Today I’ve invited Marjan Ghara to guest post on the blog to share what she’s experienced through her work with young children and apps. Marjan is the Founder & CEO of Biblionasium.com, the largest and fastest growing digital platform that supports and promotes independent reading for K-8 students. The multiple award-winning COPPA-compliant site helps librarians and teachers to motivate, manage and measure students’ reading, to reach their goals and achieve success. Among its many features are virtual bookshelves, reading challenges, virtual awards, online logs, real-time reports and an interactive book discovery tool.
Most elementary school-age students don’t remember life without computers, tablets and mobile devices. That is a remarkable thought for those of us who remember pay phones, typewriters and cassette tapes!
The prevalence of and increasing reliance on technology in all facets of life has and will continue to impact the youngest of children. Digital devices, with vivid graphics and sound effects, are intrinsically compelling for children, and this generation – coined as “digital natives” – consider computers and digital devices as part of their toy and toolbox.
How can educators use the best of what we know about technology to engage young learners? Apps, which are fun and easy to use, can give students a variety of learning platforms and approaches to keep them engaged and motivated. As students move through the stages and steps of some of today’s best apps, they gain concept mastery, confidence and new skills.
In addition, the new generation of successful EdTech apps are designed to aid and support the many tasks performed by educators. At Biblionasium.com, we have developed a research-based platform to support students’ independent reading activities. We have successfully employed many of the best techniques and strategies for developing valuable school and classroom apps. Here are six pertinent and powerful reasons to use apps with young children:
1. Meet digital generations on their own turf
Digitally-savvy students are growing up with different expectations and communication styles. An interactive environment is a no-brainer –these kids can process information in multiple ways. Educators should consider apps that supplement their teaching and deliver material in a new and engaging manner on digital platforms. A great example is the YouTube Discovery Channel, where children watch and experience amazing stories from the worlds of science, engineering, natural history and geography in more interactive and appealing ways than a traditional textbook can deliver. Khan Academy is another very successful and popular platform that produces short lectures, covering a variety of subject matter in the form of YouTube videos, with practice exercises for students and tools for educators.
2. Utilize students’ online social community to motivate and influence them
Children are connecting and communicating online all the time. Whether to play games, share photos or chat, they are congregating online as a social group. These circles of influence can be a powerful medium to promote positive activities. For example, research has shown kids are more likely to read and finish a book when a friend has recommended it, or when they read with a group of peers. Digital platforms like Biblionasium (“The Goodreads for Kids”) safely connect communities of young readers online where they can rate, review and recommend books to each other. Word of mouth is a much stronger and more relied-upon way for today’s kids to explore new books and that is now easily shared and distributed online with this new generation. Other powerful social apps like Edmodo, where students can connect online to communicate and collaborate on school activities, and Kidblog, where students share their writing in a secure classroom blogging space, are notable examples of digital communities that supplement curriculum and classroom activities.
3. Personalize content based on a student’s ability and level
One of technology’s most promising uses is the power to deliver content and material to each student based on their individual need. However, personalizing learning for a class of 25 or more students is a significant challenge for one teacher. As students learn at different paces and respond to different styles, knowing what each student needs for every subject is a tall order. However, we can now assist educators by augmenting their classroom teaching with technology designed to make them more efficient. The right app saves time and provides content and exercises that can automatically adapt in real time for each student and provide immediate feedback. This is effectively employed in digital math apps like iXL.com, where exercises and games are tailored to students based on their performance.
4. Set goals and keep track of progress more easily
The well-known axiom “we manage what we measure” can also apply to students and how they perform. Educators have employed a wide range of tools to help students define and track their work. They send home reading logs, set goals, put up progress charts and keep track of homework assignments. Yet, tracking is often performed manually and on paper, requiring a great deal of time to compile and interpret. Today’s digital apps show up-to-the-minute progress and can generate reports with more effective and actionable data for both the student and the educator. For example, on Biblionasium, digital reading logs and reading challenges are incorporated into the platform, with tracking and easy-to-access reports for educators to monitor, measure and manage each student individually.
5. Gamify learning through awarding virtual badges
Giving awards is a complex topic among educators, but if you consider that grades are a form of award, then setting goals and granting children virtual badges for their accomplishments can provide incentive and motivation. Many digital games employ leadership boards, levels and badges successfully as a mechanism to keep children’s attention. Some of the more successful digital EdTech tools now also employ gamification concepts to encourage engagement and improve performance. On Biblionasium, badges are integrated in the application, and educators are successfully using badges to set reading goals and track reading achievements. Educators can use third-party apps like Classbadges to align badges with academic goals and accomplishments in any subject matter.
6. Connect educators and parents in support of students
We know family support and engagement can positively affect the outcome of a child’s academic success. Educators want engaged parents, but traditional communication methods (faculty nights, report cards, conferences) are not sufficient and can be difficult to manage. Technology provides the opportunity for this critical connection to happen more efficiently. Many digital apps provide an online connection for parents, where they can easily see and monitor their children’s progress at any time, and where teachers can efficiently send and receive communication. Look for apps that create a bridge between home and school like ClassDojo, where parents are kept in the loop on their children’s classroom experiences, academic status and working habits.
In summary, there is great potential with today’s apps, both in supporting student learning and in aiding educators. There is no going back, and technology and digital platforms will continue to take on more significant roles in our education system. The current collaboration and communication tools are finding their way into elementary and middle schools at a rapid pace. And the next generation of apps, now experimenting with virtual reality and artificial intelligence, can very well change the way teachers teach and students learn. It is prudent for our educators to get familiar and comfortable using technology to engage and manage students, and there are many meaningful reasons to do so.
Disclosure: This post has been sponsored by Follett, a long-time supporter of The Cornerstone. As always, I only recommend resources on the blog if I have used them myself or would recommend them to other educators.