Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Quest for Free Apps

As we continue to prepare to launch the iPads in the classroom with our fourth graders, I've been tasked with finding as many useful free apps as possible to load onto our iPads. Free is good. We like free. But free also means weeding through a lot of mediocrity to find the gems.

Let's start with "How NOT to find the great apps" (a.k.a. How I regretfully spent one half hour of my life...)

Just like when you go to the mall, there's a real temptation to browse and do some window shopping in the app store. The list of the "Top Free Apps" can be helpful, and you can break those lists down into smaller categories like education and productivity. Again, that's helpful. It's a good way to get started and get the basics, but we're piloting these iPads for Social Studies -- predominantly early US history and government topics -- and those topics aren't exactly rolling to the top of most people's "gotta get this app" list.

Highlights from this search include:
Productivity Apps
- Adobe Photoshop Express
- Calculator for iPad
- Doodle Buddy
- Dropbox
- Evernote
- Evernote Peek
- ShowMe Interactive
- Skype for iPad

News Apps
- CNN App for iPad
- Fox News for iPad
- NPR for iPad
- NYTimes for iPad
- USA Today for iPad

Reference Apps
- Google Earth
- HowStuffWorks

Book & Multimedia Apps
- BrainPOP Featured Movie
- iBooks
- PBS Kids Videos

- Spell the States

A reasonable start, but not great on the Social Studies content -- especially for the standards we're studying.

I decided to reach out to my friend, Google, and I did a couple of searches for social studies apps for the iPad. In doing so, I found one particularly great resource: Teach With Your iPad wiki - This wiki is a fantastic resource for anyone considering the use of iPads in education. It breaks down into specific content areas (e.g. Social Studies Apps), and it shares images of the icon, the title of the app, a brief description, and cost. In addition to steering me toward several great social studies apps, I also found a great visual that shows how to access Bloom's Taxonomy using different apps. There are many great app-finding resources on this page as well. It's really one stop shopping.

After about an hour and a half of effort, I was able to get 53 free apps downloaded. Few were social studies specific, but many were ones that I could see as being useful in the classroom for a variety of engaging projects. As we delve deeper into the pilot, we'll begin searching for more specific apps aligned to our social studies standards, and we'll begin to acquire more of the paid apps through volume licensing.

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