July 18, 2016
There is no doubt that the internet and the use of smart devices in the classroom is revolutionizing how teachers teach and how students learn. Think of any subject, any technique and “there’s an app for that”… in fact, there are probably thousands of apps for that! This, of course, is where the problem lies. How do you find the apps that will expand on your lessons and engage your students without distracting them or isolating them?
One criteria that can be helpful to use in narrowing down your choices is to look for apps that encourage collaboration rather than just one student and the screen. There are apps that allow students to share notes, write stories, create multimedia presentations and research long term projects. These apps empower students to work together.
Another solid benchmark to consider is whether it encourages students to “break the rules” or build something new. Are users just playing a game or filling in the blanks? Or are they encouraged to be creative? to create? to expand upon ideas and form new conclusions, new questions, new paths to discover?
Of course, it is critically important to ensure that any apps you use have safety settings that will allow you to contain search terms and access to appropriate materials.
There are hundreds of lists of the “best apps for educators” but we would be remiss not to include our own favorites that follows these 3 points of criteria. I’ve used all of the apps below and can speak to its ease of use, collaboration capabilities and creativity-inspiring capabilities.
Storybird — http://storybird.com/educators/
From their website:
Storybird is a unique language arts tool. We use illustrations to inspire students to write stories: picture books for K-5, longform chapter books for Grades 5-9, and poetry for everything in-between.
In a learning scenario, “starting with pictures” is powerful: it stirs the emotions while it engages the brain and jumpstarts students into their text, avoiding the blank-page syndrome. And it’s effective. Schools have seen as much as 3-grade level jumps in literacy when using Storybird throughout the year.
Today, more than 5 million students and 400,000 educators use Storybird. They’ve published 15 million stories, and read them for several billion minutes. Storybird is free to use—and even helps schools raise funds.
I used Storybird this past year in a poetry workshop with children ages 4-6 and it was a HUGE hit. Several parents messaged me during the workshop to ask what this “storybird” was and how they could use it at home!
Skype in the Classroom — https://education.microsoft.com/skypeintheclassroom
I just love this app! Visit other classrooms around the world, take field trips to famous museums, historical sites and natural landmarks and bring the entire world into your classroom. I grew up with 3 pen pals from 3 different continents — Skype in the Classroom takes the idea of a pen pal to the next level!
Creanza — http://web.creaza.com/en/
Creanza brings together several multimedia apps to create new projects including mind mapping, online video editing, podcasting, comic strip creation and slideshows. There are hundreds of “assignments” already in the app but teachers can also create their own projects that are adapted to their own students’ needs and lesson plans.
TED-Ed — http://ed.ted.com/
We all know and love TED Talks for its thought-provoking, inspirational and educational videos. TED-Ed allows you to use any TED Talk (or YouTube video) and turn it into a lesson! It is an amazing tool!
For older students, promoting the use of Evernote and its companion Skitch, will help your students stay organized, collaborate on projects and annotate documents easily. Evernote is cross-platform and syncs up to devices and is a wonderful way to encourage note taking, self-started organization and collaboration.
We use WordPress’s self-hosted software (available at wordpress.org) to host and run our website. WordPress also has a hosted option (WordPress.com) that allows you to build a free blog on their servers. By giving every student their own author log-in, you can create a yearlong writing project that documents your classroom life, that explores history, that serves as an online anthology of short fiction, that tracks process on a science experiment and more!
Of course, don’t forget YouTube for educational videos, Google Drive for sharing files, Twitter for keeping your students informed and the list goes on. Technology has opened a whole new world to your students — make sure that you are an active guide in that world and that you use it to encourage them to explore, define and redefine and connect.