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Apps in the Elementary Classroom

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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One area that I have not written much about on this blog is educational apps. This is mostly due to the fact that my school has one first generation iPad and two iPod Touches for the entire school. We also ban cell phones and other electronic devices, so these are not available for use in the classroom unless the teachers specifically plan for the kids to use them for a lesson or activity, hand them out to the kids and collect them at the end of the lesson. I won't pretend to be an expert on apps in the classroom, which is why I haven't covered their use here.

However, with more and more schools investing in iPad carts, iPods and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, it's an important topic. I don't want this to be one of those "top 10 apps" posts, so I will share a few thoughts about apps in the elementary classroom, some implementation ideas for certain apps, and an obligatory list of resources. This information is based on my own knowledge that I have built through talking with colleagues, through my experience implementing the limited devices that I have access to, and through attending conference sessions devoted to apps in the classroom.

What is the Role of Apps in the Classroom?

Why should we be using apps in the classroom in the first place? What's the difference between sitting a kid in front of a device and sitting them in front of a television or a video game? Well, honestly, there is no difference if all we do is put the device in a child's hand and say, "Go" -- without any particular plan. Devices can be great babysitters just as computers can be great babysitters when implemented poorly. As I have stressed in other posts, it's important to choose a digital tool of any kind only after we have already pinned down the learning goal. Next, it is important to decide if we want our students to practice a skill, access information or create a product. This will help decide the role of the app in whatever we are teaching, and it will guide our selection of the app. It is also important to think about the ratio of devices to students. This will help define how the apps and device(s) can be best used to meet learning goals. Should students be paired up or should they rotate through a center, or are there enough devices for everyone? This will affect how we select an app -- if it requires a long period of time to create something or if it's a simple review of skills. The role of the app should be defined by the learning goal and the app's functionality.

What Does It Look Like to Bring Apps into an Elementary Classroom?

Depending on the amount of devices you have deployed in your classroom, apps could be used as tools for calculating or recording data, accessing information and reference materials, or creating a product that meets a learning goal. The first two uses are the easiest to implement, as they are fairly passive. All a student has to do is open the app and either compute or record data, or consume information within the app. Once students begin to create content within an app, the teacher must know what the app's functions are, what it's capable of and how the students will hand in/display their work.

In addition to the functionality of the apps, it is important that procedures and expectations are in place for how apps are used and for students staying on the task at hand. While that is more suited for a discussion about using mobile devices in the classroom, it is hard to separate the apps from the devices they are accessed through.


While there are a ton of free apps out there, as with any product, it's sometimes worth it to pay for quality and functionality. Some schools with schoolwide device implementation programs link up a payment method with the iTunes account they created for the school. However, if a school only has a few devices (like mine), the easiest thing to do is to set up an iTunes account without a credit card and use prepaid iTunes gift cards for app purchases.

The management that goes into syncing devices and apps could take up a whole other blog post, but that gives a basic idea of the two ways to pay for apps.

If you're not sure whether an app is worth paying for, the resources below should help. Most of them list the price and the functionalities of each app, making that decision a lot easier. Also, some app developers offer their apps free from time to time. By following AppShopper (or downloading their free app) you can keep abreast of sales and freebies.

Some Resources for Educational Apps

With Apple's Education Store growing every day, there is no shortage of apps. However, knowing what they do, whether they are worth the money and for what kinds of purposes they can be used is another story. Luckily, many educators have made it their mission to simplify the process of finding the best apps out there. Here are a few of them.

  • 60 Apps in 60 Minutes -- Brandon Lutz not only has a great wiki, but also does a great presentation of apps at conferences all over the country. This wiki has links to all of his presentations and includes great overviews and tables of apps for education.
  • iPads in Schools Livebinder -- Mike Fisher has pulled together a ton of resources on using iPads in the classroom. There is a tab for "App of the Week" as well as a tab for "Best Free Apps."
  • Android4Schools -- This site, started by Richard Byrne (of Free Tech 4 Teachers fame), is dedicated to all things Android. It's a great place for educators not using iOS (aka Apple) devices or those involved in BYOD initiatives.
  • Edutecher -- A website and an app itself, this site is created and maintained by Adam Bellow and allows users to search for apps by subject area and grade level.


Comments (20)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

NaomiK's picture

Collaborative learning apps aren't really in demand yet as everyone is focused on apps for core subjects but I think it is important that these devices don't become tools that isolate children from learning together. Check out

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Instructor and Communications Coordinator at EdTechTeacher

This is a great post. Here are two other resources that my EdTechTeacher colleague, Greg Kulowiec, and I have developed.

  1. The iPad As... - This new section of our website organizes apps around 15 specific learning goals. While the section is currently specific to the iPad, some apps are also available on Android devices.
  2. Weekly iPad Resources - Each Friday, we post an annotated list of iPad apps, web resources, and articles to EdTechTeacher blog.
Lorene Wilcoxen's picture
Lorene Wilcoxen
4th grade teacher from St.Petersburg, Flordia

I enjoyed this post. My principal is providing ipads for teachers to use in the classroom. I just received one last week, and it can be a little overwhelming. I think it is important to understand why we are using apps or any other technology in the classroom. There must be a learning purpose behind what we use in the classroom. I really appreciate your resources for apps as a place to begin looking. My favorite app so far is socrative. I have lots to learn and explore, and this has given me a starting point.

Betty's picture
Fourth-Fifth grade math teacher from Ohio

Our school has been researching the possibility of getting ipads for each student or some kind of portable device. Some of the biggest concerns are: cost, maintenance and effective use by the teachers. There has been a small group of us that were able to "experiment" with either an ipad or xoom for a couple of weeks and explore the app stores. This was a new world for me to enter and I was a little overwhelmed.
Where do you start to implement such a program into your lesson plans? If you only have a few devices, how do you allocate the times between students?
I will be teaching fourth and fifth grade math for the first time next year after having been in first and second the previous years.
I am very excited about teaching math, and technology is another passion of mine that I feel is a must for education.
I am new to blogs as well, but feel that this could be another great resource of information. Thank you ahead of time for any comments and suggestions.

Tricia Fuglestad's picture
Tricia Fuglestad
K-5 Art Teacher

My school has a grade level set of iPads that rotate through each grade one month at a time. This meant that students could do an extended art project on their iPads during their month. This was new territory for me and a lot of learning on the fly to discover what both my students and the iPads were capable of creating. We were blown away by our results! I wrote a summary post of my favorite lessons here:

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