The three iPad apps every elementary school should buy

Posted by on Nov 17, 2012 in Mixes | 10 comments

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As we start to get into the rhythm of the school year with the 1:1 iPad program, and as I also use the iPads with other grade levels on an ad hoc basis, I find myself coming back to certain apps over and over again.

For me, the apps that are most useful are those that are the most flexible. If you have a limited amount of funds for iPad apps, don’t spend it on content apps! Spend that money on stuff that you’ll be able to use not just in one class, but in every class all day long. Here are my nominations for the three apps that you should buy first for your school, whether you have one iPad or 1:1 iPads. At $13 total (half that with volume purchase!) you’ll be set up to have your students become lean, mean, creation machines.

Explain Everything ($2.99/$1.49)

Do you want your kids to make a collage? How about a presentation? Do you want them to demonstrate their understanding? How about make a quick audio recording over an image? What about all of the above? Explain Everything will do that for you. This app is amazingly useful and flexible for a wide range of activities in every subject area. I’ve used it with students from kindergarten through fifth grade, and have used it or will be using it soon in social studies, science, language arts, math, and art classes. I know there are a ton of screencasting apps out there now, some for free, but Explain Everything has unmatched functionality that makes it worth the cost.

iMovie ($4.99/$2.49)

This app was the number one app that first really excited me about the potential for using iPads in the classroom.  In my first year as a tech specialist, I basically had to teach myself how to make videos, since I had limited experience and didn’t want to try and teach it to the kids without knowing what I was doing. I got a pretty good handle on it, but despaired a bit, because it took so many steps and pieces of equipment that I didn’t have in order to do it right with the kids. The iPad with iMovie changed all that. One device that lets you shoot, edit, and publish? Yes please! The newer trailer functionality has made it even better for taking care of some of the steps for the kids and showing them what it takes to make a good movie.

Book Creator for iPad ($4.99/$2.49)

I love this app because it’s a great platform for creating full-blown multimedia ePubs on the iPad. Not only can you include text and pictures, which are pretty standard protocol, but you can also record audio and insert movies. It’s an incredibly powerful app with a deceptively easy to use interface. I’ve had students in the first grade easily creating their own eBooks that include their own pictures, words, and voice. I’m looking forward to opening that up to including their own videos created in Explain Everything and iMovie with my older students later this year.  It also supports exporting to PDF if you don’t need the audio or video and want something that looks nice for printing.

Honorable mention goes to Drawing Pad ($1.99/$.99), which is the best art app for elementary school I’ve found yet, but you may want some more advanced options depending on how your students will use it, or you can find some perfectly acceptable free options as well. There’s also my favorite elementary app, Toontastic ($9.99/$4.99 or free to start) which does a great job of teaching digital storytelling skills.

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  1. I couldn’t agree more…I love explain everything because the option to export the ‘movie’ to the camera role rather than having to upload it to a website

    • Seriously, Colin, that is one of the main reasons why EE is worth the money. Because then you can use that video in other projects, which is HUGE.

  2. I love Explain Everything, and use it all the time. EE is one of my primary tools for developing content for my online classes.

    • The funny thing is, I haven’t actually used it myself all that much yet, mostly just had the kids make stuff with it.

  3. Can’t say enough about Explain Everything. In less than 2 hours, I had gr. 5 students (who had never used EE) share their learning about the digestive system and upload the movies to Dropbox to share with their classmates and parents. All were successful from the beginner ELL student to the special needs student. Brought their teacher to tears… Talk about transformational learning!

    • Totally agree. Easy to use at any age and ability level, but really powerful way of sharing understanding.

    • Did you create any handouts or Quick-start Directions you could send me?

  4. I was working with fifth graders last week and wanted to have students create a simple presentation of what we learned. The school iPads had “Show Me” instead of EE. Kids struggled because they didn’t have multiple slides to work with or editing features needed to make a smooth presentation. Will always go EE over Show Me when given the choice in the future.

    • EE is so totally worth the cost to get all of the needed features. Was using it today with a bunch of third graders, they turned out great in no time.

  5. I like these apps. I would include “Planet Read” in this list as it is an essential app to teach children how to read. It could be used as curriculum for an entire year. It’s way ahead of its time in my opinion for educational quality and quantity.


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