4 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Choosing Educational Apps

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by Frances Judd

These are exciting times in the world of education.

Touch-screen technology is enabling teachers and parents to empower children to be at the helm of their own learning.  Investigations with these devices can inspire young students to think creatively and to take risks in learning as they solve problems using a process of trial and error in a setting that holds little to no social risk.

Touch-screen education can help teachers and parents meet a wide range of learning styles and content areas integral to early childhood, primary education, elementary education and beyond. But as we embrace the advantages of our new iPads, I also hear parents and teachers voicing frustration about some new challenges and situations arising in their wake.

Variations on old themes such as budgeting, curricular planning, student distractibility, and teacher apathy are described in this recent article being passed around in both education and tech communities who share on Facebook. The article articulates five areas that are being experienced by many in schools where thoughtful teacher planning did not include the new tech that arrived in their classrooms.

As I meet with parent groups and school staff to discuss such issues, I feel what is most important in any educational community is to be honest and forthright regarding the fact that those immense opportunities that come with touch-screen tablets also bring the responsibility to make new plans, set new limits and take time to play with these new tech-tools ourselves.  As both an educator and app developer, I can see how challenging it is to find apps that are out there, somewhere, that dovetail with school curriculum.

For educators who are investigating which elements of technology and learning apps to use in their classrooms we encourage asking some key questions. These include:

1. What will the child learn from the app?

2. Does the app offer the child an opportunity to practice a skill needed in school?

3. Does the app motivate a child to transfer that learning into the real world?

4. What conversation and collaboration will the app inspire?

There are plenty of educational resources out there to help you determine developmentally appropriate practices, but few are coming from the developers themselves at this time. At Mrs. Judd’s Games, we have introduced helpful tools such as the U.S. Common Core State Standards guide and our Teachers’ Guides on our website for each app to supplement the learning, although these are unfortunately still rare commodities in the app development world.

There are some exceptions, of course—there are several developers we have noticed who provide exceptional educational background for parents and teachers, most notably Toca Boca, who provide a letter to parents in each of their colorful learning apps and have helped set a precedent for developers in this regard. We feel this information is critical to those teachers and parents who want to plan for touch-screen experiences being offered. We encourage educators to look for apps where developers either have an educator on their game design team or supply pedagogical context.

With upcoming titles offered by Mrs. Judd’s Games that deliver learning experiences in phonics, addition, subtraction and repeating patterns, we challenge our fellow app developers to offer similar informational devices so that teachers can plan their school day and curriculum in a manner that best suits the educational purposes at hand.

Frances Judd is an educator and chief game designer for Mrs. Judd’s Games. Her touch-screen apps include fun, engaging titles like Snowflake Station, Chalk WalkLeft Right Pup, Rhinomite and Crabby Writer: Phonics, Read & Write. Each app integrates childhood play themes, Common Core State Standards and relationships to other forms of hands-on learning. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter and PinterestImage attribution flickr user flickeringbrad