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As the recently released "2012 Horizon Report: K-12 Edition" suggests, mobile devices and apps will become mainstream in a year or less.
But apps aren't all about playing games. Converge asked three instructional technology coordinators and teachers to share how they're using apps to help students achieve learning goals.
With the Common Core State Standards making their way into most U.S. states, educators are lining up their instruction with the standards their students are supposed to meet.
Ladue School District in Missouri chooses apps that support learning and introduce new concepts, said Carol Kliesen, elementary instructional technology coordinator. The district picks apps that go along with Missouri's grade level expectations for K-5 students. As the district moves to the Common Core State Standards for the 2012-13 school year, the apps should fit in with those standards.
When first-grade teacher Patti Anderson from Sam Houston Elementary School in Tennessee looks for apps, her first criterion is that they meet the state's first-grade standards. She also looks for apps that meet the kindergarten standards for students who didn't grasp a concept before coming to her class. And she pays for them with gift cards she receives for Christmas or her birthday.
By creating content on storytelling apps, students demonstrate their learning, said Nadine Norris, instructional technology coordinator at Community Consolidated School District 15 in Illinois.
"Content creation to us is really important," Norris said. "It's more important than looking for apps that give the kids a gaming feel, where they're doing drill and practice."
Particularly for students who are learning English, apps that allow them to tell a story with words, pictures and other media help them become comfortable more quickly. Some of the apps Norris' district uses include StoryBuddy, Puppet Pals, SonicPics, Toontastic, Storyrobe and StoryKit.
When students have trouble with kindergarten-level standards or aren't grasping a concept, Anderson finds an app that they can spend time on by themselves. While good apps are out there, not all of them allow teachers to change the difficulty level. That's why picking apps that allow students to go to both higher and lower difficulty is crucial, Anderson said.
"A lot of times they will pick it up more quickly from an app than they will from me because with an app, they have a set of headphones on and they're tuned into that," Anderson said. "Just talking to me, they have a lot of distractions and stimuli going on around them."
Instead of leaving the whole group, she has students work on the skills they're struggling with for 15 minutes. Then she checks in with them and reteaches as necessary.
"Where I see a gap, I find an app that's going to help me fill that gap in," Anderson said. "It doesn't replace my teaching; it's an 'extra set of hands' that is catering to that child's needs."
Through a spelling test app, Anderson records a spelling test onto the iPad for the students to take as a pre-test. It gives her an idea of who has already mastered the words and who needs to work on them. Based on how they do, some students receive a list of more challenging words to work on. Others work with Anderson in a small group on the words they're having trouble with.
Along with creating stories, apps like Quickoffice and Google Docs allow students to collaborate on projects and edit one another's work. That's something the students in Norris' school district weren't able to do until some of them received new tablets through grant funding.
With Google Docs, students at Ladue School District can show their parents at home what they created and make suggestions on each other's work. The Missouri district has a mix of mostly desktop computers along with laptops and some tablets.
"They will often ask, 'Do we get to share this with somebody?' It has changed who the audience is for," Kliesen said.
Through the Storybird app, students write a story and choose artwork from the app. By creating a classroom account, they could publish their stories to their class library, but not worldwide.
"They were publishing, and they knew it was going to go on the Web, but it was controlled," Kliesen said.
Community Consolidated School District 15's favorite app for creating content and demonstrating learning is Book Creator because it seamlessly integrates with iBooks. The app organizes the student's pictures, sound and text and allows the pupil to publish their work in the EPUB format. Through Dropbox, the student puts it online, and other students can download the content they create.
When students trickle into class in the morning, Anderson has four school iPads and her personal one for students to share. They start with working on apps that help with reading comprehension. Through Reading Comprehension Level I, they read stories and answer questions. Once they're finished, they work on more comprehension activities on the Murky Reef app.
Anderson also uses apps to help students recognize sight words, or words that students can't really sound out and need to recognize immediately. The Sight Word BINGO app speeds up this process and gets students comfortable with word recognition quickly.
"Whenever they get a bingo, it gives them a bingo bug and they can play games with it. So they really stay tuned into it and they try to get faster and faster because you can't get a new bingo bug unless you beat your previous score. It really increases fluency."
What are some ways that your school or district fits apps into curriculum and learning strategies?
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