George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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.

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Comments (20) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

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:

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Hi Betty,

You might find some value in this podcast with my colleague, Dan Callahan about using iPads in the classroom. You can also check out my Diigo list of iPad links/resources

Since I don't have iPads in my classroom, I am not an expert on this. I hope that these links help!

Christa Ranweiler's picture

Hi there,
Thanks to all that have contributed! This was a particularly interesting read for me, as I am beginning to implement both iPods and iPads into my first grade classroom. Last year was the first year I had dabbled in implementing apps into my classroom and I am looking for more new and effective ways that other primary educators do this. We currently have only one iPod assigned to each of our classrooms and have a portable iPad station available to us for checkout with I believe, 30 iPads on it. I am excited to have the opportunity to use these resources but still looking for any kind of tips I can find on how to use them with my first graders!

Teri Miller's picture
Teri Miller
First grade teacher from Detroit Lakes, MN

Thank you for taking the time to provide so much insight regarding apps in the elementary classroom. As a first grade teacher, I am looking for ways to integrate technology into my lessons to benefit my students' learning. The resources you provided were extremely helpful and I could get lost for hours researching all of the app options.

Kelly Adrian's picture
Kelly Adrian
1st Grade teacher from Minnesota

Our district recently purchased Ipad carts for classrooms to share. We feel so lucky to have them and I am eager to find new apps to enhance student learning and achievement, especially in Science.

My question is:

In what ways do you use Ipads with your Science curriculum?

I am currently creating a Science unit based on plants and I am looking for more apps that will teach plant parts, different species of plants, and the needs of plants. Any thoughts, suggestions, or comments are greatly appreciated!

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

I wanted to suggest the Compare-a-Twist app for teaching any subject with your students.
It's a customizable app that works like an graphic organizer. Students can sort the images or text that you put in to the app into one of the two categories you choose.
You can learn more here:

It also allows you to set up the lesson in google and import them so you can share lessons with your grade-level teams. Students can also create their own lessons and quiz each other or the whole class.
Would work great for review games or introducing concepts.

Garret's picture
Elementary math teacher

Hello all,
I wanted to tell you about an app I've been using called "Teaching Table" (

It's been allowing me to create my own interactive math lessons. I use it to present some concepts in class, because I can change things really quickly. My students can also use it to solve some of the exercises I create,

awji's picture

These are great suggestions for ways to use ipods and ipads in the classroom. Our school is not there yet, but it is nice to have ideas in case we do get there.

Magikid's picture

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