10+1 Apps for Digital Reading & Writing

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Almost every day I’m asked, “What apps should I install on my iPad?”  Personally, I hate app lists.  There are hundreds of great apps out there and what I would recommend for one classroom or teacher I might not recommend for another.  That being said, I also understand each of us need a place to start when beginning our own iPad journeys.  The App Store can be completely overwhelming.

So, based upon my experience the past few months working with a couple of iPad projects, here is where I would begin, but realize you’re on an app journey and you should always continue looking.  Please note, I am biased towards teachers and students regularly producing digital multimedia text and my app list reflects that.  Also, I believe you get what you pay for.  There are some great free apps out there, but often to do the really “cool stuff” you’re going to need to pay a few bucks.  And honestly, you’ve already spent $499 or more for an iPad…why are you going cheap on the apps?  Most of these apps are less than the price of a fancy Starbucks drink…which speaking of Starbucks did you know they have a free App of the Week each week?  For each of the apps with a fee, the first number is their retail cost, the second is the Volume Purchase price if you’re buying 20 or more copies.

1. Creative Book Builder ($3.99/$1.99)

There are a few different ebook creation apps out there, but Creative Book Builder is my favorite.  For just a few bucks you or your students could be constructing digital texts that make use of text, images, audio, video, and weblinks.  Once completed, these books are then read in iBooks and can be easily shared between devices.  Creative Book Builder is a fantastic tool for Writing Workshop or any content-area writing.  As a science teacher, I could easily see this app being used to construct digital lab reports or as multimedia summaries of concepts.

2. Skitch (Free)

I’m always on the look out for great alternative assessment tools.  With Skitch, users can easily snap a picture and annotate it with text, shapes, or drawings.  In class students could use this tool to demonstrate their understanding of a particular concept, such as magnetism, Newton’s Laws, or Bernoulli’s principle.

3. iMovie ($4.99/$2.49)

When I taught in a 1:1 Macbook classroom I loved using iMovie, but I always ran into two problems – cameras and software training. iMovie on the computer is great, but it requires some training and we never had enough cameras.  Well, every iPad has a camera (actually two of them) and iMovie for iPad is much simpler than iMovie for the Mac. Some might complain about the iPad version’s lack of features, but I personally kind of like it.  Students can’t get lost in all of the options and tools…and we can get back to instruction.

4. iWork ($9.99/$4.99 for each app)

An iPad is NOT a laptop.  However, you might find it handy to have a word processor, presentation tool, or spreadsheet creator.  There are many options for the iPad in this arena, but I find the iWork suite to be the easiest to use.  This suite actually consists of three apps – Keynote, Pages, and Numbers.  If you can’t afford all three just get Pages and Keynote. How often do you need to create a spreadsheet?

5.  ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard (Free)

Similar to Sktich, ShowMe is also a great alternative assessment tool.  ShowMe allows users to record themselves annotating pictures or writing on a blank whiteboard.  The app records not only what you are doing on your iPad, but your voice as well.  I’ve seen a couple of classrooms where students use this app to demonstrate their knowledge of a particular math concept.  ScreenChomp is a similar app that also works well and has a cute monster theme elementary students like.

6. Sonic Pics ($2.99/$1.49)

For those of you who are Windows users, chances are you’ve played with Photostory.  Sonic Pics is basically Photostory for the iPad, but its even easier to use.  There used to be a free version that limited you to three pictures, but I learned today that its no longer available.

7. Comic Life for iPad ($4.99/$2.49)

In my former 1:1 Macbook classroom Comic Life was the backbone of much of our work.  Students would explain the parts of an atom, Newton’s Laws, or the structure of DNA all using Comic Life.  We never really used it for its original intention – designing comic books, but I have observed a few teachers using Comic Life with their students to publish feature articles in Writing Workshop.  Comic Life for the iPad is just that…Comic Life on your iPad.  Its easy to use…and who doesn’t love the fun noises it makes?  :-)

Mentor Texts

Well, if you’re going to be doing some digital writing, you should be doing some digital reading too.

8. Flipboard (Free)

There are a couple of different online news readers, but Flipboard is still my favorite.  Through this app you can subscribe to a variety of online feeds organized by topic, as well as feeds from specific blogs or websites.  Personally, I don’t let a day pass without reading my Tech, Apps, Green Tech, and Automotive feeds.  I also like using Flipboard to read some of my favorite blogs including MindShift and SimplyReciples.

9. iBooks (Free-ish)

The iBooks app is free, but the books in it often have a price.  However, if you’re reading books published before 1923 (books that are in the Public Domain), chances are you can find a free copy through iBooks.  Additionally, now you can also purchase textbooks through iBooks.

10. iTunes U (Free)

iTunes U used to be part of the iTunes app, but now it has its own app.  Through this resource users can find educational videos from K-12, university, and non-profit institutions on a variety of topics. While you’re looking for educational videos, you should also check out the TED app.

+1 – Your Local Newspaper

Chances are your local newspaper has an app.  Take a look in the App Store. Even if they don’t, you can always just turn their website into a bookmark on your Home Screen.  Once you have done this, your local newspaper will effectively become an app and you will always be able to check out your community’s news.  Most importantly, you’ll help to keep your local reporters employed!

Photo: Student iPad 25 by Flickingerbrad on Flickr

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