Choosing apps that will support your teaching objective is a time consuming task for sure, however managing multiple iPad devices in a primary elementary classroom can quickly get out of hand, especially if you have not practiced with the device yourself. Therefore, my first suggestion is to work with an iPad and learn the basics of navigation–I like this video, iPad Basic Navigation. Be sure to learn from your network administrator how to download, delete, and organize apps. Each school will have a different system, however all will be linked to something called an Apple ID. Educate yourself about your school’s system so that you can troubleshoot in the moment and not become stalled when (not should) you encounter a glitch. Secondly, actually play the apps you wish to use with the students. Third, preload names of students, levels of difficulty, and other various settings when applicable. If you are sharing iPads with another classroom or grade level, make labels for the cases with the student names–numerical tags are great for the network administrator, but you will need names and so will the students in order to facilitate easy distribution and return. Other things to consider might be headphones, hand-washing routines, and rotation schedules. Breathe…you are almost ready to witness the marriage ceremony of inspired learning and fun.
Most students will be incredibly motivated to get their hands on an iPad. In our community, many students have iPads at home and even more students have parents with an iPhone–many apps are designed for both. Students know how to use these devices, even if we teachers don’t. When teachers first get their hands on iPads, they tend to use them in small groups as a center activity in which the child practices a skill that has already been taught. For example, many classrooms have math centers for an hour or so once a week or once a month wherein parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals if available, manage students as they rotate (in homo or heterogeneous groups) through various stations and activities. Many teachers I know use stations that include Marcy Cook tiles, an online station utilizing IXL, a Mountain Math station, and finally a reteach or preteach station. For a beginning integrator, simply replacing one of these stations with an iPad app game is the most widespread use of iPads in the classroom that I have witnessed to date. However, this minor enhancement will not yield the deeper learning that we as teachers seek, although it will definitely engage and excite your students. Strive for more.
After an initial substitution phase of iPad integration, teachers could begin using iPads to allow the children to create media–a more transformative use of technology in the classroom. Last school year I taught three reading enrichment groups. I worked with one small group from each grade K, 1, and 2, in which we created, rather than consumed, utilizing the iPad. Students read and researched their topics digitally and from paper books. Next, each student in grades 1 and 2 created their own iBook using Red Jumper Studio’s Book Creator App ($4.99). The students documented their findings and thoughtfully organized the pages with images, captions, and paragraphs. This app was so simple to teach and to use that my 1st grade students were typing up text, coloring backgrounds, recording their voices as narrators, importing images from Dropbox, and lastly sharing their self published books with family and friends within just a few weeks. The Kindergarten students wrote first person personification poems about insects and then performed them using the app Puppet Pals HD Director’s Chair from Polished Play, LLC. Students learned quickly how to manipulate the insect puppets, but the challenge was speaking and manipulating the characters at the same time. This advanced task was well situated within these students’ zone of proximal development. I’m always looking for ways to push high achieving students to say, “Woah, this is hard.” Check out an example here, Puppet Pals Earthworm Personification Poem.
In my opinion, technology is too often used simply to make a final product–i.e., typing up an essay or creating a culminating Keynote about the CA Missions. However, apps provide a way to utilize technology at the beginning of your lesson for the anticipatory set as well as mid-lesson for your guided practice and independent practice. Think about how students can publish their smart thinking and with whom they can share. Many teachers have students create illustrations to enhance poems they’ve written and then display them on the classroom bulletin board. Now students have the power to write or dictate their poem, drop in a photo of original art or draw in Procreate ($4.99), add a narrated student recording of poem, and then publish for the student’s family and friends far and near.
An iPad is a tool. It’s powerful. It’s universal. It’s empowerment for students. Designing and formatting their own words and ideas on the iPad inspires creativity. My ultimate takeaway is that students stay with a more challenging assignment longer when technology is a component. They persevere simply because they are internally motivated to do quality work, especially if the audience has been expanded to include those without a bird’s eye view of the bulletin board. Tekkie and non-tekkie teachers alike can appreciate how difficult it is to inspire intrinsic motivation in their students. So here it is, one vetted way to motivate from within:start leading your students through projects in which they can create their own media on an iPad.
Our K-8 public school purchased 40+ iPad 2’s for our site to pilot during the 2012-13 school year. Most devices were designated for special ed., however a set of 12, sometimes 13 were available for check out to the general ed. teachers. Building off a list created by a fellow teacher, I bought and played dozens of apps from a variety of content areas. Better yet, though, I was able to observe students ages 5-13 on a daily basis interacting with the iPad and its little boxes of opportunities. These field tests provided me a student perspective and feedback which I find to be an essential part of the conversation, which could be titled, “Apps for the Classroom.”
I found that students wanted apps with choice of games and player customization options, like the the popular Word Bingo by ABCya.com ($.99), and reward activities or down time between focused exercises, like the fish tank (at right) in the also popular Freefall Spelling by Merge Mobile ($1.99). As a teacher I liked Word Bingo (and Math Bingo) because I could use it with multiple students and track progress on the scoreboard/report card, plus the games were only accessible after winning bingo. As for Freefall Spelling, I liked that I could use their word lists, make my own, or have the student build one and record themselves reading the word after they typed it. I’ve including the developers’ names here because so many apps cannot be found in the iTunes store by the App name alone. Why, you wonder? I’m not sure, but this flaw did waste a lot of my time.
To begin, I focused on apps that would help support my struggling readers – students in K-1 that had difficulty with phonemic awareness (PA), the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words, since lack of PA is a direct indicator of future reading difficulties. I absolutely loved Magic Penny 1 for exactly this focus! Parents, this app would also work well for preschool-age children with a demonstrated interest in letters and letter sounds. I could also add multiple students and adjust the difficulty levels (see image) individually depending on student skill deficit. The app moves slowly and methodically with easy-to-understand demonstrations before each exercise, as well as second chances for the correct answer. The app has a “funky monkey” puppet, as my students called it, that cries, “Yum, yum, yum” while devouring the bananas at the top of the screen that are used to mark progress for each question answered correctly. There is a Magic Penny 2 as well. Now, for the bad news, this App used to be $4.99, however the price sky-rocked over this past summer to $19.99 because the company is packaging the app within bundled early literacy services for school sites and districts. Per the Executive Director, they weren’t making any money selling the app as stand alone. Magic Penny 2 cost rose from $4.99 to $49.99!
To support the general education teachers, I tested out apps beyond my reading scope as well. In doing so I found Motion Math. If you haven’t yet heard of Motion Math Apps, check them out. Because many math apps are simply skill practice, I really liked that Hungry Guppy, Hungry Fish, and Math Zoom require focused thinking and decision making–this makes it appealing to me as a teacher. In both the Hungry games, students must manipulate numbers in fact families to create a sum or difference their fish will eat. Students love this app because it’s very kinesthetic, plus they can earn customizable fins for their fish or guppy. Each school year in math typically begins with place value review, which is essentially number sense or understanding the conceptual difference between 40 and 40,000. Is 49 closer to 50 or 40? What comes right before 600? Math Zoom speaks to just this concept. Students use expand and retract finger commands to zoom in and out on a number line that changes in intervals from fractional values up through 1’s, 10’s, 100’s up to 10,000’s and back down again. This requires students to decide if the number presented has a smaller or larger value than their current number line location. Again, this app has difficulty level settings and added challenges like the pin popping bubble (see image).
Choosing apps that will both engage and challenge students takes a bit of prep time, however the most amount of thought should be dedicated to how you will manage classroom usage. How many iPads do you have at your disposal? Is it necessary to pre-load student names and levels? Will you use whole group or small group? More tips and suggestions for a smooth in class implementation will be found in my follow-up post.Courtney Rodgers works full time as a reading specialist in a public school in Marin County, CA, and last year she also served as the school’s Director of Educational Technology. She has spent 12 years as a teacher, all of which were spent focusing on reading acquisition/intervention as well as technology integration. She loves all kinds of literacy – digital and analog. It’s all for fun and all for learning. After working all day, Courtney loves to come home to her 3.5 year old, 1.5 year old, and stay-at-home daddy/husband to check out what has been read that day.