How Apps Promote Learning


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


10 Effective iPad or iPod Apps for Students with Autism


Today is Autism Awareness Day and if you know or love someone who has Autism, you are asked to light it up blue today. In honor of Autism Awareness Day I would love to share with you 10 effective iPad or iPod apps which I have observed to be beneficial and loved by students with Autism in my classroom.

1. Puppet Pals– This app is a digital puppet theater where the user can create their own puppet or use built in puppets. The students who I have taught in the past have enjoyed being able to record their stories as a puppet show. They love the anonymity of recording their voice while no one is looking. Also, once they have created their puppet show, they enjoy being able to share what they have created! I highly recommend purchasing the Director’s Pass so that you can build custom puppets and backgrounds.

2. Sonic Pics– I use this app to help my students with Autism to record their summaries of the books they have read. They take pictures of the illustrations in the book, then they record their retelling.  Their summaries are much more rich in content than if I ask them to retell directly to me.

3. The Monster at the End of This Book– This book is hilarious and allows you to interact with the story. My students go back to this book on an almost daily basis.

4. SimpleMind– This app is a great tool for my students with Autism to help develop their writing ideas. Writing is the most difficult part of the day for my students. Allowing them to develop their ideas with a mind map gives them the confidence that they share their ideas in the written word.

5. DoodleBuddy– I am constantly searching for 100% engagement. Before iPods I would use whiteboards for instant feedback from my students. Now I use DoodleBuddy. This is a great way to know if students are following your lessons and allows them a way to share with you whether or not they are understanding a concept. This is also a great app to allow students time to relax. They love being able to draw, add their own backgrounds, and utilize the stamps.

6. Draw With Stars– This is a great sensory app. The user can draw with the stars and quickly erase them.

7. Songify– Turn anything you say into a song! I use this app to make phonics lessons more engaging.This is an app many of my students with Autism return to during their free time. They get a kick out of hearing their words turned into a song.

8. VidRhythm– This app guides the user to create a music video starring YOU! This app guides you to make various sounds of instruments and puts your sounds together to create a music video.

9. Scribble Press– This is an iPad app only. This is a drawing app that also allows you to create and illustrate your own books!

10. Hop on Pop– This is an interactive Dr. Seuss book. My students love all of the Dr. Seuss books created by OceanHouse Media!

And for the grand finally…

I highly recommend creating your own social stories in Power Point or Keynote and turning them into iBooks. This is an easy process which I have blogged about in the past. Please read my blog titled, “Best Uses for iBooks: Turn Your Power Point or Keynote into an iBook” for detailed directions about this easy process! Of course, you can purchase apps that will do this for you but in my research I have found that they are extremely expensive apps!

Please share this blog with any parents or teachers who may be interested in using iPods or iPads to help their child with Autism be more successful in school.

Jo-Ann Fox


The First Digital Learning Day


Happy Digital Learning Day! Today was the first ever national Digital Learning Day. I celebrated Digital Learning Day with my students, along with 16,000 other teachers and nearly 2 million students across the country. The purpose of this event was to celebrate innovative teaching and learning through digital media and technology. Those celebrating Digital Learning Day believe in the same things I do; that technology engages students and provides rich learning experiences that promote 21st Century learning.

As a part of today’s event, the Alliance for Excellent Education hosted a live National Town Hall meeting. Chairman Julius Genachowski and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a special appearance.

My class and I celebrated Digital Learning Day by creating a Puppet Pal presentation. This project was the culmination of our Understanding Maps unit in Social Studies. Each child took pictures of the huge community we made and gave a personalized tour of the community featuring the parts they helped to build. My students had a great time creating their digital puppet shows and we plan on sharing our puppet shows with our classmates on Edmodo later this week.

The best part of today was when a student of mine said, “Mrs. Fox, why are we celebrating Digital Learning Day when we use our iPods every day?” I smiled to myself and replied, “The hope is that every child in America will have the same access to technology that you have every day.”

If you were unable to participate this year, be on the lookout for next year’s Digital Learning Day. Let’s make it even bigger and better next year!


Puppet Pals


Puppet Pals is a digital puppet theater complete with a large array of characters and backgrounds. This is another creative app that can be used in your classroom in a variety of ways in all curricular areas.

Puppet Pals in the iTunes store.

How this app works?
You can create puppet shows by moving the puppets around while recording your voice. You can also change the background (limited to 3 backgrounds). When you are finished recording it will guide you to publish the puppet show as a movie.
While this app is free and you can enjoy this app as is, I highly recommend purchasing the Director’s Pass for $3.99. Now I am not usually a fan of having to pay for apps, especially if I am using them in the classroom, but in this case, bite the bullet and buy the in app purchase! With the Director’s Pass you have a larger selection of puppets and backgrounds. Plus (and here is the best part) you can create your own puppets and backgrounds. They have made this a simple process of taking a picture with the camera feature then using your finger to cut around the shape of your body. Using your finger is quite sloppy and perhaps a better way to do this is with your stylus. You can also take images from your photo library and use them as backgrounds.
How have I used this app in the classroom? 
We have had a blast in my classroom bringing our reading summaries alive by creating a puppet show! First, my students brainstorm what they will say for a summary of the story we are reading (usually a self-selected leveled book or from our reading anthology). They brainstorm three main events in the story and need to be sure they use transition words such as FIRST, NEXT, and LAST. Then we took turns taking pictures. Each child needed a picture of themselves showing some kind of expression. For example, the Vanna White pose with hands outstretched. The kids can get pretty creative here, but remember they really only need one image. Then they used the “cutting tool” within the app to cut away the background so only their body is left. This puppet will be saved into the app. The next step is to add backgrounds. The app will allow you to choose pictures from your photo library. I have pictures from the story already downloaded into their photo library on their iPods. I do this when I sync their iPods. I have an album in iPhoto labeled Language Arts where I place pictures that we will need for projects such as this. This saves time, but you can always have the students take pictures of the book using the camera feature.Finally, each child created their story summary using themselves as the star puppet and the three backgrounds showing the main events of the story. Each child then published their movie and they all took turns sharing their puppet show summary on the docucam!

Creative Apps vs. Skill Review Apps


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.