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Find new apps, but keep the old . . .

Find new apps, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.

As the holiday shopping season draws to a close, the classroom teachers and teacher librarians I know will continue to shop.

We’re looking for a few perfect apps to introduce to learners. We don’t want to waste time opening pretty packages only to be disappointed.  We don’t want to invest in learning apps that do not pack the powerful learning punch we seek.

But while we shop for new, innovative approaches, it’s important to recognize and pay some loyalty to those old friends, who by virtue of their versatility and open-endedness, truly pass the test of time.  We each have our own little lists of classics, some of which have moved elegantly and natively from web to app.

Of course, what we’re doing is building collections.  We’re recognizing the appeal and freshness of new titles.  We’re also recognizing the persistent qualities of classics.  And we’re weeding titles that are justly superceded.

Just how do we accomplish the new art of collection building?

Some of us function as early testers and share our wisdom along with our missteps.  Others will wait for Mikey to try them first.  And many of us will rely on a set of growingly popular review sources.  Here are a few of mine.  Many of them do both jobs.  Reinforcing the value of the classics, while scouting the landscape for valuable new gifts.

Here are some of my go-to review and discovery portals:

Graphite is CommonSense Media’s review platform. I first wrote about Graphite after its launch at ISTE 2013.  It is truly a go-to platform for helping teachers make sense of an exponentially evolving number of digital learning tools.  The site both free and ad-free.  Its goal is to objectively and transparently review and rate educational technologies and to guide busy teachers to the best websites, games, apps and digital curricula that will augment their teaching and to relieve the time-consuming burden of searching, sorting and sifting. A Common Core Explorer allows educators to find the best digital products to support curriculum by using intuitive filters.

Prepared by education experts, Graphite is a kind of Consumer Guide featuring Reviews and Ratings, a five-point star system based on the criteria of engagement, pedagogy and supports.  Entries include a helpful Pros, Cons, Bottom Line section; comprehensive reviews; a How it Works description of the interactive product experience; and teacher field notes.

App Flows provide a customizable framework, which redefines the traditional lesson plan to integrate digital tools and content with pedagogical insight. You may register to create your own App Flows

Check out the Top Picks page for Elementary, Middle, and High School, as well as Graphite’s picks for Best EdTech of 2014..

Children’s Technology Review has been around in print (as Children’s Technology Revue) since 1993. Founded by Warren Buckleitner, CTR a high-quality, continually updated rubric-driven survey of commercial children’s digital media products, for birth to 15-years.  It is designed to start an educational conversation about commercial interactive media products; with the underlying admission that there is no perfect rating system.  While some of the content aimed at teachers, librarians, publishers and parents, is free, a subscription, delivered both weekly and monthly, offers unlimited access to the CTREX review database.  Check out the video reviews on the Children’s Technology Review YouTube channel.

Teachers with Apps, created by special education teacher, Jayne Clare and early childhood educator, Anne Rachel is a portal that field tests every app listed by a  cross-section of students and teachers as part of our review process.  To keep up with their latest posts and reviews, follow TWA on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook and join their Educational App Talk Facebook group every Thursday night at 9:00pm EST for open table discussions about education apps and all things relating to ed tech.

APPitic:  Begun s a translator for App Store descriptions for non-English speakers, Appitic is now a huge online directory of apps, gathering helpful lists of apps to match curricular standards and needs.  Apps are organized by themes, subject areas and gathered into lists by Apple Distinguished Educator experts.   Among the lists are resources and apps related to:


edshelf is a discovery engine as well as a curation strategy.   You may search for a perfect tool or create your own collections. I first wrote about edShelf in May, describing it as a kind of shopping mall for websites, mobile apps, and desktop programs.  All items are rated & reviewed by parents & educators, for parents & educators.

I use it to present and archive professional development sessions, to suggest a range of tool options, or collections, for a variety of class projects, as an embeddable launchpad, and as a menu to use and share real-time with participants during conference sessions.  If you do not see a tool or site after searching the existing the directory, you may add a tool directly into edshelf. A temporary profile is created by the team, who moderates additions and fills in the rest of the profile after a little time.  Collections may be printed with QR codes or URLs and shared as grids, lists or in compact form or via email or on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Pinterest.

EdTech Review was developed to help teachers and administrators make more informed decisions about technology purchases.

It reviews products guided by three mandates:

  • Remain unbiased by being 100% transparent about who is reviewing the product.  (See the Our Reviewers page for profiles.)
  • Enable worthwhile comparisons based on a common rubric for each category.
  • Ensure the buyer is aware of all available options.

AppAdvice: Not solely for education, this is a wonderful discovery tool.  The platform features news, rumors and a review area. I particularly like the AppLists, AppGuides and the daily AppsGoneFree updates.  (You may find the New Years list particularly useful.)

And speaking of lists. ‘Tis really the season.  Here are a few of my favorite lists:

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2014 from Jane Hart

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2014 shines a lens on both classics and newcomers.  For the 8th year Jane Hart presents the results of her Annual Learning Tools Survey presenting a picture of which tools remained steadfastly popular, identifying promising newcomers, and noting how popularity has shifted.  Check our this year’s analysis, and, in this 25th anniversary of the Web, also check out how it has changed the way we learn.

You’ll find the total list of 100 running along the left nav bar.

And what’s new?  You’ll discover 16 new tools on the list this year, with the highest new entry at 46 being PowToon – a tool for creating animated video explainers. The other new tools listed are:

Of course, for the past two years our own AASL Best Apps for Teaching and Learning has become a wonderfully selective source of app reviews, containing faves as well as new discoveries.  As a member of the 2015 Committee, I again invite you to Nominate an App for the list we’ll be presenting at ALA Annual and to check out the  2014 and 2013 Best Apps Lists.

More lists! Also check out

And then there are bloggers:

Among the many bloggers we rely on as scouts to help us make reliable discoveries (those we know will work in the classroom) are:

Speaking of the gold, this post got me thinking about classics. I’ve been thinking of my own. Please write me or add in Comments your favorites apps and tools that have already or will clearly stand the test of time.  I’ll curate them in a little poster in an upcoming post.

Here’s a Symbaloo webmix of some of the review and app discovery tools shared in this post.

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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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