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Appealing Apps for Educators: The Back to School Edition

by Lucy Gray

Lucy GrayAccording to Apple, in January of this year, at least 1.5 million iPads were adopted by educational institutions and an astounding 20,000+ education-related apps were found in the App Store. Those numbers continue to explode, and more recently, the company announced that 1 million more iPads were purchased by the education market in the third quarter alone in 2012.

So, given this plethora of devices infiltrating schools, where do busy educators find the best apps and effective strategies for using iOS devices in the classroom? Evaluating and choosing apps can be daunting and my goal in this column is to provide a few suggestions to guide and inspire teachers.

When contemplating the world of mobile learning, you may want to consider two excellent resources: Common Sense Media’s ratings on the learning potential of apps, and Kathy Schrock’s app evaluation rubric. These are just two of many web sites that can provide guidance on what to look for in educational apps.

Labor Day is now upon us and that means most schools are back in session. Let’s check out a few apps to add to digital backpacks as educators and students get organized for the new school year. Here are my five picks for the back-to-school season!

Communicate with students via Remind 101 (Free)

This free reminder service allows teachers to send notifications to students about class events, and does not allow for any other interaction between the two parties. This may be appealing to school districts who are concerned about teachers and student communicating via social media and texting. Teachers create classes and give codes to students and/or parents allowing them to subscribe to announcements. Reminders have to be kept to 140 characters and can be  scheduled ahead of time in the app or online. This app is particularly useful with high school students who may own different types of mobile technologies.

Organize your classroom library with Book Retriever ($0.99)

Keeping track of books in a classroom is a conundrum particularly well known to elementary school teachers. This app will help you catalog books and keep track of your inventory. Highly organized parents might also like this book for managing books at home.

Discover high quality free educational content with iTunes U (Free)

iTunes U within the App Store contains a wealth of free educational content and there’s a corresponding app as well. Podcasts, videos, documents and fully-developed courses are available. Courses were announced last January by Apple and you might think of them guided tours of content, rather than traditional courses. Through this app or through the iTunes software, you can download courses on just about any topic from the world’s leading universities as well as from K12 and cultural institutions. Sample the variety offered by downloading and browsing the materials put together by Acalanes Union High School, Lake Forest Academy, Blue Valley Unified School District, Montana Office of Public Instruction, Apple Distinguished Educators, Edutopia, and TED Talks for Lifelong Learners.

Create a system for all your note taking needs with Evernote (Free)

Evernote is a classic must-have app for everyone, particularly educators and students. This web-based tool is ideal for taking and storing notes, and can be accessed through a variety of desktop and mobile apps. Notebooks containing individual notes can be created and shared with others, and Evernote supports the importing of various multimedia. For additional ideas and to find out how educational institutions are using this versatile app, check out Evernote for Schools.

Evernote is also available for Android devices

Leverage the multimedia capabilities of your iPad using VoiceThread (Free)

Another popular web-based tool in education has been VoiceThread, and there’s an app for that as well! Upload photos or video from your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad to VoiceThread and create interactive slideshows; others can comment using text, drawing, audio or video. If you’re looking for ideas on how to use VoiceThread for project-based learning, check out examples in their Digital Library. This app is free, and you may want to investigate their special options for K12 Education.

For more app suggestions, make sure to check out the Appolicious iPhone and iPad Education Directory as well as its Android Education Directory.

As an education consultant, Lucy works with a variety of institutions on 21st century learning initiatives, including directing the Consortium for School Networking’s Leadership for Mobile Learning initiative. She began her career as a primary grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools, and has served in various capacities related to educational technology at the University of Chicago's Laboratory Schools, Urban Education Institute, and Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education. In 2007, Lucy founded the Global Education Collaborative, a network for educators interested in project-based learning which has been expanded into the Global Education Conference. She has also been awarded the Google Certified Teacher and Apple Distinguished Educator distinctions.

For further information, visit her web site at You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.