Clues that Apps in the Classroom are Actually Educational

Clues that Apps in the Classroom are Actually Educational

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversation about the use of technology in the classroom. At our school, we have to put app selection through the lens of the SAMR model before it can be purchased for classroom use.

Naturally, it got me thinking about what IS really an educational app. Is using SAMR as a filter really the best approach? Since I’ve been diving into different perspectives and strategies that make the biggest impact on literacy skills, I’ve been researching Ereading and online programs that are hailed as “effective”. After reading the report, Getting a Read on Apps, these researchers really got me thinking about the role of technology in our literacy programs and explained some of the challenges of sorting through the App Store. My biggest takeaways are the fodder for this blog post and I hope these clues unveil the mystery behind app selection for learning.

Clue #1: Does it contain the 3 Cs?

It’s hard to get a full understanding of the app’s design in its summary on iTunes, but teachers and parents have to consider how the app through the 3 C’s:

  1. Content: What is the knowledge base that is being developed?
  2. Context: How are teachers and parents talking about the media they are using?
  3. The Child: What are the interests and needs of the individual child?

Clue #2: Is there purposeful and successive curriculum embedded in the gameplay?

Educational apps that develop content knowledge should contain foundational skills and build upon it. For example, a “flash card” app of number facts is very one dimensional even if you add a story to it like Operation Math, but math apps like Dragonbox Big Numbers or Land of Venn include more advanced gameplay along with more complex skills in a sequential way. This engages more thinking skills so they get more “bang” for their brain cells. When playing, not only do the conceptual understandings grow but also the skills that they must employ to solve challenges.

Clue #3: Encourages joint media engagement or co-use

If you can add this on top of the other features, then an app gets a gold star. In fact, there is an increasing amount of research that suggests that reading ebooks with children can be more powerful than a paper book because of the parent/adult interaction amplifies the learning. Putting a child on an iPad and leaving them alone has no benefits but when you have reading partners and good app design, then that means more engagement for the child. An increasing number of apps are trying to embed “relationship-based” technology to improve learning outcomes. For example, an app like Martha Speaks Word Spinner is more fun with more people, while developing reading and vocabulary all the while. It gets a gold star, for sure!

I believe that as educators we need to be media mentors, not only to parents but to each other. Learning apps that are well-designed can help boost student skills but we must research how they support the curriculum we teach. Hopefully, this post will help you to evaluate apps more effectively and consider new ways that you can encourage co-use/joint participation.

What are your favorite learning apps? Did you notice any of these “clues” in their design?

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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