Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education
There's An App for That
The word app is an abbreviated form of the word application, a term used to describe software you can download to a mobile device, like a tablet or smart phone. Apps make our lives easier and more fun. There are apps that report things, like weather or news, and ones that entertain, like games or puzzles. You can download an app for just about anything, including teaching and reinforcing skills in math.
Let's take a look at some things quality math apps have in common.
Quality Math Apps
Tablets, or mobile devices that have touch screens for easy interaction, are used by students to reinforce and interact with learned skills and concepts. There are thousands of apps available in math alone. How can you weave through these apps to find what you're looking for?
You want to look for apps that support mathematical learning. Some apps give students a chance to practice skill-drill operations, and while those are necessary, students will outgrow them quickly. For sustained learning, look for apps that go deeper and support learning on a broader scale.
Quality math apps will also require higher-level thinking. For an app to be worthwhile, it should push students to really think about mathematical concepts. Look for apps that require high-level thinking and ask questions about applying, synthesizing, and evaluating.
If you want students to actually use them, apps should be fun. This may be a 'duh' category, but not all math apps are going to be fun to all students. You know your students best. Play a practice game to see if the app will appeal to your crowd. See if it's fun after the first game. Check to make sure it has more than one activity and is interactive.
Apps should have different levels. Not all your students are the same; each has their own skill sets and needs. Make sure the app can adjust to different skill sets and has different levels to meet the needs of all students.
Now that you know the qualities of a good math app, let's look at the types that work best in a math classroom.
Finding the Right App
Math is a skill dependent on a few things. In addition to basic number sense, children need problem solving skills, analytical skills, and the ability to reason. The use of apps focusing on puzzles and games support these skills by presenting problems and asking students to find solutions, search for patterns and structure, use reason and logic in strategic situations, and persevere to find an answer.
Depending on your students' needs, there are several types of apps you can choose from:
Skill apps that help students practice skill and solve problems are effective at building math fluency. Use these apps with students who need more practice with basic skills and number sense. Though these apps support skill practice, they work in a way that goes beyond skill drilling and pushes the learner to use both low- and mid-level thinking skills.
Puzzle apps serve several purposes at once. They combine skills, such as geometry and multiplication, and wrap them up with a problem to solve. Students love to work at finding solutions to puzzles. Look for puzzle apps with bright graphics and multiple players.
Another app choice is fantasy apps. Children love stories, and what better way to engage them in learning than to create math games using awesome characters! Many math apps are story based with exciting fantasy characters. They require students to help the good guy escape the monster, the princess flee the dragon, or the frog cross the road. No matter what genre, slipping a math skill into a nice story is a win-win.
When to Break Out the Apps
Once you've found the right apps to use in your classroom, you'll need to keep a few important things in mind. For starters, remember that apps can't replace you. Quality teaching is done by humans - you know your students best and know what their needs are.
Additionally, apps aren't a punishment or reward system. Use them as you would any supplemental activity - everyone gets a chance to participate. Also, remember that apps have a shelf life. If you use them too much, they may become boring and lose their punch.
Plan your app use strategically. Use them in learning centers, in place of worksheets, at scheduled times, or after instruction. No matter when you use them, make sure you stay part of the action. App time doesn't mean it's time to check your email or grade papers. Circulate throughout the room, and check up on student progress.
Using math apps, software that can be downloaded onto a mobile device like a tablet that has an interactive touch screen, in the classroom is a great way to engage learners. When looking for apps, search for ones that support classroom learning, require high-level skills, and are fun and interactive. Math game apps have many different themes that appeal to students, such as puzzle, skill, or fantasy.
Finally, be smart about when you use apps. Remember, apps are meant to supplement instruction, not replace it. Schedule app time, or use them in learning centers. Be an active participant in app time by circulating the room and checking out student progress. When used correctly, math apps are a great tool to reinforce math skills in a fun and engaging way.
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