Fine Tuning My App Evaluation Toolkit

It’s been a few years now of following other educators using iPads in their classroom and exploring a variety of apps across my mixed ages group (primarily used by preschools). Others have shared their “Technology Evaluation Toolkits”, so of course I have grabbed bits and pieces that work for my purpose of having iPads in my program.

I started here:

  • the ease of use
  • how it engaged a child
  • did it support learning goals
  • does it offer custom settings or different levels
  • feedback – encouraging, appropriate for child’s age, how it corrects
  • information is correct

Here is what I have added:

  • approaches to learning (attention, flexible thinking, persistence)
  • Social-Emotional (cooperation, collaboration)
  • appropriate cognitive skills
  • usable by non/pre-readers
  • bias free / gender neutral
  • clear choices and ease of navigating, independent usage after introduction by adult
  • skills build as develop competency
  • support creativity
  • content and graphics appealing to children
  • activities match appropriate attention span levels
  • ability to have multiple players
  • adds to variety of apps

I have found having a core group of apps always loaded on the iPads and then rotating others in depending on interests and academic areas working on at the time works best for me.

Core Apps: These cover math, science, literacy, social-emotional, creativity across the ages

Leo’s Padleo's pad  Cookie Doodle 2013-02-08_1631 Spot the Dot 2013-02-08_1635  Bugs&Buttons2 bugsbuttons Soundrop dropMath Bingo  math Kindergarten Bingokbingo

LetterSchool 2013-02-08_1641

Newest additions:

Phonetic Birds birds $1.99/ Marc Sockel ~ This apps is all about recognizing and comparing sounds. It has been reviewed by many for developing auditory skills and by others for music. I think of it as an auditory training app. The game play helps children to really listen for changes in sound patterns. What was confusing at first was figuring out what one had to do in ordering or grouping the birds. This encouraged group cooperation. There are three different ways to use the app:  Adventure Play, Quick Play, and Random Play. We are using in Adventure Play.

Rocket Speller rocket Free/ Little Big Thinkers ~ This app is described as a spelling app for 3-7 yr. olds. It is a spelling app that shows an image and the word spelled out like many other apps. The difference for my group is they have to place a second set of letters over the first spelling out the word. The reward is making your own rocket once enough words are completes. For me I appreciate that my youngest are using this and building letter awareness. When you click on a letter the name is provided. They are also getting awareness of lower case letter forms. My older school-age are using this app while covering up where the word appears and trying to spell themselves and then self checking.

ChatterPix Kids chatter Free/ Duck Duck Moose ~ This app has totally opened the creative doors for all ages here. Take a photo of whatever you wish + Place a line somewhere on the photo + Record up to 30 seconds = You get a digital story with the line turning into a moving mouth while your recording plays. We’ve been exporting to the iPad camera roll and going from there. For my youngest it’s about taking photos and just saying silly words. Hearing themselves back is such an experience. My older are drawing pictures and recording stories about them. The biggest project was taking 1 photo and reusing it for each character to record separately. Once exported they edited in iMovie and ended up with a 2 minute pieces. I’m planning on using for assessments by mouthing the children when pictured with a project they have completed as they expound on their project.

There are also always 2 ebooks or interactive stories on the page.



The Apps They Continue to Change

The development of quality apps continues to increase, but that leaves me with a problem – What to do with the increasing number of apps I have? Others have stopped adding apps, or deleted past apps, I decided I needed to find a way to maintain apps for easy access, but without filling up the iPad with unused material.

From the start I have only acquired apps that I felt would meet developmental and academic needs of the children in my care. I have also always been looking for apps across a wide range of age points. As we have been using our iPads I have been acquiring more apps having to do with the production of a project/product. These types of apps also support assessment for my preschool age children. I have over 100 apps now, but they all have a purpose or use, and I know there will be others still to come.

The other consideration is having a set-up on the iPads for easy access while controlling access. I use guided access, but also have found having only one page of apps the children can use at any given time to work best. Now it’s about what apps are to be found on that page and where do the others go.

With only 2 iPads and a personal laptop I have found it easiest to access all the apps on the laptop and download new apps directly to the correct iPad from there. I can also directly place the new app where I want it from the laptop. I delete the apps no longer wanted directly on the iPad. I can also quickly add an app if a child requests one that has been removed for a special purpose.

Our current (4/14) apps:

4/14 apps


There’s A Monster at the End of the Book remains the #1 interactive ebook – well worth it’s cost.

I don’t think CookieDoodle has ever been removed. I like seeing that most children are now doing the puzzle option before eating their designed cookies.

LetterSchool remains the favorite for practicing the formation of letters and numbers.

Math Bingo provides the drill practice for the elementary ages, while Kindergarten Bingo offers the same bing activity for my toddlers and preschoolers with concepts like shapes, and letter recognition.

Soundrop was the surprise app. It provides work with math and science in a unique way and I was not sure if my young children would catch on to the exploration. I should have known better. We have developed race ways, boxes that gather and then suddenly open, changes in speed, number of bounces affecting sound…… Be warned if you do not like noise this app could quickly drive you crazy.

Our newest addition is Bug Art. Developed by the same group that did the Bugs&Buttons apps we continue to use, this apps provides a more creative environment. The coloring and animation of bugs from scientifically correct drawing has really grabbed the children’s interests. I have left them with the challenge to figure out a way to share their bugs outside the app. We’ll see what they come up with.



Ultimately It’s About Creativity

As tablets are finding their way into more and more classrooms/programs the discussions are flying about what is appropriate practice, especially for really young learners. In addition to the whole “screen time” discussion we now have discussion around purpose and best practice.

My belief is all technology should be seen as another tool in a teacher’s bag.

  • There are times for playing games/apps.
  • There are times for individual practice and group cooperation.
  • There is purpose to learning how the technology works.

Since I believe one of my most important jobs in teaching is to support the development of a child’s imagination and the skill set to solve problems, I can also feel that a big goal with the use of technology is about:

  • Using it to create.

I love how this creative infographic  published by Jennifer Dornseif points out the creative side of devices and apps and the responsibility of a teacher to use them for that purpose.

This clip from the end says it all for me:


Limiting Screen Time?

I have long been an advocate that there is a difference between sitting in front of a screen and being involved with what is on the screen. I was not one that bought into the idea of limited screen time, but rather quality screen time. I would rather have a child watch a few hours of quality programing than meet a minimum screen time limit and have that all junk programing. In my mind there was a difference between a PBS show like Super Why and Nick’s SpongeBob Squarepants, but even more with programing like WWF, reality TV shows, home shopping network, or even news programs.

This article brings some interesting thought to this discussion that has been seeing some change in the last few years -

To best serve our children, especially with all the changes to technology it is important for all of us as their teachers to be aware of the issues and current research on impacts and practices.

Apps in Use for November

As we see changes in skill set and interests I will continue to change out the apps in use. The 2 classroom iPads are set up in the same manner with the same apps. This has proven to make it easier to use them as a group and for the youngest users to be able to use either iPad.

This is what November’s apps screen looks like:


  • Spot the Dot
  • PBS Kids
  • Flow Free
  • Color Zen
  • LetterSchool
  • Wet Dry Try
  • Word Magic
  • Leo’s Pad
  • Leo’s Birthday
  • Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing
  • Trains (Lego)
  • Go Go Games
  • CookieDoodle
  • Doodlecast
  • Bugs & Butons

The folders of apps for Books, Math and Infant hold apps that I can pull for special use with lessons. They can also be accessed by the children, but usually are not.

Having all the apps I have purchased/ downloaded on my laptop makes it is easy to replace apps as appropriate (saving space on the iPads). All I do is delete from the iPad directly and then connect to the laptop and drag to add.

I maintain variety across ages and subject material while keeping everything to 1 page.

Review of a few favorite apps in use now:

leo's padLeo’s Pad (Free)

• A free series of interactive animated stories for preschoolers
• Designed by Stanford University researchers and Emmy award-winning animators
• Early-learning curriculum based on latest research

Additional appisodes have a cost of $2.99 each.

This app is enjoyed here by ages 2 through 5. It is one that used almost daily with activities being used over and over. The graphics are appropriate for this age point. The audio holds attention without interfering. There is a good mixture of activity and learning.

A really good review can be found at Picky Kid App Guide. Found it to reflect our experiences.

color zenColor Zen (Free)

There is now a children’s version for $2.99, but we love this version and all ages are using it.

This group enjoys puzzles whether traditional hands-on puzzles, puzzles pages or iPad apps. What has been really nice about this app is how it truly has a quieting affect. It isn’t about speeding through. The children just naturally seem to have slowed down while processing the solutions. Thinking both the audio and graphics supports this. When they miss they are more open to trying again, and again and again, until solved. I have also found them to be going back to repeat puzzles. It has not all been about progressing through the levels.

Good review of Color Zen here at 148Apps.

trainsLego Duplo Train (Free)

As the description on iTunes says: “Driving the colourful LEGO® DUPLO® Train from station to station is a toddler’s dream. Your child will play the role of the train driver – choosing and loading wagons, building bridges, stopping at crossings, refueling and laying new tracks around pesky rocks.”

This app has been a total hit with my toddler and preschoolers. The toddler needs a little support, but each time uses is able to do more themselves. I have found it interesting to see which activities within the app different children are drawn to. I like apps that allow variety in the experience.

Lego Duplo have been providing a large number of apps for free. This is our first one and chosen because of the interest in trains and cars.

Solid review at top best apps for kids.


Reviewing Barnyard Match

Barnyard Match by Encode ($0.99)2013-09-23_1532

This app is recommended for ages 4+, but my 3 year olds have also enjoyed it. We are a group with lots of interest in puzzles.
Each Round, flash cards are briefly displayed face up. It is up to the children to memorize them!
Memory activity apps that incorporate child friendly graphics, colors and sounds develop memory skills through a broad sensory experience. It is known that many (majority) leaners are considered visual learners, but all learners are supported when multiple senses are involved.  Flash cards which are usually bright and colorful make a real impact, especially with young learners. 
Working on memory skills should be a large part of the educational program for the young child. Memory games can help a child learn techniques for organizing and storing information, which we know supports higher learning. Memory is important in building relational awareness, establishing patterns, and facilitating problem solving. Without strong memory skills children will have a tougher time academically.

For most adults they will recognize a Memory Activity as being a game where a selection of flash cards are placed face down in rows (or a pattern) on the floor. Then you turn 2 over at a time trying to match them, remembering what previous turnovers showed.

Another way is to have a small group of cards on the floor face up with time to observe (memorize). Then they are all turned over. Matches are made by turning over 2 at a time.

This second version is basically how this app is built. The barnyard-themed cards are all displayed for a set time then flipped over. The child then taps 2 cards, DSC03534 if a match is made points are earned and 1 earned “strike” is removed.DSC03535 Several matches in a row earn “bonus points”. If not a match they turn red and flip back over. DSC03536 No match earns a “Strike”. 5 Strikes ends a game.

As you succeed the game progresses in difficulty.

A Level Select screen will be unlocked on rounds 7, 14 and 21.

There are some levels that the pictures will rotate for more difficulty. It’s all about the need to focus, memorize.


This app was chosen because of my understanding of the importance for having a variety of options to work on memory skills available for the children to use. It fit nicely with a general area of interest that I often develop units around – The Farm. We have many puzzle activities so I knew I could use this app even with my 2 and 3 year olds.
There are a good number of memory apps and other apps that are farm theme based, but I liked the tone of these graphics and the version of the match game used. I knew would compliment the other activities we would be using.
It has proven to provide good practice. The children are engaged with the friendly graphics when using. It can be used individually or with a group where they are supporting one another with the goal of getting as few “strikes” as possible.DSC03531
It is an app that is freely chosen for usage, so my rating rate would be higher than the 3.5 that I have seen in reviews.

Educreations: a Screencasting App

I started off our iPad usage focusing on ebooks and interactive educational games. I knew the kids would enjoy using the iPads in this way as part of their practice times. As I explored the large variety of apps available I started to follow some technology teacher blogs. This opened up a view into the world of creating/production with the iPad. The iPad is portable, powerful, and users have the option to create, save, and share all in one compact device. As I intergret the iPad into our program on a larger scale, my focus will be on the production of creative projects that support both the learning and assessment of what has been learned.



The first production app that we have been using with any regularity is Educreationseducreatgions.

The Educreations app is a fairly simple app that turns the iPad into a recordable, interactive and mobile whiteboard. The possibilities for use in my program are only limited by my creativity and knowledge base.

What does Educreations provide me?

  1. Free account (“Teacher” for creating or “student” for just viewing)
  2. Record my voice while drawing
  3. Pause and resume recording
  4. Erase
  5. Different ink colors
  6. Create multiple pages
  7. Add photos from the iPad camera, Photo Albums or Dropbox
  8. Resize images
  9. Drag images around to animate them while recording
  10. Choose who can view lessons
  11. Share lessons via email, Facebook and Twitter or embed on the blog
  12. Ability to view lessons uploaded by others

Although Educreations lacks a “help” section there are many educators using and sharing tips and techniques online.

The simpleness of this app makes it an easier one for using with my preschoolers. They do not need lots of pen colors and thicknesses for the work they will be doing here. We have our drawing apps for drawing.

We will be exploring:

 explain everything app Explain Everything 

Have read that Explain Everything is a more robust version of Educreations in regards to editing. It also leaves you with full ownership of whatever you create, so you can download and will not lose material if the site closings up overnight. There are also “help” guides readily available. Cost of about $3 is fair if as robust as reviewed to be.


screen Screen Chomp

On first look seems really simple. Writing over photos and recording. This might be just what I need for my youngest learners. It’s Free.


Voice Thread follow-up

We had the trial for Voice Thread for a month. We found it offered some very interesting possibilities for creative production on the iPad for the school-age, but at $15 a month it does not fit the budget. We have a large number of other apps to explore that we are quite sure will allow for similar creative productions at basically a free cost point.

VT app has been removed from the iPad for the time being.


TypeDrawing and Voice Thread Lead to Lots of Creating

A snowstorm means less kids here and a chance to explore resources that have been bookmarked. Started off checking out TypeDrawing. There is a cost of $2.99, but with the initial interest the kids are showing and what I can image expanding it’s use to for lessons it was a quick buy for me.

I tried a quick drawing then passed the iPads over and immediately the kids started creating.

Then I expanded by importing the creations into Voice Thread. We’re doing a one month $15 trial there to see if there is value for the cost. There is a free option, but you have a limited number of threads available. We used them up just this morning.

I have wanted to find ways to produce creative products, not just game play or skill practice, with our iPad usage. This is a good start.

Now they can take their creations to another place with voiceovers. Could not get the VT to work embedded here, but they are up on the FaceBook page.

Cannot wait to see where the creativity leads us.