Apps in the Classroom: How do you know which ones to use?

On the internet there are hundreds of articles reviewing iPad, iPhone, and Android apps that can be used in the classroom on mobile devices.  Some reviews tout how amazing and life-changing some apps are for the classroom and others reveal that certain apps just don’t live up to the hype.

But is there any way you can weed through apps on the App Store or the Android Marketplace/Google Play?  How can you evaluate apps for yourself?

According to the Texas Computer Education Association, apps should:

• be easy to use
• be easy to understand
• have no/few ads
• be subject-intensive
• connect to the classroom units of inquiry
• differentiate for users, accommodating the many ways students learn
• have skills and approaches that are real world
• require higher order thinking–which according to Bloom’s includes creating, evaluating, analyzing

But if you are more of a rubric person (after all, most teachers are…), Edudemic provides a list that works quite well if you copy and paste it into a Google Doc.

Overview of the App

  • App Title:
  • App Publisher/Developer:
  • Version:
  • Link to App Store:

Curriculum Compliance

  • Yes/ No – Is it relevant to the curriculum framework?
  • Please add any additional comments regarding implementation.


  • Yes/ No – Is navigation easy? For example, index, contents, menus, clear icons
  • Yes/ No – Is on-screen help and/or tutorial available?
  • Yes/ No – Does it have multiple ability levels?
  • Yes/ No – How does it respond to errors? For example, incorrect spelling.
  • Yes/ No – Are there audio/video options with controls?
  • Yes/ No – Can selected material be tagged, copied, pasted, saved, and printed?
  • Yes/ No – Does it keep a history of the user’s work over a period of time?
  • Yes/ No – Features that address special needs? E.g. physical, aural, visual, ESL.
  • Yes/ No – What support materials are included? For example, online resources, booklet, lesson plans, student worksheets?


  • Yes/ No – Does the material accommodate diverse ways in which students learn?
  • Yes/ No – Is it developmentally and age appropriate?
  • Yes/ No – Does it provide an opportunity to increase students’ understanding?
  • Yes/ No – Does it provide an opportunity for higher order thinking?
  • Yes/ No – Does it provide an opportunity for engagement and interaction?
  • Yes/ No – Does it provide opportunity for collaborative practice & idea sharing?
  • Yes/ No – Does it promote creativity and imagination?
  • Yes/ No – Does it provide an opportunity for problem solving?
  • Yes/ No – Does it provide feedback and assessment?

Need a bit more formalized rubric?  Kathy Schrock has a iPad App Evaluation rubric in PDF form you can download and use.

These three guides came from an article, “Friday Five: Top 5 iPad Apps for Your Classroom,” written by Jacqui Murray for  Using these guides, she recommends the following 5 apps: Babakus, GarageBand, Educreations Interactive Whiteboard,Google Earth, andTimed Test Arcade for iPhone. Read Murray’s article for her rationales.


Murray, Jacqui. “”Friday Five: Top 5 iPad Apps for Your Classroom.”  Web.

Summer Reading

Summer reading was never a difficult task for me.  In fact, I looked forward to summer vacation because it meant I finally had time to read the books I liked at my own pace.  However, I know not everyone is like me and it may be a struggle to get students to read during “vacation”.  But summer reading really isn’t optional.

Research shows that summer vacation often has a significant negative effect on student learning. Providing opportunities for students to read regularly during the summer can prevent documented reading achievement losses. The bottom line is that students who read during the summer do better in the fall. (

The best way to encourage students to read over the summer is to make them want to read by making reading fun. Summer vacation is the perfect time to explore interests without the confines of a curriculum.  During the school year, education is regimented and, essentially, forced upon students.  Many students rebel and say they “hate” school, learning, and/or reading because they just do not like to be told what to do.  By framing summer reading in a context that feels student-chosen rather than force-upon, many struggles will dissipate.

Firstly, we need to answer the question: what is reading?  Is it only a book?  Summer reading can encompass magazines, blogs, comic books, manuals/directions, or anything with words.

Second, we need to establish sources of reading.  Students can read paper copies or digital copies on computers or mobile devices.  Students can borrow materials or purchase them.

Third, we need to consider content.  Summer reading should have no content restrictions, unless it is not age-appropriate.  Students should be allowed to read about cars, princesses, singing, sports, medicine, dancing, grilling, or whatever activity students find fun.  It is also a good time to disregard reading-level and let students read books below (and above) their reading level if they want.  (Remember: the goal is to encourage the student to want to read and to read!)

In English class, students have mostly read “literature”—books that are not popular fiction and rarely connect with students.  Students read for an academic purpose during the school year.  For summer reading, students should read for an enjoyment purpose.  Parents should not give their students quizzes or ask the student to write a paper after reading.  Instead, informal, old-fashioned conversation will yield the same outcome and increase confidence.  A good example of discussion is this: Ask why the student thought the main character was “stupid” instead of telling the student not to use that word.  Most likely, the student has a great explanation, but is just not using academic language.

So how can teachers and parents find the best summer reading for students?

Popular Recommendations—There are hundreds of summer reading lists available through Google searches.  The local librarian, an employee at the local bookstore, or the Top Books in for iBooks/Kindle/Nook will yield an even larger selection.  A popular TV show or movie “based on” or “inspired by” a book?  Pick up one of the books!  I found I loved reading Kathy Reichs’ books because my favorite TV show is Bones, which is inspired by her books.

Student/Friend Recommendations—Prior to the end school, students can write down what their favorite reading selections are.  The teacher can then compile the information into a list.  Students may be more apt to read a book a classmate thought was really good.

Form a Book Club—Perhaps reading a book as a group is best  because some students need the encouragement of others for the initial push into summer reading.  Friends from school, neighborhood kids, or a group at the library will work out well.  Groups can be of varying ages and give perspectives that students may not see otherwise.

Model Reading—Don’t just tell students to read this summer, show them!  Teachers should show students the reading that they have done for enjoyment.  Parents should read as well during the summer.  It might be worthwhile for a parent and student to read the same thing so they can discuss it together.  (Side Note—My mom did this with my brother and I when the first Harry Potter book was published.  It was so much more fun to be able to talk about the book with my mom and my brother.)

Reading Goals/Rewards—Some students need a little…motivation.  While the Six Flags® Read to Succeed Program® is closed for this summer, the idea remains the same.  Parents or teachers can create a set list of criteria that the reader must accomplish in order to obtain the goal.  Each level should be even more desirous than the previous.  The student can either “cash in” at a specific goal level and start over, or keep building until the ultimate prize.  For the Six Flags® program, it’s free tickets to ride the coasters for a day.  You could use gift cards, concert tickets, or whatever that “it” thing is that the reader wants at the moment.  For the Scholastic Summer Challenge 2013, it’s contributing the “World Record” of minutes read to try to reach the Moon.

Do Something—Don’t just read the book, do something with it.  Create something from the book, see a play, watch the movie (afterwards!), visit a museum with artifacts mentioned in the book, encourage someone else to read the book, etc.  The list is endless.

No matter how you approach summer reading, remember to keep track of the reading progress.  You can find printable summer reading logs through a Google search or by using a site like

For more information and ideas for summer reading programs, books, and project ideas, see 5 Ways to Promote Summer Reading by TeachHub, Celebrate the first day of summer with summer reading by ReadWriteThink, and Summer Reading and Learning by National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

TeachHub Magazine

Digital magazines are increasing in popularity quite rapidly.  The convenience of downloading the magazine to a tablet, the green/eco benefits of the magazine (not killing trees or what to do with the paper copy after you’re done), and, in some cases, the less expensive price-per-issue cost simply outweighs buying a magazine from the local grocery store or newsstand.

TeachHub_AprilCoverDigital magazines have also given a platform to smaller publications to have equal circulation with well-known, well-established magazines.  With lower overhead costs, many publications are able be able sustain their print edition through the sales of their digital edition, or even to survive in digital form only.  One publication to debut in digital form only, is TeachHub Magazine.  It is a recent publication, only three issues published, March, April, and May (just published yesterday!).

If you are unfamiliar with, you need to become fast friends. The site focuses on the field of education, teaching, and technology.  TeachHub Magazine is available free on Newsstand for the iPad and, just recently, the iPhone.  And when I mean free, I don’t mean the app is free but you have to pay for the magazine, I mean the magazine is free.  Always. Forever.  The K-12 Teachers Alliance (website sponsor) promises never to charge for it.TeachHub_AprilContents

So what’s inside?  Teacher stories, both funny and inspiring, articles on professional development, technology reviews, book reviews, movie reviews, articles on bullying, articles on Common Core, and essentially, articles to help you be a better educator, advocate, parent, or student.

TeachHub Magazine takes advantage of the digital publication medium.  It’s interactive, and it’s more than just hyperlinks.  There are embedded video clips, “tap to reveal answer”‘ prompts, scrolling top to bottom to read an article and left to right to flip between articles, and “tap here to connect” to further your reading/understanding of the topic.

The magazine is a quick read, there are only about 20-some pages in each issue; however, the information is very helpful, reassuring, informative, and current.  Some topics they cover I already know a bit about.  It’s great to be reassured that I am current on at least a few ideas.  The information on bullying, Common Core, apps for the iPad, and reviews are succinctly informative.  They don’t need to go on for pages and pages like professional journal articles because the magazine has a more general audience than professional journals.  Another bonus of its succinctness–the lists of items (i.e. workout tips or music apps) are helpful because they boil down all the possible options into small steps that are feasibly implementable tomorrow.  Articles that I’ve read so far in the March and April issues (still reading the May one!) are the same topics covered in recent blog posts.  TeachHub Magazine infuses as much technology into their digital publication as possible without being so overwhelming that it comes across as trying to hard.  I find it to be a perfect balance.

Speaking of perfect balance, there are no ads in the magazine, either.  At the end of the magazine there are two full-page advertisements: one for and one for the sponsor of, the K-12 Teachers Alliance.

For a completely free magazine, there is no other in this field of this caliber.  I am impressed with each issue, impressed with‘s blog posts and all the content I find on their site.  If you’ve subscribed to Teaching and Technology‘s Flipboard magazine, you’ll notice quite a few articles from have been flipped into it.

Article Review: “Education and Technology: Now Is the Time”

During my last round of Professional Development sessions, I attended one about a Flipped Classroom.  Of course I had heard of a Flipped Classroom, read many articles, and considered the possibilities of flipping lessons, but I was more interested to hear someone’s take on it who had actually done it and been successful in the school environment where I was student teaching.

The take-away from that session was this:  a Flipped Classroom can work.  There is nothing wrong with the model.  You can make adjustments for technology limitations at home and you can re-teach in class if the video wasn’t understood by most students.  In a Flipped Classroom, you have more time to conference with students one-on-one; differentiated learning is actually much more feasible, and accommodating for interruptions such as snow days, assemblies, drills, and student absences does not alter pacing or learning.

It can work for any teacher.  However, there are subjects that are more adaptable to a Flipped Classroom than others.  The teacher at my Professional Development session was a math teacher.  A Flipped Classroom is an excellent model for a math classroom.  The basics of the lesson can be taught via video in which the student can review over and over, and then the time in class is spent working on practicing towards mastering the skills.  An English classroom may not work all the time as a Flipped Classroom, but certainly there are lessons that are excellent for the Flipped Classroom model.  And now is the time to try it.

Education and Technology: Now Is the Time

Education and Technology: Now Is the TimeIt’s no secret that education reform has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds of late. With the virtually universal acceptance of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), it seems that some education reform ideas are moving forward. Hopefully, they’ll finally give us a chance to catch up with the best education systems in the world. But are big movements such as CCSS actually a new idea?

Back in the early 70’s, Individually Prescribed Instruction (or IPI) was the hot new ticket in over 300 progressive schools across the nation – it was a “systematic approach to learning” that centered on a set of 5 objectives:

  1. To permit student mastery of instructional content at individual learning rates
  2. To ensure active student involvement in the learning process
  3. To encourage student involvement in learning through self-directed and self-initiated activities
  4. To encourage student evaluation of progress toward mastery
  5. To provide instructional materials and techniques based on individual needs and styles.

If you read that list and thought it sounded eerily familiar, you’d be right. In some way, shape and form, we’ve been spinning these same wheels for the better part of 30 years – penning ambitious goals for educational reform only to see its implementation (and funding) be stifled. Kind of depressing? I’d argue against that.

You see, unlike most previous efforts, educational reform has recently seen some steady growth. Like I said before, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been all but universally adopted nationwide. Although the CCSS are sometimes criticized for a “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning, even these guidelines emphasize a priority for individualized instruction in their benchmarking systems:

“The standards clearly communicate what is expected of students at each grade level. This will allow our teachers to be better equipped to know exactly what they need to help students learn and establish individualized benchmarks for them. The Common Core State Standards focus on core conceptual understandings and procedures starting in the early grades, thus enabling teachers to take the time needed to teach core concepts and procedures well—and to give students the opportunity to master them.” (

So what’s the difference? I believe the answer lies in technology. I would argue that because life has increasingly centered on tech, its adoption into education has become more fluid, more natural, and in a lot of ways, more necessary.

Now, before I get ahead of myself, I have to admit that computers have been around in education since the mid-1940s – much like school reform itself, it’s not exactly a new thing. What is new, however, is the way that these computers are enabling the world to interact with one another in an increasingly comfortable (and affordable) manner, which counts for a lot. The famous example of Moore’s Law – the exponential growth in computer processing power – shows how far computer power and affordability have come in recent decades.

Figure 1: Moore's Law

What are some examples of Ed Tech at work?

1. The Flipped Classroom

a. What Is It?  Instead of receiving lecture during their class period, students learn the material via video instruction at their own pace and interact with their classmates and teacher(s) online. As a result, class time is spent troubleshooting and honing student comprehension – helping the teacher assume the role of a facilitator or coach.

b. How Does Ed Tech Help Make This Possible?  Advancements in technology have allowed the flipped classroom to become interactive. Although it is technically possible to “flip” a classroom in an analog sense, it’s the collaborative student community and multimedia-rich experience that have made this technique successful. It also puts the tools students are accustomed to right in their hands (and minds) as vehicles for learning, not just leisure.

2. Classroom Management Systems (CMS)

a. What Is It? Think of it as an online portal for all of your classroom tools – gradebooks, reporting, assignments and more. But beyond saving paper (and your sanity), a well-executed CMS allows a teacher to monitor student activities and performance in real-time to help students across all learning levels.

b. How Does Ed Tech Help Make This Possible?  Real-time reporting is extremely valuable, and this feature alone relies on technology. With this data, teachers, administrators and even parents can take responsive action to get their children where they need to be by differentiating instruction where necessary.

As technology has gotten cheaper, the hurdles that have prevented its implementation have also shrunk, making it easier for tools that help classrooms meet the Common Core Standards and other goals to be a big part of the classroom experience on both ends:

“Using technology can change the way teachers teach…some teachers use technology to support more student-centered approaches to instruction, so that students can conduct their own scientific inquiries and engage in collaborative activities while the teacher assumes the role of facilitator or coach.”

Sound anything like a flipped classroom to you? It might surprise you that this excerpt was pulled from an article written in 1995 (Teachers & Technology: Making the Connection, OTA, 1995 pg. 1-2), but it all comes together to prove the point – modern technology has made necessary educational change not only possible, but also feasible. It seems then, that after all these years of spinning, those wheels have finally gained a bit of traction. Now is the time.

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