Top Ten Free (or almost free) iPad Apps that I Learned More About at #ISTE13

I have not been blogging much recently. I am teaching a new Nach course this year on a sefer that I have not learned thoroughly before, Jeremiah, and my primary goal has been to learn through the sefer so I could see the "big picture" and then develop general themes, topics of inquiry, and lesson plans. 

One resource that has been indispensible in helping me "jump start" this process has been Rabbi Menachem Leibtag's Nach Yom shiurim on the entire book of Jeremiah. This has given me a great Bekiut (breadth of knowledge) approach to the sefer when supplemented by my learning inside with the Daat Mikra. For Iyun (learning in depth), I have discovered Nechama Leibowitz's gilyonot on Jeremiah which are online in their entirety as PDF files together with various other Hebrew commentaries and sources on Michlelet Herzog's Daat site. I hope to blog more about teaching Jeremiah on my Tanach Rav blog in the near future.

However, I have also been spending time processing the wealth of knowledge that I gained from the recent ISTE conference. You can read my two previous postings on ISTE here and here. You can also watch Adam Bellow's rousing closing Keynote from the conference below. As some of you know, I am not usually a fan of keynotes at conferences because I find them to be overly general and often sappy but Adam Bellow's address is inspirational and the way he uses Google Glass in it is pretty cool as well.

Besides the thought provoking conversations and presentations, I learned about many new apps at ISTE. I have spent the time since ISTE experimenting with many of them. In the theme of my posting from two years ago on the Top Ten Free Educational Technology Applications I Learned (More) About at #ISTE11, I plan to devote two postings to these apps. This one will focus on iPad apps and I hope to write a future posting on web apps. My criteria for choosing an app for this "Top Ten" is that it should either be free or very inexpensive, even a $5-10 app can become a big investment when purchasing for many students, the app should be one that I did not know much about before ISTE, so favorite apps that I have blogged on in the last like Evernote, Skitch, and Haiku Deck will not make this list, and the app should have good, practical applications to the classroom. Please add your favorite classroom apps in the comments to this posting.

Here is my Top Ten, drumroll please.

#10 Blogsy
If you plan on doing serious blogging using the iPad, Blogsy is an essential app. While students can blog in many ways, I am especially fond of Tammy Worcester's posting to Blogger via email trick, if you want to compose rich blog posts using the iPad, the Blogger website or iPad app is lacking in many ways. Blogsy solves all of these issues and, because it utilizes iPad features like touch for actions like dragging and resizing photos, in many ways it is superior to blogging on a computer. Blogsy is not free, it costs $4.99 for one copy and you can get the 50% volume discount if you buy 20 at a time for students. Therefore, since my primary focus is on free apps, when purchasing apps on a wide scale for students in a 1 to 1 program even inexpensive apps add up VERY quickly, I am putting Blogsy at #10 on my Top Ten list. You can read more about Blogsy in my previous posting on Google iPad apps.

Google Now is Google's free search app but it does so much more than just search. The voice recognition capabilities utilizing the iPad's built in microphone are superior to Siri so younger students can just speak their search. It also has "intelligence" providing you with the information you need to know, when you need it. For example, it uses the location services on the iPad to identify the local weather and nearby points of interest, it uses Gmail to look up your flight data and post updates, it gives you driving directions to work or home or to the next point in your itinerary. A bit creepy but pretty cool. You can watch a video about Google Now here and read my previous description of it in my Google iPad apps posting.

I have known about Edmodo for years for its capabilities as a free learning management system. But for whatever reason, while I experimented with it in one of my classes, it never became a regular part of my teaching. I prefered more basic learning management systems to post homework and for more advanced features I used wikis and blogs. With the iPad and the prospect of every student having a device at all times, that is changing. I need a simple one stop solution for posting homework with a dropbox for students to paperlessly submit their assignments, take real time quizzes and receive immediate feedback on what answers they got correct and incorrect, and to participate in online discussions. Edmodo provides all of that in their app, it is free unlike other solutions like Haiku Learning, and it benefits from a rich online user community since it has been around for a relatively long time. In fact, I was able to have a long conversation with a private school teacher who has used Edmodo with her classes for years and with a developer building on the Edmodo platform who has created an intriguing web app Learn Street which teaches coding using project based learning where kids can create their own games. No other free learning management system has this rich user and developer base.

I have talked a great deal in the past about the Flipped Classroom and free apps like Showme and Educreations which allow teachers and students to easily create videos. I recently read an excellent piece by Seth Dimbert which was just cross-posted on the NLE Resources blog describing how a teacher in Florida uses Showme to transform his Talmud classroom with kids learning colloboratively and watching videos to achieve mastery. However, there are times when these free screencasting apps are not enough. For example, if one wants to have a moving cursor to point to each part of the text as one reads it, one is forced to use underlining in Showme or Educreations, not a very efficient or user friendly solution. Explain Everything is a paid app, costing a whopping $2.99, which offers moving cursors and many more advanced features like embedding PowerPoint presentations and video directly into your screencast. This can transform screencasting into a more full fledged digital story telling tool and is a must have for serious teacher screencasters.

On the subject of digital storytelling, if you are teaching lower elementary grades, Sock Puppets is a must. Students can narrate stories with Sock Puppets of their choice. They can also choose different background, props, and either use their own voices or digitally enhanced versions of their voices which are much squeakier and funnier for kids (but might be annoying for teachers). This is a great way for kids to act out a scene from a book they are reading or event they are learning about in Chumash or Social Studies. Toontastic is similar digital storytelling app that is a bit harder to use but offers a true story arc with a Setup, Conflict, Challenge, Climax & Resolution.

For older middle school or high school students who want to create a full fledged video using their iPad, Splice is an excellent alternative to paid apps like iMovie. Splice offers the ability to do everything one would need in a simple movie including adding pictures and video, trimming video, cropping a picture of video, adding the Ken Burns effect where one movies across a picture of video, adding transitions, titles, or a sound track, and even special effects like slow motion. I also find a more basic iPad app like Splice to take up much less space than iMovie, a must of students have a 16GB iPad, and, since it only has basic features with few bells and whistles, it allows students to concentrate much more on the story than on special templates or advanced special effects. You can watch a simple video I created of 4th of July fireworks using Splice here. Note, I spent maybe 30 minutes total on this video and my students are much more creative than me so I do not think it will be winning any "academy awards" but it shows off some of the features of this app.

Here is an idea to transform any project based learning assignment into a rich interactive experience, add a narrated tour to your physical projects! Students can create projects of any kind, artwork, diaramas, models, and then record a description of their project using Audioboo or! Each of these apps then generates an online link to access the audio narration. The one difference between the apps is that while AudiBoo can create longer audio recordings, 3 minutes vs. 30 seconds,! allows one to upload the recordings as hidden links that cannot be accessed by someone just searching Google. 

One can easily transform this audio link into a QR code using an online web app like The QR Codes are printed out and posted by each project. Then students, teachers, or parents can walk around the exhibit, scanning each code with an iPad or their smartphone and get an audio tour similar to the type of tour one would find in a museum. More advanced users can dispense of the QR Codes entirely and using the iPhone app, Aurasma, transform pictures into interactive online experiences. You can watch a video of the Arasma dollar trick here. I cannot wait to try this out with my students and teachers this coming school year!

#3 Ask3
TechSmith the creators of tremendously useful and popular computer apps like Camtasia and Jing have recently created a free screencasting iPad app of their own. This app offers some intriguing classroom features not found in Showme, Educreations, or Explain Everywhere. Teachers can create classes to host their videos and then post links, discussion questions, or quizzes at any point along the video timeline. Students can also post video responses to the teacher generated content in which they can even mark up the teacher video. This could solve one valid critique of the Flipped Classroom video which is that it remains a very teacher-centered frontal lecture approach by transforming the video into an interactive classroom experience. I have not yet mastered Ask3 but I believe this app to have a great deal of potential.

Subtext is a free app that allows one to transform the page of a digital text into an interactive discussion or assignment. Teachers can add a discussion prompt directly into any word or phrase in a book the class is reading to create an active reading experience. Subtext also has built in audio reading capabilities, and highlighting and notetaking tools. This should be invaluable for any class that deals with text. One note, subtext does not appear to have Hebrew capabilities yet so it would not work with online texts in Tanach or Talmud.

Books for Subtext need to be purchased using the Google Play bookstore, one can also add any epub book or article from a website into Subtext. This allows one to take a book or play that is already in the public domain either using Subtext itself or from a site like Project Gutenberg and add it to Subtext. In the near future, Subtext is also adding the ability to upload PDFs into the app which will make it an even more versatle tool. Here are instructions for adding epub books from the public domain into Subtext and below is a picture describing the process for adding free books directly from the app.

My number one iPad app that I learned more about at ISTE is not an app at all, it is a website called Graphite created by Common Sense Media which should become an invaluable tool for any teacher, parent, or student. Imagine something like Amazon product reviews but for iPad apps and specifically geared towards education. If done right, this could be crowdsourcing at its best, as one seeking information about he educational value of iPad apps has one site with teacher-created reviews aligned to grade levels, subjects, and standards, and curated by a trusted organization. One can search for an app or website, specify a subject, grade level, app platform like iPad or Android, and whether the app is free, free to try, or paid. You can see a screenshot example below. This site is still in beta but it is my hope that everyone reading this blog signs up and starts contributing to Graphite (tell your friends too) since with all of the apps out there, the job of curating them to discover the educationally useful apps is becoming SO very important.

Please share your experiences using the apps mentioned in this posting and/or add your own favorite iPad apps in the comments to this posting.