Ask a group of high school teachers what they want from technology in the classroom, and you’re likely to hear variations on three answers: They want tools that help students write well, do research based on solid references, and improve time-management skills. When students enter high school, educational technology is no longer mainly for drilling or practice or simply keeping students engaged. Now tech provides the day-planner, the reference library, and the easily carried note-taking method that can help high school students succeed.
Luke has taught high school social studies in Oakland, California, for over twenty years. At first he resisted the use of smartphones and tablets in his classroom, but he’s a convert now. “They are fully integrated into students’ lives already. They tend to be less costly than computers and servers, so classrooms have more access. And most apps are inexpensive or free. But the drills and games that kept their attention in earlier years are tools of their past. They need to apply the technology to real work. Once they reach my classroom, it’s all about learning to research and find valid reference materials. And the opportunity to interact with students in other countries is amazing. We don’t have pen pals; we have Skype and FaceTime friends around the world. Smartphones with Wi-Fi have connected the world in real time.”
Amy started teaching high school biology in Madison, Wisconsin, last year. While in college, she came to depend on the portability of handheld tech tools to get her through her own classes. “I just do not think we are preparing students for work or college if we do not find ways to integrate e-readers and online reference materials into our high schools. The trick is finding the practical tech tools that work for a given student and subject. I love taking students through Frog Dissection on the iPad; it makes for less squeamishness when we actually do our own tour of a frog’s inside workings. All the science teachers have found super apps for reference and inspiration. Because science changes quickly, apps can even be more current than many textbooks and classroom charts.”
Nate teaches language arts classes for high school students in Saint Paul, Minnesota. “For me, teaching kids to use text-message-style shorthand for taking notes, then switching it up to fully articulated sentences for writing projects, meant finding apps that were appealing and acted like a full computer. There are great reference resources for writing, and even word processors for phones and tablets. For reading, I discourage the use of apps that are such fancy cheaters that students don’t feel like they need to read the book. But the amount of text and literature available on portable tech is amazing. Every time we use the Shakespeare app, I wonder what William Shakespeare would do with one of these high-tech gadgets.”
What makes an app useful for these teachers? What criteria do they, or their tech specialists, apply when selecting apps? While some answers to those questions depend on the type of app and how it will be used, they agree on these basic traits:
- It serves as a reputable and current reference source.
- There is a connection to the curriculum.
- Target topic or skill is presented in problem-based or real-world style (flash cards are out for high school students).
- Students find it intuitive to navigate, so little direction is required.
- Students like it and use it. This can be because they find it useful, they like how it is presented, or they see a strong connection between the app and their classroom work.
- If the app is problem-based or activity-based, it provides practical feedback to the students. In some cases, apps are set to allow the teacher to give feedback. Relevant feedback that makes subsequent problems easier is very helpful.
- For apps involving group use, setting up the group is simple and does not require the teacher’s involvement.
Many of the apps discussed in our post Apps in the Middle School Classroom are still used in high schools. But Luke, Amy, and Nate shared a handful of the apps they and their coworkers like:
- iWork: Pages (word processing), Keynote (presentations)
- iHomework (keeps assignments, due dates, teacher contact info, more)
- Penultimate (handwritten notes, converts to digital)
- eTextbooks (college books)
- Science Glossary
- The Chemical Touch
- Periodic Table of the Elements
- Biology SAT Review
- How Stuff Works
- TED app and podcasts
- LiveSketch (art)
- Dragon Dictation
- TimeLine for iPad
- National Geographic
Amy says her school’s tech specialist aimed the science team at the MindMeister website for app suggestions. Nate has found peers at other schools, and his own students, to be wonderful resources for finding apps that work well with his students. Check the Suggested Resources section below for more sites.
Luke’s final advice for teachers? “Make sure assignments still require actual library time, too. Books and other resources you find there, including the librarians, are still great tools. Sometimes it is actually faster to find the info you want via offline routes, if you know how to use a library well.”
What makes an app work effectively in your classroom? Do you have apps you would like your peers to try using? Please comment below.
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Suggested Resources: Note: most of the links given in this post are Apple apps, but nearly all of these apps are available for other platforms.
Apple’s iTunes store for educators
48 Apps High School and College Students Love
Mashable’s Apps for High School Students (click on the periodic table for the slide show)