As usually seems to be the case with me and blogging, I only get around to writing when the universe conspires to remind me, with a degree of a repetitiveness that I just can't ignore, that something is important enough to blog about. Psst...People are wondering about this, Bryn - look, over here! And here! And there! Riiiiggghhhttt. Got it. Clearly, I am a little slow on the uptake. Anyways. This time, it's apps.
I When it comes to technology, I am a bit of an oxymoron; I am hugely passionate about its (informed) use in schools yet I fiercely limit my own children's access to it. In large part this is because my time with my children is limited and I want to spend that time interacting with them, not having them ignore me while they stare at a screen. I want to read them great books, draw pictures, do crafts, bake and play board games with them; I want to build connection and memories in the small amount of time I have between getting home from work and bedtime every night. Not that I needed validation for choosing this approach but I smiled when an article entitled "Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent" crossed my path; apparently the guru himself and I are on the same wave-length.
However, I freely acknowledge that there are many times when technology just makes life easier (like, you know, nightly, when I'm making dinner and answering 400 questions and helping create some fantastical beast out of toilet paper rolls and wishing that I could just.let.go. a little bit and turn the damn tv on and therefore make dinner in peace). In those times, I want to be able to turn to high-quality apps that do more than just entertain my child (once an educator, always an educator. Sorry, kiddos). But in a sea of 40,000 apps in the iTunes Education category alone, how does one even begin to choose? Well, I've been fortunate enough to stumble across some really great ones, have a few recommended to me and found a few on great sites such as Common Sense Media. I share my favourites with you here - on my page aptly titled Great Apps & Websites.
A disclaimer, of sorts, before you click that link - I am very picky about the apps that I share. As mentioned before, there are tens of thousands of apps out there; I list 14. Why? Because a) there is a huge difference between a high-quality learning app and a game that has had the education tag slapped on it for effect, b) with few exceptions, apps are generally about practice rather than learning. Or playing, with a little bit of practice sandwiched in there somewhere. I have tried to find the apps that will truly help your child learn something new, whether they know it or not, and c) if I wouldn't choose it for my own kiddos, I'm not going to recommend it to you.
I have also chosen apps that are as general as possible in their scope (if your child is obsessed with space, there are some pretty wicked space apps out there but I did not mention them here) and promote the development of broad thinking skills as much as they promote skill-specific practice.
Your time is limited. Searching through the app store only to come up with mediocre apps is frustrating and not in your child's best interests. Hopefully my list helps you find a few apps that will inspire your kids to think and wonder and learn and maybe will even connect you with some other great gems along the way. Please share them with me if you find them!
This is the first in a series of posts about using technology in your classroom to support all learners. While it will mainly focus on iPads since that's the technology we have at our school, many of these apps are also available for Android and some even have computer versions.
Audible is an easy-to-use, cloud-based provider of audio books. They have thousands of titles available for purchase and a number of different purchase plans. I love that their titles are read by professional readers, often by well-known actors. While this may not seem like a big thing, it really changes a student's enjoyment of a book when it is read by an actor versus being read by a computer. Both novels and picture books are available, and new books are added regularly. Another cool thing, if you happen to be working with Kindle devices, is WhisperSync; when you own both the audio and Kindle versions of the book, they will automatically sync to your last read spot, regardless of whether or not you were listening or reading. A great tool for kids who want to listen to their book on the walk home and then pick the kindle version up at bedtime.
How I use it: This app is a definite must for kids with learning disabilities in reading. I also find that it works very well for reluctant readers who just don't want to read, as well as for fluency practice for younger readers. It can be used on its own or paired with the paper copy of the book for maximum effect.
Available for: iPad, iPhone, Android,Windows Phone, PC, Mac
Ruckus Readers. These semi-animated books on the iPad are just wonderful! The illustrations are bright and colourful, with just a little bit of animation. They have tons of titles, both fiction and non-fiction, that kids really enjoy (lots of TV and movie tie-ins but more than enough that aren't) and the books are levelled so you can tailor them to the needs in your class. Each one has the choice of read to self or read to me and the pacing of the read to me is well done, with the words highlighted in yellow as you go. Another neat feature is the incorporation of simple games that allow readers to win virtual stickers; my favourite game is the pop-up sparkles that appear after the text has been read. Once readers tap the sparkle, a word appears, which they then have to find in the text. Kids love this! Unfortunately, most of the books are for in-app purchase, so you do have to be prepared to spend some cash if you want to use this app.
How I use it: At the moment, Ruckus readers are used primarily in the Lit Pit as an option at the Love to Read station. I would love to buy more as the kids seem to have made their way through all of the free options I initially downloaded. The librarian (who, thankfully, is also tech focused) and I are going to have to make some decisions about how options such as these factor in to our budget!
RAZ-Kids. If you are not yet familiar with this site and app, you need to be! RAZ-Kids is the online, levelled library of Reading A-Z, who produce a variety of reading, vocabulary and writing materials, most notably printable levelled books both fiction and non. Once you have purchased a very reasonably priced subscription, you are able to give your students access to colourful books that can be read to them (well-paced, with word tracking), read on their own and with a brief comprehension quiz at the end. The books are engaging and the reading is well done. My students love earning points to help them build their rocket and they also enjoy completing a level and moving to the next one. One of the great features of this app is that students are able to access this app/site easily at home as well. I love that their log in system is simple, even if multiple classrooms are using the same iPads - once you've entered the teacher's name once, it becomes a button on the main login screen, ensuring that no one has to remember their rather complicated login and password information.
How I use it: This app gets used pretty much everywhere in our school: classroom, Lit Pit, intervention room, home. Many classroom teachers use it as a center or to help students who need fluency practice during silent reading. I use it to engage some of my struggling readers while I work with others in their small group. With the great diversity of non-fiction titles offered, I can also easily find books to support a classroom theme or help a student with material for a research project that I know is at their level. The printable books are fabulous for being sent home as home reading (it's really not a big deal if they get lost) and also allow students to mark them up as we search for specific sounds or practice a particular reading strategy. Definitely get some parent help to put the printables together though - it's a lot of work!
Have you got any favourite apps you use to get kids reading? I would love to hear about them!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!