Apps can be an aid to teachers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 August, 2012, 11:03am

Bryan Tang has just completed his IGCSE examination at an international school. Since joining the secondary section, he has changed his smartphone five times. Starting with the iPhone 3, he went on to the iPhone 4, then the Xperia Play and the Galaxy Note. Bryan now uses the Galaxy S3.

Research by Chai Lee Goi of Curtin University in Australia reveals that communication, emergency assistance and entertainment are the most important issues for student consumers.

An informal survey of my Form Five students revealed that while other students only changed their phones twice or thrice in the same duration, they used their phones for the same purposes as Bryan: that is, for communicating with WhatsApp Messenger, which allows an exchange of messages without having to pay for SMS; and Line, a new communication app which allows them to make free voice calls and send free messages.

Bryan also uses his phone to access Facebook and YouTube, play games and take photographs. He likes Instagram, which allows users to take a picture, apply a digital filter to it and then share it on its social network.

As an educator, I often catch students messaging during lessons. But the emotional value students place on their mobile phones can be used to encourage them to use phone apps as educational resources.

A successful student needs to be organised, have access to various resources, and have the self-discipline to get himself or herself to do what needs to be done.

All the best excuses I hear revolve around students forgetting to do homework. So I suggest that they keep track of assignments, projects, classes and grades with organisational apps.

These apps are user-friendly and have notification features that can alert them to deadlines.

Assignment Planner and myHomework are free apps for Android and iPhone users. iStudiez Pro and Course Pro are payable apps for iPhones and Androids respectively, while Class Buddy Pro is available for both.

Google Calendar is very powerful, easy to use and free. It's accessible on any web browser and integrates and syncs with smartphones. My children and I share our Google Calendars, so we know each other's schedules. The appointment slots feature allows others to make appointments with me. That is convenient for parent conferences.

Apps can also be used to help with homework and improve understanding. Although most educational apps require payment, they cost less than the price of a Starbucks coffee and provide more enjoyment and value for money; iPhone users have an advantage as there are more apps for them.

There are some apps specifically for learning maths. Even if students "understand" maths concepts taught in class, the ability to solve questions based on those principles can only be mastered with practise. What better way to spend time commuting than practising with maths apps?

Maths instructor and app editor Leanna Lofte reckons the Math Ref app has a place in every student's pocket. It includes over 1,400 formulae with examples.

She also recommends Apollonius (iPhone) for geometry, WolframAlpha for calculus, and Statistics 1 for iPad. Algebra Touch allows students to manipulate and solve single-variable algebraic equations and develop the confidence to move to solving two-variable equations. These apps include some simple games for younger children.

How about apps for history and geography? Along with Google Maps, there is the World by National Geographic, which is a digital atlas. It's packed with map views, informative photos and flags, and has made geography so much easier. All maps are completely up-to-date.

Language apps include the WordBook XL - English Dictionary & Thesaurus for iPad, which includes the pronunciation of every entry.

As for the arts, Sketchbook Pro has sketching capabilities, Symphony Pro is the premiere music notation app on the iPad, and Inkpad is a good drawing app.

Bryan's mother certainly wishes he would also use phone apps to improve his learning, rather than just for entertainment.

Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at an international school in Hong Kong



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