Classroom Measurement Posters


After a fruitless search online for nice-looking classroom posters to help my fourth graders with their measurement unit, I decided to make my own! These have a nifty fifties theme–one focuses on customary (U.S.) units, the other has metric. Both include length, capacity and mass conversions that help fourth graders with Common Core State Standards 4.MD.1 and 4.MD.2. I’ve included a bonus ruler at the bottom of each one. These are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

Picture Book Idea Month!

Yep! For the first year ever, I’m doing it:

Picture Book Idea Month

Wish me luck! If you want to join in, do so by tomorrow. Just click on the awesome graphic above for details.

Create Video Lessons With Belkin Stage Pro

I have been messing around lately with Belkin’s Stage Pro, an iOS app that allows you to create KAS (Khan Academy Style) video lessons using the iPad. I first found out about the app at an education conference months ago, but only recently have I had the time to create some videos with it.

I was able to import my own graphic from the Photos gallery (in this case, of the grid with the three blocks shaded in blue), then draw and make notes over it while talking. I’ve been using a set of earbuds with a built-in mic (the basic Apple variety), which produces much better sound than the iPad’s microphone alone.

I was delighted to discover today how to place and move objects around, which was perfect for a little kindergarten lesson about cardinality:

Stage Pro actually uses the device’s camera for the background–so you could set the iPad up on a stand and record virtually anything, and deliver your own voiceover and on-screen notes. I’ve been getting (and wanting) a black background because I’ve been keeping my iPad sleeve closed over the camera for the lessons I’ve been working on.

I just noticed that Belkin is running a FREE promo right now on Stage Pro–I spent $5 on mine back in January, but you can get it FREE until July 4! Go and try it out now!

An Open Letter to Adobe Systems

Dear Adobe,

I have been a very happy user of your products for more than twenty years. In fact, I’ve defended you repeatedly to co-workers who insisted on using competitors like Corel Draw, Microsoft Publisher and Aldus Freehand, until your elegant products became the dominant programs in all end-user creative categories.

I once wrote a happy-customer letter to you when I switched to Adobe InDesign after using QuarkXpress for many years. I made the switch after hours of research, and I actually convinced my new employer to buy InDesign. The transition was nearly seamless, with an almost nonexistent learning curve. I was very pleased that your products made my job easier.

I have never pirated your software, but over the years I’ve gained intermediate-to-advanced proficiency in Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, and Acrobat. A lot of this experience was gained on the job throughout my graphic design career, but since the early 90s I have been able to purchase legitimate copies of all four products here and there. I could not afford to upgrade each time you released a new version, but have happily paid the upgrade fee every few years (mostly coinciding with the purchase of a new Mac).

The last time I bought the software outright was a couple of years ago with CS5.5. I admit I waited until I was able to qualify for the student pricing, and scored the whole package for just a few hundred dollars. I am studying to be a teacher, which means I will qualify for educational pricing for the forseeable future.

I appreciate that you provide significant discounts for educators, however I’m writing today to let you know that I’m very unhappy with your decision to force your entire user base into the Creative Cloud suite of products. Here’s why:

I am not a daily user of any of your Creative Suite products. My use of them happens in fits and spurts, mostly centered around holidays and summers. Therefore it bothers me that I must sign a year-long contract before qualifying for the educator’s discount ($74.99 is the month-to-month price vs. $19.99/month [special, limited-time price!] if I sign an annual contract). I’m annoyed about the months I’ll pay for but won’t use the software much, if at all, but the big issue for me is the fact that unless I keep paying, month after month, forever, I’ll lose access to my own work once the contract is up.

There is no baseline or comparable model with which I can compare. I am able to open files of many different types and versions now (using CS version 5.5)–even files I created years and years ago. I am filled with a sense of panic and dread (leading to anger) at the thought of not being able to open my own work after less than a year if I don’t renew.

Let’s be real: your new cloud-only, subscription-only model benefits you most, not your customers. And yes, there are some benefits to always using the latest and greatest copy of the software, but that’s never appealed to me because I was never one who needed access to all the new features as soon as you created them. Your new business model is best for high-volume, daily users at large companies, not sole-proprietor freelancers, small business owners, authors and educators like myself (who are feeling screwed by you right now).

I am sorry to say I will be looking for alternatives to Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat in the coming months. Until then, I’ll use my legally-obtained copy of CS 5.5 until it stops running.

Thanks for the memories, but I’ll be looking forward to finding a new creative partner to help me with my work from now on. A company who is happy to take my money without limiting access to my own stuff in the future. A company who cares about building long-term relationships with its customers. All of them.

Sincerely, Brooks Jones

Oyster is My World

oyster logoI read a lot. Like an average of one or two novels each week, more if I’m not in school or working on special projects. And I don’t want to own each book I read–in fact, I want to read many more books than I intend to own. Years ago, the library allowed me to do that most easily in the form of printed books I could borrow. More recently, I’ve been checking out ebooks from my library and reading these on the Kindle, which I love. I am also a frequent borrower of books that are part of the Kindle Lending Library (only one book per month though, which usually isn’t enough). So I still find myself wanting more, more, more books.

When I first found out about Oyster, the first “Netflix for Books” service, I knew I’d want to try it out. I was one of the first subscribers, because $9.99 per month to read anything and everything in their catalog seemed like a pretty good deal to me. They are focused only on mobile offerings (right now, just for iOS) and therefore don’t have Kindle or other e-reader integration.

Oyster shows you the most recent books you've accessed on its main mobile screen.

Oyster shows you the most recent books you’ve accessed on its main mobile screen.

After signing up and entering credit card information on their website, it’s a simple process to download the Oyster app and log in. The company has more than 100,000 titles and claims to be adding new ones regularly. Oyster doesn’t offer many brand-new releases. Instead, the company seems to have the best subscription-based backlist of traditionally-published authors available anywhere, including books in all genres.

I’ve browsed and read parts of several books on Oyster, but have completed (read from start to finish on Oyster) only four. So the built-in recommendation engine isn’t helping me find many books yet. To address this, the programmers could allow customers a way to rate books they’ve already read (similar to the way Goodreads does when you join).

However, if you already know what to search for, it’s easy to find books you like on the service. For instance, I remember how delighted I was when I discovered that many of the authors published by Open Road Integrated Media are included in Oyster’s vast catalog. I visited the ORIM Author page to browse through writers I already know about, then searched for them on Oyster to find their books. In this way I found that Ruth Rendell and Donald Westlake have several of the titles from their backlists on Oyster–it’ll take me quite a while to mow through all their books I haven’t yet read.

Oyster talks a lot about the social aspect of reading through their service, but so far none of my 300+ Facebook friends or 1000+ Twitter buddies are using it, so I’m still finding that Goodreads is a better place to share and read book reviews.

Choosing reading themes is easy.

Choosing reading themes is easy.

The reading interface and appearance while using Oyster is nice. There are several themes to choose from, and while I initially liked the Crosby theme best because of its sepia tone hues, I ultimately switched to Standard because its white background doesn’t reveal white boxes around imported graphics in books. You can easily increase or decrease font size to suit you, as well as adjust the brightness.

One thing I find annoying is the fact that it’s only possible to search the Oyster catalog through the mobile app. I wish I could search for books while I visit their website on a desktop computer. When browsing books on their website, I can add an interesting title to my own reading list, but full search capability there would be a nice added feature.

Another small beef is the fact that there is no landscape mode, on either the iPhone or the iPad. I admit it isn’t a big loss on the iPhone’s tiny screen; but when turning the iPad on its side, instead of the expected two page or two column layout, the Oyster app centers the text in a single (and fairly narrow) column in the middle. This is clunky and would be a welcome fix in the next update.

As long as the Oyster team keeps adding new stuff for me to read, I’ll be a happy subscriber for life. You should try it out too–coinciding with their iPad launch a few weeks ago, now anyone can give it a test spin for one month, free.

App: free from the Apple App Store
Service: $9.99/month, first month free

Apps I Like: Roxie’s Doors and Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure

I’ve had my iPad2 for more than two years, and I’ve downloaded and tried hundreds of apps. Therefore, you might forgive me if I’ve become slightly jaded and unimpressed with many of them, for various reasons.

This is why I’m so excited to talk about a couple of apps from OCG Studios and the talented author/illustrator Roxie Munro: Roxie’s Doors and Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure. These two apps have rekindled my love for all things iPad, especially for games that the entire family can enjoy.

Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure


That’s my little red car in the lower left. I’m still looking for the penguin on this screen.

This game app is sort of a cross between Where’s Waldo? and a first-person adventure game. But it’s a devilishly clever maze too–and there are no instructions to tell you what to do (they aren’t needed). You’ll drive, walk, ski, fly and raft from screen to screen, picking up star points along the way and trying to locate objects, letters, penguins and other animals in Munro’s very detailed and beautiful artwork. Just as in real life, you can’t go the wrong way down a one-way street, and construction and other obstructions can keep you from taking the obvious route through a screen. This makes the maze quite challenging at times–in fact, I got stuck at one point and had to get my eight-year-old daughter to show me how to get to parts of the maze I’d been unable to navigate to.

The attention to detail in this app is truly wonderful. I like seeing my name on the side of a blimp!

The attention to detail in this app is truly wonderful.
I like seeing my name on the side of a blimp!

The navigation is intuitive, and there are little goodies (sound effects, etc.) to discover on each screen. The replay value is high, because the objects you’re expected to find change every time you come back to the app. It’s easy to see that both the developer and artist took great pains to get this one right. At three bucks for the iPad version, this one is a steal.

Roxie’s Doors

I’d categorize this app as a book, since there are words on the screen next to the illustrations, and matching narration by the author. But it’s also a delightful lift-the-flap and seek-and-find activity app. Each screen presents the reader with a door of some sort, and the words explain a series of objects which need to be found. What is so interesting about this book is that the doors/flaps/pockets can’t always be opened just by tapping on them. For instance, I needed to unzip a backpack pocket by dragging my finger across the bag–simply tapping it didn’t work. So the reader needs to try different approaches in order to find all the objects.


An apple and a hat (and a bunch of other objects) are hidden on each page.

One thing that can’t be shown in screen shots is the gorgeous three-dimensional effect built into every page of Roxie’s Doors. The app takes advantage of the iPad’s gyroscope, so readers will get a slightly different view of the room depending on how they tilt the tablet around. In some cases, items are hidden along the doorway edges and the screen will need to be tilted quite a bit in order to locate them.

Some items are hidden on the back of the door, behind the story text!

Some items are hidden on the back of the door, behind the story text! Words change from red to green once the item has been found.

As with Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure, there are sound and other effects that can be activated by tapping (turn the fire engine lights and siren on, for example). Beautiful artwork, engaging play and intuitive presentation make this one a winner, especially at only $2.99.

Both of these apps push the boundaries of what great children’s apps can be. My hat is off to both Roxie Munro and OCG Studios, and I will be on the lookout for their next collaboration.

FREE for Earth Day: My Pouch Upcycling Book!

Planet Pouch

My little craft book is FREE today!

If you’re looking for green ideas this Earth Day, look no further. I’m making my Kindle craft book Planet Pouch: Simple Juice Pouch Bags Anyone Can Make FREE through Monday, April 22. So now’s the perfect time to grab this book and start turning those leftover juice pouches into something stylish!

No Kindle? No problem. You can read this book using the free Kindle Cloud Reader on any PC (or Mac). And if you like the book, please rate and review it on Amazon and Goodreads–I’ll be eternally grateful, and it’ll help others who like to make things find the book.

Happy Earth Day!