Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Needle in a Hay Stack: Finding Great Apps for our Learners - TLLP

As I wrap up another 'formal' session of searching for appropriate apps to be used with our TLLP students, I can't help but reflect on a task that sounds so easy, yet can be so frustrating. I am constantly learning about apps that may be of benefit to our students. Google searches, the App Store (iTunes), and my Twitter feed keep me busy. There are lots of good apps out there, but for our purposes many of them get filtered out because they don't appear to be directly aligned with the needs of our students.

The lens with which I look through as I search for, and read about apps, is that of an IEP. When I see/read something that resonates with one of our TLLP student profiles/learning goals I will take a closer look at the app. I want to see screen shots of the app, how it might work, and how closely it fits with student program goals and learning expectations. From that point forward I will examine other factors like complexity, price, and how well it might integrate across curriculum, etc. For some apps, this process ends up being lightning fast and for some other apps the process is as quite slow. I will even seek the opinions of members of my Twitter PLN who seem to have extensive knowledge around educational apps.

Most of what I have described above occurs in isolation, within my mind. The true test occurs when the students interact with the apps. I am informed quite often whether an app is a good fit or not - this makes for some great learning. With our grade 4 student we recently discovered that the Mathopolis math operations app engages him, but for all the wrong reasons. In his case, this app renders itself useless. With our grade 5 student we have an app that allows him to record his thinking visually and orally. He loves the way it works and it is invaluable to him. The app can be used with almost any learning expectation in his IEP. It is proving to be a powerful app that integrates nicely across his IEP.

Finding the right apps involve time on my part and experience on the student's part. Just when I begin to think that there is a science to this, I realize that it is also an art. It usually feels like I am looking for a needle in a haystack! Nevertheless, I journey forward on this learning & leadership experience knowing that everyone involved benefits - especially our students.

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