Educating and entertaining your kids? There's an app for that
Students in a third-grade enrichment class at Robeson Elementary in Champaign recently spent a morning dressing as book characters, acting out scenes from chapter books and thinking about setting and plot.
The groups immersed themselves in the stories as they made movie trailers for the books with the help of an iPad application called iMovie. The app had them writing outlines, creating story boards and then taking video of specific shots, like a wide shot or a group shot.
The app features various themes to choose from, to set the tone to be scary or funny, and even includes music.
"If you try it out, you don't want to stop doing it," said third-grader Rachel Steinfeldt.
The app is just one that local students use on iPads in school. And if you have a tablet or a smartphone, you can choose from several apps to keep your child learning and creating, even while school's out for the summer.
Apps can be useful for students to stay fresh on what they learned this school year and channel their creative brainpower for things like making movies.
Your child can learn with an app on a mobile device during a car trip or while you're in line in the grocery store, said Molly Delaney, Illinois Public Media's educational outreach director.
Mobile devices even can provide social interaction, among kids and with kids and parents together, she said.
Illinois Public Media has mobile learning labs in Champaign pre-kindergarten classrooms and at Head Start, and has featured them at various family activities it has hosted.
When an event has activities for kids, it can be hard to get adults and kids to engage together, Delaney said.
"With the devices, it was a little different," she said. "You saw (the parents) leaning in more. You saw them having conversations."
People migrate toward technology, she said, and in a classroom setting, she sees kids working together using the technology.
That was true in the enrichment classroom at Robeson. Third-grader Mia DeJesus directed the trailer on the book "Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made," as classmates Devan Bianchini, Hussein Al-Juboory and Kaiden Wiggam acted out scenes. She held the iPad while shooting video, and the group gathered around it to replay their progress.
"We're acting like we're going to get paid for it," Wiggam said, to explain how serious his group was about their trailer.
At home in the summer, siblings can teach each other to use various educational and creative apps, or different ways to use the device, Delaney said.
And while parents are always concerned about too much media and their fears are legitimate, Delaney said, it's important to remember mobile devices can be interactive and can teach.
"I always think it's a balance," Delaney said. "These are great tools for learning, and like all tools for learning, you don't want to keep all your eggs in one basket."
Apps can help students with repetitive learning, Delaney said, which children need more than adults may realize. But they can also be used as creative outlets.
"At their best, these mobile devices are creative tools," Delaney said. "They (create) ways to interact and learn and not to just take in information."
Heidi Bjerke, an instructional technology coach in the Champaign schools, said different apps will engage different students, depending on their interests. There are plenty of apps for the history buff, or the kid interested in space.
Naturalist apps will get kids outside and looking at wildlife.
Others can keep the whole family engaged with quiz games during a long road trip. Apps can reinforce math and literacy skills, as well as students' creative skills.
"That creating part is so huge," she said. "It gets them thinking outside the box."
Apps can also teach students problem-solving skills, said Ariella Abarbanel, who's also a Champaign instructional technology coach, and in general, mobile devices are easy for kids to use and fun, too.
"You think it's a game when it's really work," she said.
And Julie Feit, who's also a Champaign instructional technology coach, said she likes to play Brain School with her daughter, and they compete by solving math problems and moving up to different levels. It includes things like spatial puzzles.
"You can really connect with your kids," she said.
Apps are even available for kids to understand online safety, and touch on topics like media literacy and cyberbullying. Bjerke recommends a series of Garfield apps that touch on these topics.
The available educational apps for both iOS (Apple's mobile operating system, which includes iPads, iPhones and the like) and for Android systems seem limitless, and while local educators have plenty of suggestions, you can also choose apps for your student on iTunes or the Education category in the Google Play store.
Feit recommends reading the reviews to decide whether an app is worth downloading, and the number of stars it's received, as well.
"They're usually pretty accurate," she said.
Champaign instructional technology coach Matt Sly also recommends a blog by Richard Byrne at http://ipadapps4school.com.
"It is a treasure trove of explained apps that I think parents might find just as helpful as teachers," Sly said.