Maybe you’re on a train and somebody sees you reading an edtech journal. He leans over and asks if you can recommend good multiplication apps for his nine-year-old. You have a few vague ideas, but you’re not ready to endorse any of the apps you’ve seen so far. It’s too important a question to be taken lightly.
Or perhaps your Uber driver is dropping you off at a tech event (like mine last night, on the way to LearnLaunch in Cambridge, Mass). He tells you his three-year-old is a whiz at using his iPad; he knows all his alphabet letters and can count to twenty—mainly because of the time he spends interacting with various apps. He wonders if you know of any other good apps his son might enjoy. You do, but are the apps really beneficial for children, or just based on drill-and-practice routines?
As educators we need to always be on the cutting edge. But with the edtech landscape changing by the minute, it’s hard to be on top of everything.
Enter Balefire Labs, a group of dedicated educators who review apps for you and share their findings in various categories (e.g., Math, English Language Arts). In reviewing each app they rate, they draw from very specific criteria (e.g., “error remediation” and “clearly-stated learning objective”), which you can learn about here.
Founded by Karen L. Mahon, Ed.D., Balefire Labs aims “to offer a solution that saves people time and money and alleviates the guilt that parents feel.” Some of that guilt comes from not being able to distinguish the good from the bad when selecting apps. As Dr. Mahon says, “It’s nearly impossible to tell apps apart when you’re in one of the app stores.” True enough.
Given my interest in early literacy development, I clicked first on the “Five Best Phonics EdApps for iOS.” I was not surprised to find “Bugsy Kindergarten Reading School” and “Sky Fish Phonics,” but I didn’t know about Eggy Phonics 1, 2, and 3, all of which made the evaluators’ cut. When I clicked on each product name, I was taken to the review and several screenshots of each of the five apps. I left this section of the website with a much greater sense of top apps than I had at the outset.
Balefire Labs is not the only website that carefully reviews educational apps. You probably already know about Common Sense Media, which many parents and teachers rely on for reviews of apps, movies, and a wide range of media offerings.
How about it TechnoTeachers? Take a look and let us know what you discover. Have you tried any of the top apps for kids in various categories? If so, does your thinking square with reviews on Balefire or Common Sense Media? Or do you disagree? Let us know!
Thanks for the heads up on Balefire, Ann Kaufman-Fredrick, Ph.D., innovative educator and member of Balefire’s Advisory Board
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This is where Jules and Nic will post articles, links to interesting sites and things that we think our TechnoTeachers will like.