A New Sketching Program (and why you need it)

From the fertile mind of Brian Aspinall comes another classroom ready application.  This one has special appeal as I think you’ll find as we dig into it.  You may recall a previous mention of another web application written by Brian, Clipkwik, that I had blogged about last November.

What’s unique about Brian’s efforts is that he’s both a programmer and a teacher.  As such, he’s got the ability to create a resource for his classroom when he sees a need.  He did that with Clipkwik a video search engine that looks for video everywhere and he’s done it again with Sketchlot, an online drawing tool.

So, why does the world need another drawing program?  After all, there’s an app for that.  Actually, there are quite a few apps for that.  Here’s why I think you need to take a special look at this.

First, it’s web-based, so load your modern browser, and you have two ways to enter the program.  One as a teacher and the other as a student.

As a teacher, you log in, create a class code and then add your students to that class.

As a student, you log in via class code and your password.  This gets you ready to do some drawing.  You’ll see my artwork above drawn on a trackpad.  Across the bottom, you have the ability to pick a colour, use a draw tool, eraser, line tool, box tool, move the canvas so that you’re not limited to the physical screen size, and the eyedropper to pick up a colour.  Then, clear the screen, step backwards or forwards through the steps to your current drawing, and zoom in and zoom out.  In the bottom right corner, you’re presented with a number to let you know the magnification level of your drawing.

Once a student has saved a drawing, they can share it with their teacher, pin it to Pinterest, Tweet it out, or take an embed code to insert it into their wiki.  There’s lots of drawing options – admittedly not as many as with Photoshop Elements but certainly full-featured enough for particular classes.

But, I think it gets better and that’s why we need to take particular note.  In a couple of back and forths on Twitter, Brian had sent this message.

That’s a pretty good indication as to where he’s headed with the development.  So, here in dougpete labs, I added a few more platforms to the mix.  I ran it on a MacBook Pro, a Galaxy smartphone, and on Ubuntu with a Wacom tablet.  All worked very nicely.

Why is this significant?  The response from some will still be “I have an app for that”.  Yes, but are you in a BYOD classroom where one student might have an iPad, another a Playbook, another a smartphone, another a Windows machine, a Mac, someone running Linux, … ?  Your app for that solution plays to one or two of the platforms.  View the source of Sketchlot and you’re in for some good reading…  He’s developing so that it’s universally available.  That’s why I think it’s important that people look for applications developed for all platforms rather that just head to your device’s store and grab an application thinking that it will solve all your problems.

Sketchlot is still listed as “Beta” so there may well be more features on the way.  During my testing, it all seemed to work nicely so I don’t have a hesitation in recommending that you take a look and see if it’s got a place in your classroom repertoire.  While at it, follow @mraspinall on Twitter and see the examples that Brian and his colleagues are tweeting as they test it.

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An Incredible Mathematics Application


This is an application that has me excited in so many ways that I think it’s a can’t miss for any mathematics teacher using a computer.  Calling itself a dynamic geometery application, Sketchometry is really something to play around with.

First – the geeky part.  This is a perfect example of where I think developers should be headed.  It’s an HTML5 web application which means that all the functionality is available inside a browser.  So, in my testing, I’m able to access it with Ubuntu, Windows, Macintosh, and iOS.  Everything is just there and works in the browser – no application or add-ons needed to get started.

Secondly – working in the environment.   This was quite a bit of fun.  As you’ll notice from the Help files, the Sketchometry application is well driven by gestures that seem to be very intuitive.  Simple icons access the various tools and it only took about 15 minutes to work my way through them and get a sense of just what was possible.  It very quickly had me reaching for my Wacom tablet connected to my computer so that I had really fine control.  As fine as that was, the ability to draw on the iPad really made for a nice mathematics experience.

When I saw the trig functions, I had a flashback to a math class where we discussed SIN, COS, and TAN.  I remember graphing each with pencil and paper.  Three graphs to try and learn the concepts.

What if I plotted all three on the same graph?  By grabbing a different colour, they graphed nicely.  I used f(x)=3*sin(x), to get amplitude to really see things.  Ditto for cos and tan.  As you’ll see below, by turning on an x and y axis, they do show up nicely.  I’m able to drop a point on the line.  Sketchometry handles things nicely.

Thirdly, I was intrigued by the way that it handles your finished drawing.  You don’t create an account on Sketchometry.  Teachers and students can just work with their documents without worrying about creating a logging in to an account.  In fact, for a lot of uses, you might just connect your device to a data projector and display your efforts.

When it’s time to save your work then, where does it go?

The save function pops up the following dialogue.  You don’t create an account and therefore storage with Sketchometry; instead you just add it to your existing cloud storage.  It makes so much sense.  Most everybody has a Dropbox account these days and if you don’t, here’s a good reason to get one.  Or Skydrive.  Or, and this was the very first one for me, your Ubuntu One account.

In so many ways, I really liked what I saw.  Written in HTML5, using Cloud storage, gesture based – doesn’t this just scream “made from scratch using the best of 2012”?  Support for the product and more details is available in Google+.