Saturday, January 4, 2014

Eight Questions I Ask Before an App Can Stay on Student iPads

For the past couple of years I've been really fortunate to have access to iPads in my classroom.  The increased access to this mobile technology has provided my students with that many more individualized opportunities to show and share their learning.   Now if you're new to this blog you may not realize that student choice and voice is something I believe very strongly about. Very strongly.  This means I am constantly looking for apps that  allow my students to learn, show, and share their knowledge in innovative ways.  As a result I purchase and download many, many iPad apps for my work iPad. I take them for a test drive sort of speak before they make their way onto the iPads my students have access to.  The reality is very few apps I test drive end up on my student's iPads.  But why?  Below you will find some of the questions I ask (and why) before an app will make it on my students iPads.  I am hoping this information will be of benefit for both teachers purchasing apps for their students, and developers creating apps for students.  Here are my top eight questions.

1. Does the app promote consumption or creation?

I hear over and over again how iPads are so easy for children to use.  In some ways I agree because it is not hard to tap an iPad screen and make things happen.  But where I cringe is when I see how iPads are being used, particularly in a classroom.  iPads (and I'd think most mobile devices) are powerful tools in the hands of children so it's so frustrating when I see them being used at the simplest level.  When I look for iPad apps for my students to use I want an app that my students can create with.  I want an app where they tell it what to do, vs the app dictating what the child should do.   Eg. I much prefer apps that allow my students to create content, and not just answer questions that are thrown their way. The creation apps are my apps of choice vs the consumption apps.

Now please don't get me wrong, my students do use consumption apps from time to time too. We use them to learn sight words, or to practice math facts  but we use creation apps far more often. Far, far, far more often. Most of our creation apps can be used in a variety of settings, vs consumption apps which typically have just one purpose.

2. Does the app let my students enter at their just right level?

Nothing frustrates me more than having a levelled app, and having the app expect all my students start at the same starting point.  When I make this remark to the app developer I'm often told not to worry, they can pass through the initial levels quickly. Imagine walking into a new library and having to read every book below your reading level in order to get to the books that are at your just right reading level.  If an app offers levels, I want my students to choose the best level for them and that best level isn't the same for every child in my class.

3. Can the app be personalized?

I love it when my students can add their own content to a "drill and practice" type app.  There are a couple of really great word work apps we use where my students can add their own personal words to practice and learn in an engaging manner.  If my students can take a simple app and personalize it for their individual learning needs, I'm more likely to keep it.

4. Is the app simple enough for my young learners to use independently?

This year I teach 24 six year olds, on my own.  Like a typical grade one class, my students have  a variety of strengths and challenges which I do my best to meet individually.  With 15 boys and 9 girls my room is a very active place for learning.  I also try extremely hard to provide my students with choice of tool to learn, show, and share their knowledge.  If an app requires a lot of my time and guidance for my students to be successful it's an app I more than likely will  stay clear of it.  If it's an app that, after a quick demo, my students can use, for the most part, independently, I'm all over it.  Having said that, there are many fantastic apps out there that are just not the best option for my young learners.  For an app to get on the iPads my students use, it has to be age appropriate for my students too.

5. Where does the app save what is created?

A lot of what my students create on their iPads is uploaded to their individual blogs through the KidBlog app.  As I said before the more my students can do with out my help, the more I'm freed up to work more closely with my students.  The KidBlog app, and so many other productivity apps, easily upload from the iPad camera roll so I'm always looking for apps that save seamlessly there.  This includes apps that create images or movies.  For images my students can easily take screen shots if this isn't an option, but for videos this needs to be an option.

Some apps require an account to save to their websites.  I don't have a problem with setting up a class account for all my students to share their work too, but if I have to download from that account to have the work appear on their blogs I'm not interested at all.  In addition I live in British Columbia, Canada and we have the toughest privacy laws in Canada, and more than likely North America.  In order for me to use an app with my students that stores information on a site away from the iPad (i.e. on a server some where in the world) I need informed consent from my students' parents to use the site. So if I need to create an account and log on to use an app, I'll think more closely before I agree.  Informed consent adds another variable for me.

6. Where does the app share to?

My students know to look for the little box with the arrow pointing out from it.  For some apps that is how they get their creations into the camera roll. For other apps that icon produces a whole bunch more options. My class most often needs to be able to share to the camera roll, dropbox, or twitter.   Some iPad apps provide a link to a website where the content is stored.  While this is okay (when I have permission to store my students' work there) it's not ideal for my young learners.  The iPads we have access to don't have e-mail on them so it's not an option we have available to us so if emailing is the only way we can share content, I'll run from the app for my students.

7. How much space does the app take up on the iPad?

If an app is really large in size, and is taking up a lot of space on our iPads it better have a good reason for that space.  Space is very precious because once an iPad is full, an iPad is full.  I used to have a lot more interactive books on our class iPads, but I've since removed many because they were taking up way too much space.  I love when I find a great app that takes little space. Love, love, love it!

8. How much does an app cost?

I won't lie, if there is a good free app that does pretty much exactly what I want it to do the likely hood that I'll spend money to buy the upgrade is limited.  Money is tight and so it needs to be spent wisely.  Having said that there are apps that I will pay for because there is nothing like them in the free realm.  I appreciate quality and functionality and I will pay for that.  The more versatile an app is - i.e. one that works for a variety of age levels with out being too complicated for younger learners, and too young for older learners, the more likely I will invest in the app.

Of course before I add any app to the iPads my students have access to I need to have a need for the app.  An iPad can be fully functional with just a few open ended creative apps. I'll admit we have too many apps on the iPads we have access to now, but most if not all apps are used, some just more regularly than others.  I also find different students work best with different apps and I want to provide them with the choice of app that works best for them.

I'm curious, how do you choose which apps to add to your mobile devices?



18 comments:

  1. I can appreciate all the research you do before deciding which apps you want for your class. This is my first year with ipads and I spent a lot of time this summer test driving apps. In the end I went for apps that the students can use to create with as our starter apps.

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    1. I'm a HUGE fan of creation apps. It sounds like you made a great choice with your starter apps.

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  2. Well said Karen!!
    This is a great list of questions to use when choosing an app. The only thing I would add would be dependability. Some apps (especially free ones in my experience) seem prone to shutting down prematurely. Those apps are frustrating for the students and get nixed from my list.

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    1. Great point Kathy. I think I must have better luck with free apps because I haven't had much trouble with them, but I certainly agree, it's something to keep in mind.

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  3. Thank you Karen!
    You have made us all think carefully before purchasing those apps! I am very selective about what I download and find I use the same apps over and over in many different ways. I also like the apps that allow students to create; they allow them to show their work in their own way.

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    1. What is interesting for me is that apps that are popular with one set of children are avoided by another. I would find it difficult to create a "best of" list of apps. Besides consumption apps the apps we use tend to fall into the "apps that screen cast", "apps that help tell stories", "apps that document with images", "apps that document with voice", "apps that document with video" "apps that help with productivity" categories.

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  4. Karen,
    Do you happen to know which apps work well with kidblog or google drive? Thanks for the great post. Good things to think about.
    Carol

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    1. Any app that saves into the camera roll can easily be uploaded with the kidblog or google drive apps. The list would be endless. Are you looking for something specific re a certain way to create content with an iPad?

      I am glad my post has you thinking. :-)

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  5. Great post! I will be sharing this around...

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    1. Excellent. I'm glad you found it helpful. Thank you.

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  6. This is a fabulous list. Thank you so much Karen for sharing. I am using my iPads v-e-r-y slowly in my class. One app at a time, sometimes only one in a week. It helps me stay focused on doing it right instead of so I can say I'm 'using technology'. I need to blog about my process as well. Thanks for that reminder too!

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    1. You'll find your way Kimberley and you also know your students best. We can always arrange a google hang out or Skype call if you'd like. Karen

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  7. As a technology coach, I am 100% on board with the way you vet your apps. Part of my job is to make sure that the apps teachers want are worth the cost, or in the case of free apps, are worth the time and effort spent procuring the app. Too often teachers want content-based consumption apps. When the iPads were first distributed, I gave the IT team a list of apps to be put on all district iPads, and 99% of them were creation apps that could be used across grade levels and across the curriculum. It's the best way to keep the use of technology student-centered.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment Jody. I'm glad you're on board with my thinking. Technology can be such a powerful tool for learning so I'm doing my best to use it to its full potential with my students. Like everything else in life, it's a journey for certain.

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  8. This is lovely reflection. Thanks for sharing. I've been looking to revive and refine my technology use in my first grade classroom and turn the corner from "using technology" to having a tool for authentic learning. This has given me a starting point as I've been considering "cleaning up" my iPads.

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    1. Thank you Kendra. I wish you the best of luck with maintaing your iPads. I know for me it's a labour of love. :-)

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  10. Nice post...thanks for this information...

    Trak

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