8 Indispensable iPad and iPod Apps for Elementary Education

Solar Walk: one of my 8 indispensable apps for education

Solar Walk: one of my 8 indispensable apps for education

If you’re like me, you might feel a little overwhelmed by the hundreds of apps you could be using your classroom. You might even feel guilty that you’re not up on the latest and greatest from the iTunes store. I sure felt this way, and then I realized that I already had over 150 apps on my school’s iPods and iPads… many of which I had rarely — if ever — used, and some of which just plain didn’t work.

So, in a bout of New Year’s cleaning, I culled through my collection and deleted everything that wasn’t worthy of my students’ time — or yours.

And here — drumroll, please — are all the apps that made the cut.

Not content to stop there, I whittled the list down further to just eight apps that would benefit almost all students in grades 2-4. Not passing fads, if these apps were physical books, I’d have to tape their spines to keep them from falling apart. I hope you find them as useful as I have.

#8 – Motion Math Zoom

Zoom to find the right scale and drop the number in the bubble onto the number line.

Zoom to find the right scale and drop the number in the bubble onto the number line.

With beautiful graphics and simple, intuitive mechanics, this is an excellent game for developing number sense and place value. The object of the game is to place numbers on the number line. Each number is sealed in a bubble. When you find its spot, you pop the bubble and release the number onto the number line below.

Early levels are simple and ask students simply to move the number line left or right to place their numbers.

Later levels include negative numbers, decimals, and fractions. Notice how an animal represents each order of magnitude. 0.05 is on the dust mite level!

Later levels include negative numbers, decimals, and fractions. Notice how an animal represents each order of magnitude. 0.05 is on the dust mite level!

The game gets more interesting in later levels, when the scale of the numbers changes dramatically, from 1 to 700 to 745 to 10,000, etc. To place these numbers, you have to zoom the number line in and out to change its scale. Animal illustrations give students a visual representation of each order of magnitude. The spaces between ones are represented by frogs, tens by dogs, hundreds by rhinoceros… ten thousands by brontosaurus.

More difficult levels require players to place not only positive integers  but also negative numbers, decimals, and fractions. Tip: have your students turn off the needle that pops your bubble early to eliminate the timed element of the game. Otherwise, the upper levels are too hard, at least for me!

(Also check out Motion Math HD, a sister app to practice fractions on a number line.)

#7 – Coin Math

Coin Math includes a variety of challenges, from coin identification to shopping and making change.

Coin Math includes a variety of challenges, from coin identification to shopping and making change.

There are probably a dozen good apps for counting coins, but of the ones I’ve used, this is the one I like best. Unlike most coin counting apps, this one offers different levels of difficulty, ranging from identifying coins to counting coins to paying for purchases to making change. With this one app, you can meet all of your students’ needs as you give them valuable practice with money.

#6 – Solids Elementary HD

You can read all about my love for Solids Elementary HD here. In short, it is an exceptional app for teaching students concepts about 3D geometry and the relationship between 2D and 3D shapes.

#5 – iMovie

iMovie makes podcasting really simple for young students. Click the ? to see these yellow labels, which explain all of its features.

iMovie makes podcasting really simple for young students. Click the question mark icon in the top left to see these yellow labels, which explain all of its features.

I was never a fan of using iMovie with young students until a colleague of mine showed me how she uses this app for podcasting. I used to use the Garage Band desktop app for podcasting, but iMovie on the iPad is even simpler and more intuitive.

In a future post, I’ll talk more about how I have students create podcasts, but this app makes it easy for them to record their voices and add jingles, sound effects, and pictures.

#4 – Qwiki

Qwiki turns Wikipedia articles, like this one about volcanoes, into movies.

Qwiki turns Wikipedia articles, like this one about volcanoes, into movies.

When young students need to do research, it can be difficult to find texts at their reading level. Qwiki helps to solve that problem by turning Wikipedia articles into cinematic productions. Qwiki reads the articles out loud while “playing” photos and videos like a documentary. Student can pause the article, take notes, and play it back as needed. Sometimes, the vocabulary used in Wikipedia articles is too difficult for students to understand, but this app still gives them access to a tremendous amount of information.

#3 – Solar Walk

Solar Walk allows you to explore the solar system, zooming and tilting 360°. My favorite part is this interactive feature comparing the sizes of the planets.

Solar Walk allows you to explore the solar system, zooming and tilting 360°. My favorite part is this interactive feature comparing the sizes of the planets and the sun.

Using this app is one of those magical experiences that shows you just how transformative a technology the iPad can be. Like it’s sister app, Star Walk, Solar Walk allows you to navigate 360° through space. You can explore the entire solar system, zooming in and out on planets and moons to uncover detailed information about each celestial body.

Solar Walk also features videos and interactive features about the solar system that even young students can access. My favorite feature allows you to compare the size of each planet with the sun. It brings the scale of astronomical objects to life in an awe-inspiring way.

#2 – Glow Doodle

One of the simplest and greatest tools for spelling practice.

One of the simplest and greatest tools for spelling practice.

This is such a simple app, but it is my — and my students’ — all-time favorite way to study spelling words. Glow Doodle is just a doodle program. You pick a color (in an array of neon shades) and draw on a black background with your fingertip. Once your drawing is finished, you hit the “Glow” button, and it glows like a neon sign.

I use this for that time-honored spelling activity, “Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check.” Students look at a spelling word, say it out loud, cover it, and then write it using Glow Doodle. As they write the word, I have them use a second color for the word’s special features. For instance, if we’re studying vowel teams, a student might write “beat” with a red “b” and “t” and with a blue “ea.” Or, you could have a red onset and a blue rime. Whatever your color scheme, this technique helps students visualize and remember the pattern.

Then, students check the spelling of their word, and if it’s correct, they make it glow.

And the #1 most-loved app in my classroom is (drumroll, please)…

#1 – The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

One of the beautiful scenes from "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore."

One of the beautiful scenes from “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.”

I don’t know how many times the kids in my class have read this book. Every day during independent reading, one or more of my students has iPad time and gets to read one of the interactive books on our iPads.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is their favorite. It’s a wonderful story about having a love of books, and the iPad app brings it to life as if it were an interactive Pixar movie.

There are many other delightful interactive books for the iPad. All students enjoy them, but they really work their magic on otherwise reluctant readers. Here are my favorites:

That’s my list. I hope you find it helpful, but what matters most is that you find apps that extend and enhance what you want to do in your classroom. I find many great apps through lists like this one, but I also find them through my own searches when my students have an unmet need. That’s how I found Solids Elementary, for example. I knew there had to be great apps for teaching students about 3D shapes. So I went on the hunt, and I was delighted to find that some brilliant app developer had seen and met that need.

So happy searching, and please let me know what you find!

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One thought on “8 Indispensable iPad and iPod Apps for Elementary Education

  1. Thanks so much for this list. Looking forward to sitting and playing with some of these soon. Qwiki looks fantastic!

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