iOS App: Definest

I love words. This is the sum of a few reasons why I enjoy things like reading, writing, and teaching reading and writing. I’m kind of thrilled whenever I get the chance to learn (and actually remember) new words, too (favorites right now are “circumlocution” and “oeuvre“).

Problem is, I run into these words, normally, as I’m reading (“circumlocution” is definitely from Neverwhere) or watching a movie or even having a discussion (Thankfully, Neverwhere defines “circumlocution” for us: “It’s a way of speaking around something. A digression. Verbosity.”, 213), so I’m not particularly inclined to interrupt my enjoyment to look a word up and think about how to use it. The latter is enjoyable, too, but it’s a little bit like interrupting pizza with apple pie, then expecting to still be in the mood for pizza afterwards.

Definest seemed like a neat solution. I came across it while browsing education subs on Reddit the other day, and in the past, these sorts of recommendations have panned out nicely. Moreover, they’re usually for free apps, so if they don’t, it’s no big deal. Definest isn’t free, though; it costs 99 cents.

99 cents? Okay, that’s nothing.

Well, hey, I already know what it’s for, I thought, It sounds useful, and it can’t be that bad.

Shortly after downloading, I opened it do discover that, while it isn’t that bad, it’s not even that good.

Definest looks like little more than a limited dictionary app bundled with a limited flash card app. Its “saving grace” is perhaps its straightforward design: make a list, add words, click the words for the definitions. It’s about as quick as jotting down a sticky note, and it even does some of the work for you.

However:

  • If you want the definition right away, there’re a slew of dictionary apps and mobile sites out there. Take your pick. (Most of these are free.)
  • If you just want to quickly jot down a word or phrase, there’s Evernote, Google Drive, and basically any other thing-for-writing-words app that you can think of (most of those apps integrate pretty readily with others). This is barely a “feature” with most apps; it’s an expectation.
  • If you want to know how a word is pronounced, you had best be at least vaguely familiar with phonetic alphabets, since Definest’s built-in dictionary uses that. Unfortunately, no sound.
  • Other apps (many of which, again, integrate with other services quite nicely) like gFlash+ or Flashcards+ act more like flash cards (which is, logically, what Definest wants to be), and will even let you customize the “flip-side” with additional (or fewer) definitions, examples, and even pictures and sounds. Definest allows you to make “notes” in a separate “card” attached to the word (swipe and tap; tapping still just gives you the definition).

All of those things take some time, sure, but you don’t have to do them right away. Jot down the word. Do it later. The beauty of this (for me) is that some of these other apps let me save cards in the cloud and share them with other people (like my students); plus, the customization options (pictures, sounds, etc.) allow me to fit my own lessons and even fulfill curriculum expectations; I can use pictures to make LINCS flash cards. (Also, they cost nothing.)

In spite of its simple, straightforward design, Definest seems no quicker than many other apps for recording words-for-later (at best, it’s seconds faster than a few of the more full-featured ones).

If you consider my earlier example, it’s sort of like trying to enjoy the pizza and the apple pie simultaneously by putting them in a blender.

I don’t know what I expected, but I’m keeping my eyes open for some cool improvements in future versions.

Symbaloo webmix: Traverse City Central Elementary School

Since being introduced to Symbaloo in 2010 at a Michigan Council of Teachers of English conference, I’ve had a webmix set as my homepage on almost every device I own. They look cool, and are a great way to collect and organize bookmarks online.

Late in this past trimester, I witnessed the time and trouble that many teachers – and myself – went through explaining to students where the link to a certain website was, or where it had been moved to. In addition to our “Student Utilities”, the TCAPS website also has numerous resources listed as “safe” for students, but includes many broken links and repeat entries.

Symbaloo (or most any online bookmark host) allowed me to take each of those links and place them in a “webmix” grid, where all resources can be accessed, even edited, on-the-fly. I felt this could be a great solution to part of the start-of-class time-sink we’ve experienced on test days or during Math Club “data collection” days. It didn’t take terribly long for me to set up (though a few of the initial options needed fixing, as I added tiles, so it took longer than it perhaps should have), and if you have an account with Symbaloo, you can import the webmix to your own account and edit it as you please. Without further ado, here it is: Traverse City Central Elementary School Symbaloo webmix

While it’s still a bit rough around the edges, all of the resources we’ve used this year are on it, and are labeled according to content area (ELA for English Language Arts, SCI for Science, SOC for Social Studies, MTH for Mathematics, and so on). The website can be accessed from any operating system, using any browser, on any device (including mobile phones and tablets)! There are even iOS Apps out there for Symbaloo.

I hope this is of some use to the Traverse City Central Elementary School students and staff with whom I’ve worked these past few months. If anybody has some suggestions for sites to add, remove, or fix, or any other ways to improve its presentation, please feel free to leave a comment. Thank you for a wonderful school year, and I hope you all have a fantastic summer break!