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.
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.
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.