In these 169 tech-centric situations, you get an overview of pedagogy—the tech topics most important to your teaching—as well as practical strategies to address most classroom tech situations, how to scaffold these to learning, and where they provide the subtext to daily tech-infused education.
Today’s tip: How to Evaluate Apps
Here are thirteen tips to evaluate the apps you’ll find useful in your classroom:
- free or small fee
- stand the test of time
- positive parent reports
- rated ‘for everyone’ or ‘low maturity’
- no in-app purchases or billing
- support the ‘4 C’s’–creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration
- offer compelling content (this is subjective: ‘Compelling’ varies teacher-to-teacher and student-to-student)
- are not distracting or overwhelming in colors, music, or activity
- offer levels that become increasingly more difficult, providing differentiation for student needs
- few ads–and those that are there do not take up a significant portion of the screen
- intuitive to use with a shallow learning curve that encourages independence
- easily applied to a variety of educational environments
- doesn’t collect personal information other than user credentials or data required to operate the app
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You probably found dozens of new apps over the holidays that you can’t wait to try out in your classes. They all sound educational, rigorous, and dynamic but the problem is there are far more than you can use. You may have decided to try one a week — or one a month — or some other method of doling them out in measurable quantities that won’t overwhelm you or students.
I have a better strategy: Limit new apps to five. All year. Introduce them; let students get comfortable using them in varied circumstances, in multiple subjects. Only then expect students to take ownership of the apps’ ability to share the student’s knowledge. Here’s why five is a good yearly number. When students see too many apps, they:
- decide technology is confusing
- decide your class is confusing
- think they don’t need to get comfortable with any app because you’ll introduce a different one any moment
A colleague considers technology “as approachable as a porcupine”. Don’t let students think of the apps you’re so excited about as porcupines!
So, how do you pick those five apps? Here are three general guidelines:
- The app must improve outcomes. Award-winning educator, presenter, and teacher-author Alice Keeler says, “Paperless is not a pedagogy”. What she means is: Go paperless not to save trees but to improve the education experience. How does this apply to the selection of apps? Apps used in your lessons should improve learning rather than just being a cool app kids might like.
- The tech must be there. You and your students must have the techiness to use the app. This is the most critical bottleneck for app selection. You may love what the app can do (like gamify math or quizzify science) but the technology required is more than you can handle, might require hours of time just to learn how to apply it. That’s not a good app for your circumstances. The app you choose should be within your skillset. Even better, that metric should apply to your students. If neither of you can self-train on an app, find a different one.
- It must fill the M and R of SAMR. The SAMR Model (click link for more information) organizes technology as Substitution and Augmentation at a beginning level and Modification and Redefinition at the critical thinking and creativity level. For over a decade, teachers have considered it “good enough” to meet those first levels — like rote drills to replace worksheets. Not anymore. Now, apps you pick should require critical thinking — the M and R levels. These sorts of digital tools are not more complicated to use or more expensive. What they do is leverage learning more rigorously for both you and students.
* For ideas on how to select a specific app, read the introduction to 5 Favorite Classroom Apps.
Having said all of that, here are a selection of great apps to consider as you select your group of five:
Let’s face it. Teachers juggle an exhausting schedule of parent conferences, administrative tasks, and specialized student needs. They take work home evenings and weekends and often are forced to choose between family and job when it comes to allocating a finite quantity of time over what surely seems to be infinite needs.
The teachers I know want to be more organized, work more efficiently, use available tools to complete tasks faster, and prioritize needs. Knowing this, I look for tools to energize my teaching, do stuff like:
- save time
- accomplish common tasks more quickly
- make access from digital devices easy and intuitive
- are simple to use so even when my mind is somewhere else (like on the child across the room or the admin peeking in my door), the tool performs flawlessly
Here are three apps I love that meet these qualifications:
Flip is a freemium discussion app where teachers (or even students) pose a discussion topic (via video) and students respond with a short video. The post may include a recording, an attachment, decorations, or any number of other tools to share their knowledge. Responses show up in a grid format that’s easy to view and fun to read for students and teachers.
This app is a wonderful method of differentiating for varied student needs. Here are just a few ways to use it in your class:
- ask questions about reading material or the lesson plan as a formative assessment to measure student understanding of the topic.
- let students pose questions about material that classmates can answer–a backchannel approach to learning
- have students share a quick video about themselves at the start of a new school year
- extend a classroom discussion so all students can offer their ideas, even the shy members
- brainstorm on a topic to collect lots of ideas before drawing a conclusion
Reading is defined as “the action or skill of absorbing written or printed matter silently or aloud.” Sounds dry, maybe even boring, but the ability to read has been credited with exercising the mind, saving lives, bringing people together, and predicting success in school. It alleviates boredom in the bits of free time that pop up between soccer and dinner and it can be done alone or in a group.
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends…”
― Charles William Eliot
So when I find an app that organically encourages reading, I get excited. But I’m fussy. Here’s what I look for–the red answers are how this mystery ready app sized up:
- Does it have advertising? No
- Is it intuitive? Yes
- is it user-friendly? Yes
- Does the web tool differentiate for types of students and their unique needs? Yes
- Is the web tool compatible with most browsers? Yes
- Is the web tool free? No–but it’s affordable ($1.99 at the time this was printed).
- Does the web tool encourage higher-order thinking? Yes
- Is the web tool or app error-free? Yes
- Does the web tool have educational applications? Yes
- Is the app private? Yes
When preteen kids see parents and older siblings thumbing away at social media accounts, they want to do it. They don’t understand when told they are too young. There have been a few efforts to extend social communication tools to younger kids but mostly, kids don’t like them so end up on apps designed for teens or adults, like Snapchat or Instagram.
Until the iconic Facebook platform came up with what they call Messenger Kids.
What is Messenger Kids
Messenger Kids is a free video calling and messaging app designed for kids under thirteen to connect with others from their tablet or smartphone. These are the kids who love digitally chatting on parent cellphones (or other digital devices) but aren’t old enough for the nuances and maturity required of popular 13+ messaging platforms. Messenger Kids provides them with a safe, free environment to chat with friends who have moved away, stay in touch with family who doesn’t live nearby, and get questions answered by parents they aren’t with at the moment.
Here’s what it’s not. First and foremost:
Messenger Kids is not a social media app. It is a messaging app.
Here’s a peak into the app:
TeacherKit, a useful classroom management app for iOS or Android, provides teachers with one location to log student attendance, take note of student behavior, record grades, create student-level reporting, and other tedious tasks that traditionally take time away from teaching. The intuitive interface allows all this to be done with quick taps and swipes, generating data visualizations on the fly, both for whole classes and individual students. The student-profile system allows teachers to quickly contact students and parents via email, and the premium version adds the ability to send detailed progress reports, complete with behavior and attendance breakdowns. Plus, teachers can send announcements to an entire class, letting them know a date change, assignment due dates, and/or to update class information.
TeacherKit is a global Microsoft and Tradeline Strategic Education Partner with over 1 million teacher users around the world.
How it works
TeacherKit is easy to initiate and intuitive to use. Simply download the app from iTunes or Google Play and build classes. Students can be added via your class list, from other classes, or by photo. Once the class is set up, you can generate reports that summarize grades, behaviors, and more by class or student. Reports can be shared (as a PDF) via email or print. Optional reports include an overall class report, student performance, student/class grades, a class seating chart, and attendance. Here are samples of several:
Every teacher knows that students do better with positive reinforcement. As tempting as “punishment” might sound when referring to that student who has scrambled your last nerve, to explain consequences of actions in positive terms goes much further toward student success not only in school but in the ongoing effort to build life-long learners.
“Positive reinforcement, whether it be with your family, when following laws, or with students, can best be defined as the logical consequences of doing what’s right.” –Jacqui Murray
As an education pedagogy, pursuing a classroom management system that revolves around positive reinforcement is called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, or PBIS. The importance of using tools that prevent disruptive behavior and support students is explained by NEA Past President Lily Eskelsen Garcia:
The most effective tool teachers have to handle problem behavior is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programs help teachers recognize the significance of classroom management and preventive school discipline to maximize student success. PBIS strategies are critical to providing all young people with the best learning environment.
Committed teachers can accomplish this in a variety of ways including supportive words, prizes, special activities, certificates, badges, and modeling proper behavior. Here are four online options that support the goal of recognizing students in a positive way:
Now, Zapzapmath has made the experience even better with a long list of enhancements, in-game improvements, and an even greater variety of features. These are designed for all types of players from those who play at school to students who log on at a homeschool or through a family account. This is perfect for the many different ways students learn math, the wide variety of digital devices being used, and gives a nod toward the lifelong learner who is as likely to play math games because they love learning as that it’s part of teacher-directed activities.
Zapzapmath is a free gamified way to teach K-8 math skills that are tied to many national standards (like Common Core). Its format is colorful and engaging, the music lively, and the space-themed layout exactly right for the age group. The over 150 games are fast-paced and interactive and cover over 180 math topics. Students direct their learning with an avatar (called a ‘mathling’) that identifies their work and keeps them engaged. Read my full review of Zapzapmath here.
Zap Zap Kindergarten Math, geared for ages 3-6, is the newest member of the Zapzapmath family. It includes 160+ visually-stimulating math games that make learning fun and engaging while students develop math and thinking skills. It covers foundation skills like addition, subtraction, place value, and measurement and data, and is aligned with international math standards such as the US’s Common Core. Each game is preceded by quick audio directions and ongoing gameplay is narrated so all levels of readers can understand. Analytics track and evaluate progress.
Players learn to:
- Develop number sense.
- Count to 100 by ones and tens.
- Count forward and backward from a given number.
- Compare 2 numbers as greater than, less than, or equal.
- Understand mathematical equality.
- Solve simple addition and subtraction equations up to 20.
- Differentiate two objects in terms of physical attributes; i.e. size and height.
- Identify shapes as two-dimensional or three-dimensional.
- Compose larger shapes out of smaller shapes.
Mindsnacks is a series of education apps on topics like geography, vocabulary, languages, and SAT. With colorful graphics and cute characters, it’s a cross between flashcards and multiple choice with lots of visual thrown in. Though these are game-based learning, there’s no plot as you might find simulated games. Think Number Munchers rather than Minecraft. Each app includes personalized learning, an enhanced review mode, and additional challenges to keep students motivated.
To start, download the app and log in. If you have several Mindsnacks apps, you can log into a central profile and track your progress on all of them. Here are three of my favorites:
Mindsnacks’ U.S. Geography includes eight games for beginner and intermediate students with over 40 hours of interactive content, more than 600 hand-drawn graphics, and 1,000-plus questions on borders, shapes, landmarks, history, state culture, flags, mottos, capitals, and major cities. Initially, only four of the eight games are available; users unlock others by successfully navigating a virtual road trip across the country. A tutorial is provided for each state so kids can review basic information prior to beginning play. To keep learning interactive, the app includes features such as a dart players use to mark the spot on the map where a certain U.S. landform or landmark exists. Post-quiz reports show how close users are to mastering each state’s information and what skills they developed during the game.