Tech-Savvy Teachers Turn to App-Making in the Classroom

Filed in: Mobile, Spotlight News

Filed by Kelsey Herron

 

8.2.12 | We’ve all read about the usage of apps and other mobile technologies in the classroom (when classrooms allow them), but some educators are still unsatisfied with the quality of educational apps. Many teachers are making their own apps in order to help their students build certain skills that traditional teaching methods have difficulty refining.

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The Earth Science Regents Buddy App was developed by high school science teacher Frederick Feraco.

High school science teacher Frederick Feraco spent the last half of his academic year developing apps that help his students hone study skills to prepare them for the New York State Regents exams, which students must pass in order to graduate.

“All teachers are judged on how well their students do on Regents and there’s pressure on students having to perform well,” Feraco told The Journal magazine. “I thought it would be great if I could take all of the useful teaching tools I use in the classroom—or I wish I could use in the classroom—and put it on one app.”

Feraco, who teaches at Columbia Secondary School for Science, Math, and Engineering in New York City, started getting interested in apps after he realized how many students are attached to their mobile devices. He has developed 12 “Buddy” apps so far, eight of which are specific to the Regents exams, covering topics ranging from biology to U.S. history, writes Kim Fortson. Available through iTunes, the apps feature interactive quizzes and news updates from subject-specific sources along with videos and flash cards. Feraco has also posted a series of YouTube videos describing each one.

One of the most interesting points Feraco raised was the idea of schools going “BYOD”— meaning students bring their own digital device to use in the classroom. He told Fortson, “I hope that technology can become more advanced in the classroom and if it does, I think these [apps] would be ideal.”

He’s not the only one. Jeff Scheur, an English teacher at Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, recently hired a developer to create the web-based application NoRedInk, which Scheur uses to quiz students on common mistakes in sentence mechanics and grammar, reports Kelsey Sheehy at U.S. News & World Report. Like many other teachers, he noticed an area of opportunity where the standard teaching practices weren’t working as effectively as he wanted.

“Spending 40 hours grading a set of papers and covering them in red ink and getting them back to kids and then not seeing the return … I realized that because of the way the feedback was structured, there wasn’t really an expectation that they would get better,” said Scheur. “In order for them to make use of my feedback I needed to provide them some sort of interface for practicing.”

Launched in February, NoRedInk allows teachers to personalize lessons, track students’ progression through their assignments, and provide instant feedback. More than 13,000 registered users, ranging from fifth-graders to college-age students and teachers, now use the site.

I wish there were more teacher-entrepreneurs informing the discourse of education. It takes a lot of experience to really understand kids’ central motivations.

–  Jeff Scheur, Whitney Young Magnet High School

Scheur attributes his years of teaching to the initial success of NoRedInk, and he encourages other educators to create apps that match the needs of students. “I wish there were more teacher-entrepreneurs informing the discourse of education,” he told Sheehy. “It takes a lot of experience to really understand kids’ central motivations.”

There are many new programs out there that are making it easier for teachers to design their own apps for the classroom. Dara Ross, who teaches English as a second language at Brooklyn International High School, began learning the programming skills necessary to create her own app after she joined a pilot program launched by the non-profit organization New Visions for Public Schools. The program enabled her to design an app that assesses students’ emotions as they read.

“It was valuable to work on education with teachers and technologists; I think that combination is not usually talked about,” Ross told Gotham Schools writer Rose D’souza.

Ross and some of her fellow teachers also received help from EDesign Lab, an initiative created to help bridge the gap between software developers and educators. Through the program, teachers have a one-year partnership with developers who act as mentors, which works out well for both parties because many app creators have no teaching experience.

“Everyone working in education software needs to run what they do by teachers because they’re the ones who are going to be using it,” said EDesign Lab mentor Scott Peterman. ”It’s a much richer environment and can lead to a much more productive way of making educational software when the teachers are in the room the whole time.”

Through this program, EDesign Lab developed apps like Evident.ly, where students post videos of science experiments and pose questions to their peers, and the Reading Robot app, which provides students with a virtual “reading buddy” to answer questions while they read.

For educators who want to get involved in the app-creating game, but lack the coding and programming skills, check out EduDemic’s “Ultimate Teacher’s Guide to Creating Educational Apps.” The tutorial breaks down the programs and steps to design your own educational apps, and is perfect for beginners looking to formulate apps to enhance student achievement both at home and in the classroom.

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