Thursday, September 01, 2016

iOS utility apps for the classroom

As you begin another school year, I wanted to share some of my favorite iOS apps and utilities. Many of these tools can be used by you as you develop lessons and units, and by students as they utilize the resources found in the Discovery Education collection.
I do my best work in coffeeshops. Besides being a lover of good coffee, the background noise in a coffeeshop is not distracting to me. It actually acts as “white noise” and helps me concentrate on the task at hand, whether I am reading an article, grading papers, or creating a presentation.

When I cannot get to a coffeeshop, I have found an iOSAndroid, and online app called Coffitivity, which provides you with the soundtrack from a morning crowd, lunchgoers, and university students at a coffeeshop. It truly is as good as the real thing! Only the latte is missing!

Students might benefit from a background noise generator, too, when they are writing, producing, or reading. White Noise Free (available for both iOS and Android) includes 40 sounds that students can combine, save that mix, and even record their own background loop and combine it with the sounds included in the app. The sounds included run the gamut from an Amazon Jungle to an air conditioner to a vacuum cleaner, and many more! The app also includes a clock so students can keep track of time.

When students are downloading image assets from Discovery Education, oftentimes they are working on a small-group project. If everyone has an iPad and the iPads are new enough to be able to AirDrop, it is easy to share these assets to the person in the group that is curating the items. There are a few other ways I like to use, too. I often create a public Padlet page for students to upload and download assets from/to one another.

There is also a great app called Flick. which is available for iOSAndroidWindows Phone,  MacWindows, and Linux devices. This app allows users to seamlessly share photos, notes, contacts, and documents between any of these platforms. Flick. is a great solution for a BYOD initiative or a classroom with a mix of devices. Users simply put an asset on the stage and “flick” it to another device.

Students love to try out different keyboards for their iOS devices. Tom Hanks, the actor, is a huge typewriter fan. He created an iPad/iPhone app called Hanx Writer which comes complete with the clackety sounds of a traditional typewriter as well as the return key to start a new line of typing. The Hanx Writer will have them typing out essays in no time! The completed typed paper can be shared in any number of ways.

Sometimes you want to have a random choice generator in the classroom. Decide Now! allows you to customize the items on this spinner wheel. You can add student names, classroom tasks, choices for research projects, etc. The number of labels on the wheel is unlimited! You can even import labels from a list on your iPad’s clipboard. The “carnival wheel” clacking sound and choice of color schemes are included. Try Decide Now! Lite to test out the features before you buy!

Another handy item to have in the class is a count-down timer. As a teacher, you can use it to keep the class on task and students can use it when working in groups to limit discussion lengths or as a prompt when presenting. The Presentation Timer app is as simple as it comes, but includes the important component of being able to set up to three reminder bells during the time period. This would come in handy for me when I am running workshops, too, since I am always giving the time remaining for the participants’ projects!

Having Word, Powerpoint, Excel and the iWork suite on your iPad is great, but one of the limitations of the iPad versions of these tools is the limited number of fonts. I purchased the AnyFont app and am able to add almost any font to the iPad!  The fonts get added from a Mail attachment or via  iTunes file sharing. Here is a brief overview of AnyFont from the creator. As you can see in the image below, I installed several hand-written fonts to use when sketchnoting!

Ever spent time in your class looking for a coin to flip or cutting up drinking straws into different lengths to have students take a turn or decide on something? The Undecided app includes six decision-making utilities– up to 6, six-sided dies, a coin for coin flipping, a spinner, a straw pull,  the “rock, paper, scissors” option against another student or the computer, and a random number generator. You can also try out the Undecided Lite app, which includes some of full-featured utilities of the paid version, to see how it works

A useful online utility that works perfectly with the iPad is the AWW (A Web Whiteboard) tool. For no cost, it allows you to create an online whiteboard, share it and work on it collaboratively with students. The finished project can be downloaded as an image or shared via its URL. If you purchase a subscription, the boards can be saved. One other great use of this app is for creating sketchnotes from any device, but it can also be used for brainstorming, a ticket to leave, or any number of activators and summarizer activities. 

I take tons of screenshots in order to get an image into my camera roll, and the Screenshotter app is a great app for any iOS user! Every time you take a screenshot, the Screenshotter recognizes it. When you open the Screenshotter app, you are presented with the image for every screenshot you have taken. Once you select the ones you want to move, you are prompted to create a folder in iCloud (or use one that you already have created) and move the images to that folder. Or, once the items are selected in the app, you can also use the iOS share button to AirDrop the images, email them, Tweet them, and send them anywhere you have access to on your device.

One of the iOS apps I depend on is IF by IFTTT. This is one app in a suite of four available from this creator. (The others are DO CameraDO Note, and DO Button.) IFTTT is short for “IThis, Then That”. The IF app allows you to create connections (“recipes”) between popular apps you already use. Some of the apps that you can connect together are Facebook, Dropbox, Instagram, Twitter, Gmail, Tumblr, Craigslist, Evernote, YouTube, Vimeo, Google Drive, Pocket, LIFX, Square, Best Buy, eBay, Etsy, Automatic, littleBits, Scout Alarm, Misfit, UP by Jawbone, Withings, Reddit, Digg, ESPN, Pushbullet, and 190 more! There are also ways to to connect your iOS device to your Fitbit, Nest Thermostat, and Philips Hue, among other physical devices.
The IF app is very useful for students as they are collecting assets to use in a project. There are hundreds of already-created recipes they can use and they can also create their own from within the app. Some of the recipes I use include–
  • When I post to Twitter, send the tweet to a Google Spreadsheet
  • Email me any Tweets I favorited in the previous week as a digest at the end of that week.
  • Control my WEMO lightbulb with my Amazon Echo.
When I open the IF app, I am also presented with some recommended recipes I might want to use, as seen below. Students can automate many tasks and curate information from various social media and commercial sites in a single place to make it easy for them to keep up with topics they are exploring or are personally interested in.

There are hundreds of useful utility apps and tools available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. What are your favorites? Share on Twitter! #kathyschrock