Are apps the answer?

Dave Saltmarsh, Educational Evangelist at JAMF Software, explains how educational apps can bring out the best in teaching

I have attended a variety of education conferences where the sessions discuss “My Top 50 Favorite Apps in 50 Minutes” or the “Top 10 Apps for Maths”. Although it was interesting to discover the existence of these apps, I noticed such sessions only seemed to describe the ‘what’ as opposed to the ‘why’ for the attendee. Without understanding this fundamental aspect, educators could struggle to find ways to utilise apps in the classroom and they will fail to resonate with their students. 

‘Without understanding this fundamental aspect, educators could struggle to find ways to utilise apps in the classroom and they will fail to resonate with their students’

The usefulness of an app is determined by the chosen rubric; with the majority currently covering key concepts such as age appropriateness, areas of concentration and grade range. While these definitions are all important, the two greatest needs new apps must be measured by are the ability to promote critical thinking and to improve classroom workflows through the personalisation of learning.

In general, and the basis for an initial litmus test, is to evaluate the potential to learn critical thinking skills. For this check, we could use the 4C’s model, communication, collaboration, create, and critical thinking. Ultimately the goal is to transform learning so that we empower students with the ability to do something they couldn’t have achieved without the technology. 

This is where Apple has really understood they ways in which we learn. When you look at the Apple ecosystem, you see the potential for greatness, to go beyond simple collaboration and communication, so that students can be creative and challenged to use critical thinking skills. The iPad provides amazing apps that can take advantage and bring a transformational experience. 

Here are a few examples of Apple apps that consider the 4Cs as well as why they are perfect for classroom adoption: 

Texas Instruments, TI-Nspire

TI-Nspire is graphing calculator that makes maths fun. While some could consider TI-Nspire an expensive graphing calculator app, students can manipulate objects, get a multidimensional view and manipulate dynamically linked representations of concepts. For example, in one simulation which has a skate boarder on an infinitely adjustable course, the student can test a course’s potential energy on the set track and then switch to simulate the same test on the moon or a planet with less gravity. Another key aspect is the app’s ability to load specific files targeted to a math or science concept with examples, models, simulations, and assessments. There are hundreds of pre-made files but there is the ability for the teacher to add or modify material as needed.

Skaffl

Skaffl allows teachers to distribute and collect assignments from students seamlessly and offers several key classroom workflows supporting digital lessons. There is the ability for distributing and collecting assignments, teacher markup and teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher communication throughout the process. Within Skaffl there is even the ability for a teacher to check and see progress being made by a specific student. 

eSparks

eSparks offers a variety of features such as personalised plans for pupils, content delivery to pupils’ iPads and tools for teachers to monitor pupils’ progress. One of the most exciting features is the personalised plans – which are assigned based upon assessments and which target specific areas that student needs to work on. Once the app is not needed, the app can be reclaimed and reused for another student. Not only is this an amazing way to personalise in a “just-in-time” manner, the number of apps needed can also be drastically reduced.  

ScreenChomp 

Supporting all 4C’s, ScreenChomp lets students and teachers record both their actions and voice. It’s an excellent way for student to demonstrate their understanding, share this with other students and other teachers. Both students and teachers can use the basic white board mode or annotate over the top of an image. Since the image could be of a specific problem or assignment, a teacher might use the tool to explain or clarify a concept. Students can describe a difficulty they are having or even explain a concept to another student. Explaining to others, especially to help someone who is experiencing difficulty is a sure way to bring out a deeper level of understanding for the student explaining the concept. 

iMovie

iMovie is terrific platform for bringing out creative ways to demonstrate understanding and piece together various forms of multimedia. It facilitates  combining contributions from multiple students, perfect for  project based learning and group projects.  This app has the potential to bring to life still images with the Ken Burns effect, where it appear as if the camera is sweeping across (panning) the photo or drawing nearer or farther away (zooming), overlaying the voice to a script, or by linking in video interviews with subject matter experts. Beyond fostering isolated 4C actives, iMovie students can blend them together for a more creative collaboration environment.

App Management

It is time we hold apps to a higher standard – where it should be expected that transformation is the desired goal. Apps that support higher order thinking and classroom workflows that support the digital shift, will lead to transformational and personalised learning for more students. Finding the right app is only the beginning – a comprehensive device and app management strategy will help support the teacher in rolling out their app initiatives in a class-to-school approach. 

W: www.jamfsoftware.com

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