The potential impact of apps on education is vast, immeasurable even. Apps can be used in classrooms and libraries for interdisciplinary instruction and modified for special needs. Apps developed specifically for Science, Social Studies, English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Art can be combined, tweaked and tailored to create overarching projects that foster cooperative learning, accommodate learning modalities and focus on student-centered instruction. This paper will explore a range of apps across disciplines and how teachers and librarians, whether elementary or secondary, can integrate apps’ immense learning capacities into their curricula.
Keywords: iPad, apps, interdisciplinary, cooperative learning, learning modalities, teachers, librarians
Apps Across the Curriculum:
A Survey of Apps in Classrooms
and the Library
The iPad has revolutionized education. Digital learning possibilities were certainly expanded with the introduction of the iPod Touch, but its compact size made it more difficult to use in a classroom setting. The iPad is portable, compact yet sizeable, and an innovative learning tool. The vast variety of apps allow for teachers to differentiate their instruction in new ways in order to hit students’ learning modalities and multiple intelligences. Simply learning about, using, and understanding a new app can spark many new projects and lessons to use in the classroom and library, as many have experienced. Incredibly, new apps are developed and on the market daily; it is virtually impossible to keep up with them all! Not all apps are necessarily good or appropriate though, especially for use in a learning environment. Finding a decent app can be challenging and time consuming. There are, however, certain apps that have been, or have the potential to be, tried in instruction and be effective learning tools.
Many apps can be integrated into elementary or high school lessons, depending on how the instructor uses them. For example, The Weather Channel app features customizable weather maps, in-motion radar (past and present), videos of local and national weather forecasts, storm information and footage, and Twitter feeds from the channel’s hosts (Wylie, 2011). Similarly, Weather + by International Travel Weather Calculator provides international weather from anywhere in the world. Earth science or library classes at the elementary or secondary level studying weather can create weather profiles for different regions, see images of different storms and pressures, and learn about the effects of these different types of weather on climates and living conditions. The librarian would be particularly useful by creating a weather web quest or pathfinder to highlight the most helpful resources in creating weather profiles while teaching or reiterating search techniques. These ideas could be small parts or final projects of a larger unit on weather and climate.
For Biology lessons, the Virtual Rat Dissection app or the Virtual Frog Dissection app from Punfly are helpful tools. If the instructor is unable to obtain the specimens, or could use a supplemental tool for dissecting real specimens, Punfly’s apps are clear and informational. Step-by-step instructions and explanations walk students through the dissection process. Voice over is an option, ideal for auditory learners as well as kinesthetic, tactile, and visual learners (Tenkely, 2011). Students can complete the apps as many times as they wish, allowing for review and further inquiry. Librarians can suggest these apps to science teachers to enrich their curriculum or find a way to integrate them into a science technology lesson or workshop for teachers and / or students.
Another versatile science app is the Star Walk app from Vito Technology, Inc. It uses augmented reality technology to identify the user’s location and, by pointing the iPad camera at the sky, the exact locations of stars, planets, constellations, etc. and their projected paths through the user’s sky. The star map moves as the iPad does. To pair with the Star Walk app is its complement, the Solar Walk app, also from Vito Technology, Inc. Students can set the date and time to any they wish and explore past and future positions of planets, view galaxies and 3D solar system models, use one’s current location to identify where the planets are at that time and place, learn information about specific planets and their moons, and more (Norman, 2011). These two apps would be a great pairing for a star party, whether taking place in the library or a classroom during the day or outside at night. A particularly knowledgeable teacher-librarian about constellations could give an engaging lecture on constellation and star identification and their paths through the sky, coupled with a blazing fire (or barbecue) and s’mores. The iPads are a useful addition or alternative to telescopes. Children and teens will love this hands-on instruction with a technology kick and the bodily movement is particularly useful for those kinesthetic learners and ADHD students.
Science reference apps are useful resources for students studying in the library or working on homework. The Science Glossary app by Visionlearning, Inc. is bilingual (read in English or Spanish) and has hundreds of scientific terms, as well as some short biographies of scientific visionaries. Term entries are linked to other scientific term entries within the glossary when a term is included in a definition. When students are studying the elements, The Chemical Touch (Lite) app by Christopher Fennell provides a simple periodic table and tidbits of information for each element, with links to Wikipedia for more information (Wylie, 2011). For the more involved chemistry student, The Elements: A Visual Exploration app by Element Collection displays a periodic table with a rotating picture of each element. Which clicked, the picture expands to fill the screen. A column of facts, more pictures to discover, detailed videos of certain elements, and commodity prices for precious materials are attached to the elements. Some student responses to a technology teacher’s demonstration of The Elements app, Star Walk, and Solar Walk: “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” “Can I have this instead of our textbook?” “This isn’t like learning at all” (Norman, 2011, p. 1). Interactive learning is what kids crave. Teacher and librarians need to step outside the box and deliver innovative lessons with amazing educational technology. This is the future.
All disciplines cross over their boundaries. Science blends with Math, Social Studies and English, with a little art thrown in for good measure. Apps can help teachers and librarians identify crossovers more easily and work across disciplines to show students how everything is connected. The Dinosaurs: The American Museum of Natural History Collections app has a huge collection of dinosaur fossils as images and recreations. Flip each photo to learn about dinosaur facts. The photos are moveable, so students can create collages and mosaics of dinosaur photos (Wylie, 2011). This app would be a great supplement for a trip to the American Museum of Natural History, or in place of a trip. Students would benefit from having the images and facts at their fingertips while touring the museum, or embarking on a digital scavenger hunt using the photos. The collage / mosaic capability could be part of art inclusion in a lesson or project. Apps are able to take core, trademark lessons one step further for, say, the completion of a timeline of each historical period / era for science class using the library’s reference section and scientific or historical databases. Creative teachers and librarians see possibilities for enrichment and more learning style opportunities in new technologies.
Social Studies goes interdisciplinary with a variety of apps. The Constitution app and the Declaration of Independence app, both by Clint Bagwell Consulting, are excellent starting points (Wylie, 2011). Students can examine historical documents, read notes from the publishers and, to further critical thinking, examine the format and practice writing their own documents for a utopia project. In a geography lesson, the instructor could use The National Geographic World Atlas app; students are able to explore world geography from their desks, up close. The World Wiki app by Tech Lumina pulls hundreds of facts about different locations straight from Wikipedia without the need for an Internet connection. Moreover, the Fotopedia Heritage app by Fotonauts Inc. has thousands of images from all over the world. Librarians can help teachers combine these apps to create a huge interdisciplinary project in which students plan a one- to two-week long trip to another country. Students plan the route and the modes of transportation; create a map; write up a report of the budget costs for living, food, transportation, personal items, and souvenirs; and create a travel brochure for their trip, which would include a short profile of the chosen country. Or, to put a more historical spin on the project, students could use the History: Maps of the World app by Seung-Bin Cho to plan a trip sometime in the past. Such a project would be more difficult and heavier on research instruction. These are the kinds of projects that kids will remember and the research skills that they will use throughout their lives. This type of project-based learning cultivates cooperative learning and student-centered instruction, enabling students to follow their own interests and make learning that much more enjoyable.
Math and Social Studies instruction on iPads is already taking off. In January 2011, Houghton Mifflin and Pearson publishing companies launched pilot History and Algebra 1 curricula, for sixth through ninth graders, exclusively on iPads. Houghton Mifflin’s Algebra 1 pilot established a control group of students using traditional textbooks to compare and contrast the results, which are still forthcoming. The Algebra app users “…will be able to receive feedback on practice questions, write and save notes, receive guided instruction, and access video lessons taught by Edward Burger, a Williams College mathematics professor” (Denison, 2011, p. 2). The app displays the process of solving each equation, step-by-step. Pearson’s Virginia iPad Program, US History for seventh grade and World History for ninth, expanded from 20 devices to 1,700 due to popularity. In an effort to keep up with educational reform, Houghton Mifflin launched “HMH Fuse” in 2010 to publish their e-textbook formats on a variety of mobile devices. Pearson has created over 100 apps to supplement over 3,000 e-textbooks, the apps relatively cheap or free (Denison, 2011).
Lucas Allen, a Math teacher at Morton High School in Illinois, runs his own “Tech Powered Math” blog in which he reviews new math technologies and recommends them, or warns against them, to teachers, students and parents. In June, Allen reviewed Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Math Textbook iPad (HMH Fuse) app, an app that not only digitizes Math textbooks but also adds flair. The app includes video tutorials with a closed captioning feature with a virtual whiteboard; MathMotion, an animated problem-solver of which the student controls the speed; sample problems and designated areas on the iPad to work them out (no more answers written in the margins of a traditional textbook!); note-taking options, written and voice recorded; and a secure assessment feature that enables teachers to record students’ progress as they complete the app. Math tools are included, too: a graphic calculator, quadratic and linear explorer, algebra tiles and a 3D shape explorer for Geometry. The apps run $60 for a six-year license, which runs about average for a traditional textbook. According to Allen (2011), “Sometimes a new app comes out that sets the standard, and you know a whole genre of apps will follow. HMH Fuse textbooks are at that level. I believe this is the direction we’re headed with textbooks.” The librarian’s role is to keep up with this new technology, evaluate the students’ and school’s needs and, if appropriate, push for educational reform. These interactive textbooks are sure to be more engaging for our technology-generation students.
Apps for English Language Arts are plentiful and perhaps more adaptable to other disciplines. ELA and other discipline must-haves are the English Thesaurus app (Word Magic), the Dictionary.com – Dictionary & Thesaurus app, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app. A practical mechanics app is the Grammar Basics Lite app by iQuestionBanks, which covers 15+ grammar topics along with grammar questions prepared by seasoned English teachers. Progress percentages per topic are provided. This is at least a new, interactive spin on the dull process of learning grammar. Alternately, advanced high school students can witness and learn about the advantages of proofreading while studying groundbreaking historical manuscripts such as T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” through the Waste Land app by Touch Press. While studying the poem, students are able to pull up digitized copies of the original manuscript, complete with written annotations and improvements. The app also includes a video of the poem being performed, multiple recordings of the author reading the poem throughout his life and other famous narrators, and comments and footnotes on the poem’s allusions. Students will appreciate the effort that went into Eliot’s poem and be able to study primary documents from the comfort of their own classrooms or libraries. The Waste Land app can be interdisciplinary with projects such as biography writing using a Facebook profile or a research paper on the time period and how Eliot’s poem affected British and American culture.
Storybook apps are the new fad in elementary schools. Apps such as HarperCollins’ Freight Train by Donald Crews and Nosy Crow’s The Three Little Pigs app are new, interactive, animated ways to have story time. With each completion of the app, children learn something new by moving the animated characters, clicking them for new speech bubbles, reading the app themselves or listening to a narrator. Entertaining features like clicking the boxcars to see what’s inside and aiding the little pigs in building their houses are sure to delight. Librarians can set up reading stations with iPads around the library, allowing small groups of students to explore storybooks together. For older readers, some of Patrick Carman’s scary stories have been turned into apps! Tweens can enjoy reading the text of the 3:15 app story themselves, listening to a narrator, and / or watching a video conclusion of the story. The app now has nine stories adapted to app format. The book format for these stories was released by Scholastic on Halloween (Barack, 2011).
Patrick Carman’s apps are already being integrated into library activities. At The School at Columbia University, the primary grades librarian uses these apps with her iPad Book Club around Halloween. They are very successful. Students each have their own iPad to use during book club meetings, but they are allowed to read with a partner if they wish. The librarian has witnessed a few students, who are generally unenthusiastic about reading, psyched about the app. The boys were reading to each other and positively sprint-reading through stories to reach the end videos, which are very creepy. The librarian advises students who do not handle scary stories well not to attend these particular book club meetings lest they have nightmares!
iPad Book Clubs can be adapted for all ages, whether focusing on storybook apps for children, short story apps for middle and high school students, or book apps for everyone. Barnes and Noble’s Nook app allows iPad users to purchase Nook Books through the app and read them right on the iPad. Amazon’s Kindle app is the same. One book purchase can be downloaded onto multiple devices, too. Plus, no only are books for sale, but thousands of public domain books are available for free through these apps or sites like “The Gutenberg Project.” The librarian, or students, can facilitate or participate in virtual book clubs in the library or through the library website in blog or Blackboard format, if dictated by the librarian. Meeting in person is wonderful, but because of our digital world, meetings can take place online if preferred.
For further book exploration, new book creation apps have hit the market. September 15, 2011 marked the release of Dan Amos’s new app called Book Creator. Students, with the help of librarians, can write their own storybooks and create a storybook, which can be published on the iPad in PDF format and opened in iBooks. The text is easily translated into various languages, making projects with ESL students quick and easy. Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, a World Language teacher and a 21st Century Learning Specialist who has created books with her first grade classes in the past using more complex app programs, raves about Book Creator. She has already constructed one book for her niece and is in the process of collaboratively constructing another one with that same niece with German and Spanish translations (Tolisano, 2011). Book development is a creative indicator that students understand character development, plot sequence, moral lessons, etc.: all of the elements of a story. Students can even illustrate their books themselves by importing scanned images or other illustrations created on a computer. Graphic novels are engaging books to create, too. ToonPAINT (Toon-FX), ComicStrip CS (Sketch & Scotch), and Quickoffice Pro HD (Quickoffice, Inc.) apps are useful graphic novel generators, according to Nathan Stevens (2011), the Assistant Director of the Media Center at North Carolina State University. His wiki, teachwithyouripad.wikispaces.com, details step-by-step instructions for educators to compare and contrast these three graphic novel generators. Book creation projects are very versatile, encompassing Art, ELA, library resources and any other disciplines the instructor wishes, depending on the content of the book created.
Other apps are so versatile that any teacher or librarian, from any discipline, can use them as lesson tools. One such app, Sonic Pics Lite by Humble Daisy, Inc., was first built for the iPod Touch or iPhone, but works perfectly on the iPad. This is a podcasting app; it allows users to take a photo or import one and record voice over it. In the spring of 2011, The primary grades librarian at The School at Columbia University used the Sonic Pics Lite app to record students’ summer reading recommendations. Kindergarteners memorized a few sentences about their favorite books and recorded them from memory, but older students followed guidelines about title, author and context, writing out much more detailed recommendations before reading them aloud to be recorded. The librarian then uploaded these podcasts by grade and class to the library website where other students, teachers and parents could access students’ summer reading recommendations. These podcasts are an interesting record of students’ progress, a digital record of their past selves that they could have forever. The world is changing rapidly, and record projects like this are solid evidence of educational growth.
iPads have changed, and are still in the process of changing, instructional methods as we know them. The ability to foster cooperative learning, differentiated instruction and student-centered instruction while making learning memorable and catering to students’ special needs, all by using apps in the classroom and library, is astounding. Auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile learners are all able to learn in their preferred modes while also being exposed to other learning modalities. Inquiry is one of the buzz words in education, and apps facilitate inquiry into subjects that are not necessarily of interest to students, but also inquiry into current and newly discovered interests. Science, Math, Social Studies and ELA can easily cross paths with interactive apps and innovative lesson planning. The key is to have informed, responsible educators who make it their mission to attend professional development and constantly teach, evaluate, and re-design their curricula and instructional methods to provide the best education possible for their students.
Allen, L. (2011, June 21). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt math textbook iPad apps review. Retrieved from http://www.techpoweredmath.com/houghton-mifflin-harcourt-math-textbook-ipad-apps-review/.
Barack, L. (2011, March 22). Tech trends: Patrick Carman offers byte-sized ghost tales. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/home/889785-312/tech_trends_patrick_carman_offers.html.csp.
Denison, D. C. (2011, January 31). Apps in the classroom: Textbook publishers experiment with iPad-based lessons. Boston.com. Retrieved from http://articles.boston.com/2011-01-31/news/29341056_1_ipad-publishers-textbooks.
Norman, J. (2011, June 27). iPad apps for the classroom—Part 4. The iPad Fan. Retrieved from http://www.theipadfan.com/ipad-apps-classroom-part-4/.
Stevens, N. (2011). Creating a graphic Nnovel. Retrieved from http://teachwithyouripad.wikispaces.com/Creating+a+Graphic+Novel.
Tenkely, K. (2011, June 6). Virtual rat dissection app. Retrieved from http://www.ipadcurriculum.com.
Tenkely, K. (2011, March 4). Virtual frog dissection app. Retrieved from http://www.ipadcurriculum.com.
Tolisano, S. R. (2011, September 15). Finally, A Book Creator App! Retrieved from http://langwitches.org/blog/2011/09/15/finally-a-book-creator-app/.