EdTech Tuesdays

Make Beliefs Comix — March 18, 2014

It's easy to create comic strips for any purpose with this free website and iPad app.

Students can create two- to four-panel comic strips using either the free Make Beliefs Comix website or iPad app. Uses range from allowing students to show what they've learned across multiple learning styles, to supporting younger or special needs students express feelings or experiences they struggle to articulate, to providing high schoolers an easy platform to comment on world affairs or historical events via political cartoons.

Choose from a directory of 37 human and animal characters, each with four different poses, gestures, and emotional states to depict. More than 60 objects and scenes are available with a tap as well. Easy controls let you flip, layer, move, enlarge, or shrink images.

Speech and thought bubbles can be filled using English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese or Latin dialogue. You can also select panel prompts ("The next day…," "Meanwhile," etc.), and background colors.

Saving and sharing options include email links that make it easy to send the comic strips, or they can be saved to the iPad camera roll or your photo library for sharing via social media or in a blog.

On the website you'll find feedback and suggestions from teachers who've used it on effective ways to make use of Make Beliefs Comix in class.

Paid onscreen advertisements pose some challenges for student use, but we appreciate that the makers accept advertising to keep the app and website free for budget-strapped schools and teachers. You can lock the section of the screen where the ads appear to prevent students clicking on them. To learn how, watch Episode 5, "Guided Access," in our iOS7 iPad Intermediate course (or Episode 5, "Customizing Guided Access" in our iOS6 iPad Tips and Tricks course, depending on your operating system).

When you download the app, the icon on your iPad homescreen will only say "Make Beliefs."

Browse other educational app reviews that have received a thorough, classroom-oriented once-over by our credentialed teacher reviewers.

Jennifer: Welcome to EdTech Tuesday, I'm Jennifer Gibson.

Rich: And I'm Rich Dixon.

Jennifer: Today we're going to look at something that's a little unique, not that unique but a little different. This has a website and an app?

Rich: It does, and it's called Make Beliefs Comix. We're going to start by showing the web-based version first, and then we'll show the free iOS app.

Jennifer: Is the web a fee or is it also free?

Rich: It's free. You'll see on your screen that there are ads that are displaying, so the developer used ads in order to pay for this. There is that trade-off and it's something that you need to be aware of when using this app, that you're not going to have control over the types of ads that are displayed. That being said -

Jennifer: Yes, I'm concerned, are there education kind of ads, or are they going to be anything inappropriate?

Rich: In this particular one, we see a national car manufacturer that's being displayed. I have not seen anything inappropriate. This site is specifically designed for students; while I can't guarantee there wouldn't be anything, say, for some vacation rental or something like that, but we do see in this case that there are ads, and I have yet to see anything that's inappropriate. The whole concept here behind this is we can create either a three- or a four-panel comic, and it's a great way to engage students from a variety of different learning styles and learning needs to be able to do things like summarize what they've learned, to be able to put words into feelings that they have for those that are autistic, for example. Let's take a look. We can see here we can enter; there's a number of different languages, which is great, again especially if you have some second language learners. Spanish, you can see this.

Jennifer: Or you're maybe teaching languages, you might be teaching Spanish or French or Italian or Portuguese.

Rich: That's exactly right. I'm going to click Enter here, and you'll see what comes up is a nice little spread here. I'm going to briefly go over the interface here, and then we'll switch to the app version and take a look, which looks almost exactly the same. There's a number of different characters that are here; again, they're all in comic form. I'm going to pick one right now. You'll see as soon as I click on that that it shows up here. This first area here is highlighted with red, and if that's the case, I just tap once on the character and then I can move the character around. On the left are all of the different controls. I'm in move mode right now. Let's say that I want to make this guy a little bit bigger. I can do that by clicking once, and you'll see these other controls come up. I can make him bigger.

Jennifer: It looks like it's fairly easy to use and figure out.

Rich: Exactly, and then if I have another character (I'm going to enter another one here), and let's say that I want to make this person or this character here, I want to bring her to the front or to the back: I can click and move things around. I can flip the direction of a character, like that.

Jennifer: Oh that's nice, so if you want to have a conversation, they can look at each other.

Rich: We can also delete something, as well. That's the basic idea there. There's different talk balloons that I can add inside here, so I can go ahead and do that. I can move that around, I can click inside here and say, "Sample text," for example. When you're done, you have the opportunity to share this out.

Jennifer: I noticed that they have objects and scenes and background colors. This looks like a lot of fun.

Rich: One of the other things, background colors as you saw, and you can see that if you want to change it to four-panel, we can do that here. If we want two-panel, we can also do that there. There are props, so again, from a teacher's standpoint, it's very possible to set something up like this as a template and then have students write off of that.

Jennifer: I'm thinking easily third grade and up, and I mean up like this could definitely be something you might use for a political cartoon in high school or some kind of activity, if maybe you're taking a language like Latin or Spanish and you want to illustrate what's going on in a conversation. I think with younger kids, they could do that with maybe a buddy system or an adult partner that's helping out with a center, but I think there's a lot of grade levels that could be spanned with this.

Rich: Let's click on Next here. One of the things we can do is we can go back and we can edit if we want, we can print this out, we can also email this, so it's very easy to share your work. Let's move over and take a look at the app version, as well. I'm going to pick up the iPad at this point, and I do want to point out that, while it's labeled Make Beliefs Comix on the iOS store, it says Make Beliefs on the iPad.

Jennifer: It's really common, we always try to point out the actual app name and then what it looks like on the iPad, and this one of course has to be shortened so that it can match the icon.

Rich: At this point we're looking at version 1.0 of the app.

Jennifer: There's a couple, there's a little gambling kind of ad.

Rich: Or a game, I'm not really sure, but just as a heads up, there is an ad, though I do want to highlight that this interface that we just saw with the website top here looks just the same. There's a couple fewer characters that were on the website that aren't available here, but pretty much everything else is exactly the same. I do find that this is very easy to use. One thing I do want to point out is that on the website itself, there's a tremendous list of application ideas, testimonials from teachers that have put this into practice with different populations. Let's say you're working with an autistic child because I reviewed one of the suggestions there. A phenomenal idea: one of the teachers, what they would do is they would have something set up for a student, and if a student had a problem communicating their emotions or frustration, they would have a character scene set up and the student could start to process: A) what happened, identify what their feelings were, and how they could handle things or do things differently.

Jennifer: So are they asking for teachers to give feedback on the website?

Rich: There is, there's an opportunity to do that. It's very collaborative that way and I think there's a neat resource.

Jennifer: We all learn from each other, so being able to have that dialogue around something is great. Are there any in-app purchases?

Rich: No, no there's no in-app purchases that I've come across yet at all. I believe the developers' intent was to keep things free, hence the ads.

Jennifer: The only thing I would say is, with the ads, you could use the lock down so that students couldn't actually click on that, going into the universal access and locking it. That would be through your Settings, you'd have to go in there and you could block off that portion of the screen.

Rich: The lower half, and then they couldn't click on those ads. They'd still see the ads, they just couldn't click on those. Another thing to bring up is with this particular app and this resource in general is that, again, no matter which grade you're teaching, I think there's a really high level of application. Because it's free, I think there's a lot of neat opportunities. That's a brief overview there of Make Beliefs Comix.

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