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App, App, and Away... Creating a Class of Superheroes, Recording Artists, and Famous Athletes

by Julie D. Ramsay
October 24, 2012

In today’s world, the topic of using technology in the classroom can be intimidating. In this monthly column, join one teacher on a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners…moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning.

These days, we’re finding more and more webinars, workshops, articles, blogs, and discussions on the subjects of apps for the classroom. The conversation is everywhere. I must admit that when iPads were first released, I was not one of the teachers who immediately jumped on board. It seemed to me to primarily be a consumer-driven product. Meaning, our students would simply be consuming information instead of becoming producers. I think all of us can agree that a worksheet (or a textbook) on an iPad (even though it’s digital) is still just a worksheet. It doesn’t raise the thinking levels of our students. It doesn’t truly engage them any more or produce critical thinkers. Isn’t that what we want for all of our students—to problem solve, analyze, synthesize, and create something new to enhance the learning of others?

However, educators and app designers quickly saw the need to change the types of apps being designed in order to promote high-level thinking in students of all ages. Then we started to see apps that promoted students being producers of content and not solely consumers. This was when I purchased an iPad for my class. (Before you can say, “There’s no way I can afford that in my classroom,” I just want to remind you that there are all kinds of grants out there where you can get the funds to purchase one. I got a grant for ours. It is in use all the time in our classroom.)

I wanted to share with you three apps that can get you and your students started publishing with your iPad, using it to its fullest potential while fostering creativity and higher-level thinking. My fifth graders enjoy using each of these apps when publishing. Although each project can stand on its own, my learners design and create their projects and publish them as part of a larger project on other tools like Weebly, wikis, Prezi, Museum Box, or Voice Thread.

ComicBook! ($1.99 available on Apple or Android devices)

What student doesn’t love creating his/her own comic book? This app is extremely user friendly. The user has the ability to create their own comic book using photos taken on the device. My students enjoy creating their own images and then photographing them for their comic. The app provides the user with different filters for the photos to make them look like the artwork in comic books as well as adding borders, captions, stickers, and graphics within different layouts. The finished product can be saved as a JPEG (image) or PDF making it easy to embed into other tools. You can also share it through email, Twitter, or Facebook.

Although all of my students enjoy using ComicBook!, it is a tool that I have found particularly useful when working with my students who have English as a second language or who are struggling writers. Because it’s not text-heavy, they are able to reach a high level of success in telling a story or sharing an idea by using this app while building a strong foundation in writing and communicating ideas. Being able to create something that their audience will learn from and enjoy gives them the confidence and experience to successfully publish and tackle a more challenging project the next time.

Songify (free; available on Apple or Android devices)

I think every person, at some point in their lives, has imagined being able to perform music live, whether we try out for America Idol or sing into our hairbrushes. We can ignite that feeling for our students with Songify, even if they struggle with carrying a tune. In Songify, the user can record their normal speaking voice and then select the beat or sound that they want. Then the app auto-tunes it and creates a song for them to share with the world.

We discovered this app when my student, Kearston (see last month’s column), decided she wanted to take a poem that she had written as part of her Scientific Method project. Her poem was beautiful, but she expressed to me that she wanted it to be extra special … “you know, like a song.” At that time, we didn’t have an iPad, but I had found this app on my iPhone and downloaded it. She went into the hallway and within a matter of a few minutes had published her song. Everyone was sure that her song was destined to become a top 40 hit. Until that time, my writers began publishing different writing projects in this format. One student loved it so much, he brought in an iTunes gift card and bought the additional soundtracks for the class to enjoy. Now all of my students can become recording artists by writing and recording with Songify.

ReadWriteThink Trading Cards (free; available for iPad)

In addition to becoming a superhero or a world famous recording artist, many of our students dream of becoming famous athletes. Trading cards speak directly to that interest. Much like the ComicBook app, this provides users with the opportunity to create a project that it not text-heavy, but still displays an interesting way to share information. They learn the power of summarizing and selecting the most important thing to write within their limited space.

This week my students were exploring cells. They used the trading cards to create different parts of the cell. This gave them the opportunity to explore a topic from a different perspective, synthesize what they knew, and create something new to share with their peers. With RWT’s Trading Cards, students can use existing photos, or take new ones. My students chose to draw their images and then photograph them. Once they completed their cards, we saved it as a photo and then uploaded it to our class’ science wiki, but students can send them through email or print them. One of my learners commented that it would be cool to be able to embed it into another tool so that you could still have the flipping animation to see both sides instead of just a photo. They are already formulating some ideas of different ways they can put this app to good use.

When you think about using your iPad (or tablet) in your classroom, ask yourself whether or not an app gives your students the ability to reach beyond being consumers and promote them being producers of high quality content. Each of these apps has applications across content areas and age levels. Their imagination is free to explore and publish. Until our students become a superhero, recording artist, or famous athlete, with these apps, we can tap into our learners’ interests while promoting a unique way for them to create and publish their writing.

Looking at these apps, many of us probably already had our students creating some of these activities on paper. But, with technology, we can differentiate the writing instruction to meet their needs and they can now produce, edit, and share their writing with a larger audience much quicker, leaving them time to focus on their next great publishing adventure.

Julie D. Ramsay is a Nationally Board Certified educator, a fifth grade teacher in a student-driven classroom, and the author of “CAN WE SKIP LUNCH AND KEEP WRITING?”: COLLABORATING IN CLASS & ONLINE, GRADES 3-8 (Stenhouse, 2011). She travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at juliedramsay.blogspot.com.

© 2012 Julie D. Ramsay. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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