Making the most of educational apps in your classroom

Written by: HTU | Published:

Ahead of his CPD session at the Bett Show 2014 this month, Tim Handley (alongside some of his pupils) looks at how teachers can make the best use of apps and lists some of his pupils’ favourites.

It has been nearly impossible to miss the surge of “apps”, both on devices and web-based, over the past couple of years. Nearly everyone has a SmartPhone and/or tablet, and these devices have become increasingly common in schools. There are also a large number of “web apps” which can be accessed on practically any web-enabled device, including desktops and laptops. It is no surprise therefore that an increasing number of teachers are starting to exploit the power of apps and that children are becoming more engaged by their use.

The app generation

The children we teach are “natives” to this technology. I like to think of them as the “app generation”; apps are nothing new to them and they are growing up in a world which many predict will be increasingly powered by apps. The vast majority of the children we teach will own an app-based mobile device. 

Apps are often very simple to use, but despite this are often extremely powerful tools. Adam, 9, explained: “It is dead easy to do things on apps, like put together a movie, or create a digital poster that would take me ages to do on proper computer programs.” Give a child a new app and they will soon become experts – often in minutes. 

Children also enjoy using apps in school and they can be a very powerful tool to engage them in learning. Cameron, 10, said: “Children love using apps in school. They make learning so much more fun and allow us to do things that wouldn’t have even been possible before.”

It’s free!

Apps are, for the most part, either free, or at worst, very cheap, especially when compared to their traditional counterparts. On top of this, most apps offer free updates, meaning you always have the latest version of the application. Pretty much most functions performed on a computer can be accomplished through a device and/or web-based app, meaning in some schools you will find that no “traditional” software beyond the operating system is installed on their computers.

Endless possibilities

The possibilities of what can be achieved in schools through the use of apps are practically endless, and my pupils have shared their top 10 apps with you at the end of this article. During our Bett Arena session, the children will share how apps can be used to develop specific skills, enable them to present their work in creative ways, as a powerful tool in them recording their learning, and to allow greater learner interaction and for children to “replay” key teaching moments. 

When combining the use of different apps together, their power only increases. For example, during our recounts units, we run a fully functioning newsroom in year 5, using only apps on our tablets, which allows us to create a constantly updating news website (http://bit.ly/woodlandsnews).

Cameron said: “It was fun as we spent all day using apps to create our very own news website which people around the world visited.” 

Bayleigh, 11, added: “It was great, as through the apps our editors, like me, got sent the drafts which we had to edit and make the final decision of whether to publish them.”

Homely apps!

I think apps really come into their own when you exploit their potential to build home-school links and enable more meaningful work to be completed at home. 

Most blogging platforms have apps for mobile devices, which make blogging about work completed in school even easier and accessible to children than before. Photographs of that super piece of writing, maths or other piece of work can be uploaded, and using apps such as Vimeo, Audiboo and Soundcloud, sound and video files can be easily captured, making sharing learning in school with the wider world, quite literally, child’s play.

Many schools are starting to exploit this ease of use by creating “well done” blogs, showcasing to the world work that has been sent to them for an award (For example, see http://bit.ly/appypraise1 and http://bit.ly/appraise2). 

Paul Shanks, headteacher of Gaywood Community Primary School in Norfolk, explained: “Using apps such as Wordpress, Vimeo and Audioboo means that we can share children’s work more readily with parents/carers. The Praise and Class Blogs can be updated immediately, with parents often aware of children’s achievement before the end of the school day. Twitter and Facebook integration enhances this further as we then have direct contact with the majority of parents/carers and can supply direct links to the blogs. The impact on learning has been significant as children are keen to be on the Praise blog.”

Great possibilities also exist if teachers begin to “accept” learning completed on apps, whether they be web-based or device-specific, for learning completed at home. As Emily, 9, explained: “Apps are just another way for us to show our work.”

Apps should be seen by teachers as another, valuable way for children to share their learning. For example, a simple request to do some research about our forthcoming space topic can turn into information videos 

(http://bit.ly/appyspace) and presentations (http://bit.ly/appypresentation), or learning from a school trip can turn into a cartoon (http://bit.ly/appytrip) – all by the power of simple apps. 

Children as app creators 

It is now possible for children (and indeed teachers) to easily create their own apps. There are an increasing number of services out there which allow you to create apps, which can be accessed as web apps on any mobile device, or (often for a fee) published as “real” apps in the different app stores.

The children’s favourite tool for allowing them to create their own apps is AppShed (www.appshed.com). Adam explained: “It’s quite easy to create your own app on AppShed, you do need to think carefully about how you want your app to work and what needs to go where, but when you’ve done that creating the app is easy.” 

Apps have been created by children from year 3 upwards, and the pleasure of seeing their own creation being available as a web app on anyone’s mobile device is great to see!

Apps are on the rise, and the potential they have to transform learning cannot be ignored, the only question left is how will you use apps in your school?

The children’s top 10 Apps

In no order, here are the children’s top 10 apps for use in school. All comments are directly from Bayleigh, Cameron, Adam and Emily (who will be presenting at Bett with me).

Sumdog (web, limited version on iOS): “Sumdog is fun and an educational game which really helps us practise our mental maths. We can answer more than 2,000 questions without even realising it! We are addicted to sumdog in our school- it’s fab!”

ActionMovie FX (iOS): “I love this app, as it makes great things happen in our video, which makes them look like they are a big film at the cinema. It’s just a bit of fun really, but I think teachers could use it to get us writing some cool stories in English.”

Super7 (iOS): “I like this app as it gets you to practise your mental addition and problem-solving. Even though you only have to make seven each time, it is good practice and stretches your maths brain.”

Operation Math (iOS, Android): “I love Operation Math as it turns mental maths into a fun game. It’s quite difficult in parts, and you have to be quick, so I think I learn lots from playing it.”

Sumopaint (iOS, Android): “I love creating masterpieces using Sumopaint. The 3D effects are especially cool, and I like being able to play around with images I have found or have made myself.”

Pixlr (web, limited version on iOS and Android): “I love Pixlr as it is dead easy to use and create some really effective pieces of art.”

Garageband (iOS): “We love Garageband as it is very powerful and you can make pretty much anything out of the virtual instruments on there as well as record your voice. It makes our music lessons super fun!”

PicCollage (iOS, Android): “PicCollage is great as it allows you to put together lots of pictures with text on one big picture/poster.”

BrainPop UK (iOS, Android, Web): “We love Tim and Moby from BrainPop UK, and the app is great as it allows you to access all of the movies and take the quizzes.” 

iMovie (iOS): “iMovie is great as it makes it really easy for me to create my own videos. This is a great way for us to share our learning and show what we have learnt.”

  • Tim Handley is a year 5 teacher, maths and ICT lead at Woodlands Primary Academy in Great Yarmouth. You can find his class website at www.mrhandley.co.uk and he can be reached on Twitter @tomhenzley.

Bett Show 2014

Tim’s Bett session, “Let’s Get ‘Appy”, takes place at 12pm on Friday, January 24, in the Bett Arena when he will consider how pupils can use apps to enhance, extend and motivate learning. Visit http://bett.mrhandley.co.uk/


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