It’s Not WHAT App I Should I Use; It’s HOW Should I Use That App



Ladies and gentleman, please buckle your seat belts, we are are about to embark on a little flight through my iTunes cloud. There are a whopping 965 apps stuffed inside my cloud that I am certain at any moment apps will come raining out of the sky right onto my head.

One day after school I sat at my computer feeling a bit overwhelmed by the colossal amount of apps I had to sort through, when I suddenly  had my Newton moment. Except it wasn’t an apple that fell onto my head. But a virtual app falling from my over-stuffed iTunes cloud. I realized quite clearly, it is not WHAT app I should use in my classroom, but rather HOW I plan to use that app to promote student learning and engagement.

Each week when I sync my student iPods and update the apps I have selected for student learning, I thoroughly consider what apps I will upload and HOW I want my students to learn. My first thought is how will this app meet my students needs and engage learning? My overarching goal for all student learning is to utilize and promote the four C’s:  creativity, collaboration, use of critical thinking skills, and communication skills.

We should always consider: What apps are creative apps versus skill review apps?

Creative Apps are apps that can be used in more than one way and in multiple curricular areas. These types of apps usually foster innovative learning and support students to expand upon what they have learned. Creative apps are excellent ways to integrate project based learning and always have a variety of outcomes. They are easily adaptable to learning styles and can be differentiated to meet the needs of all learning levels. These apps always promote the 4 C’s: creativity, collaboration, use of critical thinking skills, and communication skills.

Skill review apps are quite different. This is the most common type of educational app out there and quite honestly, I have quite a large collection of these apps in my iTunes library (more than I could ever really need). Skill review apps provide a child a way to review a particular skill such as adding, subtracting, letter sounds, rhyming, etc. They often mimic a worksheet, in such a way that once the skill has been mastered, there isn’t much more that can be done with the app. The student outcomes are always the same and there is little to no innovation required. I have found students bore easily if this type of app is used too often. While it does sound like my opinion of these types of apps is a bit negative, I still think there is a place for these types of apps in our classroom, they just need to be used to focus on particular skills and should be refreshed often. I usually sync new skill review apps every week and delete old ones.

So next time you are cruising through your iTunes cloud contemplating WHAT app you should add to your students’ iPods or iPads, consider changing your thought pattern. Do reverse planning and think HOW do I want my students to use this app to create, collaborate, think critically, and communicate.

Here is a list of apps which I consider to be quality creative apps. The following apps can be used in a variety of ways and help to promote the 4 C’s:

Creative Apps

SimpleMind+: Mind mapping app that allows students to develop their ideas and add sensory details. Read more about this app in another blog post here. Free.

Sonic Pics: This app allows you to record audio over pictures thus creating a slideshow type movie. Students can use this app to create storyboards, show sequence of events, to summarize reading, or to promote asking questions. $2.99

Puppet Pals: Students can create digital puppet shows. You can use this app for pre-writing activities, to check for understanding, to show cause and effect, and to model science experiments.  iPad Link or iPod Link. You can read more about Puppet Pals in my blog post here. Free but there is an in app purchase that I highly recommend for $2.99

Mad Lips: This app allows you to make ANYTHING talk by allowing you to video record your lips talking. You spend hours laughing as you play with this app. You can use this app to animate objects in science, teach perspective, for special effects in movies, and to create “Talking Book Covers.” To read about this app more read my blog post here. Free Version or Paid $2.99

Comic Touch Lite: This app allows you to use photos to create comic books. Students can take a picture and add talking bubbles and thought bubbles. You can use this app as a making predictions activity, to create a short summary, annotate a picture in social studies or science, or to add thoughts a character may be having in the story. Free.

Strip Designer: This is a more advanced version of Comic Touch Lite. There are a lot more options in this app, but it isn’t free. $2.99

Evernote: This app has the following capabilities: word process, take pictures, and voice record. You can use this app to go paperless! Some ideas for this app is in writing, to practice reading fluency, for self-assessment in the form of a digital portfolio. Read more about this app on my blog post here. Free.

Scribble Press: This is an iPad only app that allows you to create books and illustrate. Read more about this here. Free.

LifeCards: This app is a postcard creator that allows you to take your own picture, write a letter, and email it to anyone! You can use this app to write a letter from the perspective of a character, practice friendly letter writing, write a letter to an author, or to write letters in social studies as a faux primary source. $1.99

Skype: This app allows you to video conference with wifi. You need to create an account then make arrangements to call other classrooms. If you are interested here is a link to the Mystery Skype Project who recently became the Mystery Location Calls. Visit Skype’s webpage to learn about it here. Or get together with a group of educators online. I found my first Skype through the #4thchat on Twitter. Free.

Edmodo: The simplest definition of Edmodo is that it is a social media network for education. However, Edmodo allows you to create assignments, quizzes, add photos, videos, links, and allows students to interact with each other online at school or at home. Free.

Movie Making

The following are my favorite movie making apps that can be used to promote the 4 C’s. Movies are made based on curriculum standards. These are listed in order from my least favorite to absolute LOVE IT!

Splice (free)

FiLMic Pro 2 ($4.99)

iMovie ($4.99)

Vintagio ($1.99)


 Quality Skill Review Apps


Counting Coins (Free)


Splash Math There are several Splash Math apps for each grade level. They have iPods and iPad versions. They are quite pricey however, you are able to set the app up so you can monitor student progress. They are aligned with standards and review each of the 5 strands of math. Free-$9.99

Baseball: I really like the McGraw Hill apps as they are aligned with standards and have engaging gaming elements that do not distract from the learning and reviewing of math concepts. $1.99

Sushi Monster: This app reviews addition and multiplication. I like this app because it has a variety of levels and requires critical thinking strategies. This app takes a long time to master and can be accessed by students with varying math levels. The game is engaging, too! Free.

Word Work:

Spelling City:  I was waiting and waiting for this app to come out! And when it did I was very please with the results. This app allows your students to access your SpellingCity lists and play the spelling games on their iPods/iPads. Free.

Bee Spelled LiteThis game allows students to practice their spelling patterns in an engaging way. It has a bit of violence, but it is extremely engaging to boys! Free.

BoggleThis is played just like the real game. This is a great way to practice spelling patterns. There is a free version or the paid version is $0.99


Mad LibsCreate free Mad Libs. There is an in app purchase if you would like more Mad Lib books.


Grammar Jammers: This is a great app to review grammar skills. It has a series of lessons and songs to help review grammar. There is a free and paid version. The paid versions have an elementary version and a middle edition.

Same Sound Spell BoundPractice homophones! Free.


Opposite OceanPractice antonyms. Free.


Dictionary Apps

Dictionary.comI use this app mostly for word meanings and for the amazing thesaurus. Free.


Webster MerriamI use this app to look up the spelling of words because it has a a voice to text option. Free.


This blog post goes with a presentation that I have given numerous times. Follow this link to find out more about my presentations.






  1. Frank Balanon says

    Hi Jo-Ann, thank you for Saturday. I sat in on two of your presentations and i just love the way you are accessing web 2.0 programs and using them with your kids.

    Two questions:

    First, you showed a video on 21st century skills in your presentation. Can you share the link to this?

    Also, are you open to visitors to your classroom?


    Frank Balanon, Principal, Foussat Elementary School, Oceanside, Ca.

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