How EdTech Experts Pick the Best Learning Apps

Monica Burns and Mike Sammartano share their criteria for which education apps make the grade.

By on December 4, 2014

Monica Burns is an education tech blogger at ClassTechTips.com. She is also an EdTech and Curriculum Consultant and Apple Distinguished Educator. 

Mike Sammartano is a secondary science teacher and the director of technology for the STEM Leadership Center, a nonprofit focused on improving the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He is also an Apple Distinguished Educator and Google Certified Teacher.

In your experience, how has technology helped children learn in new and different ways?

Monica: It gives them an interactive learning experience where they can tap and touch the screen, engage with content and become creators.

Mike: And it can be a tool for engagement, allowing students to express and communicate their learning in a variety of ways, addressing their individual strengths.

Have you seen students become more engaged because of an app?

Monica: In the classroom, I loved giving students the opportunity to create content to demonstrate their understanding. Using an app like Pic Collage to create mini-posters and published writing work was a great way to motivate students to make something they could share with their peers.

Mike: Yes! For example, a middle school student was having difficulty visualizing how gravity impacts the motions of orbiting planets. I had him play an game called Gravitations, where you navigate a spacecraft through an area full of planets, moons and asteroids. You need to adjust the path and velocity to avoid being pulled into the objects as a result of their gravity.  The student was immediately engaged and then understood the impact of mass and distance on gravitational attraction. It was a powerful example of how technology can bring science to life and make abstract and complex concepts accessible.

How are apps selected and reviewed?

Mike: I begin with an exhaustive search of the app store, read existing reviews, watch demo videos, and examine app websites. I pick a diverse selection of apps, and then I install them, and narrow down the selections until I am confident I have found the best apps available.

How often do you new apps to your list?

Mike: I try to update all of my app lists whenever I come across a compelling new app offering.  I am constantly scouring the app stores in search of the best tools for teaching and learning. If I come across something that I feel belongs on my lists, I’ll add it. We are also constantly building new lists around different topics, grade levels, and themes, so the lists remain very relevant and up to date.

Tags: STEM Leadership Center, Verizon Education Tools, STEM, Mike Sammartano, ClassTechTips.com, Monica Burns, Education