Product Review of Picture Dots
Part of the New York Hall of Science’s suite of Noticing Tools, Picture Dots lets kids interact with images by assigning colors, sound effects, text, or recordings to them. There’s no login requirement — just download and dig in to the online guide and learn how to choose images, drag dots, and add musical notes, sound effects, text, or simple recordings. Kids can choose from pre-loaded images in the app or take or upload their own; a simple addition problem serves as a check for younger users. Since kids can add only one image at a time, however, this can feel a bit disjointed. The text-to-speech feature will read aloud any text that’s typed, or, if preferred, kids can add a short recording of their own voice.
Easily delete dots by dragging them to the trash bin or holding the trash bin and watching them all pop in one at a time. There’s no undo button, so make sure you’re careful with what you’re deleting. Once you have all your dots in place, press the Play icon to see and hear them in action. If you’re happy with the results, save it for later viewing, or delete it and start again.
It might be tough at first to see the practical applications for Picture Dots in a classroom. Some of the obvious uses come in the form of developing STEM skills, such as identification, classifying, sorting objects, identifying patterns within images, and iterative design. But with some creativity, educators can use the tool to bring inspiration and interaction into early science, math, literacy, and more.
Share an image of a plant, the water cycle, or a rock formation, and have learners label or record each component. Snap a picture of an illustration in a book and share it with your class. Challenge learners to identify setting, symbols, and characters, or briefly record traits of each character. Get learners excited about learning new vocabulary — even in a foreign language — by having them record themselves saying the word for each picture. Or give kids a blank slate to create an interactive multimedia composition.
As a jumping off point to some of the other Noticing Tools and lessons available via the developer’s website, early learners will love the combination of sights, sounds, and tactile experiences in a platform that promotes one of the most important learning strategies: play.
Interacting with images to learn and reinforce content is sure to excite kids and ignite their creativity, and Picture Dots does this pretty well. Despite the cool features present, though, it’s hard not to wish for more. Longer recording capabilities, more precise dot labeling, a drawing tool, additional dot colors, and the ability to modify the order of dots would make this tool so much more useful (and less frustrating) for both learners and teachers. There’s also no crossover among features. For instance, you can choose a sound, add text, or do a short voice recording, but you can’t have dots of the same color in succession on an object that do more than one of those at a time.
It’s pretty easy for educators to scaffold content or differentiate lessons via carefully chosen and edited images, but since they can’t share them to a whole class, they’ll have to use a workaround such as AirDrop or Google Classroom (so that learners can save to their camera roll and upload into their Picture Dots app). It would be better to have a teacher account where learners can access images through a QR or class code. As it is, it’s great for play and encouraging creativity, but a bit too clumsy for extensive classroom use.
Overall User Consensus About the App
The chance to interact in a variety of ways is sure to engage, and kids will love creating media from images and watching them play back with an array of sounds.
Curriculum and Instruction
For all of the cool things it does, it’s incomplete as a learning tool. The chance to create media is empowering, but the limitations make it tough to design lessons and assess learning.
While text-to-speech capabilities and options for English and Spanish are a great start, better in-app support and more developed features would benefit kids who want more challenge or more chances to display creativity.