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A Classroom Teacher Talks About Technology: Maybe We All Should Listen?

Teacher Tips for Mobile Technology Series

Bear with us. We will get to the point of this blog, but some background is needed first:

  • According to C.N., who taught math and computer programming in middle and high school for 14 years, E.S., who teachers at a Big Ten university, is not a classroom teacher. While initially E.S. adamantly disagreed with C.N., E.S. has, over the years, come around to understand C.N.’s point of view: Teaching undergraduate computer science majors who pay $50,000 a year for the privilege/honor/whatever of going to the University of Michigan is only mildly related to teaching K-12 public school students.
  • E.S. oftentimes has “great” ideas for what should work in a K-12 public school classroom. C.N. patiently explains why those ideas aren’t so great after all. C.N. oftentimes then makes a bold suggestion: Why don’t we actually ask K-12 public school teachers what they think?
  • So: C.N.’s suggestion explains the reason behind the “Teacher Tips for Mobile Technology Corner” in our blog.
  • Ta Da!! (That’s a trumpet.)  Here then is a “Teacher Tip” from Rene Grimes, a second grade teacher from Dallas.
  • But, before we get to the actual tip, Let’s actually listen to what a classroom teacher has to say about educational technology in general, and finding appropriate apps in particular: 

"... And I confess [the tip] comes with a bit of residual frustration over the number of apps," Rene Grimes said. "We had too many apps, if that seems possible. Frequently we received e-mails listing numerous “free” apps, sometimes free only for that day, and we were encouraged to download these immediately. Not enough time was given to examining the content. 

"A thorough examination of the content might slow down the adoption (download approval) process; but that can be alleviated by a thorough rubric designed not only by district level administrators, but math coaches and the teachers who will actually use the app in their classrooms.  At some point we must stop and look at the actual design and content! One app on our campus iPads was a drawing app that allowed students to tap 'stamps' to add graphics to their 'writing' --- this included a camel that would drop bodily waste with little 'odor' symbols above these plops of waste.  Seriously, we do not need this kind of app in our elementary schools.

"Other apps seem ideal from descriptions on iTunes, but you can't preview them, so you buy them and then you realize they were quite cumbersome ... or there is absolutely no description of the actual research base behind the app!  So ... that's the background for the following tip.”

(Sotte voce or E.S. won’t hear the end of it — ever: C.N.’s idea about asking classroom teachers was really a good one.)

Wow! In a few short sentences, Ms. Grimes made some very interesting observations and suggestions! Indeed, why can’t we make testing “educational” apps easier? Why can’t we post the underlying rationale for an app? And, rather than pushing apps onto teachers, why can’t there be some mechanism within a district to review them for teachers? (The “top 100 apps” lists are ok, but education is still local — and those lists don’t take into consideration the local issues: curriculum, parent viewpoints, etc. )

Sorry; we don’t know why it’s been made so difficult. Frankly, the issues Ms. Grimes raises are all addressable.  Maybe it’s time that those issues should be addressed! Ahem ... who goes first?

What issues do you have that aren’t being addressed? Send them in, please!  

And send in a Teacher Tip, too, please!

Tip Name:  Buyer Beware

Tipper: Rene Grimes

Grade Level: PK, Early Elementary, Special Education

Subject: Math, Early Number Sense

Tip: With the exponential growth of apps, how do you decide which app to buy with your limited budget? While some apps are free, it pays to carefully, explicitly examine your intended instructional goal against the educational content of the app. If it meets your goal and is free, download immediately.  If it does not meet that goal, do not waste your students' time or your money (in that order of priority) on an app that is simply “edutainment” — they can get that at home or elsewhere.  

Choose an app like Native Numbers ( that gives you the most flexibility for differentiated instruction; is designed using solid models of cognitive, developmental and education science; uses artificial intelligence for adaptive/mastery-based instruction; is highly engaging; and includes ways to measure instructional growth (a dashboard or other immediately visible means).

Classroom management of mobile technology of course is important (i.e., one app per teacher, used in centers or full labs, or 1-to-1), but before you even get to that stage of implementation, make sure what you are providing is an app that is worth every second the student spends using it!


About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at