How Does Auburn Select Apps?

Ever since we started Advantage 2014, our primary grades literacy and math initiative that includes 1to1 iPads in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, we’ve had educators and parents ask us what apps we’re using. (We have an apps page on our web site with 2 links, one to just our list of “district recommended” apps and one with the correlation of those apps to our curriculum – at least for one academic area…)

But occasionally, I’ll be asked how we select our apps.

For the most part, teachers guide our selection.

Teachers are free to use what ever apps they would like (especially free ones), but they are responsible for organizing their app library and syncing the devices in their classroom. This, by itself, eventually leads to teachers being more selective about which (and how many) apps they use! (One kindergarten teacher spent a couple weeks taking home a few iPads each night to spend the evening deleting the couple hundred apps she no longer wanted on the iPads!). 🙂

In general, we made “educational resource selection” part of our professional development. We didn’t want app selection to be some centralized function, and we wanted teachers to get good (and deliberate) about how they selected the resources they used with their students (which never happens if “someone else” is responsible for deciding which resources are ok for teachers to use). In a post about our professional development, I referred to our it as using a Constructivist approach:

As we thought about designing PD for our teachers, we didn’t want to just hand teachers information or resources; for example, we didn’t just want to hand them “approved” apps. We wanted teachers to have an intimate understanding of various components of the initiative they were on the front lines of implementing, including app (educational resource) selection. We decided to take a constructivist approach. For example, we had our teachers start by simply exploring apps. They had a limited budget for apps, but could also download as many free apps as they wanted. Then teachers made recommendations for apps that they thought would be the “core collection” of apps, those apps the district would purchase for every classroom. We would give teachers two similar apps and ask, “which one’s better?” to get them thinking about criteria for app selection; this eventually was developed into a rubric. Finally, we correlated apps to our kindergarten curriculum. The constructivist approach insures a deeper understanding based on their own experience.

We decided we didn’t like the term “district approved” apps, and now refer to them as “district recommended” apps.

Also, with teacher input, we revised our app selection rubric a couple times. Then we came across Tony Vincent’s work with iPads and his fabulous resources. We now use his rubric, since we think it captures our thinking about app selection better than we did. (Here are some other recommendations by Tony Vincent on how to evaluate/select apps.) Now, when a teacher requests that an app be installed on all the classroom iPads, we start by asking how it faired against Tony Vincent’s rubric.

In all cases, we tried to focus app selection (and teacher practice with iPads) on our goals for the program. From our PD post:

Content of Professional Development – All of our PD and training has focused on a couple of topics. We wanted to expand our teachers’ skill at applying literacy best practice, and to insure that our teachers and specialists working with kindergarten students had the capacity to select and apply appropriate apps directly toward student academic needs, as well as how to manage the iPads and work within the unique demands of this initiative.

Through our professional development, we also worked with teachers to create expectations for iPad use in the classrooms (which further helped us with app selection):

iPad Use – Minimum Requirements

  • iPads are used daily during centers.
  • iPads are used daily during whole group and/or small group instruction.
  • iPads are used as an intervention tool with below benchmark students.
  • iPad apps reviewed by the district are used.

This year, recognizing that we need to address both instruction for low-level thinking and higher-level thinking, we have some teachers exploring “Using iPads for Projects, Problem-Solving, and Creating.” So even with new explorations, we are working to link app selection to the best practices.

I haven’t really talked about how we pay for apps (mostly district volume purchase program vouchers, and iTunes cards purchased by various groups), and I recognize that budget does have an impact on app selection, and when a district purchase is involved, we involve the Tech Director in the decision (or the Special Ed Director, if it is a Special Education related purchase). But as much as possible, we try to give the teachers the lion’s share of the say in what apps we get. Leadership’s job isn’t to tell them which apps are ok to use or what best practice is, but rather to support their individual and collaborative work toward becoming their own experts in best practice and educational resource selection.

About Mike Muir

I'm an educator interested in collaborating with other educators on engaging all learners, proficiency-based learning, technology's role in learning, and leadership for school change.
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