Sunday, July 29, 2012

Beyond the App - You Found an App, Now What?

This is a guest post from Sarah Emerling.

With all of the technology integration and the plethora of academic apps flooding the market, the time is ripe for teachers to take advantage of these teaching tools.  More and more, classrooms are incorporating iPods and iPads into everyday instruction.  This is such a gift for today’s students.  There is no denying that iDevices, when used efficiently, are some of our greatest teaching tools.  However, using this technology for effective instruction is a challenge that teachers need to face and accept.

There is a prolific amount of educational apps available for teachers and schools.  From simple flash card type math drills, to more elaborate science instruction and quiz format games, there are just too many apps to detail in any single blog post.  Still, apps alone do not make an efficient instructional tool.  By all means, teach the students how to use them, put them into practice, and utilize their brilliance, but without instruction, the apps are just another support device, not a teaching tool.  iDevices can be used in so many other ways, and as a student-driven instructional tool, they can’t be beat.  

Change how you deliver information
With the big push to increase the level of rigor in classrooms, note-making is an easy and engaging way to have students create their own notes, instead of simply copying down information given to them.  Utilize podcasts (either create your own using Keynote or Powerpoint or download free podcasts from iTunesU) and have students generate their own notes.  Give students a short podcast as an introduction to a topic and a time limit.  Students watch the podcast and create their own notes showing ownership of the knowledge instead of simply being given the information.  Additionally, students love the change from a teacher lecturing to holding the instruction in their hands.

Expand the definition of “text”
Text comes in so many formats; authors don’t necessarily write books.  Show students that the world is full of text by connecting with them on a musical level.  Use songs and music videos to teach literary concepts like author’s purpose, figurative language, and story elements (all while being careful of copyright law).  Students respond to the connection of language arts concepts to popular music.  By putting the music or the video on an iPod students are fully immersed in the experience, and therefore in the text.  Using this type of instruction is particularly helpful for non-readers or low-level readers.  For a student who struggles to read, upper level literacy skills can be difficult.  By giving the student text that is auditory, it takes away the struggle to read and puts the focus on the comprehension skills.

Make movies . . . and much much more
The newest generations of the iPod and iPad come with cameras and internal microphones.  Using these tools, students can create any number of projects, again addressing the synthesis level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Using the microphone, younger students can record weekly fluency reads for the purpose of teacher conferencing or running records.  Teachers can also have students record exit slips telling what they learned, additional questions, or summarizing the lesson.  Utilize the camera to have students vodcast.  Video-casting is a fun way for students to express opinions.  Vodcasting impressions of a book, or the details from an historical event is an engaging way to make predictions or analyze thoughts.  Have students create their own movies for any number of reasons - propaganda lessons in social studies, animated book reviews, or student led lessons on math topics.  Putting the devices in the hands of the students ultimately leads to creation-based learning at a level that can’t be delivered solely by a teacher.

Ultimately, putting an iDevice in the hands of students without proper guidance or instruction can lead to play and fun, but not always learning.  Using apps, and apps alone, with solid teaching can absolutely be beneficial to students.  But with the wealth of other resources that iPods and iPads offer, to only use them for apps is underutilizing this valuable tool.  The assortment of student-created products that can be conceived by using the other features of the iDevices is limitless.  It puts the ownership of knowledge into the students hands and makes for better instruction and ultimately better thinkers. 

Sarah Emerling is a special education teacher and a technology coach in Aiken County, South Carolina.  You can follow her technology integration as she chronicles her iLessons in a new blog: She also writes app reviews for   You can contact her at or follow her school tech and apps boards on Pinterest at