Monday, November 17, 2014

Classroom Technology 101: Searching Apps Based on Content

So you have been given a class set of iPads....or perhaps just one...or maybe a few were purchased through your amazing Donors Choose project.  However you got your ipads and however many you have access to in your classroom the bottom line when using them is still the same.

IPads should enhance your instruction...not replace it!  

In the words of Bill Gates, "Technology is just a tool.  In terms of getting kids working together and motivating them--the teacher is the most important."

Well if you are like me, that helps about as much as cold soup on a winter day!  I am in my second year as a 1:1 iPad classroom and there are a few things I have learned over the course of two years both through workshops and trial and error.  

In this blog series I want to take you beyond the introduction of iPads and actually show you...or attempt to show to use them, in your classroom.  While I started this journey in a first grade classroom, most of everything I used for my first grade class has transferred to my 2nd-5th grade ELAR classroom.  

While I am going to feature some apps I use in my classroom, a word of caution, or heads up rather, I won't only be sharing FREE apps.  We are teachers, we are under-paid and under-appreciated. However we all know the best things in life are NOT free.  It's just how it works. There are some amazing free apps out there but I challenge you to open your thinking to finding apps that will actually enhance your content areas rather than be just an app to help with a skill.

On another note, if you are the poor teacher who looks at your iPads as "something for the students to use when they finish their work" then boy are you in for a ride.  Ask yourself this.  What would my classroom look like if students were actually using the technology they have to complete their work instead of a time filler or reward after the fact?  Wouldn't that be a great use of the technology we have access to?  

I fell into this category at first and truth be told it took me a while to realize I was not utilizing my class set of iPads to their fullest potential.  I attended the BER National K2 ipad conference in Chicago and gained a wealth of knowledge but it was so much that it has taken me two years to digest it all.  Other conferences and workshops I have attended have been great but focused so much on the basics that I was bored.  Until today!  

The workshop I attended was absolutely fabulous even if only three of us showed up due to icy weather.  It was titled "Don't put the cart before the horse: Using the iPad with your IFD".  Now for those of you outside of Texas, IFD stands for Instructional Focus Document.  These are the guides we use with our TEKS standards to know what we are teaching and when.  I am assuming that every state has something similar and they may even call them the same thing.  So forgive me for the ignorance on that issue.

I must give credit where credit is due...Emily Nowlain and Jenny Gaona did a get job on this workshop.  While there were somethings I already knew, there was something I hadn't really gotten a handle to use the iPad to enhance instruction.

I am already using apps like Raz Kids and Spelling City for content instruction.  I am using Edmodo for classroom engagement and integration of technology.  These are staples in my classroom. I will even talk about them at a later date.  I have a whole lot of apps that were free and the kids can get on but had I really evaluated how the app was being used and was it of value to my instructional focus?  The answer quite simply was NO!

So here are a few key questions to ask yourself when purchasing an app.  First you must decide the purpose of the app....drill and practice, tutorial, simulation/game?

1.  Did the app meet the rigor of the verb involved? (Verb?  What verb?  I will explain in a moment!)
2.  What does the student need to be able to do by the end of the lesson based solely on the verb and the content of the standard?
3.  Did the app allow for mastery of the objective?  If not how will you supplement?
4.  Could the technology based performance indicator adequately teach other students the content necessary for their mastery as well?
5.  What rubric will you use to assess the students learning?
6.  How will you use the technology product/project in class after it is created?
7.  Did the student creat an end product with the app?  If so, how are you assessing this product?  How are you sharing this product?  How are you evaluating this product?

Pretty intense right?  I was a bit overwhelmed but when I sat down tonight I deleted over 30 apps off our class iPads that just were not showing positive response to these questions.  

Now you may be thinking, "GREAT!!!  Now what do I do?"  Well how about we start with finding some new apps...not just any ole apps...content supporting rigorous apps that will have your technology enhancing your instructional focus.  Here's a place to start!

Did you know when you are searching the APP store you can actually search only educational apps?  In all fairness I did know this but I was shocked that some didn't!  So if there is one then there are others!  Don't be embarrassed if you are one of them!  Someone had to teach me the first time as well!

When you first change your categories to educational apps, you will get a homepage much like the one seen in the picture!  You will see that the apps are broken down into sub-categories and under each sub-category they are broken into content areas!  Cool huh!

Now if you are like me you are not reading any further because your new found arena of goodies has you distracted but let's get a bit more focused!  Remember that pesky VERB that said I would explain?  Well look at the standards that you are teaching!  There is a VERB that states what the student should be able to do.  Inference, draw conclusions, compare, contrast, measure, analyze, ect!!!  Use those for your search terms!  Oh the goodness never stops!

In the seach below I searched "construct grammatically correct sentences".  This search yielded a few results but it was the search beyond that that gave me this app!  I looked at related apps to the ones that came up!  Once I find an app there are some key things I look at, especially before I purchase one!

I look at the ratings and any reviews left for the app!  Does this always ensure that I only buy apps that fit all the above questions?  No but it gives me better odds!  

I am bit more optimistic about the use of technology in my classroom now!  I can be confident that if I seach for apps based on the verb used in my standards and do a little tweaking to the search, the apps I download will enhance my teaching and not be time fillers.  

Throughout this series I am going to share some amazing apps and show how I am using them in the classroom!  Our students live in a technology saturated world and it is only growing!  It motivates them to learn and gives those that traditional teaching left behind a chance to flourish!  Technology can be an amazing tool that can help teachers differentiate learning and create a 21st century classroom that will prepare your students for life beyond the classroom while at the same time hitting the content we all so desperately strive to teach!  

Do you have a tip for using technology in the classroom?  Share it below!!

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