Words by Andra Mayberry

Photography by Molly Magee

 

As we all know, the year is now 2017 and at this very moment, there are some 100,000 educational apps available for download on the iTunes app store and the number is always increasing. Even the word “app” – which is the abbreviated word for applications used on smartphones and tablets – didn’t exist until 2007. With all the new technology out there, how do we as parents, grandparents and teachers decipher what is useful and do these advances actually make our day-to-day parenting any easier?

Sorting through the labyrinth of technology, there is no hard and fast rule about what is right for your situation. We asked area parents to tell us what they use for their families and what local teachers find useful for their students. While good old-fashioned research and hands-on experience will always be the best teacher, one thing is certain: technology is here to stay, so let’s learn how best to use it.

There is an app for just about anything you can think of, but when it comes to apps for managing our households, there are some clear winners, some just ok apps and some will just receive a ribbon for participation. Just as you’re mindful of your children on the playground, we should also be mindful of what they are viewing during their screen time.

Parents of younger children are entering a brave new world regarding screen time and their toddlers. In November of 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics shifted its position from no screens for children aged 18 months and younger to an allowance of apps like Skype and FaceTime. For children 15 months to two years, it’s said that some screen time is acceptable, as long as there is parental involvement or co-viewing. For children two to five years old, some studies have shown that this group is able to understand basic reading and math concepts introduced through apps, as well as social and emotional understanding. The AAP even went as far as endorsing the family of Sesame Street apps which are directed toward family dynamics such as divorce, incarceration and autism. Furthermore, the Breathe, Think, Do with the Sesame app teaches children “skills such as problem solving, self-control, planning, and task persistence.”

Let’s consider this for a second: the first iPhone is older than your 10 year old. iPhones and other smartphones have now been a part of our everyday-life for an entire decade. This means our younger children have no frame of reference for what our lives were like before we turned to our devices for everything. Some children don’t even know what a phone book is. We look at our phones while we rock our babies to sleep. We read books on our tablets before we go to sleep with white noise from our “Sleep Machine” apps. We prop up our iPads in the kitchen while trying out a new recipe. While some people still struggle with this being the new norm, most children only know life this way. For those of us who have embraced technology, we understand that the world is literally at our fingertips, but it can still be an overwhelming place.

What are we looking for?

It seems these days, parents of secondary-aged students, grades 7 through 12, leave the educational apps up to the teachers. Most parents we talked to faithfully use the Remind101 app to keep up with their kids’ activities, while the apps students use in education are primarily used by the students themselves.

While good old-fashioned research and hands-on experience will always be the best teacher, one thing is certain: technology is here to stay, so let’s learn how best to use it.

Apps like PhotoMath are great for homework. For example, when an 8th-grade geometry assignment is giving you and your student a fit, simply place a problem in the brackets provided and the app goes to work solving the equation and more importantly, it breaks down the steps to the solution one by one. For a parent who truly struggled in all forms of math as a student, this app has reinvigorated a love of learning in my home. Parents praise the breakdown of the math problems they learned so long ago, review after review on the iTunes store claim it is the “best app ever” and that it “saved my life.” Students learn how to solve the problems they may be struggling with and parents don’t have to scribble through textbooks to no avail.

Parents of younger children, Pre-K through 6th grade, are primarily concerned with exposing their children to the best education apps available. The only problem is there are literally tens of thousands of apps to choose from. There are apps to teach children how to tie their shoes (Tie Your Shoes!), develop good bathroom and hygiene habits (Pepi Bath) and even an app that teaches Muslim children how to properly pray and have good manners. The possibilities are literally endless. So what is a parent to do?

First, you know your child better than anyone else. Some children respond to games or apps that include space or dinosaurs. Some children prefer the ever-popular Disney-themed apps. And some children bounce from app to app like we shop in the Target Dollar Spot section. Apps that interest your child are out there. You just have to sift through the pixels to find them.

Educational apps

For toddlers to kindergartners, apps like Starfall, ABC Mouse and the Eggy series are fun, challenging and enhance your child’s reading, writing and basic math skills. If your 7 to 10-year-old is looking for something different, Dino Chess, Dragonbox Algebra, Sushi Math and Cosmolander teaches kids how to play chess, advanced math concepts and all about the solar system, respectively. If you have an 11 to 18-year-old, you might be surprised how many apps overlap and can benefit students in the classroom and can prepare them for more advanced studies into college. Apps like Quizlet and BrainRush can help students study for a specific section of study materials. Poplet helps students study with mind-mapping technology and My Study Life keeps assignments in one convenient location on their tablet or smartphone.

Mrs. Greer’s favorite apps

Tolar kindergarten teacher, Elise Greer is in her third year of teaching. She lives in Granbury with her husband, Eric, two children, Makenna, 11 and Cash, 9 and their two dogs. She was born to be an educator and considers it a calling. Hood County is blessed to have Mrs. Greer in the classroom and her students are even more blessed. Have one conversation with her and it’s clear she is passionate about her job and bringing out the best in her students. Honestly, as parents, this woman is who you want on the frontlines of education and technology with our most precious assets.

While there are some school districts that claim to embrace technology, Tolar ISD clearly does. When asked if Tolar Elementary promotes and implements technology in the classroom, Mrs. Greer replied, “Yes. Absolutely!” She adds, “my principal does a really good job of keeping us abreast of technology and we always talk about it during the summer. We do use technology in the classroom.”

Speaking of technology in the classroom, Mrs. Greer explains, “Our librarian has created folders for each grade level on the mini iPads and my kids know during English/Language Arts, you go into that folder and these are the reading apps you have to choose from. That’s what we do on a daily basis during our English/Language Arts block. Then, they use them during our math block and we use them for everything for reading.” One thing Mrs. Greer has strongly embraced is the use of the QR Code – those odd, jumbled, square icons we see on everything from cereal boxes to magazines. A Quick Response Code, or QR Code is simply a symbol created to be read by a QR scanner to obtain information; any kind of information. We’ve all seen them in marketing techniques, but to see them used in the classroom is truly a great use of this technology. “My kids can take their mini iPad and scan a QR code. It reads them the book, shows them the book and then asks them a question and they can respond on that page,” Mrs. Greer explains. “In Kindergarten, the biggest thing that we use besides Starfall and iStation and the Eggy (mentioned before) apps, is the QR scanner.”

This new QR code technology even moves with them to first grade where they continue to use the software to learn social studies lessons. “I’ve seen the first-grade teachers use the QR codes in the hallway especially in science and social studies when we introduce a new concept. The students were actually learning about arctic animals so what they did was post facts all around the school and it’s like a scavenger hunt. They had a question and they scan the QR code to search for the right answer so they can fact check. This method just takes it to a next level.” Teachers like Mrs. Greer are truly at the forefront of the technology our young children were born into.

These modern times afford us all so much convenience and opportunity to see the world and learn about things we didn’t have access to before. For example, having the ability to sit in your living room and see the man-made islands off the coast of Dubai using Google Earth is truly mesmerizing. As mentioned, there is an app for anything you may want to teach your children. There is no magic solution to the screen time vortex, but this much we know is true: there is no substitute for what we parents can provide for our children. They will always ultimately choose us over any app.