How to Pick Quality Educational Apps: A Quick Guide from Our Teachers
Children are growing up in a digital age where “google” is a verb and they expect every screen to be responsive to their touch. As technology drives our daily lives forward, enabling a multitude of new experiences, it seems only natural that learning in schools should reflect the tenor of the world around us.
Technology has the power to facilitate personalization in learning, both in the classroom and at home. But choosing apps and digital resources for children can feel daunting due to the large number available. When approached as an afterthought, technology can lead to the digital equivalent of a worksheet rather than dynamic tools that create valuable learning experiences.
There are a few simple guidelines I like to follow when deciding what apps to use in the classroom, and the same guidelines can apply at home:
1. Does this app allow me to do something otherwise unimaginable without technology?
When assessing digital tools to use with students, I always strive to focus on the learning outcomes of the project as the focal point. Then, I seek out tools that allow me to transform the learning process into something unimaginable had the technology not existed. Technology allows us to do some pretty unbelievable things in the classroom and at home, from simply taking and annotating pictures of our work to recreating models of our learning. I love leveraging Skitch as a tool for observation in the classroom. This app allows students to take pictures and annotate them. We’ve used the app for in-class scavenger hunts, labeling a science experiments, and more. I want students to walk away from a learning period engaged and excited, and this can happen both because of, and in spite of, a tool.
2. Can my child and I interact together with this app?
Creating and collaborating with your children while taking advantage of technology is incredibly rewarding. Encouraging questions and seeking answers together, rather than passively consuming media, offers insights into your child’s creative and critical thinking skills. Any movie making app (iMovie, Book Creator, My Story, and more) is great for creating digital stories with your child. From creating a reflection about the learnings from the day or developing a full story arc with characters, setting, and more, any child will love using these apps in creative ways.
3. Is the app open-ended?
When an app can be used across multiple skill sets and content areas, you have a real gem. Kids will learn which apps they love and want to use them in creative ways both in school and at home. By investing time into these open-ended, creative apps, we allow kids to dream up what they can do with them, thereby redefining what was once possible. I love Explain Everything because it can be applied across disciplines. From making videos about mathematical concepts to creating book trailers, the app is focused on creation so that you are able to use it in a variety of settings.
4. If the app is focused on practicing a specific skill, what is the added benefit of using the app versus something else?
There is a time and a place for practicing skills like grammar and multiplication facts. When evaluating apps that focus on mastery of a topic or task (e.g. spelling), look to see if it is reimagining the learning experience in a way only possible with technology (going back to the first guideline). If the app is doing something new and creative with practicing a skill, try it out! Think about the engagement of your child and how he or she will interact with the practice. Motion Math is super engaging. I love the different levels and concepts covered. Many coding apps are wonderful for practicing foundational and conceptual skills. In class we use Scratch on the computer, and the Scratch Jr. app is well crafted and laid out as well.
To summarize, here are some of my favorite digital learning tools,and suggestions for how you can use them at home:
Activity Suggestion: Annotate photos from a vacation with key ideas and details, which helps build communication skills.
Activity Suggestion: Make a video about your day and send it to a relative as a means to connect. This ties the activity with a meaningful intention.
Activity Suggestion: Work together on coding something fun, inventive, or immediately useful at home.