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    • App a Day

    Library Management Made Easy: Book Retriever App

    by Lindsey Fuller
     | Mar 13, 2013

    book retrieverTechnology has given us the capacity to change the way we do so many things in the classroom. It seems no matter the task, there is always an app for that.

    Classroom library management is no exception. We spend a lot of time and money building our classroom libraries; it makes sense to invest in a reliable management system in order to keep track of all those precious books we loan out to students. But up until recently, this has been a time-consuming and tedious task.

    Fortunately, there is indeed an app to make this aspect of classroom life a little easier. Book Retriever is a low-cost iPhone app that allows for the creation of a classroom library database. It is very easy to use—simply scan the ISBN barcode on the back of a book, and the app will identify and add that book to the classroom library list. The book listing includes title, author, cover photo, and the number of titles available, as well as Lexile level, grade level, and the current price to purchase a replacement.

    While this is amazing in itself, the extra features are really what make this app. No barcode? No problem. Create a barcode by entering the necessary information and print a label via a wireless printer, then attach the barcode to the book. Occasionally a book will have an unrecognizable ISBN, in which case the teacher will need to enter the title and author information for the book. (Scholastic titles, unfortunately, tend to be the books that most often carry these oddball numbers.) Luckily, this doesn't make the app unusable, but it will require a little more time and effort to get these books entered into your online database. As an added bonus, the barcode creation feature also makes it possible for the teacher to enter other items into the database. Anything that can have a label stuck to it could be checked out through this app, which is incredibly handy in a classroom setting!

    Another fantastic feature is the ability to select a student to see what books the student currently has checked out. Books can also be searched by ISBN, title, author, etc., allowing the teacher to see who is in possession of a book at any given time. A full list of books in the database is offered, which is excellent for insurance purposes, as well as for reference when choosing new titles to add to the library. This library listing can be sorted by title or author, or by check out status. The status selection option provides a complete list of books that are currently checked out. In addition, a leveled reading chart, a list of "Hot Books," and tips for creating an engaging classroom library are included.

    Once all the books in a library have been scanned into the app, the teacher creates a class list. Student names need to be entered, and the teacher has the option of including a variety of other information, including parent emails. When a student wishes to check out a book, the teacher simply selects the “Check Out” option in the app, scans the book, and chooses a student name from the list. The default due date is two weeks from the day the book was checked out, but this can easily be changed when the book is scanned. Another excellent feature of this app is the late notice reminders that automatically get sent to parent email addresses when a book is overdue. Checking a book in is as easy as selecting the “Check In” option and scanning the barcode.

    Perhaps one of the best features of Book Retriever is that it is ideal for a classroom with limited technology access. It can be used efficiently in a classroom with a single iPad, or with a teacher's iPhone. Since the app is not a free download, I only purchased it for my iPad, instead of spending the money to install it on every iPad in my classroom. With check in and out only requiring a quick scan, we easily manage with the app on a single device. It does, however, require a Wi-Fi connection to properly create an online database.

    Of course, few apps exist that are models of perfection, and Book Retriever does have a bug or two. Some users have reported difficulty in creating an account. The developer suggests avoiding spaces and special characters when creating a username, as this tends to cause problems. I had some difficulty getting my password verified, but after several tries was finally able to get it working and create my account. The good news is that the developer seems to be quite responsive to any problems, so users who have difficulty should not hesitate to ask for assistance.

    Book Retriever is very reasonably priced at $0.99, and is currently only available as an iPhone/iPod Touch app (which can also be used on the iPad). A desktop version is available on the developer website, but it appears no other mobile platforms are currently supported. Book Retriever can be previewed and downloaded here.

    Lindsey Fuller is a sixth grade teacher in Decatur, IL. Her interests are classroom technology integration, literacy instruction, and Common Core curriculum development and implementation. You can read more from Lindsey on these topics at her blog, Tales of a 6th Grade Classroom.

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  • "After I practice my vocabulary cards, will you let me use your iPhone?” This question, asked by a struggling reader, started us on the road to creating the FunDog Reading and Thinking Word Analogies app.
    • Blog Posts
    • App a Day

    Creating Your Own Mobile App

    by Kathleen Casey and Brenda Archambeault
     | Jan 30, 2013
    “After I practice my vocabulary cards, will you let me use your iPhone?”

    This question, asked by a struggling reader, started us on the road to creating the FunDog Reading and Thinking Word Analogies app.

    As reading specialists, we always have our antennae up for ways to entice students to read. We assess and focus on skill and strategy instruction to address their weaknesses and highlight their strengths. Our classroom libraries are filled with a wide range of books grouped by genres and levels, and we hold conferences with our students to learn more about them as readers.

    Now, here was a loud and clear signal that the smartphone or tablet could be used as both an enjoyable learning tool and reward during school, in after school programs, or at home.

    Wanting to download some literacy apps, we decided to investigate iTunes. As of September 2012, there were 700,000 IOS apps available, a quarter of which were educational or reference apps. When we began our process, just a few years ago, there was less than a third of that number, very few of which were geared for elementary readers. Most addressed early literacy: language awareness, letter, number, and color recognition.

    But rather than get discouraged about not finding learning games for our students, we saw an opportunity. The news reported that everyday people designed apps. Both of us had great confidence about our skills as reading specialists, so why couldn’t we make our own?

    It’s a good thing that teachers excel at multitasking, since this ability helped us launch our mobile app business. After finishing a full day of teaching or between family activities and weekend chores, we worked. There were planning walks, phone conversations, and emails. We created to-do lists, divvied up tasks, talked about our timeline, and always returned to our mission statement: create a quality engaging app that would help children become more confident, fluent readers.

    There were many other aspects to consider. Wanting to learn about setting up our business, we consulted SCORE, a nonprofit association that helps small businesses get off the ground. To become familiar with Objective C programming, we took an evening course at the technical high school. One of us also enrolled in an evening Web Page Development class in order to make a presence on the Internet.

    Before publishing our website (Weebly was our host), we had to apply for a domain name ( on Go Daddy. By joining Moms with Apps, we gained helpful information from parents who were creating their own apps. Sonny Fazio, a high school senior who had written several apps and is now a Computer Science Major at Wentworth College, did our programming—having a talented coder like him is key.

    We were also lucky to hire a designer to do the artwork and a teaching assistant who recorded FunDog’s voice. Family, teacher friends, and students volunteered to do our beta testing and give us valuable criticism.

    Looking back, we were unrealistic in thinking it would be a cinch to design a game that could be completed quickly; it turns out that it was a lengthy process that took over a year.

    Finally, in June 2011, our app went live. We accomplished our goal of creating a game that could help kids practice sight words and higher level thinking skills. When walking through our school, we see teachers projecting the FunDog Analogies onto interactive whiteboards or children playing with it on iPads. The app has sold in countries around the world, and we are now preparing our third creation.

    Want to give designing your own mobile app a try? Here are some points to help you on your way:

    1. Identify your expertise and passion.
    2. Become familiar with the smartphone and tablet—their capabilities and why they are attractive and educationally beneficial to children. Take a class or online tutorial to broaden your knowledge about terms like user interface and functionality details.
    3. Do some market analysis. Download apps, making notes about the content, quality of design and graphics, readability, ease of use, pace, audio, effects, and overall appeal. What apps have not yet been created?
    4. Make a sequential storyboard app on paper. What does the player do and see on each page? What will motivate the player to maintain interest?
    5. Get small business support in order to learn about accounting, legal, and business protocols.
    6. Hire good people to work for you (programmer, designer, voice/sound effects person, musician, etc.) and talk with them frequently so that your vision is realized.
    7. Have extra money in your business bank account. Every feature requires time from your hired team members.
    8. Take a good look at all facets of the app once it is in the pre-publication mode, making sure that everything works as it should before the public downloads it.
    9. Create a presence online through an attractive web page and social networking site and listen to the response.
    10. Apply for a license in iTunes and monitor your sales.
    11. Promote your app through word of mouth, professional gatherings, advertising, social networks, and interviews.
    12. Get ready and think about your next app.
    Kathleen Casey worked as certified classroom teacher and reading specialist for a total of 37 years in the Town of Barnstable, MA on Cape Cod. Currently, she is retired from teaching, but is still an active member of the International Reading Association, the Cape Cod Council of IRA, for which she publishes the local newsletter, and the Massachusetts Reading Association. In 2010, she received the Literacy Award from the MRA.

    After raising a family and working in business, Brenda Archambeault earned her certification in Elementary and Special Education. Last year, she obtained her M.Ed. and C.A.E.S. in Educational Leadership. At the present time, she is the Title 1 Coordinator at Barnstable United Elementary School and teaches fifth grade students with reading difficulties.

    Kathleen and Brenda have two mobile apps in iTunes: FunDog: Reading & Thinking Word Analogies and FunDog More: Reading & Thinking Word Analogies. They have also worked as reading consultants and have written grants for the Cape Cod Child Development Program.

    © 2013 Kathleen Casey & Brenda Archambeault. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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