The app store contains over 100,000 educational apps. Here at eSpark, we’ve identified the very best of these apps, narrowing to approximately 750 unique apps that appear in our curriculum. From there, we refine even further, identifying particular sets of 8-10 apps that meet individual student needs.
So how exactly do we approach the daunting task of combing through thousands of apps to find those that are truly the best?
eSpark has a dedicated team of experienced teachers who continually monitor the app store for content. When they discover a new app, they evaluate it along 5 dimensions.
1. Common Core Alignment
46 states have adopted the new Common Core State Standards, which contain hundreds of detailed benchmarks for K-12 math and reading. At eSpark, our first step is to ensure the app we’re evaluating aligns tightly with at least one Common Core Standard.
2. Authenticity of Task
We know that kids learn best in a real world context. As we’re evaluating apps, we ask ourselves: are skills practiced in isolation or are they part of a real world problem-solving environment?
One of the great promises of the iPad is that it allows children to take ownership over and direct their own learning. We look for apps that students can navigate independently, even at a young age.
At the very core of eSpark is a belief that learning can be fun! We evaluate apps for their engagement and interactivity.
5. Scaffolding of Learning
Learning from mistakes is an age-old lesson that we take to heart. We love apps that 1) support student learning by providing some form of instruction, 2) alert students when they’ve made a mistake, and 3) allow students to try again if they’ve answered incorrectly.
On a practical level, we always consider student-appropriateness (for example, we filter out apps that reference crime or drugs). In order for schools to expose their students to a wide variety of content, we also prefer apps that are under $5.00 and are sized around 50MB.
With an iterative eye, we take eSpark teacher and student feedback seriously. Our app vetting process is constantly refining and improving as we get word on how apps are received in the classroom.
Developers, teachers, students, friends: please comment or reach out if you have questions about our process or want more details! We’d love to hear your perspectives.
Content taken from ComputeEd Gazzette….
Tablets in the Classroom
Computing has taken on a new face, due to the popularity of mobile devices which Steve Jobs referred to as post-PC-era products. Some researchers feel the new tablet devices* represent a change in consumer behavior: It’s not just the device, it’s the social behavior; it’s a social trend.
School districts intending to use the new technology must decide between the two market leaders: Apple’s iPad (running Apple iOS) or the Google Android tablet (from Samsung, Motorola, Hewlett Packard and others). Proponents for digitizing classrooms believe it could eventually save schools as much as $3 billion a year in textbook costs, etc. Others caution that drawbacks exist, such as ongoing software and/or hardware support; surviving ownership by toddlers and teens; infrastructure costs, e.g., replacing broken tablets…
On the assumption that integration of digital technologies into the learning environment and embedding these technologies into a teacher’s pedagogical practice can have a positive impact on student engagement, motivation and attitudes, we have selected two iPad entries that merited awards in this year’s EDDIES:
For teachers struggling to select from among the thousands of educational apps for the iPad, eSpark Learning has a solution: The program, designed for ages 4-12, offers personalized learning plans embedded with links to relevant third party educational apps (available/downloadable from the iTunes Store).
Students are given “quests” to complete. Assessment tools enable teachers and parents to see reports and recommend areas for improvement. eSpark’s approach is the following: Diagnose learning level; enable academic goal setting; recommend the best educational games, apps, podcasts, & eBooks; challenge students with daily quests; report & celebrate success.
The apps that accompany the learning plans are graphically appealing, comprehensive and creative. For example, in the Language Standards Grade 4 unit:
- BrainPOP provides daily movies that are designed for kids, using multimedia, educational cartoons to teach Science, Social Studies, English, Math, and more
- iTooch English Grade 5, which is comprised of 44 chapters/lessons, has examples, illustrations, practice questions and tests, and utilizes 3 thematic units – grammar, verbs, vocabulary & spelling.
Children will find the design of the learning plans easy to follow, and much is to be learned from the multi-subject, interactive educational activities provided by the apps.
This week’s release of the “Race to the Top” (RttT) District Competition guidelines have given teachers and administrators a lot to chew on. RttT, a program sponsored by the Department of Education, offers a 4-year grant to winning districts in an amount ranging from $5 to $40 million, depending on student population. According to the Department’s press release, one key facet of a quality district proposal is the demonstrated attempt to “personalize learning, close achievement gaps and take full advantage of 21st century tools that prepare each student for college and their careers.” Sound familiar? We think it does.
The Department’s emphasis on personalized learning and acknowledgment of the transformative effect of digital learning has the eSpark Team positively tickled. On the competition’s scoring rubric, several components perfectly coincide with our mission here at eSpark. Out of a 200-point scale, these are: personalized learning (40 points), a vision for reform (40 points), and continuous improvement, which includes having a strategy and performance measures for long-term improvement (30 points). We believe eSpark’s program can aid districts in improving quality in each of these components– which comprise over half the total grading scale.
eSpark’s innovative iPad program enables students to learn at their level, creating a personalized curriculum for each student based on diagnosed learning needs and aligned with Common Core standards. Our platform’s dashboard allows teachers and administrators to actively track student progress throughout the program with ease. Once a student completes their first eSpark mission and demonstratively improves in their goal domain (typically growing 1.4 grade levels in only 8 weeks), their work isn’t over— they can start a new mission at a higher level, or shift focus to another academic area that needs improvement. The use of the iPad not only easily engages students in rigorous work, but also gives them a technological upper-hand, allowing young students to become confident experts in the technology.
As the Department’s release mentions further, “The program also offers competitive preference to applicants that form partnerships with public and private organizations to sustain their work.” So, why not partner with eSpark? We’ll help personalize learning for your students, track improvement, and improve your chances in the RttT competition. Best of luck to all applicants, it’s an exciting opportunity for blended learning advocates and education reformers alike!
Adopted by all but four American states, the Common Core is the culmination of the efforts of a group of talented administrators, teachers, and researchers answering the call for consistent academic standards across state lines. But what exactly is Common Core? And why is it important to know about it?
The Common Core, also known as Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a voluntary, privately developed initiative widely supported by several prominent teaching associations as well as the Department of Education. The Core’s mission strives to ensure that all students are prepared in language arts and mathematics for both college and career by the time of their high school matriculation. But rather than simply teaching to the tests, the CCSS instills broadly applicable skills that can be adapted for use beyond the classroom. The core does not attempt to instruct teachers on how they should teach, but gives them an education destination to reach.
Ideally, these standards hope to provide consistency and clarity in what is expected of students across the country. Before the Common Core, each state held its own unique set of standards, varying in qualifications throughout the US. Now, regardless of where a student happens to live, they will have equal academic opportunity, with a consistent set of expectations and a teaching force working towards a common set of goals.
eSpark aficionados will be happy to learn that one key facet of the Common Core is the implementation of innovative technology in reaching these standards. Like our philosophy here at eSpark, the Common Core agrees that introducing technology not only better engages students in complex subjects, but also teaches them the responsible use of technology—a truly invaluable lesson. Recognizing its broad potential, the use of technology and media is included throughout the Common Core Standards, instead of being treated as a separate section.
Now you may be wondering, just what are these standards exactly? Well, there is of course an app for that (and it’s free, too)! Developed by MasteryConnect, the “Common Core” app allows users to easily scroll through detailed and robust descriptions of the standards at each grade level—giving you a complete rundown of the expectations for all students.
One exciting thing about the Common Core is that, for the first time, there exists a common metric to gauge student achievement across the country. And of course, technology is at the forefront of this movement, helping students achieve real progress in a fun and engaging way.
Summer is upon us here at eSpark but we are still running at full cylinder!
Have you wanted to change education as we know it but also have fun in the process? Search no more as we are excited to announce that eSpark is hiring! We are looking for individuals who are looking for a big role and have a scrappy can-do attitude. If you have the desire to make a difference come join us. Check out our openings Here!
In our previous post on this series, we talked about ways to nurture your kids’ creative side using just an iPad, some cleverly-made apps.
Why have kids do creative projects? It gets boring for kids to just do worksheets over and over again; it’s important to have some sort of creative outlet through which they can think critically about what they learn. Creative projects can simultaneously challenge young kids to apply disparate concepts to specific scenarios and also synthesize situations where it could be applicable.
Here are some cool ways to motivate your kids to tap into their creative side:
- Animations with Toontastic (FREE)
Toontastic makes it fun and easy to make short, animated movies.
Project Have them create a film that features a similar theme to what they’re reading in class. For a more mathematically-inclined project, have your students create a film explaining a concept in math with their own words.
Example: Jose is reading Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes for his 3rd grade class. The overarching message he identifies in this book is hope in the face of daunting adversities. He makes a Toontastic relating to a similar situation in his own life.
- iMotion HD (FREE)
If you’ve ever seen Chicken Run or Wallace and Gromit, you’ve likely seen some cool claymation going on. These films are usually created using a process known as stop motion capture.
Project Create a movie about a topic they know a lot about/are passionate about and ask them to connect that topic to something they’re learning in school.
Example: Fourth-grader RJ loves to learn about cars, the different models of cars, racing cars etc. In school, he’s learning about calculating rates. He made a movie in iMotion about the rate at which his toy cars move.
- GarageBand for the iPad ($4.99)
Jazz up their learning time a bit by having them create a song about something they learned.
Project This will probably work best with topics/concepts that might require a lot of rote memorization (like Latin suffixes/prefixes, state abbreviations).
These are just some creative projects you can do with your students or children to get their thinking gears going.
Have any other projects to add? Leave your feedback in the comment form below.
On Martin Luther King Jr day, we had the day off from work. Here in Chicago, the Old Town School of Folk Music had a children’s music concert with Ella Jenkins. Of course the kids were adorable and hearing the multi-cultural messages and songs from Ella felt like the right way to celebrate MLK day this year.
This concert also got us thinking about some of the wonderful musical apps on the iPad. So many kids have a natural love of music, why not create an iPad curriculum for music? The great music apps available today could help get kids even more engaged in music and stimulate a deeper interest in creating their own music.
Here is just a short list of amazing music apps for iPad learning produced by one leading developer smule:
Ocarina: turns your iPad into an easy to play flute
MagicPiano: easily play songs on your iPad piano (free)
MadPad: captures sounds around you and then you can mix them
We are excited to be featured in TechCrunch again. This article mentions our work with teachers and schools, like the Chicago Public Schools, to develop personalized iPad learning programs. This article asks the really big and fundamental question of: how can primary & secondary education in the U.S. be more effective and competitive globally?
We didn’t want to get into a debate about measuring U.S. education against other countries or a comparison of virtual school and traditional bricks & mortar school, but for us, this article highlighted the issue of innovation in education.
eSpark is focused on using iPads to engage students and enhance learning, and we are seeing encouraging results, but this new approach to blended learning is just one piece of the education innovation puzzle.
In Chicago, we are moving to a longer school day. More time in class should help kids learn more and make schools more effective. Should we also think of the longer school day as innovation? What do you see as some of the most exciting trends or innovations happening in education today?
Just Fractions!: very good aid for teaching fractions (but not as fun engaging as Pizza fractions)
Fraction monkeys:fun educational math game for learning equivalent fractions (with monkeys!)If in addition to these fun math games, you need some content to explain fractions, the best app is Fractions explained, but if you want a free app that is almost as good check out Fractions Basics, a free app with a series of instructional videos.
As a child in elementary school, I looked forward most to doing creative projects for class. It’s a lot of fun making videos, writing stories, drawing scenes, coding a simple web site to show what you’ve learned, after all.
Kids today get all the fun with so many cool tools at their disposal to create projects for school, with HD cameras, high-quality mics, iPads, editing apps.
In this part of the series, we’ll go over some ways to tap into their inner writer/illustrator:
1. Use Doodle Buddy (FREE) for brainstorming
As a visual thinker, I normally brainstorm ideas with little doodles and light illustrations.
Doodle Buddy is great for this very purpose: free-hand sketching of story ideas.
Kids can draw free-hand, add text, add shapes, even stamp their doodle buddy creations with clip art if they want to (though why you’d want to do that in a brainstorm session is beyond me, but that’s besides the point).
If they’re working on telling a story through a more motion-oriented medium like an animation, they can use this to create a preliminary storyboard.
2. Use the Writers App ($0.99) to flesh out ideas
Most stories have a few elements in common: a plot (unless you’re a modernist), some characters, a premise, etc. The Writers App makes it easy to organize story ideas with its well-designed interface.
Your student or child can type in the synopsis of the story they’re writing, include the premise of the story, and plan out characters as well. They can be as detailed as they want to be in describing the characters as there are several options (Role, Strengths, Weaknesses, Biography, etc.) in which to flesh out the persona of a character. It’s useful for both aspiring young writers and writers who are a bit more seasoned.
3. Making a story book with StoryBuddy ($7.99)
After they’re done planning out the story, they can finally put it together using the StoryBuddy app.
StoryBuddy is an easy to use app that lets kids make a storybook using the iPad. They can arrange the elements of the storybook to their heart’s content, everything from text to pictures they’ve taken using the iPad camera.
After they’re done putting together the book, they can then share it with their teachers, friends, and other people.