Actually there’s not an app for that: when technology gets in the way

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Image by flickingerbrad

As iPads and tablets are gaining popularity in schools, I often hear questions from teachers like ‘I’m getting some iPads for my Year 3/4 class what apps do you recommend?’ That question is often loaded with the expectation that somewhere out there is an app which will drag an existing classroom programme into the 21st century with just a few downloads from the app store.

Anyone know of a good reading app?

Yes I know of an outstanding reading app, it’s called a book. There are thousands of them at your local library.  But surely we’ve all worked out that plonking students in a library and leaving them to it will not on its own ensure kids learn to read?

Which is why I feel so uneasy about app farming.

There are plenty of apps out there that seem educational and undoubtedly find their way onto classroom iPads without much thought. However once you take the bells and whistles away  many apps don’t  do much to enhance student engagement. Lots of skill and drill but is that what really engages learning? If the app keeps the kids quiet while you get on with group work, then it must be good right?

What happens when the kids tire of the gimmick?

That’s an expensive piece of hardware on the table.

For me it always comes back to purpose.

What is it your kids need to learn?

It’s such a simple question that gets lost in the quest to get technology into classrooms or the latest and greatest app on your device.  In fact without knowing your kids or your classroom it’s probably impossible for me to recommend effective apps for your students.

Do your kids to show in words and writing a maths strategy? Explain everything is pretty cool.

Collaborate with others? Skype, blogger, twitter, gmail.

Create a rap to explain key ideas from a novel. Garageband is awesome.

Show fermentation at work. iTimelapse is fabulous.

I often wish there was label on each new classroom iPad warning the teacher in charge of the device that just like the book or a pencil, there are millions of ways that the tablet could be used in your classroom and it’s your job to figure out how to make it work best for your learners.

If you don’t know what the specific app does and why you need it what is the point in having it in your classroom?

Lets take the focus off the technology and bring it back onto the learning. Figure out what your classroom needs are then start looking for tools to do the job.

4 thoughts on “Actually there’s not an app for that: when technology gets in the way

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  1. Hi Stephanie,
    I totally agree with you. We initially got carried away with iPad apps when our school invested in 30. Some teachers were using them daily hoping to enhance learning. But as you noted, learning needs to be purposeful and lead students to deeper understanding. So you need to know what apps offer and how they can be used to support learning. They are a tool, just like a pencil, book and calculator.



  2. New tools enable new ways of learning and who precisely knows, beforehand, which tools will work?

    Maybe these things have to be discovered, explored and played with… and where and with whom better to do it if not in your class and with your students?

    If something is a pile of poo… have a joke about it – get them to talk about what they like – didn’t like… and how they might improve the app. Critical thinking APPlied… (oh dear, I do apologise).

    There are new possibilities opening up and maybe it’s preempting the process to decide beforehand which tools are both needed and which will work… I say play!

    All the best,

    BTW, I should declare an interest, I and my partners are teachers and we’ve developed our own quiz making app for classrooms!

    Personally, I think there are a lot of apps that don’t work very well and there are a lot of educational apps that are anything but educational.

    However, much like books in a library, exposure to the bad leads to a deeper appreciation of the good. Further, the process of working out which is which is inherently valuable!


  3. Apps are the new colouring ins, the new ‘busy work’. There are times when we can be guilty of this.
    We need to teach the kids to see ipads has a tool to create and as a source of information rather than as a toy to play games on.
    Just like we teach kids how yo do a numeracy strategy, how to predict a text, how to do pencil shading… we also need to tesch them how to use an ipad.
    My latest focus has been on teaching the children how to actually turn it off properly in order to make the most of a charged battery!


  4. I was just thinking a little more both on the post and especially the title of this post earlier today: “Actually there’s not an app for that: when technology gets in the way.”

    Funnily enough, that was exactly the situation that led to us making Quizling. I was in a Grade 5 class (in-built relief) and a student put up her hand to ask me if they could do a ‘health quiz’ as she ‘really loved quizzes’.

    I checked on the App Store but couldn’t find a ‘health quiz’. I then tried to search for an app that would allow me to build a health quiz and came up empty again.

    The weekend after that – we had the dinner where we first discussed what became Quizling.

    So in our case… the post would be titled… “Actually there’s not an app for that: so we made our own!” 🙂

    Interestingly, this conversation with the little girl who liked health quizzes was in a school which mandates 1:1 iPads and where “the iPad is the primary tool of education’.

    I guess, in a nutshell, my argument would be that in a period of rapid change – we have to be more flexible, more open and more experimental and ‘playful’. As far as I can work out – no one has the answers at the moment – which is a lovely moment and a lovely opportunity.


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