Is Less More?

Choosing apps for use in our classrooms can be a daunting endeavor. Teachers must take in to account a myriad of considerations:

1. What subject, grade, and discipline will be using the application?
2. What are the PLOs and curriculum demands of the course?
3. What is our budget?
4. What are our student needs, both on an individual and communal level?

And even then there are over 250,000 educational apps in the iTune store. How can we filter through all of them to get to the one specific app we desire?

There seem to be two approaches to this applications selection process. One is a “less is more” approach where educators invest in a few apps that would provide a cross disciplinary scope. These apps tend to be multidimensional, creative, and (in some cases) more expensive. Examples of some that we use are Explain Everything, Voice Thread, and Book Creator. This approach revolves around our students’ questioning: what are the criteria of the assignment? What are my goals for this assignment? How can I best reflect my learning and knowledge for the assignment? Teachers and students decide on using an app only after they have had these discussions. Teacher and students explore applications that support these answers and then make their selection. Typically the majority of the class with decide on the same app and then find originality, voice, and creativity through their interacting with the application.

The second approach revolves around enhancing experience and supporting skill development. These apps tend to be narrower in scope, less interactive and collaborative, and more often than not, flashier with regards to our sensory experience. Teachers refer to some of these apps as “drill and kill” and although this term has an obvious negative connotation, there are some clear and worthwhile benefits to these applications. They provide the opportunity to work on and hopefully meet individual student goals. For example, math students can interact with a number of content specific apps such as Multiples, Equivalents, and Fractions – all apps that provide a database of quick, smooth problems for students to work on and gain immediate feedback. Another example of such an app is The Raven, an eerily dark reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem with a graphic novel feel. It’s highly stylized art paired with it’s modern (dare I say “youthfully current”) vibe connect with our student users in ways that the text alone cannot offer . This style of app – the singular use and the uber jazzy – make the uncool cool***. The excitement and increased engagement the technology provides is heightened when combined with a smooth and simple application.

Our approach at the onset of the pilot project was the less is more angle. For example, I have spent considerable time with iBooks Author on the MacBook creating secondary reading texts for my students. My classes, English 9 through English 12, have used Explain Everything to create and publish various assignments. We have used Voice Thread as an online discussion place to share our opinions, ideas, and learning in a communal fashion. I have valued this approach as it has supported the self-directed and project-based learning model I am trying to provide in my classes.

This summer our grade 9 teachers who are interested in using the iPads in their classes next year will be taking an iPad home with them. We have decided to format each of these devices with both app investment approaches in mind. On one hand teachers will be able to explore the few apps I have used this past year. On the other hand teachers will have access to over 60 content specific apps to check out. My hope is that each user can get an albeit small idea of what’s offered through iTunes and how they could apply them in their lessons. I’m excited to provide some direction as to how I’ve used the apps, get some feedback as to what apps we’ve provided for them, and begin to collaborate on how we can introduce this technology in to their classrooms.

*** Editor’s note: Edgar Allan Poe epitomizes cool.


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