I couldn’t have been more excited – during a staff meeting, my principal told me that soon my students would receive iPads. They would be ready to use and would be a great learning tool! There was a catch that left me feeling deflated. It was made clear that I could only use apps that were approved under two federal guidelines: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). These requirements left me with a limited quantity of apps to choose from and meant that however we chose to use the iPads it would have little to do with the instruction students were receiving in my class.
This was my conundrum. There were plenty of apps available that could be used for fluency or reading books digitally. But what about an app that I could use to deliver instruction and assess the students simultaneously? What about an app that used best practices in class?
As an accomplished teacher, I am very committed to my students and work hard to teach them effectively. I certainly didn’t see myself as highly skilled with technology but thanks to the iPads, I was given an opportunity – I began my journey as the “developer” of an iPad app that would be well-suited to my instruction and meaningful to my students.
I decided to build an app to be used during independent reading time when students often text code. This is a reading strategy students use to think about what they are reading by using text codes such as asking questions, connections to self, connections to a text, inferencing, or making predictions. Traditionally, children text code by using sticky notes and it’s common that teachers don’t have the time to look through dozens of sticky notes to review the student work. I was excited to have a way to replace this tried and true reading strategy with my app but was challenged on where to even begin.
I informally surveyed colleagues, asking, “What if we had an app that allowed the kids to text code and enabled teachers to provide feedback?” It was clear that there was high demand and I set about to supply the solution as well as create an app that I would use in my own classroom!
Technology experts were willing to help but I didn’t speak “technology” and they didn’t speak “teaching.” We tried earnestly but fruitlessly. After much struggle, I created a budget and saved the money that I would need; I identified a developer (who fit in my budget) and defined the look and feel and functionality that would help this app succeed. Before long, an app designer turned my ideas into preview screens. Within several months, a developer was coding the idea into a viable app with a lot of feedback from me. There were other logistics to worry about including opening an Apple developer account, establishing a merchant services account with my bank, creating a web site with terms and conditions, etc.
Between hiring a lawyer and dealing with business banking, two services I never really anticipated needing, I was ready to go – in perfect timing for my new app to go onto students’ iPads to use during reader’s workshop.
I worked hard to earn my National Board Certification and know that I’m an accomplished teacher. Now I’m also an accomplished owner of an app for students to use to advance their reading comprehension skills. What did I learn? Mostly, I learned that my developer was a lifesaver because he handled the technical aspects of the project while I handled the content and student user friendly part of it. Understanding students and their learning needs started my journey and I hope this encourages more teachers to be leaders in this field.