Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Where do I find good apps?

Parents and teachers are always asking, "where can I go to find good, teacher-tested, high quality apps?

We all know there are tons of great apps out there - some good, some not so good. Just because an app isn't free, it doesn't mean it's worth paying for. At the same time, some of the best free apps really are, well, the best. How do you know? Wouldn't it be great if there was an app preview service? After all, once you buy an app, you can't return it if it doesn't meet your expectations. There's also no 30 day trial option for apps.

For that reason, I wanted to provide teachers, therapists and parents with a sampling of the many sites out there that trial educational apps and give an overview of each from a teacher or parent's perspective. Many of these sites will categorize apps not only by subject but by age group/grade level, ability and skill focus. There's quite a bit of overlap of course but these sites may provide that kind of detailed information. For example, an app that focuses on letter identification and formation may be great for a pre-school teacher but it could also be very valuable to an occupational therapist who is working on pencil (stylus) grip and fine motor control.

The next time you are looking for a specific type of app, check out these sites:

APPitic: a directory of apps listed by Apple's Distinguished Educators This site includes apps for students of varying grade levels and subjects as well as apps for students with special needs. Reviews are thorough and include detailed information about target audience, theme, features, activities and price. It also includes multiple screenshots.

Best Apps for Kids: This site is run by a group of parents and grandparents who see the iPad as an invaluable educational tool. The site includes a searchable database with video previews of apps. You'll find valuable information such as required in-app purchases and the possibility of inappropriate ads but you won't find prices or ratings.

KinderTown: A listing of high quality, tested and previewed apps for children aged 3-8 yrs.

Teachers With Apps: A pair of teachers have teamed up to provide reviews of apps appropriate for students by level; baby/toddler, pre-k, elementary, intermediate and high school. There is also a category for related services and special needs.

Apps for Children for Special Needs: True to its name, this site provides information and video reviews of apps focused on special needs. Their community has started a non-profit organization providing over 140 iPads for special needs kids. The site provides a space for developers to advertise their apps however, only  apps that meet high quality standards and expectations are listed. I highly recommend this site.

Bridging Apps: Another great site with all apps previewed by either clinicians or teachers and trialed with students with special needs. The site is provided as a service by the Easter Seals of Greater Houston.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

ATIA: a gathering of "helpers"

I recently attended the assistive technology industry conference in Orlando, Florida called ATIA. This is the 5th time I've been to this conference and each time I participate, whether as a vendor or participant, I am floored by the warmth and openness of the folks who attend. I know, it's a given; most of the folks who work in the A.T. field are there because they enjoy helping others, especially those with special needs. But the reality is, even if you don't have special needs, even if you are a perfect stranger, most folks involved with A.T. will go above and beyond in order to help. What's more, there are no strings attached - no assumptions, no preconceived notions and no condescension. We are all there to share, discuss, encourage and learn from each other.

 I've often said that ATIA attendees receive a semester's worth of graduate course material in 3 short days (pre-conference sessions, not withstanding.) Although the sessions are excellent and offer a variety of strands and levels of expertise, there's much learning yet to be had in the exhibit hall, the lunch tent, and during dinner. Folks from the QIAT listserv enjoyed the opportunity to see each other face to face and the #ATCHAT (twitter) group even met over drinks one night to tweet and chat in person.

 So, you ask, what were the highlights? What new products were showcased or, did you get any ideas for strategies to be used in the classroom? A few come to mind:
  • As usual, the app smackdown was a huge hit - especially for those of us who oversee the use of iPads in our schools. Two of my favorites: MyScript Calculator app which allows you to hand write an equation on your tablet and the app calculator solves the equation (free) and the VoiceDream Reader app which offers text to speech of e-pub, pdf, Word and text files, copied into the app. It allows for integration with Dropbox, Instapaper, Gutenberg and Bookshare and students can adjust the masking of text, make annotations and choose from multiple languages and voices. 
  • There were multiple sessions that touched on the issues many schools are facing surrounding BYOT and a student's need for A.T. 
  • The folks at AssistiveWare offered booth sessions to help those of us needing to become better experts at Proloquo2Go and Pictello.  In the new Proloquo2Go, I particularly like the feature that allows for primary and secondary vocabulary in folders as well as the placing vocabulary words to be added later, in a hidden storage tray.
  • There was quite a bit of buzz about a new AAC app called AutisMate that allows for scene-based communication using personal photos and programmable hotspots.
  • The folks at Komodo Openlab have done a great job of providing switch access to the iPad through an individual's wheel chair switches using the Tecla Sheild. Their new Tecla Access App provides an on-screen scanning interface for Android devices that is very impressive.
These are just a few highlights that I found to be of interest. Truly, there are too many to share.
...until we meet again ATIA folks. Until then, keep finding solutions to help those with special needs!