Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2014
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Puppet Pals 2: School Edition

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Record audio, animate characters, import images with charming storytelling tool

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts
  • English-Language Learning

  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Creativity
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Extensive built-in characters and features give kids endless possibilities. Design is simple and intuitive, even for young students.

Cons: Video creation isn't inherently educational, and the high price might dissuade some users.

Bottom Line: A snazzy tool for digital storytelling best used with thoughtful adult encouragement.

Have kids work solo or in groups to plan their videos. Have them "storyboard" their work by drawing or outlining a scene-by-scene list of their story. Help kids search online for images of landscapes, spaces, and places that might serve as great settings for their stories. Use these videos to tell stories in a foreign language classroom, to illustrate a historical period in a social studies class, or to act out a scene in a novel or play. 

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Puppet Pals 2: School Edition is a tool for creating custom animated shorts. After a brief instructional walkthrough, kids can record their own audio to accompany a character in a setting of their choice. Kids can further customize their video with music, movement, and additional accessories like vehicles and animals. Kids can create a custom character within the app or import their own photo for their character or for the setting. As they record their video, kids can move their character on-screen by making it walk, move its limbs, or open its mouth to speak in time with their own narration. After recording, kids can save their video within the app or export it to the device's camera roll. 

The home screen lets users review a walkthrough on the Tutorial page, and the Options screen lets adults calibrate the app's features. This screen also features links to a detailed Teacher's Guide and to the developer's other apps available for purchase on the iTunes App Store. The free version of Puppet Pals 2 gives users access to limited characters, animals, and vehicles; the paid School Version gives access to all features. 

The background music feature may sum up this app's strengths best. Three musical selections are custom-built for each setting (jangly vaudeville piano for the stage, moody synthesizers for outer space). With no text needed, each selection's colors and icons make it instantly clear what these features are. The whole app is like this: It’s designed and organized so well visually that it’s instantly clear what each feature is and how to use it. Kids with limited English proficiency and young readers can be successful with this mostly visual interface and intuitive design.

While this app doesn't teach kids anything explicitly, it could be a good tool for helping kids tell stories. The Teacher's Guide gives detailed lesson ideas and directions for classroom setup. Some insights are pretty simple (like "speak up" and "set time constraints"), but each one is thoughtful and helpful to new and veteran teachers alike. More info in this section would make the app even better: The brief allusions to story arc principles and storyboarding hint at great ideas, and further details could add more value in the classroom. Ultimately, the School Edition's price is a little steep, and teachers might opt for the free version instead. Additionally, women and people of color are glaringly underrepresented in the character gallery; teachers might add the most value by having kids import their own images -- of famous people, places, and themselves -- to tell their own stories.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

With lots of things to show and do, kids can get lost in creating detailed videos.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

With careful teacher guidance, this could be a helpful tool, but it isn't inherently educational.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The detailed walkthrough, Teacher's Guide, and great design make this easy to use.

Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

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