Recommended apps and other technology-based tools
by Susan Brooks-Young
Over the last several months, I’ve received multiple requests for recommendations of apps and other technology-based tools that teach or review Common Core State Standards (CCSS) skills.
The email read, “Looking for apps that allow students to practice basic common core skills in English/language arts and mathematics.” Over the last several months, I’ve received multiple requests for recommendations of apps and other technology-based tools that teach or review Common Core State Standards (CCSS) skills. I’m doubtful that this is what the developers of CCSS had in mind when they decided to include references to use of technology as a way to demonstrate student understanding of content. In fact, my understanding is that when implementing the common core, students are expected to use various technologies as they employ skills in critical thinking or collaboration. But requests for technology solutions grounded in rote learning continue to roll in.
Now that a majority of states are rolling out CCSS implementations, it seems a good time to review the Common Core State Standards initiative and explore ways technology can be used to support instruction. This column addresses three questions:
- What are Common Core State Standards, and how do they impact non-public schools?
- Where does technology fit into common core instruction?
- What apps and tools can be used to support the common core effectively?
Some readers may wonder about assessment for CCSS. It is a big piece of implementation—too large to be covered in this column. So I’ll be sticking to the instructional side of the questions.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS): An Overview The Common Core State Standards establish academic expectations for K-12 students in English/language arts (ELA) and mathematics. Developed through an initiative led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the standards are the work of teachers, parents, administrators, researchers, and content area experts. Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and Department of Defense schools have adopted the common core in its entirety. One state, Minnesota, has adopted just the ELA portion of the standards.
Implementation of CCSS is a state-driven effort, so timelines vary from one state to the next. Some began introducing the new standards into classrooms as early as 2011 while at least one state is waiting until the 2015-16 school year to get started. The majority of states are implementing CCSS in 2013-14.
Non-public schools are not required to adopt CCSS; however, more than 100 Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States have made the decision to do so. The Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative is a national effort designed to support implementation of the standards within the context of a Catholic-school curriculum. If you are not familiar with the work of this group, visit catholicschoolstandards.org to learn about it. Other non-public schools throughout the country, both religious and secular, are embracing CCSS as well, either fully or in part.
The mission statement posted on the Common Core State Standards Initiative site (corestandards
.org) explains that the purpose of the project is to provide one set of clear standards that will help educators, parents, and students understand K-12 academic expectations for students. Furthermore, the FAQ section states, “The standards establish what students need to learn, but they do not dictate how teachers should teach. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.” On the surface, it appears that educators have a great deal of autonomy in implementation of the common core; but there are some concerns.
For example, CCSS implementation is supposed to be voluntary, but states that did not adopt the standards are not eligible to apply for federal Race to the Top funding. CCSS also prescribes the percentage of time students should spend reading informational text versus literature, a decision many educators believe should be determined by them, not by a standards framework. At this point, it’s impossible to know for certain what impact the common core will have on our students. Wise educators will carefully monitor implementation and make corrections as needed, when needed.
CCSS and Technology
The Common Core State Standards stress the importance of student competency in critical thinking, communication, and collaboration, as well as mastery of core academic skills. In addition, an intriguing aspect of the common core comes in the form of references to media and technology literacy which are woven throughout the standards along with suggestions for technology-supported activities or products. The upshot is that these standards appear to be well-aligned with both the Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ Framework for 21st Century Skills (goo.gl/2FIpW) and ISTE’s technology standards for students (goo.gl/Um8Nh). In fact, educators may want to reference both of these documents (use the links provided above) as they plan ways students will use technology to support literacy and critical thinking while working to meet the common core standards.
Technology Tools that Support CCSS
Accepting the premise that the common core endorses use of technology that goes far beyond introducing basic skills or promoting rote learning exercises, what kinds of resources should educators look for to support communication, collaboration, and creativity? The good news is that many teachers are already using technology that supports student work requiring use of these skills. They may need to adjust existing activities to align with the new standards, but they do not need to start over from scratch.
Teachers who have not made use of technology for these purposes definitely must move in this direction now, but they will find it’s much easier to find appropriate tools today than it may have been in the past. If your students use desktop computers, laptops, or other devices that can access the internet and run most websites, then look for web-based tools which allow them to contact one another, work simultaneously on projects, and create rather than consume products.
- Google Drive (drive.google.com): Students and teachers use this free suite of web-based applications to create files that include documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings. Students and teachers can not only share files with one another, but they can work on them simultaneously. A great tool for communicating and collaborating.
- Kidblog (kidblog.org): A free blog host designed for K-12 classroom use. Easy interface allows teachers to sign up all their students in minutes. Kidblog is completely compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
- Animoto (animoto.com): Classroom teachers are eligible to apply for a free Animoto Plus account for students to use to create multimedia projects and digital stories. Use Animoto to create video presentations using photos, video, text, and music.
- My Ebook Maker (myebookmaker.com): This free web-based tool makes it easy for students to publish their own e-books. Once they have accounts, students can create and download as many e-books as they like. The files are in epub format and can be distributed through most e-book stores.
- Diigo (diigo.com): Diigo is a social bookmarking tool that supports web annotations and collaborative research. Teachers and students use Diigo to curate lists of links that can be shared along with personal notes.
Students whose primary technology use relies on tablets or other touch devices are also well-situated to use these devices for communication, collaboration, and creativity. A couple of the tools recommended above work on tablets, too. An app version of Animoto is available for the iPad and Android tablets, and Diigo is optimized for use on mobile devices.
But don’t stop there, and don’t limit your exploration to apps that address discrete basic skills in ELA or mathematics. App stores for iOS, Android, and even Windows 8 devices are chock-full of free and low-cost apps that students can use to work together creatively. In addition to the Education category, many useful apps are found in sections of the stores including Productivity, Photography, or Utilities. Here are a few examples.
- Dropbox (dropbox.com) or Box (app.box.com): File storage and exchange can present challenges. Cloud storage sites like Dropbox and Box offer free basic accounts students and teachers can use to save and share all sorts of files created or edited on tablet devices. Works on Android, iOS, and
- Camera: A camera app is preinstalled on any Android, iOS, or Windows 8 tablet that has one or dual cameras. This app can be the basis for a wide range of creative, collaborative projects using still photographs or videos.
- Visual Ranking Tool (goo.gl/d7OjG): A free tool developed by Intel, it allows students to work in small groups to order and prioritize items in a list. Great for designing projects and learning how to work collaboratively to reach consensus. Available for Android, iOS, and Windows 8.
- CloudOn (site.cloudon.com): CloudOn is a free suite of applications including word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. File storage is provided through Dropbox, Box, and other options. An app is available for Android and iOS.
- Book Creator for iPad (goo.gl/eWXor): Although available just for iPad, Book Creator is a great way for students to write and publish e-books. The cost is $4.99.
- Explain Everything (goo.gl/qBH7x): This iOS-only app provides a whiteboard where users can record screencasts of the iPad screen. Import images, video, and files to use as backgrounds or to annotate during the recording. Many additional features make this $2.99 app well worth the price.
More use of technology in classrooms increases the likelihood that there will be misuse of the technology at some point. To neutralize this situation as much as possible when it does occur, teachers should spend time providing both direct and indirect instruction in digital citizenship, which falls under the larger umbrella of digital literacy. If your school does not have a curriculum for digital citizenship, there are free resources available online. Here are a few sites to review:
- Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org): This site spotlights activities and resources for digital and media literacy. The curriculum offered here is widely respected.
- Digital Citizenship (digitalcitizenship.net): Using Technology Appropriately. This site has provided resources to educators and parents for several years. Activities here are aligned to the ISTE technology standards for students.
- SafeKids.com (safekids.com): Founded by Larry Magid, SafeKids.com is one of the original online safety sites for students, parents, and teachers. Visit the Safety Advice and Guides section to find ready-to-use resources.
Finally, successful implementation of the common core will require ongoing professional development. Face-to-face professional growth opportunities are important, but there are also web-based tools educators can use individually or in groups to help them learn effective ways to implement use of technology to support CCSS. Here are three resources:
- Common Core State Standards Technology Integration Instructional Modules (goo.gl/wVrwSH): California’s Technology Assistance Project offers eight free modules (four ELA and four mathematics) modeling effective use of technology in CCSS implementation.
- Common Core Implementation Video Series (goo.gl/jkGbHN): The Hunt Institute and the Council of Chief State School Officers have commissioned a series of free videos to explain the CCSS.
- Confused about Common Core? (goo.gl/9rTyFZ): The Teaching Channel also offers an extensive series of free videos that explain various aspects of implementing the common core.
Whether your school implements the common core fully or in part, the standards do provide an opportunity to promote use of instructional technology that goes beyond basic skills review. Use the resources provided in this column to begin or expand your research into helping your students make more effective use of technology for communicating, collaborating, and creativity.
A former Catholic-school teacher, Susan Brooks-Young spent 23 years as a teacher and administrator. She now works as a professional consultant and author. Her latest book is Making Technology Work for You: A Guide for School Administrators, 3rd Edition (ISTE, 2013). Susan invites your comments at SJBrooks@aol.com.