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Tech at Home: Choosing Great Learning Apps

The market for mobile educational apps is exploding. Advertisements pop up in your social media stream, and hardly a conversation goes by without your friends showing you the “newest” thing. But how can you pick the best apps for your kids?

1) Evaluate Your Tech Foundation

First, take a good look at your family’s tech infrastructure. What kinds of devices do you have, and who uses them?

For example, do all family members have their own mobile devices? Or, do you share a tablet, laptop, or smartphone? This inventory will help you sort out a schedule for when children can use the apps.

And what operating system runs your devices? Is it iOS—the mobile operating system that powers devices made by Apple, such as the iPhone? Or is it Android—the operating system that runs many non-Apple smartphones and laptops? This is important because the great majority of mobile apps are written for iOS. (Android apps are only beginning to close the gap.)

2) Find Out What Your Children’s Classes Are Using

There is a strong possibility that your children are using apps in their classes, because schools have been accelerating their use of technology for learning. Ask them (or their teachers) what apps they’re using for online work. It may be the school’s own learning management system, which probably can be accessed only from the school’s domain.

However, it could be an online website, such as Learning Bird, which you can access from any device, as long as you have an internet connection. If that’s the case, tour the site online to learn more, including how much it may cost for a family subscription.

3) Get Recommendations for Appropriate Apps

You can always get input from your children, family, and friends for apps that they found successful. Or, you may choose to investigate more authoritative sites.

  • The American Library Association maintains a Best Apps for Teaching & Learning page. These apps earned recognition as being “of exceptional value to inquiry-based teaching and learning as embodied in the American Association of School Librarians’ Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.” The apps are divided into broad learning categories, and the page specifies the operating system and whether the app is free.
  • Edutopia has lists of apps and blog posts focusing on app categories and links to their specific websites. Go to http://www.edutopia.org/topics to search for app information.

4) Download and Try the Apps Yourself

You can download apps from developers’ websites, or you can access them through the app store on your mobile device. Give each app a thorough trial run. Consider these questions:

  • Does the app match the learning and thinking skills that your children are developing?
  • Will it engage the interest of your children? (Remember—that is different from engaging your interest!)
  • What are the app’s interactive features?
  • Does the app let users create work, such as commenting on images, recording messages or videos, sharing with others?

5) Spend Time With Your Kids to Get Them Started

Be prepared to invest time familiarizing your children with the app (or vice versa). It may take a while for them to appreciate what they can do with it.

Throughout the year, encourage them to recognize which class project seems a good match for the app. Or, use the subject matter to do your own work with the app to show your children different options.

Take an interest in the apps that attract your children’s’ attention. It’s a great way to learn what they are up to. And, with a little help from your kids, you’ll probably find some great apps for yourself, too!

Special thanks for contributions provided by Robert Weisser of A Pass Educational Group

About the author

Charlotte Nichols

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