George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Back-to-school is a popular time to share resource lists with families. As educators, we know that dialogue with parents might start at events early in the school year, but it definitely doesn't stop there. As a classroom teacher using iPads one-to-one with students, I often heard the following question from parents: "What type of apps can I use to help my daughter/son at home?"

This question doesn't have a simple answer. If you've searched the App Store on any device, you understand how complicated a response could be. The following set of questions is designed to help you figure out which apps to put on a resource list for families.

What are you learning objectives?

Take a look at what you're currently teaching or will be teaching students over the next few months. An app list provides an opportunity for families to explore content before you teach a lesson in that subject area. For example, you might add an app like Newsela or News-O-Matic to your list and suggest that families read a few articles over the next few weeks to get ready for a unit on informational text.

What do your students need?

Although answers might be similar, this question is different than the one posed above. Your students might need to build a stronger foundation before a lesson related to your objectives. They might also benefit from enrichment activities or something totally different than what your learning objectives state. If you know that the next unit in your math curriculum is on negative numbers, suggest an app like Number Line from the Math Learning Center. Apps which can help children and their families tackle homework problems are definitely appreciated.

Do your students already have access to quality apps?

If your students are using a particular app in school, they might also be able to login at home. Take a look at different subscription apps that you're using in the classroom. You might decide to add some of these to the list of mobile tools that you're recommending to families. For example, if you're going to send home a code for a self-paced Nearpod lesson every few weeks, at the beginning of the year you can ask families to download the Nearpod app on their mobile devices.

What does your grade team think?

As you brainstorm this list of apps for families, reach out to other educators in your school. During a grade-level meeting, you might inquire about your colleagues' thoughts on useful apps to send home to families. Maybe you'll decide to set up a Google Doc for easier collaboration on a grade-level list. This is especially useful if you're teaching only one subject area and want to make cross-curricular connections.

Can you make it educational?

Add some ideas on how to make a popular app educational. This could be as simple as giving families a few questions to ask their students when they use a particular app. You might also include an explanation about the benefits of an app that they might not completely understand (such as Minecraft).

Have you asked for suggestions?

Ask families what apps they're excited about. Someone in your class is sure to have a story about an app that helped his or her child complete homework or master a concept. This is a great way to show how much you value the voices of your families -- as well as grab ideas to share with others.

I encourage you to revisit your app resource list over the course of the year -- and don't be afraid to add personal recommendations for individual students. Not only will the App Store choices change throughout the year, but the topics that you cover and the needs of your students will change as well. Come back to your list every few months or highlight some favorites in a monthly newsletter. If you're ready to get started, check out Edutopia’s curated iPad app collections for K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. You can also visit my blog to check out apps for iPad, Android, and Windows tablets, as well as favorite websites.

Use the comments section below to share an app list that you've created for families.

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Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

J.Ferrer's picture

Hi Monica,

I realy enjoyed reading your post on what apps to use at home with students. I myself teach 2nd grade math and science and always try to provide parents with available and useful educational resources my students can use at home. I usually post them on my teacher website and also share them through Class Dojo and Remind 101. I like to do this to allow my students to prepare for material that we might be covering or will be covering just like you suggested. I will be taking a look and trying out the apps you mentioned here and hope to be able to implement them into my classroom. Great information.

Karina Gracia's picture
Karina Gracia
High school history teacher

Hello J. Ferrer

I appreciate your personal ideas on apps, as I myself an considering my high school students to starting blogging so that they can share their ideas about their favorite app. I've heard a lot of great things on the Minecraft app., especially if the students are oriented with the "STEM" program of science, technology, engineering and math, that really encourages curiosity, as it stretches their critical thinking. You can also use this app. as a type of collaborative, with a more competitive mode, besides just on an individual basis. I know that my own children have used it, especially my son, as he aspires to be a gaming or a software engineer. At such, teachers can integrate it with multidisciplinary studies, like architecture and even literature, as its designs can be used with personification, and other linguistic elements.

J.Ferrer's picture

Hi Karina,

I have heard that Minecraft is a great tool to use with STEM students, but have never really used it myself. My son also uses it and plays a lot as he also wants to become a video game designer and he tells me that this game really helps him see things in a different perspective. It's also a great idea to introduce your high school students to blogging if they haven't already been introduced to it with all of today's technology.

Leesa Johnson's picture
Leesa Johnson
Leesa Johnson is a Marketing Manager at Select My Tutor

Thank you for your educational & positive article. I appreciate your personal article scheme on all apps. At specific, teachers can merge it with combining several branches of learning studies, similar design apps & even both fictional and nonfictional, as its designs can be used with characteristics, & other semantic/ grammatical elements.

mnisly's picture

I appreciated the recommendations made in this article, especially with regard to considering what my students need. I am particularly interested in offering suggestions to parents of students who are learning at a faster pace than the rest of my class. Challenging them and keeping them engaged can often be difficult. What specific apps do you recommend to provide support in the form of enrichment or extension for elementary students who are ready to move ahead of the rest of the class in math?

Monica Burns's picture
Monica Burns
Author & Speaker, ADE , Founder of

Thanks for sharing the ways you get the word out to families! Using tools like ClassDojo and Remind 101 are a great way to communicate new apps and tools to families.

Monica Burns's picture
Monica Burns
Author & Speaker, ADE , Founder of

Hi Karina, Thanks for sharing the powerful ways that Minecraft can connect to your school goals. It's a fantastic tool!

Monica Burns's picture
Monica Burns
Author & Speaker, ADE , Founder of

This is a fantastic question! It's so important to be on the lookout for students who can benefit from enrichment. You might want to introduce students to apps that are not grade-specific but do offer levels or modules that let them export new content. One of my favorite ones for math is myBlee. myBlee has dozens of modules for students to work through so they can move at their own pace.

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