Tag Team Tech December 2012

App to School

Sarah Ludwig

December 2012

Student choices

Now that I have a few months of school under my belt, I feel like I have a good sense of which apps my students find most useful. My students are incredibly busy, running from one class to another, then off to practice or rehearsal, with a huge workload on top of it all. They need shortcuts, and they’ve found them on their smart phones. Since most of my students have iPhones, this is an iOS-heavy list. Many of these apps are available for other mobile operating systems. Additionally, all of my students mentioned the FirstClass (free) app first. We use FirstClass for all of our email and class conferences, so students are constantly using this app to access their email, class syllabi, and club conferences.

Note taking and writing

One student told me he wrote a seven-page term paper in his iPhone’s Notes app (free) before he got a laptop. “I wrote it while I was walking between my classes,” he said. This is a native iOS app, but there are others like it, including Evernote (free) Voice Memos (free–native on iPhone), and Pages ($9.99). Pages is a word processing program for Mac computers, and has far more functionality than the others. Voice Memos are recorded audio memos. Many of my students also use Google Drive, because we use Google Docs a great deal at my school. While Google Drive is not an ideal document editor right now, it’s an easy way to access documents on the go.


Students need to find answers to their questions immediately, and phones hold all of those answers. When I asked students where they find information, they told me they use Wikipedia (free), Chrome (free), Dictionary.com (free), and WolframAlpha ($3.99). Again, they use Chrome as opposed to other browsers because we use Google. And, if you have a Google account, you can access your bookmarks and history from any device. Students use Wolfram Alpha both for computations and graphing, and for looking up quick facts.

World language helpers

Since many of our teachers are focusing on classroom activities to promote language learning, as opposed to rote memorization, apps are supporting students’ vocabulary and translation needs. Google Translate (free) allows users to translate from a variety of languages, including Chinese, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and many more. iTranslate (free) is similar, but features more languages and allows you to hear the words pronounced. WordReference (free) is different: instead of simply translating, this one acts as a dictionary, and allows students to conjugate verbs and get foreign language word definitions.

Flashcard apps

Many of my students use flashcard apps to stay on top of facts for standardized tests and classroom tests. Official SAT Question of the Day by the College Board (free) allows students to test themselves daily on math, writing, and reading. Flashcards (free) allows students to create and share their own flashcards on any topic. SAT Vocab ($4.99) offers hundreds of pre-made vocabulary questions to help students stay on top of tricky SAT and AP words, and even offers statistics to help them understand what they need to focus on. AP US History ($4.99) helps students memorize facts, terms, and dates to prep for the grueling AP exam. The company that makes this app, Educare Education, also offers similar apps for other AP exams, including World History, biology, and more.


Among the other apps my students mentioned were the iPhone’s native calculator app, the Free Graphing Calculator app, and VoiceThread (free). Students use VoiceThread all the time for classroom projects, and one student told me he uses his app more than he expected, and even told me that the audio was much better on his phone than with one of our plug-in microphones for our computers.

My recommended apps

As I asked students about the apps they used for school and told them why I was asking, many of them wondered which ones I think they should have. Here is a list of apps that I recommend.

Astrid (free) is more than just a to-do list. It’s collaborative, which means it allows students to divide up specific tasks among members of a group. When a classmate completes a task, the student gets a notification. Astrid also reminds students to complete certain tasks and has voice recognition software to help students add tasks on the go. These tasks can be integrated with a students’ calendar, so they can totally stay on top of homework assignments, project due dates, and other deadlines.

Remarks ($4.99) allows you to write notes or annotate work on your iPad. It includes pen and highlighter tools, and you can overlay those marks over any PDF file. The notes become PDF files that can be printed, saved, and emailed. This is a great solution for students who use ebooks in school.

MyHomework (free) helps students keep all of their work organized. They add all of their classes and then input assignments and assessments, which then remind students to study or complete homework. The calendar display helps students visualize the week ahead. The best part is the “late” badge, which shows up anytime a student misses an assignment.

Shakespeare (free) is more than just a collection of all of Shakespeare’s works, including his sonnets. That in itself is impressive. But the thing I love about this app is that it allows the user to search for specific phrases with, as the app makers say, “relaxed” searching — meaning that if you misspell a word, the app will still be able to help you find what you’re looking for. Students can also get detailed scene breakdowns, a glossary, facts, and portraits.

Paper (free) is a beautiful journal and sketchpad app that students can use to take notes, both academic and personal, on the iPad. In addition to writing, you can also sketch using a variety of tools, and then share these notes and sketches (if you wish) via Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Sarah Ludwig  is the academic technology coordinator at Hamden Hall Country Day School in Hamden, Connecticut. Formerly she was the head of teen, technology, and reference services at the Darien (CT) Library, where she developed the library’s first teen program after serving as the head of library services at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in western Massachusetts for three years. She  is currently the chair of YALSA’s Teen Tech Week Committee. Her book, Starting from Scratch: Building a Teen Library Program, was published by ABC-CLIO in June 2011.


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