Facebook and Angry Birds were two of the most downloaded apps last year, but that doesn't mean Web and mobile applications are all play. There are tens of thousands of educational apps aimed at teaching high school students everything from physics to Japanese.
But not all of those apps are created equal, warns Teacherswithapps.com, a site created by two teachers to evaluate educational apps, and some educators have taken matters into their own hands.
[Get three tips for integrating technology into the classroom.]
Jeff Scheur, an English teacher at Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, created an app to drill his students on apostrophes, conjunctions, and run-on sentences.
Scheur developed NoRedInk, a Web-based application, when traditional red ink wasn't yielding the desired results in his classroom. Despite marking up essays with corrections and comments, his students continued to make the same mistakes.
"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," Scheur says. "In order for them to make use of my feedback I needed to provide them some sort of interface for practicing."
But there wasn't an app for that—at least, not one that met Scheur's requirements of being fun and engaging and allowing for immediate feedback. So he hired a developer to create one.
Launched online in February, NoRedInk allows teachers to personalize lessons for each student, instead of assigning the same worksheets or exercises to the entire class. Teachers can also track students as they progress through the exercises and give instant feedback to address any new issues that pop up
[Read how high schools are implementing iPad programs.]
"Some kids need help on comma splices, and other kids need help on capitalization, and other kids keep getting 'its' and 'it's' confused," Scheur says. "While those are only small pieces of a very large, messy writing process, they're pieces that can really bog down a kid's confidence."
While NoRedInk was originally developed for Scheur's classroom, the free site now has more than 13,000 registered users including teachers and students ranging from fifth graders through college-age students, and he is planning to expand the lessons beyond apostrophes, conjunctions, and run-on sentences.
Scheur's teaching experience contributed to the initial success of the site, he says, and he encourages other educators to follow his app-making lead in their own classroom.
"I wish there were more teacher-entrepreneurs informing the discourse of education," he says. "It takes a lot of experience to really understand kids' central motivations."
Teachers who lack the coding skills to build their own sites can check out Edudemic's "Ultimate Guide to Creating Educational Apps," which includes a rundown of app-development wizards such as uBuild App and iPhone Sculptor, as well as a development guide for educators with the time and skills to go it alone.