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5 Questions With… Harry Dickens (Apps for Learning series)

by Harry Dickens
 | Jul 12, 2013
Author/consultant Harry Dickens has written three Apps for Learning books for Corwin Press: High School, Middle School, and Elementary School. He has been an educator for twenty-three years. Those years include classroom teacher and instructional technology director in a school district and a statewide resource center in Arkansas. Harry lives in east Texas with his wife and two sons. Visit him online at

As the author of the Apps for Learning books, what advice would you give to teachers who want to incorporate technology into their curriculum but aren’t sure where to start?

Start with what you have first! If it is one computer in the classroom, go for it. With the books I wanted to show examples of mobile applications that can be used in the classroom. Again, teachers need to start with what they have and don’t try to over do it. Start with a few apps—collect answers to a quiz through the Socrative app. Then move PowerPoint presentations to another app that’s great for formative assessment, Nearpod. Also, use the productivity tools for the mobile device of their choice, making use of it as a part of your daily routine. It is part of the students’.

You’ve written books about classroom technology for elementary, middle, and high school students. How beneficial can apps be for children at the early learning stage?

The small mobile devices and apps for preschool students offer more options than anyone could have imagined 40-plus years ago when I was in a daycare. The books for the iPad and other mobile devices are interactive, with something touchable and teachable happening on each and every page. The interactive Montessori apps introduce math, shapes, letter sounds (phonics), and more.

Starting students in preschool with mobile devices gets them ready for K-12 school going mobile at an increasing rate.

Many people assume that apps, mobile devices, and similar resources can be expensive. How can teachers from struggling districts keep up with today’s increasing emphasis on technology?

Many people look for apps for a specific task and that is where the cost comes in. There are many creativity applications available for free. Watch for free Fridays by downloading a “Free App” [such as App Gratis] for alerts on price cuts on the apps.

School districts do receive volume purchase choices for several apps from the Apple Education Store. Sometimes this means a large purchase of a single app may have to up the price. I have made contact with several app developers and asked for them to consider making their app available this way. And many times I get a free code for the app!

What should teachers look for in a high quality app?

When I work with students I want them creating and applying and analyzing. Using a guide in the school setting is best because it may be an app I can use over several grade levels or an app that covers a specific deficiency that the state assessment says the district needs to address.

Kathy Schrock has a wonderful Taxonomy I use every time I consider downloading an app. It helps me look at an app to make sure it can be used for higher-level Bloom’s.

There are other rubrics available on the web from other professional educators as well. Here’s one more from Kathy.

What would you say to a defiantly “old school” teacher who thinks apps and mobile devices are distractions?

I can say personally teachers that are technically challenged have been some of the easiest to work with because they for the most part have a better understanding of the content. A new teacher or the tech director may say, “Here is a cool app!” But the “seasoned” teacher usually has classroom skills a new teacher doesn’t have yet. When they are paired together magic really happens!

I have witnessed this in several settings. I even had a teacher in one workshop who decided to continue a few more years because she saw the potential [in technology]!

© 2013 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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