Technology Integration

Quality vs. Quantity: Choosing Your Back-to-School Apps

When choosing what apps to try out, focus on your learning goals, only pick a few, and don’t forget to have your students join the process!

August 19, 2016

You’ve been there. Open a new device and make a quick visit to the App Store. A simple search turns into download wheels spinning for lots of different apps. With thousands of free (and paid) apps to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start.

During conferences and school visits, I’ve given plenty of presentations with titles like "30 Apps for Reading Teachers" or "15 Favorite Math Apps." I find great value in sharing resources in this format because it can introduce teachers to a world of possibilities. Before I start sharing favorites, I say to teachers what I want to say to you now:

Listen. Wait. Choose.

As you choose apps to bring into your classroom this school year, listen to different options (or read about what’s out there). Next, take a deep breath and wait for a minute, using this pause to remind yourself about your goals for this school year. Then, choose just a few apps to get started with. Ask yourself, "What will I invest time in learning how to use? And what can I integrate thoughtfully into my instruction?"

Adding to Your Tool Belt

Whether you can see it or not, you’re already wearing a technology tool belt. Maybe you found this article on Twitter or Facebook, opened up Edutopia's newsletter, or clicked on a link through another website. No matter where you are on the tech-savvy spectrum, if you were asked about a favorite app or website that impacts teaching and learning in your classroom, you’d be able to contribute to the discussion.

Choosing back-to-school apps is all about adding to your tech tool belt as you search for the most effective and efficient ways to reach your students. As you get ready to add tools, pause for a moment. Jot down all of the ways that you already use technology in and out of school, and include a few favorite apps on that list, too.

App Overload

Part of your back-to-school preparation usually includes developing or reviewing a curriculum map. This might be a map that you’ve created in collaboration with other teachers at your school. It could also include a set of learning goals outlined in a prepackaged curriculum adopted by your school or district.

Examine the learning objectives that you’ll cover during the year, or even the first one or two units that you’ll teach this fall. Create a list of the ways that technology can enhance the learning experience for students. Maybe you’ll need a creation tool to help students demonstrate their understanding of a food chain, or an app that gives students access to short passages for a reading unit on informational text. Narrowing down your search in a way that connects to the curriculum will help you avoid app overload.

Student Choice

As you’re choosing back-to-school apps, you have an opportunity to involve students in the process. If you're having trouble deciding on which reading app has more interesting content, or if a particular creation tool will work for the project that you had in mind, get students involved! You might introduce a few different apps to different groups of students and see which one they like the best. You might introduce three different apps that students can use for creating a final project, and then let them choose. Not only will this provide a sense of buy-in among your students, but it will also ensure that you’re choosing tools that will resonate with your class.

As a blogger and app curator, I definitely understand how overwhelming it can be to open up the App Store on your device. Even when we’re faced with great choices, there can simply be too many. So review a few app lists or listen to webinars, and then take stock. Focus on the learning goals at hand, try out a few apps, and don’t forget to have your students join the process!

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