by Jonathan Laxamana
There are a million apps in the Apple App Store (a million!). For busy educators, what’s the best way to find an iPad app that you can trust will meet your needs and be appropriate for your students? Should your first stop be the App Store? Maybe. It does offer an education category with collections of apps clustered by grade and by topic, and it offers featured and best-of lists—but the apps topping those lists are primarily determined by download volume, not reviews. Before you rush headlong into the App Store, check some review websites. Here are our favorite app review sites for K–12 iPad apps. To honor them, we gave each its own review.
Common Sense Media—a California-based advocacy group for digital safety and media policy for children—produces Graphite.
Pro: The website is well designed and navigable, containing punchy blurbs under an array of headings that make it easy to skim and scan to get the information you want without investing a lot of time reading narrative reviews. Metadata fields for every atomized detail you’d want (platform, grade, standard, etc.) make a trip here immersive once you get searching. This site’s organization, search-ability, and its Field Notes from teachers make it the best site in this space.
Con: I give up looking for one.
Rating: 5 stars
This Yahoo-affiliate produces expert reviews organized by course. In addition to the website, there’s an app (a very good one).
Pro: Subject matter experts write the reviews, which prove a good read. (They are also well contextualized with subject area information and notes comparing similar apps.) The organization is clear and helps you dive deep right away. The website design looks dated, but the app is gorgeous.
Con: Search by standard is lacking, but there’s plenty else to give you a reason to view both the website and app.
Rating: 5 stars
This Australia-based blog from Greg Swanson, a senior eLearning specialist, features thumbnail reviews of apps as well as topical features.
Pro: Well curated and frequently updated, this blog has a nice tone to the review copy plus being information-rich. Its listing of Speech-to-Text apps is a must-see. In addition to coverage of the subject areas, feature posts on such cross-subject topics as Editing Video on your iPad include excellent how-to videos. Helpful comments from visitors add further value to the site.
Con: You need to dig into the copy to find grade and standard connections, but that’s no reason to skip a trip down under to this blog.
Rating: 4 stars
This is a blog from Maine-based educator Richard Byrne, who also produces a valuable blog on free edtech resources.
Pro: Visually stimulating, this blog presents as variable-column hypertext that invites you to keep searching and finding resources you may not have first realized you were looking for.
Con: The site is inviting and searchable, but you have to get to know it to find what you need. It’s worth a try to see if the schema matches your searching (i.e. learning) style.
Rating: 4 stars
This resource from a consortium of Apple Distinguished Educators includes a multitude of search pathways and ancillary resources.
Pro: You can search by learning style and Bloom’s Taxonomies, and you can even translate results into 19 languages within the site. This group has a strong presence across the major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, etc.) with related reviews and content.
Con: Finding reviews takes a bit of wending through drop-down menus with additional curricular resources (although those curricular resources are a plus of this outlet.)
Rating: 3 stars
This website, maintained by the Victoria, Australia, department of education, contains thumbnail app reviews alongside long-form case studies.
Pro: The reviews are brief and formal and include good cross-references to related apps. The mini-white-paper case studies and ancillary material are a step away and worth reading for apps you want to integrate deeply into your curriculum.
Con: Common Core State Standards and specific grades aren’t logged for the apps, but this Australian site is impressively comprehensive and an important stop in your search to find your go-to search sites.
Rating: 3 stars
In summary, give them all a try! If you want brief capsule reviews, start with Graphite, Apps in Education, and iPad Apps for School. If you want longer-form material and more scholarly grist for your search, start with AppoLearning, Appitic, and iPads for Learning
Are there other review sites focusing on K–12 apps that you’ve found helpful? Please add a comment. I’d like to discuss and continue this thread—you can use the Leave a reply link at the top of this post.
Jonathan Laxamana is Technology Manager of Green Light Professional Development. He has more than ten years of experience in producing educational software products, video, web-based content, and mobile apps. He writes about new hardware and software, troubleshooting tips, and everything iPad.