How Apps Promote Learning

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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.

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.

I challenge you to even do a little spring cleaning. Start getting rid of those apps that are littering your iTune cloud and student iPods/iPads. Keep your cloud clean and refresh the apps your students access often.

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:

  1. Sonic Pics
  2. Storyrobe
  3. Puppet Pals plus Director’s Pass
  4. Splice or Free Splice
  5. iMovie
  6. PS Express – Photoshop
  7. Comic Touch Lite or Comic Touch
  8. Voice Memos

If you are interested in how I consider an app to be worthy of my students’ time, please read my previous blog titled “A Letter to Educational App Developers: A Call for Action.”

Jo-Ann Fox

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Creative Apps vs. Skill Review Apps

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I have mentioned “Creative Apps” in several posts but I never really clarified what I meant by this. So here is my attempt to define the difference between Creative Apps and Skill Review Apps and inspire a bit of healthy competition between these two types of 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.

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. But please hear me out first.

I strongly believe educators need to be providing a platform for our students to access skills they will need to be successful in the 21st Century. We need to begin teaching our students to THINK rather than repeat back they have learned. We want our students to apply what they have learned, use inquiry, be effective communicators, collaborate with others, and be able to reflect about their own learning. If you, too, believe this to be true, then I ask you… what is the best, most effective way to utilize iPods or iPads into our classrooms? Using creative apps or skill review apps?

If you took a peek into my iPod cart (I have 30 iPods) you would not find iPods stuffed to capacity with apps. You will find the following creative apps:

  1. Sonic Pics
  2. Storyrobe
  3. Puppet Pals
  4. Splice
  5. PS Express – Photoshop
  6. Comic Touch Lite
  7. Voice Memos

I do in fact have some skill review apps on my student iPods as well (I know… gasp). However, the skill review apps that I sync to my iPods are based on the standards we will be learning for that particular week and ones that I want my students to review. I try to limit the number of skill review apps to be no more than 10. I never leave these kinds of apps on my iPods for very long. It is always good to keep these types of apps fresh!

So the next time you sync your iPods, think about how many creative apps you have for your students to access that will support their needs as 21st Century learners vs. those apps that just reviewing skills. While there is a place for both in our iPod world, it is always important to reflect about what is most important for your students.

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