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Picking & Choosing: Ideas for Selecting the Right Educational Apps  

Blog 3 imageWe all know that there is a tremendous amount of apps on Google Play and the App Store, and we’ve all been in that situation where we want to pick the “right” app. But, what goes into making that selection? Why should we pick one app instead of another? To help sort out this conundrum, I want to share a few considerations I use when choosing apps.

  1. How do I plan for my students to use the app?

If I want my students to create a learning artifact such as a document, presentation, picture, or recording, I want an app that allows them to create that artifact. However, if I want my students to research a topic, I want an app that provides them information. Therefore, my advice for browsing apps and perusing their description is to know the specific purpose for how you plan to use the app. This will let you move through app descriptions quicker. You will be focused on knowing if an app provides information, teaches a skill, or lets students create something (e.g., a document, presentation, etc.)

  1. Where should I look for apps?

When I’m sitting in front of my computer and searching for “best educational apps” on Google (or whichever search engine), I am flooded with Top 10 Lists for Best Apps, recommendations for apps made by a host of people, and the occasional database of educational app reviews. Then, when I click one, I often get the app description copied-and-pasted right out of the App Store or Google Play. I find this problematic. My advice is to be discerning when reading reviews. Look for app reviews written by individuals with credentials and be dismissive of reviews that copy-and-paste app descriptions straight from the App Store or Google Play.

  1. What to do with app ratings?

One of the items that confuse me the most are starred rankings. What is the difference between an app that scores three stars opposed to an app that scores two or four stars? To me, I find more value in reviewers’ comments about the apps, what they liked and disliked, if the app crashes, and if children are engaged by the app. If I see a bevy of negative comments, I tend to stay away. However, if I’m reading positive comments written by fellow users, not apps developers or the occasional “plant” comment, I am more inclined to download the app.

  1. What role do you envision the app will take in the lesson?

As I go about designing lessons and considering how I will bring apps into them, I must be aware that an app is not a teacher. It is not a guide, and it is not an authority. An app is a digital teaching resource that can be used in the classroom. With this definition in mind, it is important for me to envision how students will use the app to complete a learning task I created. Will students use the app as an informational reference, to practice a skill, or to create something? All that depends on how I position the app in my lesson. At all levels, teachers are the individuals who design lessons and create purposes for using apps. We must keep that close to our hearts as we integrate apps into our instruction.

After reviewing the apps and making a selection, I test it out by thinking how am I’m going to have students use it. Then, I do the assignment or task that I plan to assign using the app. This practice gives me experience using the app in the way I plan for my students to use it. If I encounter challenges with the app at this point, I make modifications to the assignment or find another app. I hope these ideas help you find and use apps effectively with your students.