Despite technology’s onward march, the fundamentals of teaching have remained relatively unchanged. Sure, phones are smarter and software is freakishly advanced, but the role of a well-informed, caring adult is more important than ever — someone who connects to the student on a human level, shepherding the often overwhelming path to subject comprehension.
In light of this, the mere notion of altering tried-and-true methods of teaching is met with skepticism, even outright hostility by many lifelong educators. Be that as it may, turning a blind eye to the unprecedented needs of digital natives benefits no one. We are, after all, talking about children that learn to use mobile apps before tying their own shoelaces.
Quality educational technology seeks to enhance, not obliterate, the role of teachers. Indeed, having an engaged classroom is half the battle, and the apps listed below assist brilliantly in accomplishing just that.
Ever learn something cool and feel like announcing it to the whole world? You could tweet about it, but good luck getting noticed next to kitten antics and cliche romantic memes. Tappestry is an intuitive social network designed specifically for sharing these “eureka!” moments. It’s the first app to ever run Tin Can, an exciting new API used to record and aggregate all forms of learning, especially the kind that is had outside of a classroom or lecture hall.
Why is this app effective? As social mammals, we’re hard-wired to cooperate, brag, and compare ourselves to others. Corporate superpowers have been built by catering to this instinctual drive, so it only makes sense to leverage it towards intellectual pursuits. For example, let’s say you set up an exercise where students are divided into teams and offered extra credit to uncover interesting facts on a given subject. In this situation, Tappestry would offer the perfect platform. Not only would it allow them to instantly share their research, but it would also capitalize on their highly refined social media skills, providing a great opportunity to interact with their peers in a productive way.
Despite being primarily geared towards organizations wishing to assess and organize the personal knowledge of employees, its underlying technology possesses vast potential for teachers looking to increase engagement. Granted, setting up a private feed for each class is a must, as the public ones are currently ghost towns. Regardless, the platform itself definitely warrants exploration.
As someone who was raised by the internet, I can attest firsthand to how easy it is to take information for granted. Even the most detailed, organized notes all too often become unbearably cumbersome, with words blending together in a dizzying, incoherent mess. Of course, recollection kicks in after some coffee, concentration and a few visits to Google. Nonetheless, knowing a word can be jotted down and searched for later leads to more than just sloppy note-taking. From my experience, it increases the likelihood of important contextual details getting lost in translation.
Enter Coggle, a mind mapping app that seeks to liberate students from the rigidity plaguing traditional notebooks, and to a lesser extent, popular software like Evernote and Microsoft Word.
While mind mapping is far from new, it remains an alien concept to even seasoned educators and students. First popularized in the 1970s, it is a method of outlining that seeks to take an organic approach. Instead of organizing data as words on a line, each topic is allowed to branch out into a tree of ideas and information, with the relationship between each limb apparent after just a quick glance. Research has consistently shown the effectiveness of this method at increasing memory, with a study by the University of Texas revealing it to have an 80% favorability rating amongst students.
Coggle expands on mind mapping to great effect, utilizing the power of mobile devices to enhance the usability and aesthetic appeal of the entire process. But more than this, Coggle shines when it comes to creating a fluid platform for collaborative thought. Students can, for instance, take notes on a complicated chemical reaction in an intuitive, visual manner that instantly communicates the reaction of the chain. Alternatively, this is a great tool for breathing more imagination into otherwise staid brainstorming sessions (e.g. for a history project). Coggle can be accessed free of charge straight through your browser, and its colorful, user-friendly nature guarantees children will feel right at home.
Unfortunately, quite a few students experience cognitive dissonance when it comes to history. Yes, they understand the significance of certain people, places and events. However, they have difficulty connecting it to their own lives. History Pin alleviates this by breathing life into the past, and more importantly, demonstrating just how intertwined it is to the present. By the name alone, it’s easy to assume History Pin is merely a history-centric Pinterest clone. In all honesty, that would be doing it a great injustice.
Working in partnership with Google, History Pin allows users to not only become engaged with a wealth of historical lore, but to also actively participate in creating it themselves. Say, for instance, a student takes a summer vacation to Paris. As they stroll through Parisian streets and witness the unique sights and sounds, they can instantly view how their exact location appeared a century prior.
Now, let’s say, they come across a fire-eating mime. Using their phone, they can record that moment in time and pin it for future generations of tourists to marvel at. This works wonderfully at a local level as well. No matter how small or remote a student’s hometown may be, odds are a wealth of exciting memories are waiting to be discovered and created.
The universe: a majestic, eternally humbling reminder of all we still have yet to learn. Refreshingly, space exploration is once again witnessing a resurgence of interest. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the Curiosity rover has successfully landed on Mars, revealing evidence of ancient lakes, and even prompting NASA to seriously consider a manned voyage to the mysterious red planet Truth be told, there’s never been a more exciting time to study astronomy. All of this is welcomed news, considering many argue the very fate of our species rests in our ability to understand the cosmos.
Pocket Universe is an award-winning app that acts as a student’s own personal planetarium. Users are led along a space odyssey as advanced cosmological principles are simplified and explained, all while competing against other planetary voyagers from around the globe. An augmented, virtual walk along the surface of Mars, for instance, is just one of a multitude of features that set Pocket Universe high above the competition. A free demo exists for Apple and Android, and at a price of just $2.99, the premium app is worth every penny.
From our bodies to the entertainment we consume, our lives are ruled by code. Most of us, however, assume it takes a special breed of individual to develop even the most basic mobile application. A fair assumption, considering the meticulous attention to detail required to excel at computer science. Notwithstanding, you don’t have to be a math whiz or a coding Beethoven to develop a worthwhile app. In fact, the MIT App Inventor makes it possible for a 12-year-old novice to have one up and running in minutes.
Spawning from Professor Hal Alberton’s sabbatical at Google, the MIT App Inventor brings coding to the masses — a pretty tall order, as even basic HTML is capable of giving most people a headache. For this very reason, the app designers take a unique block-based approach to programming. Instead of using complex scripting languages, the user pieces together their app as if it were a puzzle. Although only in its infancy, the results of this method have already proven astounding.
Boasting 4 million created apps and an active weekly user base of over 85,000 international programmers, MIT’s App Inventor has cultivated a thriving community centered around creativity and innovation. In fact, there is no shortage of tutorials and resources available for novices of all ages. Even better, quite a few high-profile app creation contests exist for students looking to put their school on the map. Take, for example, Mustafa Muhyi.
Hailing from Las Cruces, New Mexico, this 8th-grade student is enjoying the spotlight after being invited to showcase his app at the annual MIT App Inventor summit. When asked about the inspiration for his health application, Mustafa said “A student doesn’t just want to sit in a room and hear a lecture. They want to have fun like riding a bike or playing games.” Wise words, and in essence, that’s exactly what MIT’s App Inventor does — it puts students in the driver’s seat and gives them an opportunity to create something they can be proud of. Honestly, education doesn’t get more effective than that.
For the first time in the history of civilization, knowledge is free and easily attainable. According to the 2014 Horizon Report, this fact ensures the education sector will continue to evolve. As such, it’s important that we ensure embracing technology in the classroom doesn’t mean “buying a bunch of iPads and using them as glorified eReaders.” Instead of simply repackaging outdated pedagogy with a tech twist, the apps above serve to facilitate personalized teaching and learning. That, in my humble opinion, is the future of educational technology.