Apps for the language arts classroom

I have owned my iPad for about three months now and have amassed quite a few apps. I thought I’d share with you the ones that I think could be useful in a language arts classroom. Instead of spending $100 per textbook, buy a $199 iPod Touch (or $100 for older models) for each student that you can use for all of your classes across any discipline. In my classroom I have journalism textbooks from 1993, back when the Internet was a nifty idea. Needless to say the books don’t address the news media literacy needs of a 21st century student.

Popplet Lite — free, iPad only — Mind-mapping tool for the iPad. You can upgrade to a better version for $8.99. There is also WhiteBoard HD and MindNode, both on the iPad for $5.99, but I haven’t tested those.

iBrainstorm — free, iPad only — Uses stickies and a drawing feature that allows you to create notes and/or mind maps, but you have to draw your arrows, links, etc. You can also send e-mails of your creations or save them to your Photos on your iPad.

Free Books — iPad version is free, iPod version is $1.99 — Copyright-free books are available here with many classics available with the flip of a finger. I also have Apple’s iBook, but you have to pay some bucks if you want books. The iBook version does have a built-in dictionary/thesaurus available, where you touch a word and you can look it up.

Stanza — free, iPad/iPod — A book eReader that offers customization of fonts and book collections. Provides dictionary, highlighting, and sharing. Many free books here and some that are not. Considered by Time Magazine, NYT, Wired, and Forbes to be a must-have app.

Wattpad — free, iPad/iPod — They boast 100,000 free titles, including many classics. I would be wary of many of their other titles, however, as they look like random authors, You Tube style.

Shakespeare — free, iPad/iPod — They have 40 plays by the great playwright. They have a pro edition that includes more features for $9.99. Listed on iPad are about a dozen apps for old Will, but you have to pay for them.

iTunes U — free, iPad/iPod — not an app, but you can access free material from your iTunes app. Find lessons and videos on every subject.

WGBH Poetry — free, iPod — Listen to and watch accomplished authors discuss poetry and read their work.

Poetry Jam — free, iPad — I’m listing this here to warn you to avoid this one until a more appropriate, classroom version can be created; it’s a social poetry writing app, where anyone can write lines with others and vote for them. Unfortunately, there are folks with a limited IQ and the vocabulary of a sailor/infant typing trash. In a classroom environment, however, and with a well-focused activity, this app could be wonderful.

StoryKit — free, iPod only — Create your own electronic storybooks. I’m waiting for an iPad version to test this out.

Dream Filmmaker — $7.99, iPod — Says it’s compatible with the iPad, but I’m waiting for an official iPad version before testing this one. However, it looks amazing, with the ability to design posters and create complex storyboards complete with scene setters and stage directions.

GoodReader — 99 cents, iPad/iPod — Why not go for broke and call it GreatReader or AwesomeReader? Whatever you want to call it, this program allows users to read PDF files and allows for file transfers and use of a VGA adapter.

Voice Memos — free, iPad — The iPad does not come with a free voice recorder like the iPod Touch does, so you need to download one. The recorder is great for students who want to practice their reading fluency or record their critique of a novel.

iTalk Recorder — free, iPod only — Students can record their musings and broadcast them in a podcast.

Now Hear This — free, iPad/iPod — Another free podcast creator. The $1.99 version boasts a 30-minute recording duration, no ads, and more built-in sound effects.

Apps that are great for journalism

I’m super pleased with the apps that are geared toward news and information gathering, with more and more papers developing apps for their publications. If your school can’t afford iPads, an iPod Touch cart would be well worth the investment for journalism classes, especially since most newspapers are no longer offering print versions of their publications to schools for free.

AP News — free, iPad, AP Mobile, free, iPod — Dozens of stories are available every day, and they also have beautiful pictures and news clips on the iPad version with the ability to send stories to your e-mail, FaceBook, and Twitter.

USA Today — free, iPad/iPod — The national newspaper has a free version available.

The Daily — subscription, iPad only — One of the first of hopefully many newspapers with an interactive format that includes a 3D carousel of pages as well as video/audio segments and information graphics.

Thompson-Reuters News Pro — free, iPad/iPod — A news wire service filled with excellent articles.

Guardian Eyewitness — free, iPad — Beautiful photography here and little hints as to how the photographer got the great shot.

Editor’s Choice — free, iPad only — The New York Times delivers its top picks of the day in a sleek, old-school newspaper style.

NPR for iPad — free, NPR News, free, iPod — Listen to news stories, art and music features, and programs.

Fluent News, Newsy — free, iPad/iPod — These are apps that pull news from other Web sites such as the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, ABC News, CBS News, Washington Post, CNN, BBC, and MSNBC. The app lists the stories and pulls them into sections, and users can also perform a search for news.

ABC News for iPad — free — Another app with a 3D interface and compelling video news coverage.

Wired — $3.99 per issue, iPad only — Some magazines are jumping into the iPad app market, and Wired seems to be the most logical choice to be an early front-runner. Because of the cost, magazine apps might be more suitable for a set of iPads in the school library that are available for checkout. I’m hoping they incorporate more interactive features into their app.

Flipboard — free, iPad only — This is a social magazine that pulls your Twitter and Facebook feeds and transforms them into a digital magazine. Users also have the option of pulling news and feature feeds from other sources, which makes this app cool and customizable.

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Apps for the science classroom

Why would Google direct you, Mr./Ms. Science Teacher, to a language arts site when you searched for science apps? Because I am a closet math/science fanatic, that’s why! I probably have more science-related apps on my iPad than any other type because they are super cool.

The Elements — $13.99, iPad only — This is the coolest periodic table I have ever seen. The elements are shown in 3D and can be rotated by a flip of your finger. The app’s author wrote fun bios for each element and provides more 3D products that contain the element. It’s the priciest app I own, but it’s a million atoms better than a flimsy chart on a wall, I can tell you that. And while I’m at it can I also recommend The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! by Simon Basher and Adrian Dingle? From a language arts standpoint this is an entertaining read where each element is personified. If you want a free, yet mildly entertaining periodic table app, check out The Elementals by the Angry Robot Zombie Factory company (props for the funky company name).

Wolfram Alpha — $1.99, iPad, iPhone — Ask a question and you can receive data on geography, math, chemistry…data that can be used to draw conclusions and compare products. This app also works inside The Elements app to bring viewers the atomic weight, melting/boiling points, material and electromagnetic properties, and other data.

iQuakeLite — free, iPad — This app gives you the location and strength of every earthquake around the globe. Imagine asking your students to analyze which areas are most active and why.

Stars — free, iPad — One of many apps that allows you to look at constellations in the night’s sky. Also free with a different setup is GoSkyWatch PlanetariumStar Walk for iPad is $4.99 but is a more comprehensive, interactive astronomy guide. A popular astronomy app is Pocket Universe: Virtual Sky Astronomy for $2.99.

Nature HG — free, iPad — If you want to learn more about the Human Genome Project, this app provides graphics and articles discussing the project at the 10-year point.

Popular Science — $4.99, iPad — Popular Science magazine has released an interactive app version of its magazine, and the price is per issue. The price is a bit steep, but if a few copies could be kept on one iPad or in the school library, it might be worth it.

Science Glossary — free, iPad/iPod — Just as the name implies, it includes a glossary of scientific terms and information about scientists.

The Weather Channel — free, iPad — Pull up any region and you will find the weather and radar. WeatherBug is another free app that provides up-to-date weather data.

3D Cell Simulation and Stain Tool — free, iPad — Learn about cells by touching them and rotating them.

3D Brain — free, iPad — Touch this brain and rotate it to learn about how the brain functions.

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Take a dip in the technology pool

If 5-foot-tall Edward Leedskalnin can carve and move these object weighing tons, then anything is possible.

How much technology should I integrate into my lessons? That’s a question many teachers are asking themselves. I want to help my fellow language arts teachers move into the digital age of teaching. Are English teachers using online forums? Are they requiring multimedia presentations as alternative assessments? Do teachers know what technology is available to them?

I break technology usage into two types: active and passive. By passive, I’m referring to when a teacher does things such as play a song, show a movie, or use the digital projector to beam up Web sites on a glistening whiteboard; the teacher is using electronic media to deliver content.

Active usage, however, is when students use the technology to learn/analyze material or demonstrate mastery such as creating a character web using Inspiration, creating a PowerPoint presentation analyzing an artistic movement, or assembling an iMovie trailer for a novel they read. In other words, the student is using electronic media to deliver content.

Chop a Trail through the Jungle

Teachers who choose to test out new software, social networking sites, collaborative learning sites, etc. are the trailblazers. They realize that the old way of teaching just doesn’t work and are willing to try a new way of doing something while still maintaining their best practices.

New research shows that our students, “digital natives,” have different ways of processing information in the brain. That’s thanks to the constant bombardment by TV, movies, the Internet, video games, music, and cell phones. Kids have never known a world without these things, and they spend about 8 hours a day with the stuff. Hours of exposure to anything (sun=skin cancer) is bound to have an effect on the body; technology is no exception. We “digital immigrants” have difficulty conceiving of this concept and continue to teach the same way we always have with poor results.

So who is the remedial bunch? Let’s see some hands in the air! If you think you don’t have time to bother with the cornucopia of techie tools, you are doing a disservice to children who by the time they graduate high school are expected to be tech-savvy, productive citizens.

If you are reading this post, I’m guessing I’m probably standing on a soapbox in front of the wrong group of people. If so, then take some of this material on the road, and spread the word!

How do you clear your cluttered brain for some new input? How do you overcome your fear of infusing your classroom activities with technology? Start with one or two pieces of active technology such as creating an online forum for students’ comments or teaching students to use a Web-based graphic organizer.

Step 1: Learn what’s out there (check out my Free Technology links) and learn to use the technology either by A, asking someone else how to use it, or B, teaching yourself how to use it through trial and error. If neither of these options appeal to you, check with your school district to see if you have free access to Atomic Learning, which is a paid site that provides videos and tutorials on how to operate various software; otherwise, a yearlong subscription will run you about $100. Your district also might offer workshops on programs it has available, but sign up early as they often fill up the day they are offered.

Step 2: Ask yourself and your peers how you could use technology to generate active learning. This is the hard part if you are not a creative lesson planner. I recommend going to Jim Burke’s Ning (a social networking site), the English Companion, and asking questions on the group forum Teaching with Technology. Create activities, active and passive ones, using the technology. If you like to be in control at all times, then devising active activities might be too much for you at the start.

Step 3: Become proficient enough to teach the students how to use the technology before you grade them on their products. Or have a tech-savvy kid teach the class how to use the technology. Incorporate usage of the technology into your assessments.

Step 4: Have fun experimenting and know it’s OK to make mistakes. Technology isn’t perfect, and neither are we, so don’t feel terrible if your activities need tweaking!

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Resources for teachers

Welcome teachers! I’ll be posting useful Web resources here as well as provide you with lesson plans and materials. Please be patient with me, as I’m learning how to utilize Word Press to provide you with the best possible resources. I might even throw in some commentary here and there…

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