Handhelds in the Classroom: Apps for Learning

As a teacher who either owns an Apple handheld device or uses them in the classroom, you’ve probably perused the ‘Education’ section of the App Store. There are a kazillion apps on it. I’ve bought many of them for use in the classroom, as well as for my own children.

The problem with the Education Store is that most of the apps are not educational and many are just plain boring and dumb. Worst of all, they tend to be uber-focused on gimmicky content memorization. In other words, they are prettier, animated worksheets.

In my view, you pass through the novelty stage in using handhelds in your class when you initiate the use of apps that connect students to one another and content on the internet. To put it another way, if you see a button(s) in the app called either SHARE, POST, COMMENT, SEND, you’re probably on the right track.

I also think it is important that we think of apps for education by type, rather than too specifically. There are few things as subjective in technology use as what app to use for a particular purpose. Just look at the myriad of tools people are using to post to Twitter! Determining the quality of an app is extremely personal. What is more, the current changes so quickly in Appville that it is nearly impossible to keep an exhaustive list.

With this in mind, I’ve created a list below (one which I will continually update and invite contributions to through my comments) of App types that you should be looking for to thoroughly engage your students in creation, collaboration, and shared critical thinking. In italics you will see my own personal up-to-date favourites (most of them apply to both the iPod Touch and the iPad).

Every student/teacher should have at least one of these types of apps on their device:

A Social Networking app: Twitter for iPhone, Echofon, Edmodo, Facebook

A Google Apps app: Office2, G-Whizz! Google

A Task Management app: Things, Bento, Today

A Blogging app: Blogpress, WordPress

A Password Management app: 1Password

A Photo Sharing app: Flickit, FlickStackr

An RSS Reader: Reeder

A Notetaking app: Evernote

Books/Magazines/News (for students): Marvel, DC Comics, iBooks, Kindle, Kobo, Archie Comics

MindMapping: iThoughts

A Wikipedia App: Wikipanion

A Drawing or Doodling app: iDraft, Glow Doodle, Chalkboard, Whiteboard, Omnisketch, Kineo

And don’t forget about the apps that come loaded on your iPod, iPhone, and iPad: Safari, Calendar, Contacts, Maps, Notes, YouTube, Mail, iPod are all essential tools as well.

If you’re starting to hate me right now for being an Apple Fanboy, keep in mind that the same policy applies to Android, Blackberry, etc. Remember: it’s the purpose of the tool; not the particular tool/device/app itself.



  1. Thanks for this article, Royan. I would also add language learning apps, science/nature apps, and math apps to your list. Check out the uTalk series of language learning games, iBird Explorer which helps you identify birdcalls, the Project Noah crowdsourced animal spotting app, the Pocket Universe and Star Walk astronomy apps, Coin Crazy or Elementary Math elementary math apps. Better than the education category of the iTunes store – check out Appolicious curated lists of best iPhone and iPad apps created by real educators:



  2. My vision for my classroom is to have a mix of netbooks, handhelds, paper and pencil (yes, we’ll use those) all flowing and connecting seamlessly.

    The biggest road block for me is my own sense of letting go. It’s been hard to stop and realize that one kid might be using an iPod Touch and creating a podcast while another is writing a blog post on a netbook while another has a video camera and all of this is okay to be happening at the same time.

  3. I am the marketing representative of Ice Whale, an educational iPhone/iPad app developing team. We are now providing “Math Exercise Kid” which is a series of interactive math exercise applications for children. We also provide free trails.

    We are going to launch our latest app with a special promotion, the FREE full version Math Exercise Kid (Division) with no ads for limited time. We strongly welcome you to take advantage of our special offer.


    Please come to our blog at http://ice-whale.blogspot.com/ for more information.

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