Tech Salad

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Infectious Apps

What apps do you use in your classroom? Is there a more commonly-asked question at educator gatherings these days?

We are in the process of selecting and purchasing apps for our 1:1 pilot at Goochland Elementary School. There are the usual suspects: Motion Math, Explain Everything, Popplet… We do need to do work, but I want school to be a place where exploration and creativity have a prominent place. John Hendron feels the same way. We have had several conversations over the last couple of months about the kinds of apps we’d love to have for our students, and we agree that there is a place for creative, interesting apps in the classroom. Not everything has to be tied to a standard. Not everything has to be about pushing content. The kids must have incentives to WANT to pick up the devices, and drilling math facts is no incentive. As Ruben Puentadura wrote a few weeks ago,

If we want our students to create more frequently and across a wider range of disciplines with mobile devices than they have with more traditional computing tools – and I would strongly argue that this should be one of our goals – then providing them tools that are a pleasure to use is a key component of this strategy.

Having come to that conclusion is not a helpful thing. It is quite the opposite. Now we have to make tough choices and select apps we know will pull kids in and engage them in creative thinking. I don’t have an official list, but I do have my own children’s iPads as a proving ground. Yes, the day my children realize how much I use them as guinea pigs, I’ll have to quadruple (or more) their allowance.

Music is a must. We have GarageBand, but there are other fun apps out there that let kids explore sounds and scales. Bebot is a fun one. So is Musyc. There is also MadPad, which lets you make music out of everyday sounds you record yourself. I’d make earbuds mandatory any time these apps are launched, but kids should have exploration time with them.

iOS devices have really good cameras, and we must teach kids to communicate with visuals even if that is never formally assessed with a bubble test. Taking and editing pictures and making short videos has to happen in these classrooms. While all this can be about specific content covered in class, there has to be some creative exploration time, too. What could be more fun than storytelling with stop motion (OSnap!) or creating fantasy landscapes ( Photo Editor by Aviary). Imagine, for example, all kids using the 1 Second Everyday app from the first to the last day of school. Each student would have a unique record of every single day of the school year. Imagine sharing those at a 5th grade graduation after three years of recorded moments. Instead of the traditional teacher-created, teacher-centric slide show, we’d get to see school from the student’s perspective.

Thinking games are also incredibly important to me, especially ones that are independent of content knowledge and depend solely on the player’s problem-solving efforts. We have already added KickBox and Big Seed to our list, of course. These two are from the MIND Research Institute, creator of the amazing ST Math. They even feature JiJi the penguin. I have spent plane rides and waited out software updates playing these two games. They really make you think. Another favorite is Arcs, a 2D, circular Rubik’s Cube. Unfortunately, this last one is a free “starter” and the full version is an in-app purchase. That’s never good for schools. I could list about a dozen more here.

I guess what I want is for the iPads to be a go-to device during downtime as well as during work time. I want them to be something the kids want to have in their hands to help them explore the world around them and, ultimately, own them in a way that lets them create and share. If the kids are taking the iPads home, they could use them in fun activities that  turn out to be learning activities.

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