My husband and I gave each other iPhones for Christmas this year. In fact, it was an iPhone holiday–we surprised our daughters with iPhones, too. Poor nerdy children. Need me to pass the salt? Just text me.
I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a tech tool this much since my first Palm handheld. I like the immediacy of posting a photo to Flickr right away, responding to someone on Twitter, or checking for movie listings or store hours on the go. The cell phone functions seem little different from our old Verizon phones, though I’ve been cautioned by more seasoned users that I should’t expect the same coverage when I travel to less-populated areas.
Smartphones like the iPhone are becoming among the best-selling tech tools out there. If you–like me–have been steadfastly ignoring all that Apple stuff, here’s a little primer. An iPhone is a phone with web access, an integrated camera and voice recorder, with an onscreen keyboard that lets you send an email or surf the web. An iTouch is the same tool, minus the camera and cell phone part– and it needs to connect to the web via a wifi network, instead of the cell phone network. For the foreseeable future, the iPhone is going to remain a tool that teachers buy for themselves but that just happen to be useful for school. The reason is the contract iPhone users must have with AT&T for access to the cellphone & data network. Most districts aren’t going to be able to pay for cellphone contracts for their staff. (I wish.) The iTouch is a different kettle of fish, because it can connect to the wifi network many schools already have in place, and because the iTouches don’t require a contract and monthly fee. At about $200, the iTouch is a good substitute–though not perfect–for the less portable, more expensive laptops. Affordable magic.
Many libraries and classrooms are already using iPods to share podcasts, lectures, photos…a whole host of media. iTouches can do even more–access the web, make audio recordings, and perform an amazing array of tasks using apps from the App store, which is the way software developers distribute and sell applications (what someone of my generation thinks of as a “computer program”) for the iPhone and iTouch. There are apps that make grocery lists, let you post to your blog, find an NPR broadcast, play a word game, find a recipe, or trackweight loss. Go ahead, diehard techies, laugh…but I had NO CLUE that such a variety of educational applications were available. Storytelling apps. Math game apps. Music-making and art apps. Apps to help your learn Spanish, post to the class blog or to Twitter, or figure out what constellation you’re looking at. Many apps are priced at less than $3; many are free. The two apps from the International Children’s Digital Library are lovely. And free.
Quick example: my first graders have been learning about the various reasons authors write–to persuade, to inform, to entertain. We were looking at books by NY author Seymour Simon, a great non-fiction writer. We read his Danger! Earthquakes! (a far more timely topic than I had anticipated!) which explains the Richter scale and how scientists interpret seismograph data to learn about quakes. The morning of the lesson, I downloaded an app called iSeismo to my phone, which shows a seismograph-type display (little lines going up and down as vibrations shake the phone.) The vibrations were provided by 12 eager 6 year-olds, who could immediately see what a seismograph recording looked like, and how the intensity of the vibration changed the way the lines jumped up and down.
I spent some time this weekend reading up on the apps other educators are using, and finding what folks are posting on Twitter using the #app4kids hashtag. More on this later…