Thursday, October 3, 2013

What Type of App Are You Looking For?

I'm starting to work with one of our elementary teachers to start using the iPads more.  I love this stuff and can't wait to get started.  As I ponder how to help her, I decided to put my initial thoughts here, to help me process where to go and to help others who may be in a similar boat.

As I drove to work this morning, I mentally started categorizing "educational" apps to get a sense of what's available to recommend to a teacher. Here is the list I came up with.
  • Informational. These apps tend to be very content specific.  While they may have excellent information and be done in a very professional manner, they may only be used in one unit a year. (Example: ThinkFast) Before having your IT team install these apps to your iPads, here are some things to think through.
    • How many times will you use the app? Is this a one-lesson wonder?
    • Do you want to keep it on the iPad year-round and risk a student finding it earlier than you want?
    • Can we find this information the old-fashioned way -- Google or a book?
    • Is it worth your IT team's time to install and uninstall once a year?
  • Drill and Practice. This may take the form of a game or just straight up drill and practice with no mask.  The goal here is simple. Students use the app to practice and master a concept or skill like multiplication facts, spelling words, etc. (Example: SpellingCity)  It is worth pondering if this needs to be a skill mastered with technology. Can paper and pencil achieve the same goal? 
  • Presentation. Students take information and put it into a form they can use to show off what they know.  This can take the form of a document (Pages), a presentation (Educreations), a cartoon (Toontastic), or a myriad of things. Before you dive into these, make sure you have a firm idea of what you want and you pass that along to your students too. 
  • Workflow. Teachers share assignments with students. Students send it back to teachers. Teachers communicate grades with students.  If you want to be paperless, you'll want to use these tools.  I personally use Edmodo a lot and love it, but there are other apps out there. 
  • Communication. As schools experiment with communication outside the walls of the school, blogs, Twitter, and YouTube become important tools in the toolbox. Of course, at that point you will have a lot of questions about Internet safety to consider before you start launching in that direction.  
  • Games. Some of them are for drill and practice. Some of them teach logic. Some of them are just games and don't need to be on the school iPad. Choose wisely.
Maybe it's better to back up and think of what you want to do BEFORE you start thinking of the apps to use. Questions.
1.  What is your objective? What standard will you hit? What do you want the students to learn?
2.  What will the final product look like?
3.  What aspects of the assignment can be done with books? What aspects can be done with paper and pencil? (After all, these were all high tech tools at one point in history.)
4.  Do I need an app for that, or is there a web site I can use instead?

From there, I would strip down the assignment into manageable chunks and steps that students can follow. Regardless of grade level, most research-based projects will have these steps.
1. Selection of topic and/or project.  
2. Research and note-taking.
3. Organization.
4. Creation.
5. Presentation.
6. Celebration. (OK, I added this one out of fun, but why not party it up when you're done?! I'll come enjoy a Diet Coke with you.)

I'm specifically working on a third grade project, so let me sink into that mindset for a moment.
1. Since this is new for the teacher and the students, I would assign specifically what the topic will be (with maybe a few choices) and what the project will look like. I'm thinking of a StoryKit book. 
2.  I would have a stack of books for them to look through and even give them a day of reading books and jotting notes on paper before unleashing them onto Google for another day of notes.  (Two things here.  One, I've never taught a third grade project, so I don't know how ambitious this is.  Do they know how to take notes? Two, do third graders understand bibliographies?)
3. For elementary grades, I would create the organization for them.  For example, let's pretend we're working on the 13 Colonies. I may tell them they need to pick four colonies -- one colony per page -- and they need to give me founder, founding date, founding city, and a fun fact on each page.  At that point, they don't need to figure out where to put each piece of information they find. The organization is already modeled for them.
4. I would show them how to create a page, then give them 2-3 days to create the pages.  (Since my hypothetical project is using StoryKit, I'm also going to require a picture and their own recorded voice on each page.)
5. In a room with an AppleTV and a projector, you can give each student 3 minutes to show off their hard work to their peers.  (HINT: Have your rubric out and grade the masterpiece during the presentation phase.  That saves you time so you don't need to watch it again during your free time.)

Wrap It Up:
I think there is a misnomer out there that when using iPads, everything must be done using an app. Remember that many of us learned quite well using only books, newspapers, and film strips.  Teaching students to learn in this era means we show them how many different media can help them in the process. 

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