Beginner 2 – $0.99
  3. Intermediate 2 – $1.99
  4. Advanced 2 – $2.99
  5. Advanced 3 – $2.99


FE Snap ScreenshotEach week I take photos of our Primary School merit cards for inclusion in the school newsletter. I usually use my iPhone, but I really don’t need the high resolution the camera provides; 640 x 480 would be more than enough. The iPhone doesn’t provide this ‘downgrading’ of functionality itself, so I’ve been using the nifty ‘FastEver Snap’, a photo app that automatically (well usually automatically) uploads the photos to Evernote, using a resolution I choose. The app is simple and straight forward.

  1. Set a resolution in options.
  2. Link your Evernote account and select a folder.
  3. Take your photos.

To further simplify my workflow I lay the phone in the top drawer of a transparent plastic document box. With the drawer fully extended I can place the student merit cards beneath, then trigger the iPhone camera with my earbuds – less shakes! At home, I open Evernote, sync then select the picture-notes. These are then saved to a folder for placement into the newsletter inDesign file. Quick and easy!


Along with changing the photo resolution you can opt to:

  • save the pictures to the camera roll
  • use a grid
  • reset tags after saving
  • preview
  • upload over wifi only
  • add tags
  • write a title


Just one; every so often the photos refuse to upload and the counter sits there spinning. Usually a logout / login to Evernote fixes this.


If you have Evernote, this is one handy tool. If you don’t have Evernote, the ability to select camera resolutions is useful, especially if you don’t want to fill your disk space with high-res photos. FastEver Snap on the iTune Store

As much as I love my iPad (and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Windows PC person) the lack of ease in transferring photos to applications is frustrating, to say the least.

The issue this time was iDoceo, a brilliant marks book / electronic portfolio / lesson planner which I’ve been using for a while.

I had all my  students’ photos on my PC. I’d used the export function in Picasa to resize them and thought I’d save them on a SD Card then import them via the iPad camera kit.

No. You can’t do that, as the camera kit only works for photos created by the camera.

Okay, upload them in DropBox and …

No. Well, yes, but then I’d have to import them one-by-one from Dropbox into the photo roll. So no.

Sync via iTunes? Not a solution I want to use on a regular basis.



I ended up buying pics2phone.

It’s an iPhone app, and it has one of the ugliest (but simplest) interfaces you’ll find.

To use it:

  1. Create a folder called pics2phone in your Dropbox root folder. (pics2phone may / may not create this for you.)
  2. Copy folders of photos into the pics2phone folder.
  3. Start up pics2phone on your iphone / ipad.
  4. Tap the ‘Download Photos Now’ button.
  5. pics2phone scans the folder in Dropbox. If it finds new photos it uploads them into your Photos app, with each  sub-folder becoming a new album.

That’s it. Photos go into Dropbox, pics2phone imports them into albums.

It’s simple, it’s reliable, it works (and yes, IT is ugly)

pics2phone icon

pics2phone icon



I love the colourful and personal world-view that Google Maps and  Street View have brought to my classroom.

I’ve now added 360Cities to my teaching toolkit as they take Street View and turn it into an immersive (you guessed it!) 360 degree panorama.

I’m writing a children’s musical set on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and was alerted to a 360cities panorama of the Ran Raraku quarry, where the famous heads were carved:


Inside Rano Raraku : The Moai Quarry in Rapa Nui – Easter Island

This one shows the Ahu Akivi moai, the only ones to actually face the ocean.

Ahu Akivi (Front Left) in Rapa Nui – Easter Island

This one shows the Ahu Tongariki, the largest moai on the island.


Another Day At Tongariki (Front Center) in Rapa Nui – Easter Island

The 360Cities site requires Flash, so there’s no visiting on your iPad! Fortunately, there is an app, and since it allows you to make your own panoramas, it’s excellent value.

Panoramas are user uploaded, so popular tourist sites are over-represented and some places have none at all. That aside, my quick sampling (birth place in UK, recent trip to New Zealand, Canada and interest in Easter Island) all turned up useful views.

And of course, your students could make their own too!

Dashboard is a beautiful (and sort-of-free-depending ) iOS6 app with both iPad and iPhone versions available.

It offers a one-stop-view for your email, Facebook, weather, news, notes, to-do-lists and more, all on  customisable and relatively easy to navigate screens.

I started with Dashboard for  iPad. I’t slick right up (looking a lot like the Wunderlist) and exudes a professional feeling. I started customising the first screen and added a Calendar, Time and weather panel. Each panel can fit across any combination of each screen’s eight-module areas, so you could  feasibly have eight panels per screen. I chose to have four on the first (home) screen), two on the next screen and a single custom panelon the third. Panels can be easily resized and deleted – lots of fun!

An email seemed a logical inclusion, but an email pack is part of Dashboard’s in-app purchase.


Still, a couple of bucks isn’t a lot to ask considering the app is free (at the moment) and a quick trip to the app store netted me a Gmail panel, a Check List panel and a Notes panel. You can have up to eight screens and the settings section includes a half-decent Help file, a variety of background themes and the option to turn off the button sounds. The custom module allows you to add specific urls as panels a worthwhile feature in its own right.

I’m impressed by what I’ve seen so far and I guess more panels will become available if the demand warrants it. The only hiccups I had were 1)  having to read the Help file to work out how to add additional screens (drag a screen to the left until ‘Add Screen’ appears. Doh!) and 2) a lag with the

Give Dashboard a spin, it could be just the thing you need to collect you busy life in one place.

YouTube clip: Editing in Dashboard

On the App Store: Dashboard

Layout of the new Zite

Layout of the new Zite. Note the ‘headline news’ section with the scrolling news items, the new ‘explore icon and the updated Quicklist icon.

Zite, my favourite news aggregator, has just been updated.

As mentioned in my original post, Zite uses an algorithm to gradually tailor the app’s content to your interests. Over time this results in pages (and pages and pages!) of news and blog articles that I simply just have to read.


The new Zite has an updated icon (a rather fetching owl), a slicker interface and a larger database of categories (over 40,000). There’s also an interesting feature where Zite will connect to social sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Pocket and Google Reader and ‘suggest topics based on your social activity’. I hooked it up with Pocket and it returned just three new suggestions. The low number is probably because most of my Pocket clippings come from Zite in the first place!

Thumbs up or down?

Mostly up. The UI design is smart, minimalistic and easy to navigate. The number of article stubs per page is nicely varied, from 3-5 and a ‘suggested by Zite’ box, with several sliding stories, appears every few pages.

The thumbs up / down icons are now present on the page without having to activate a menu, and this makes saving to other services (such as Pocket, Evernote etc) quicker. You can also ‘thumbs up’ an article by pushing the article stub up to reveal a green thumb. Releasing it means you’ll ‘see more articles like this’. You can also navigate the various articles in a category without returning to its overview page using the ‘next’ button at the bottom of the page.

Some down. You can’t navigate between articles by the iPad tradition of swiping, which is easily forgotten as you move from app to app. Zite won’t allow you to ahve a category that it doesn’t define With 40,000 to choose from this shouldn’t be an issue, but I’d love to be able to view ‘tech theatre’ or ‘stage design’ as categories. Lastly, any pages you navigate to from a Zite page can only be viewed. You can’t send them to a service, open them in Safari or otherwise interact with them. Shame.

But Zite is (still) awesome and of course, it’s still free. Brilliant!







Easy Portfolio is an app for collecting and storing student portfolio. It’s a good start but unfortunately it’s not quite ready for intense classroom use.

The good

  • You can add portfolio names (probably one per student / one per project.
  • You can add a range of document types namely video, photos, documents, urls, notes and audio.
  • You can add multiple photos, docs and videos at one time.
  • You can sort, rename, delete,email and save documents.
  • You can import from Dropbox. But not everything.
  • iPhone / iPad app in one.

The not so good:

  • Inconsistent interface makes for a confusing ride. And there are save buttons. Save buttons on an iPad? I don’t need save buttons! If I change my mind I’ll just delete the entry.
  • It takes a minimum of eight taps to add, say, a video. More if you want to rename the video. And did I mention saving? One of those taps is a save button. Forget the save button and you have to start again.
  • You can’t sort the portfolio names. Thirty students in random order? I think not.
  • You can’t select a student and then add multiple items – you have to select a portfolio each time.
  • You can’t select a document type then add multiple versions to different portfolios (such as a set of class photos). I can imagine this getting very aggravating when entering a lot of material.


Give it a try, because it’s heading in the right direction and feedback ideas to the developers because there’s certainly potential here, but not quite the actuality.

Zite Icon

I’ve tried a stack of news aggregators – Flipboard, Pulse, Currents, NewsMix, Hitpad and more – but Zite’s the only one that stays on my home page and the only one I open and read every day.

Zite screenshot

So what make’s Zite my personal favourite?

It’s not the layout (Flipboard is better), the interface (HitPad rocks) or the news sources (Currents has more).

Nope, it’s the way Zite learns what I find interesting (upvote / downvote), what tags are important to me (‘show me more…’) and the ease with which I can share the articles, esepcially to Pocket, Email, FaceBook and Evernote.

Zite screenshot 2

Some suggested topics: iPad, Education, Pedagogy, Technology, NASA, Science News, Professional Development, Literacy, Special Education, Science Education.

If you can’t find a specific topic, search for topics like Maths / Science / Education / Leadership etc.

Zite is free and should be on educator’s iPad.