5 Tips For Using Apps For Summer Learning

Hi folks! It’s our midsummer break for App Friday and our newsletter editor will be back next week (July 21st) with more family-friendly apps. Meanwhile, we thought we’d use the time to share tips about using apps for summer learning to help kids get ready for back to school. If you have more tips, feel free to share them in comments. Happy summer!

1. Organize apps on your device by educational category

Whether you subcategorize apps into folders, or dedicate screens for certain types of apps (i.e., math, science, language arts and creative expression), getting organized is a great way to take inventory of your educational content. How many apps do you have for math versus puzzles? Do you have old apps that kids have outgrown that can be deleted to make space for new apps? Take a few minutes to press, hold and shuffle those app icons into clear educational resources at your fingertips.

2. Set a consistent learning time routine

Set up a regular time for summer learning. Consistency and predictability helps ensure a smooth implementation for screen time because kids know what to expect and when to put down the device. What amount of app learning time sounds right for your family? Refer to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines or Common Sense Media for recommendations on screen time limits according to age.

3. Have kids show and tell what they’ve learned

Interaction and coplay are helpful to keep kids talking, expressive and engaged. Let kids demo the apps they are about to play. How does it work? Can I try it too? Have them show you how they solve the problems, or what they create. Or, hold a family contest for completing the “apptivity” – whatever it may be. Learning can be fun when families take an active role to be involved.

4. Use App Friday to find new apps

There are plenty of creatively themed educational apps to boost summer learning. Low on ideas for what to download? Browse the App Friday archives (our past blog posts and newsletters) for a variety of suggestions. Prefer email? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to view a new list of apps each week.

5. Request a promo code (to try an app for free) from the developers

Want to try an app and test it out before you purchase it? Approach the developer for a promo code. Let them know you’ll tell your friends or leave an iTunes review if you like the app. If they are a small company, they may really appreciate your word of mouth marketing. Most app makers have a contact email on their website, in their app store description, or can be reached through social media accounts. Get in touch – it never hurts to ask!

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps


How Library Tech Helps Boost Summer Reading

Welcome to long summer days and relaxing summer nights. Kids are decompressing from the school year and easing into a new, low key routine. Summer reading is a fulfilling and mellow pastime for the whole family, and having plenty of books around is key to keeping it going. I’d love to share how we use technology to boost our access to new (and free!) reading materials all summer long.

Increase Book Selections with Summer Reading Lists

At the beginning of summer I print out reading lists for each daughter. My favorite grade-level lists are provided by the Houston Area Independent Schools Library Network (HAISLN). I like these lists because they are accessible online, and contain at least a paragraph to describe each book. The descriptions are important for helping kids preview and select books of choice.

Local libraries may also have their own reading lists. For example, the teen section for Redwood City Library provides reading recommendations for each area high school, which are all available online.

Find Incentives with Summer Reading Challenges

Search “summer reading challenge” in your web browser to find national challenges (like the one hosted by Scholastic) or regional challenges from libraries. For older readers, the GoodReads social network has an annual reading goal program that can be used during the summer months. With a quick search we found the summer reading challenge for our local library, and I’ll bet yours has one too!

Access Books Freely and Easily with the Library Hold System

Physically taking a book list to the library and trying to find all of the books by hand can take a lot of time. Sometimes, your branch may not have the book or it may be checked out. To streamline, we use our library’s online catalog to place a hold on each title. This way, we receive notifications once the books arrive to the hold shelf. Using the hold system is an awesome way to stock up on a bunch of recommended books, for free!

Would you rather access the library catalog on mobile? That should be easy enough. Just check if your local library has an app, or add the library’s webpage to your home screen.

Once our summer reading is underway, visiting the library (and the treasures waiting on the hold shelf) becomes a real treat. If you are motivated to keep kids current on keyboarding or digital literacy skills, have them log books onto a Google Doc. Let them build a table with title, author, and date completed. Before long, the book list will grow, and peaceful readers will fill the home.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Spirit-Fire]

Shark Week Educational Apps for Kids

I’ve been a fan of Shark Week since it was first created as a TV programming series in the late 1980s to dispel myths about sharks. Its success enabled viewers all over the world to appreciate these awesome creatures as way more than just predators circling divers in a cage.

Although Shark Week has recently slid into sensationalism (which has appalled the scientific community because of fictitious and non-factual shows), the result of having a dedicated week to be reminded about the ocean’s wonders can serve as a positive benefit for environmental awareness.

Let’s continue the awareness by considering educational apps that are fun for young summer learners during Shark Week.

shark week
“Murky Reef” (critical thinking activities for elementary students in 1st and 2nd grade)
shark week
“Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island” (interactive book app)
shark week
“A to Sea” (alphabet app with sea creatures for early learners)
Shark Week
“A Shark Knocked on the Door” (animated storybook app in Spanish and English)

I curate apps by searching the Know What’s Inside App Discovery Center, reading Digital Storytime’s reviews, researching what’s new on the App Store, reading the App Friday newsletter, and from keeping in touch with the network of family-friendly app makers I’ve known throughout the years. If you have a favorite Shark Week app for kids, please let me know in comments, or tweet to me at @LorraineAkemann.

Happy Summer Learning!

Lorraine Akemann | Co-founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Matt Kowalczyk]

How Apps Show Curriculum Alignment

As teachers close out the 2015-2016 school year, no doubt they will be planning for 2016-2017 very soon. With digital literacy as a pillar for 21st century learning, using apps for educational purposes may continue to increase in popularity. How do we know which apps have curriculum alignment? The answer isn’t always obvious, but these developers have taken steps to explain how curriculum standards are integrated into their app’s content.

Let’s take a look at how these alignments are presented in case more developers are curious about mapping their app’s academic content to standards frameworks.

Bel Math Apps is a husband-wife development team who specialize in building math quizzes for elementary and middle school. They have outlined connections between each app and its associated common core alignment in this table:

curriculum alignment

Todo Math’s early learning curriculum and daily math practice supports common core alignment as shown by a table on their curriculum page. Each Todo Math Mission has an educational purpose that is also associated with academic standards.

curriculum alignment

Appp Media’s educational apps for young kids come with a Teacher’s Manual to illustrate in detail how apps can be used in learning settings. This manual is a downloadable PDF from their website and includes the curriculum standard behind several game objectives.

curriculum alignment

L’escapadou, a family-run design studio focused on educational apps for kids, posts detailed app descriptions on their website which include common core standards for each app.

curriculum alignment

Splash Math’s learning program has a web page dedicated to common core alignment, and dynamically segments their apps by grade, concept and topic to drill down to specific common core objectives.

curriculum alignment

Do you know teachers who consider using apps in the classroom based on curriculum alignment? Do you have a suggestion for how developers should display or validate their curriculum mapping? Feel free to discuss in comments!

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit Flickr [Brad Flickinger]

Environmental Education Comes To Life On Steam

At the annual AppFest event in San Francisco, I met Lindsey Tropf, CEO and game developer who is applying game based learning to environmental education in a game called Tyto Ecology. Although I’m mostly involved in the world of mobile apps, I was curious about this title because in addition to her iPad app, she also launched Tyto Ecology on Steam, which is a PC gaming environment.

What is Steam?

Steam is a digital distribution platform for PC games, which also offers multiplayer and social networking features for its community. It can be accessed at http://store.steampowered.com, and requires a software installation for Steam software and for any purchased games.

According to an article on GeekSquad, 70% of PC gaming since 2012 has been Steam powered. Instead of using a game console or CD/DVD, I’m starting to think of Steam as a gamer’s cloud, or a gaming environment that enables downloads, gaming and account management from a central online marketplace.

Tyto Ecology on Steam PC Gaming Platform

How do you play Tyto Ecology?

Tyto Ecology is about building and managing your own ecosystem. As the player, you can choose between desert, rainforest, and grassland habitats. These habitats, or biomes, have certain species like predators, prey, pollinators and decomposers which construct the game dynamics. Can you keep the mix in balance? Will the environment you create die or thrive? The process of constructing a sustainable environment represents how the game supports active problem solving.

The tools and information for managing environments are aligned with academic science standards. Every species added to the game has a data profile, along with data tools and statistics to manage the biome’s health.

Why pay attention to Immersed Games?

Tyto Ecology is made by Immersed Games, and I think it’s interesting to see their vision beyond this standalone game. Their goal is to build out Tyto Online, a massively multiplayer online game where players complete quests. These players would be Tyto Academy Students who are recruited to help scientists build life on a new planet. 

In my opinion, the concept of Tyto Academy sounds incredibly appealing to explore sustainable life on earth! Although my kids are not avid PC gamers, Tyto Ecology is a point of entry I would consider to build our experience with connected online games.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Adam Schweigert]

Do Computers Aid Learning?

This guest post is written by Garry Froehlich of Jellybean Tunes who publishes the weekly App Friday App Report. Garry addresses the latest findings from an international study analyzing the effects of technology in the classroom, and provides commentary about the results. Garry is also a long standing member of the Know What’s Inside program. 

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released more results from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), finding that more use of information and communication technology (ICT – they do love their acronyms) in schools does not improve reading or math scores on the PISA test for 15 year olds. The actual report runs 204 pages and has a lot of information, which the media is already spinning, but what are the actual results? From the report itself:

“Overall, the evidence from PISA, as well as from more rigorously designed evaluations, suggests that solely increasing access to computers for students, at home or at school, is unlikely to result in significant improvements in education outcomes.”

In many ways, “Do computers aid learning?” is the wrong question to ask. Technology is a tool like any other, so we shouldn’t expect that more computers equals better grades. The more important question is how to make effective use of the tools (technology) we have.

“The report leaves many questions unanswered. The impact of technology on education delivery remains sub-optimal, because we may overestimate the digital skills of both teachers and students, because of naïve policy design and implementation strategies, because of a poor understanding of pedagogy, or because of the generally poor quality of educational software and courseware. In fact, how many children would choose to play a computer game of the same quality as the software that finds its way into many classrooms around the world? Results suggest that the connections among students, computers and learning are neither simple nor hard-wired; and the real contributions ICT can make to teaching and learning have yet to be fully realised and exploited.”

“Last but not least, it is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too.”

The OECD concludes that a new approach is needed for the use of technology in schools.

Fortunately, these results are from 2012 and the changes are already happening. Teachers, companies, developers, and parents are all involved in the creation of new models and new ideas. Technology (or any new tool) is best used when it allows us to do things that were difficult or impossible to do before. They require us to take a step back and see what we are trying to accomplish, and then to decide how, or even if, to use the tools at our disposal (see also the SAMR Model ).

With computers, and especially mobile computers like phones and tablets, the benefits are going to come from the ability to easily communicate and collaborate, access information, monitor and provide feedback, and interact with problems in new ways. Ideas like the Global Read Aloud Project, collaboration and creation of a digital book with different grade levels and classes in different parts of the country, giving kids access to iPads to monitor and improve their reading, interacting with the forces that shape the earth, continually updated textbooks, learning math skills through games with immediate personalized feedback, and of course the numerous apps we feature every week are all enabled or improved in the right ways by technology.

It’s an exciting time.


Tools for Browsing Apps by Subject

I spent time researching app discovery tools over winter break. Here are a few sites that caught my attention:

AppoLearning website and mobile app


I like the large breakdown of categories on the AppoLearning website, to the point where you can find apps for specific areas like “current events” or “nutrition”. My only question is how often this resource is updated, because on the Human Body section they are missing TinyBop’s latest app. AppoLearning has crowd-sourced app lists in the Community Picks section: https://applists.appolearning.com/app_lists. Their mobile app is free, and available here: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id677855414?mt=8.

“Graphite” from Common Sense Media Education


Graphite enables app searches by curated “top lists”, age, subject and platform. While doing a few searches on the site, I really liked the user interface, but several times I found writing apps in the math area. Otherwise, what stands out is their effort to map apps to the Common Core standards. More information about the app mapping is available here: http://www.graphite.org/blog/5-ways-graphite-helps-teachers-implement-common-core-state-standards.

Edshelf Discovery Engine


Edshelf is a search and discovery platform for education tools. This includes apps, websites, and other electronic products. In addition to the ability to browse by subject and keyword, you can also search collections, or join the community to start your own collection. I initially heard of Edshelf through the Imagine K12 startup accelerator, and am glad to see their product offering coming along. Looks like all they need is a mobile app.

Kids’ App Sites, Blogs, Memberships, Newsletters & Promotions


Despite the research, I still find value in bloggers who turned their sites into helpful databases of apps and app reviews. This includes (but is not limited to) Appymall, Digital Storytime (along with their new Web App for searching apps), TeachersWithApps, The iMums, PappasAppar (Swedish), Best Apps for Kids, Best Kids Apps, and of course our very own Moms With Apps members, and weekly App Friday promotion (which now hosts the Jellybean Tunes App Report). In fact, both the App Friday Mobile App, and the App Report, categorize apps by subject to assist with app discovery.

For a quick sample of the “app conversation”, don’t forget Twitter

Scanning twitter hashtags such as #edchat, #ipaded, #edapp, #edapps, and #appfriday can highlight the latest app news and views on any given day.