APPs: It’s an Education!

5/31/2012 3:02:00 AM
I was hunting beginner-reading apps the other day and came across a “Reading Timer” by a very well known company. With further research I found that it was for timing summer reading minutes, but could be used throughout a school year. Supposedly timing reading encourages fun reading. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t get it.

When I was teaching reading to 1st graders, a so-called reading specialist scheduled time with me to observe my reading lessons. I was shocked when she took out a stopwatch. After timing my reading and conversations with two individual students, I asked, “What are you doing with the stopwatch?” She said, “Our reading program is a timed activity.” I told her that it would be better to keep her stopwatch for use at recess to time footraces. I had an individualized reading/conferencing program rather than traditional reading groups. I won that battle, and never saw the stopwatch again. I have a feeling it seemed a bit ridiculous to her, too. Some things are just plain crazy—and using a stopwatch to time reading was one of them.

The other day, my daughter-in-law asked me to share some iPad apps with her. So I shared Dragon dictation, Flipboard, Evernote, Penultimate, Pages, and SketchBookX. I then discovered that she had some great education apps, which she shared with me. Hillary is a smart parent, and not a professional teacher, but with a tablet and a few apps she has become a teacher. The apps she found at the iPad App Store were perfect for my pre-reading/beginning reading grandsons. Speaking as an old 1st grade teacher, I’d use them in class. What I did with 3X5 cards can be done a lot better with some apps and a touch screen—and with younger students. No wonder most techno-kindergartners are readers today.

Here are Hillary’s iPad App Picks—easily searched and discovered at the App Store:
  • Phonics Awareness
  • Teach Me
  • Dora Read
  • Lunchbox
  • UmiNumbers
  • ABC Magic
  • Alpha Baby
There’s plenty of reading help and practice in Hillary’s Picks, but Grandpa still likes the talking cat app that repeats words, and makes more than just purring noises. Gets a lot of laughs from my grandsons. Although, it is not a good plan at bedtime-story time.

One of the ways to discover your own apps is to search them the way my daughter-in-law did, and then share your app discoveries with others. Start by going to the app store to search—Reading Apps—for example. Then have an app party/coffee with some colleagues, friend, or other parents. Many apps are free downloads, or will cost a little. Soon you’ll have a larger library. Some apps do one thing well, and other apps have multiple functionality. Checking often for new ones will get you more of each type. And if you know app hoarders, convince them to do some trading, it’s so important to compare in order to choose the best.

I know many people who still see education apps as something that just keeps a student’s attention, or keeps them quiet. Heck, watching moths bumping into a yard lamp at night can do that! It is important for educators to get beyond the “It engages students, and keeps them quiet.” lines, because it says nothing—no teaching/learning there. Get specific when sharing what apps can do, and demand new apps that meet high academic goals. That will keep the watered down, simple, and really useless apps from getting more traction than they deserve. The marketplace will give you what you ask for, if you ask, and it will also give you what you don’t need if you don’t ask. Learn about apps and be specifically vocal about education needs.

Ken Royal is a teacher/education and education technology blogger/reporter, video interviewer, podcaster, education event news commentator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology experience. His teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, and Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. Read more of Ken’s work at Royal Reports.
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