I think there is a tendency for all of us when we delve into educational technology to let the program do the teaching. We find a great app, software, or web site and think the students will learn from it. Maybe they will... but often they will find ways to cut corners or beat the system.
I remember when we first downloaded Mathemagics to our iPads. I gave the kids time to explore and enjoy the app, hoping they would learn a few multiplication tricks along the way. What they learned (within minutes of getting their fingers on it) was a loophole in the system and how to "cheat" their way through the program.
Knowing that many of our students take the path of least resistance (like I admittedly do), here are some ways to help students learn AND use their digital tools.
- I think it's important to use apps like Tiny Countries or Mathemagics as review, not as the main teaching. Teach your math facts, your geography lesson, or whatever you are doing, then give them 10 minutes on the app of your choice. This way, you still get to teach them and monitor their review of the information.
- Turn it into a presentation instead of a game. You probably know by now that I love Educreations, but there are other great presentation apps out there. (StoryKit, Haiku Deck, Show Me, and SlideRocket to name a few) Find one or two you like and allow students to use them to present their new-found knowledge. You can expect the first round of presentations to take a day or so to create, but once students figure out the program, they can whip up a good one in a few minutes. This also pushes for higher level thinking than just the rote recitation of facts.
Last week, I met with a different colleague about some courses she'll be picking up next year. She wants to add a digital component and was asking for advice. My biggest piece of advice? "Don't let the technology dictate your course. Let the content drive your direction and we'll find technology tools to help you along the way."
When you find a great digital tool, find ways to use it. Just don't fall for the trap of thinking an app can teach the kids better than you can.