Education Technology: Apps in the Elementary Classroom (Part 2)

In Apps in the Elementary Classroom (Part 1) we visited an elementary school where a library of apps on iPod touches is being used. Every classroom uses this resource, as do the ELL and special ed programs. Managing that library and keeping the equipment updated and batteries charged keeps the school’s part-time media specialist busy. In Part 2 we look at which apps this school is using and how the staff manages appropriate use of these tools.

This pair of posts is part of a larger series looking at the impact of technology on classrooms, teachers, school media services, students, and parents.

When personal computer technology first hit classrooms just over a generation ago, the game Oregon Trail was a huge success, letting students virtually work their way across the Western United States in 1848. Even on those boxy old screens, with no color and obvious pixelation of images, kids were quick to embrace this as a new learning experience. Indeed, many of the staff at this school remember using that cumbersome technology when they were students themselves.

Managing the iPod charging station © by M. Wilbourn

Today, for the teachers and staff at this school where iPods have become a big part of daily instruction, choosing apps has been an especially fun part of the process. Figuring out the best apps—and the best way to use them—takes input from many staff members. They test some themselves, and they read app reviews by groups like Common Sense Media and Lunch Box Reviews. “We have about 80 apps in use throughout the school at the moment,” Eboun, the media specialist, shares, “but apps are a moving target. New ones pop up every day.” Math is the topic with the most apps available for elementary education, but every topic has good representation.

These are the top 10 apps presently in use at this school:

  • Stack the States: U.S. geography meets Tetris, with falling state shapes stacked on piles after students correctly name them.
  • Build a Word: students phonetically connect consonants and vowel sounds to make words. Spelling drills are also an option, where students arrange letter tiles to create words. Teachers can edit word lists.
  • Bob’s Books: the app sounds out the letters as the student lines them up into words, to read the books in the app. With four reading levels, the illustrations change from black and white to color as the child correctly finishes the book.
  • ABC Pocket Phonics: offers talking and spelling alphabet flash cards, and students can trace block letters to learn to write their alphabet and words.
  • Math Ninja: the player is a Ninja using arithmetic to fend off, well, a giant tomato. What kid doesn’t like fending off tomatoes?
  • Motion Math: falling fractions need to be placed on the correct target. Both numeric fractions and chart representations are used.
  • Math Bingo: fill your Bingo card by solving arithmetic problems; up to 30 students can play against classmates on their iPods. Teachers can select addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, or all functions for each round.
  • Shapes: provides geometric shape identification flashcards, using shapes to build other shapes, and puzzles aimed at preK but used extensively with new students for ELL as well as in math.
  • Park Math: helps practice counting, sorting, adding, and more for younger learners. Count the ducks on the slide, push the bunny on the swing, climb up and down ladders to do simple addition, and more.
  • Rocket Math: use arithmetic to earn the money to build a rocket and get it launched. Choose your rocket parts, build a successful launch with correct math. Race friends on other iPods to launch first.

While picking the apps is fun, ensuring appropriate use of the iPod touches is an ongoing concern. Teachers are learning how to monitor the students so they stay on task. Back in the second-grade room, I had noticed two students sitting at a table. They faced worksheets with pencils instead of the nifty apps because they were on a one-week “time out” from iPods due to inappropriate use.

“We are learning,” explains Eboun. “It did not take us very long to decide to disable some features such as text messaging. But the kids find things to do that we never imagined, and we will be assessing regularly, and tweaking how we use them.” They have hammered out a few basic rules:

  • No writing bad language/swearing
  • No inappropriate pictures like funny faces or body parts
  • Do not take the iPod touch out of the case
  • iPods must be powered off to conserve the battery when not in use
  • Take only your assigned numbered iPod touch
  • Only use apps that are assigned at that time, like math apps during math

Consequences for breaking the rules include loss of iPod privileges for a set period of time, and a note sent home to parents or guardians. The parents at this school, many of whom are recent immigrants, are frequently surprised that their kids are tech-savvy enough to skirt around the supervision and break these rules. Teachers are quick to point out that students often learn new technology faster than the adults around them.

Eboun’s favorite example of great iPod use? She has a quick answer for that! “My favorite use is having the kids record their notes during a field trip using voice memo on the iPod touch. The fifth and sixth graders went on a field trip to the Science Museum. They recorded notes on all the things they saw in the museum. One of their tasks was to record pictures of science topics they didn’t know about before, and to voice memo or write down scientific words they would like to learn more about. The kids had a lot of fun with the iPod and brought back terrific questions. What a great way to record their experience and play it back to see what they saw on their trip.”

Eboun also remembers Oregon Trail from her early school experiences. “Guess what?” she says. “There’s an app for that now!”

How are you using apps in your classrooms? What are you doing to assess successful learning via this technology? How has your school found resources to support integrating new technology in the classroom?

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Suggested Resource
Common Sense Media

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About Mary Stennes Wilbourn

Blogger for Free Spirit Publishing.
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