Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The "Best Apps" Aren't Necessarily the Best - Wandering through the vast app landscape

We are rapidly learning that the many lists (some of which are linked here) of "best apps for kids" don't necessarily lead us to the apps that we consider of value or able to meet the goals we have for our iPad program.

So far we have downloaded for free or purchased (for review) 49 apps. Many were selected based on their presence on a "Best" list. Our teachers are exploring them, and most importantly, handing them over to their students or their own children, to see what happens. We find we are most frequently disappointed, especially with the apps intended to help students develop literacy or math skills. These apps tend to either be far too simplistic, too single-purpose (just focusing on one isolated skill), or just too much of a silly game. There are a few the teachers can imagine using, but even those could be made far better.

So what are we looking for? If our use of technology with small children is to have value, it should offer unique experiences and opportunities for discovery and self-expression. Since practice is important as children learn to form letters and numbers, the apps that lead a child through the steps of correctly forming letters (and don't tolerate cheating!) will offer a responsive, self-correcting, and individualized way of learning to write letters. Our favorite at the moment for this is iWriteWords.

We are looking for a way to facilitate digital storytelling on the iPad. There are many "story" apps out there, but we have yet to find one that allows students the freedom to tell their own story with their own illustrations AND record a narrative to go with it. There are far too many apps with pre-fab art that limits the story to a set pattern. Anyone found the perfect app for our needs?

Our Math Coordinator is not very pleased with the math apps we've reviewed so far. Most of them are drill and kill style simple math problems that don't support the development of concepts, and make little use of the interactive touch capacity of the iPad. She and I do agree that Motion Math is a great app. In Motion Math a ball drops from the sky and you must direct it by tipping the iPad to the point on the bar that represents a fraction. It requires quick thinking and lots of good estimation skills to decide where on the bar to send it for, say 3/7 or 4/9. This is not a Kindergarten app, unfortunately, but the fourth graders love it! I am very happy with Coin Math. This app offers true to life pictures of coins and presents challenges from beginner (match the coin to its value) to counting and then adding coins. The coins can be moved around on the screen, so students can learn to group them to count by familiar numbers, and organize them to see the quantity better.

So far those are our only favorites. We are reviewing the apps on a chart you are welcome to explore: Apps and Reviews Framework. Please let us know if you've discovered apps that fit our expectations!

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