60 apps in 60 seconds

[In honor of whatever educational technology conference you next attend…]

30 fantastic free apps for pre-readers! 38 of the best elementary learning apps for students! 40 iPad apps for science! 60 APPS IN 60 MINUTES!!!!

60 apps in 60 minutes? Pshaw! WAY too easy. I proudly present… 60 apps in 60 seconds!

How many sessions like these have we seen at educational technology conferences? (fess up: how many have we delivered?!) Teachers attend, they scribble notes madly, they ask for the slides afterward because “they missed some.” The long-term substantive impact of these spray-and-pray workshops on teachers’ day-to-day practice? Zero.

If we want people to start taking instructional technology seriously, we have to stop doing this to ourselves. How about one app – or perhaps a very small handful in combination – presented thoughtfully and deeply, with numerous applications to rich, robust student learning outcomes?

This presentation? I guarantee the same classroom results as all of our other firehose sessions…

Music credits: Rock 12, by dron

31 Responses to “60 apps in 60 seconds”

  1. My name is Gregory Olson. I am a student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama in the class of EDM 310. One of the assignments we have had for the course is to read assigned blogs of teachers and comment on them. From the video that you posted up here, I take it that you are implying that because new apps are presented to teachers in such a fashion, they can not make informed decisions about whether an app is good. Similar to a poorly designed outline in a class room can lead to students not fully understanding what the material is about. I think that eventually the amount of apps we can have for the same subject will get to the point that the apps are the same, just named differently.

  2. I believe that Bloom’s taxonomy would classify this as a need for analysis over simple knowledge. We are not at a loss for information on educational apps, but we are limited in our time as well as in thoughtful analyses of why a particular app may be suitable as well as the specific adaptations that may be required to meet the ability and disability needs of each student:

    Does the app provide easy access to turn the sound off for students with sensory processing disorders?

    Is the feedback provided for incorrect responses going to be overwhelming for those with math anxiety?

    Does the app provide enough challenge and/or depth for gifted students stuck in a regular level course?

    Is there an option to move on to the next question if the student doesn’t know how to correctly spell “Constantinople?”

    Agree 100% with the recommendations of this post. Brilliant!

  3. Perhaps we need to have recovery sessions for appaholics. Some folks have tried to make presentations that pose a scenario in a classroom and then talk about an app or two that truly supports learning or solves an issue such as randomization of asking questions.
    Am still horrified when I see the large rooms filling to the brim for these verbal lists and am amazed at some of the folks who should know better who are making the presentations.

  4. Don’t forgot the flipside. Your technology people will offer a class in “Squirkle” or whatever their new toy is. Of course they don’t know how to apply it to your subject area, and you have no idea what it is to decide if you want to attend the session, so even something completely amazing and revolutionary (which honestly, hasn’t happened yet) would be missed by everyone.

    • Well said, Bill. Even when we DO focus on one tool or app, we often still don’t go deep on it. We focus on teaching the tool, not illustrating how the tool can help learning (with lots of concrete examples)…

  5. In many ways, we are our own worst enemies for “selling” integration of technology. I think its because we have so few school-wide successful implementations thus many presenters and teachers have themselves never really seen success. Or..their version of success is getting kids on apps.

  6. Actually, another issue which this brings up is the minimal value conferences offer now that so much is available on the web.

  7. I agree, Scott. Unfortunately, these are the sessions selected by conference committees for acceptance, and they typically have packed rooms at the conference sessions. Especially if the apps are targeted as elementary teachers.

  8. Before we get our underpants in a knot, perhaps we should review a little literature on the diffusion of innovations. Consider the major reference by Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations now in its fifth edition, a couple of popular books by Atul Guwande, The Checklist Manifesto and Better. Then look over the Concerns Based Adoption Model (CBAM). If you’re really into it by now, take a look at the lines of evolution of various specific technologies–eye glasses, sound recording devices, pencils, ballpoint pens and other simple technologies we take for granted today. Keep in mind that some require little adaptation in everyday practice while others require a complete change of mindset and behavior. Then ask yourself “How are we doing?” and “How can we be more effective?”

    • Thanks for the comment, Cal. I’ve checked my underpants… 🙂

      I’ve blogged before about Rogers’ diffusion of innovations model:


      I guess the key question is whether firehose app sessions at conferences help attendees answer key questions about relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability such that educators can perceive relevance and move through necessary implementation dips. I think I’m arguing pretty strongly here that the answer is no.

      • Your posts about Roger’s work provide a nice brief summary and should encourage folks to examine it further.

        My key question is, What is the purpose of the session? If the purpose is to provide answers regarding the relative merits of the apps then I agree, the fire hose approach is inappropriate. If the purpose is a quick introduction to a variety of available apps a quick cold shower can serve a valuable purpose. 🙂

  9. Miguel Guhlin extended the conversation about this over on his blog:


    Here’s the comment I left him: (come join us in the conversation!)

    Using your own words, Miguel, I concur that this is the key assumption that is made during these kinds of presentations:

    “While not all teachers will embrace ALL of what has been shared, some teachers will reach for the one item that engaged them”

    That’s what we would like to believe, isn’t it? That those being sprayed will, after they’ve been soaked, be able to pick out the few drops that are of worth to them and make delicious tea…

    I think that folks who are technology-knowledgeable – folks like you and me and Stacy, for example – might be able to do this. We have both the motivation AND the ability to actually pluck one or two ideas/tools from the stream, investigate them, and make critical, thoughtful decisions about if, when, and how to incorporate them into our practice.

    But I don’t see much evidence of this happening with the vast majority of educators, particularly those whom are less technology-knowledgeable. They get sprayed with apps – and they may even have the motivation and good intentions of making one or more of those work for them back in the classroom – but they didn’t get deep enough exposure during the presentation to really understand the app(s) nor do they have the experience and/or ability to do it on their own without additional assistance. Thus the apps don’t really make a dent on them or, more importantly, the learning of their students. At best we see superficial implementation and replicative practice using the new app(s) because no one’s ever modeled something better.

    With due respect to the phenomenal work that both you and Stacy are doing, I believe that we can and should do better. Instead of the ‘spray and pray’ approach, it’s far more powerful to show a classroom educator how to use one app – or a small handful of apps – really well, for a variety of purposes and in a variety of contexts, so that they can begin wrapping their head around what it might look like with THEIR students in THEIR classroom. [Side note: Of course that would require us as presenters to be aware of and be able to present those varied purposes/contexts rather than simply touting the next shiny tool.] And that’s what I think we should be striving for: depth over breadth (just like we say for our students).

    Are we really arguing about whether to focus on fewer things learned deeply instead of many things learned shallowly?

    • I’ve found that the most effective way to talk pedagogy and go deep with a tool is to incorporate it in a PD about the topic. For example, this summer our teachers are paid to attend a week of PD (through Title IIa) and we basically provide a choice board of sessions for them to pick and choose from. While the session topic might be “Debate — getting students talking about science” and we’ll explore the topic in depth, we will also introduce Science A-to-Z Debate lessons (a specific online resource paid through Title funding) and then engage in a debate and use a tool such as Padlet or incorporate blogging into the PD. Since the teachers experience it at an application level (and higher), I see many of them taking it back to their classrooms.

      My role as the Tech Integration Specialist is to work with those delivering the PD ahead of time and help them with the tech integration so they are comfortable with the medium to engage a group of teachers. Bahda-bing! Win-win without the firehose! … However, I do attend firehose events once in a while to find the one or two that can be applied for learning in multiple classrooms and subject areas… so I play with it, try it on, and if I like it and the timing is right, I share it out and find ways to integrate it into PD. Bahda-bing!

  10. Hi Mr. McLeod, My name is Allison and I am a graduate student taking EDM510 at the University of South Alabama. I agree with you completely. I believe that too many apps can be overwhelming. Also, apps become redundant and I am really interested in learning about the best of the apps of each category that consistently have good results and reviews. In our class this semester we have been introduced to a multitude of apps, some by our instructor and some we have had to seek out on our own. Also, by following teachers like you, we have been constantly submerged on all that technology has to offer. While I appreciate the exposure, I do find it all a little overwhelming. I have had to filter through the choices and bookmark those that I believe will be most useful to me in to my PLN. I really appreciate when someone with experience does a thorough job reviewing an app and shares what it has meant in their classrooms. I hope that your video will have an impact on what is presented at conferences in the future.

    • I think you’ve touched on one of the biggest problems, Allison, with the here’s a list of apps PD: instead of giving educators solutions they can immediately implement in the classroom, they are given homework.

      I write reviews of apps for parents of children with disabilities and these are the things they want to know:

      What can my child learn from using this app?

      What makes it worth spending my money or my child’s time on it?

      What do I have to be concerned about that may make it a poor choice for my child?

      What adaptations do I need to make so that it can be a positive learning experience?

      I am far from perfect in meeting these expectations, but here are a couple examples of both positive and (shocker) negative reviews that I’ve written:

      Review of Fraction Concentration (for pc/mac/iPad/Android)

      THUMBS DOWN! Talking Kids Math and Numbers

      If I just gave those same parents a list of “TOP EDUCATIONAL APPS” I would be doing a disservice to both the parent and their children.

      Perhaps a first step in the right direction for the education space would be if someone came up with a checklist of what to look for in evaluating the effectiveness of a given educational app; because I’ve evaluated plenty of apps rated highly by others that didn’t measure up on my checklist.

      Just a thought.

  11. How about one app – or perhaps a very small handful in combination – presented thoughtfully and deeply, with numerous applications to rich, robust student learning outcomes?

    How about no apps? If someone wants an app, they can Google it. We should not be wasting valuable conference-session time on any apps. Apps are a hallway conversation or an RSS feed or a Google search.

    Raise the bar. Remove the crutch.

    I still stand by what I said 3+ years ago: http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2010/11/educators-need-learning-advocacy-not-technology-advocacy.html

  12. Everyone that goes into a session like this is fully aware of what they are getting into. They are not looking for in depth, but more of what apps should I be looking at and trying. I have been to this session and found it very helpful. I get apps/ideas quickly and don’t have to spend a lot of time looking into things that later on I find are not what I really wanted in the first place. We come out of that session with 5-6 apps that we take home and look into more. If of that 5 you are now using/sharing 2 with others, then that is 2 more then you had before. To me that is a useful presentation.

    • The issue with that is that the presentation should have been a blog post (SHBABP). Folks who attend a SHBABP session at a conference are missing out on the chance to go deep with someone at the conference. There are quality sessions at every conference that don’t get the audience they should because of SHBABP sessions.

      • I see your point. I think that the ITEC conference here in Iowa has done a great job by offering sessions just like what you are describing. There is not a topic, but a chance to ask specific questions, dig deeper, or just clarify meaning to something that you have learned. I sometime feel that these sessions where I can talk to someone and ask these specific questions about an app that I just learned about has been just as benefitial for me as some of the other sessions. This is just coming from a teachers stand point. I am always looking for new technology to bring to the classroom.

        • I genuinely don’t mean to be dismissive of your thoughts. I think digging into an idea in-person with others is extremely valuable.

          That said, what you described is what the comments on a blog post are for. I run through apps just as much if not more than any other “techy teacher.” I have yet to run into an app that needs workshopping. For one, that goes agains the design paradigm of apps: simpler is better. Apps are not made to be confusing or hard to understand.

          There are apps with *depth* but — again — that depth can and should be explored through an asynchronous conversation on a blog. This post could have easily been a session or a workshop but it works just fine as a blog post: http://archive.russgoerend.com/2010/12/in-early-september-i-wrote-post-about.html?q=evernote

          We need to hold conference time dear. Spending that time in a session that should have been a blog post isn’t valuable for anyone and it sends the wrong message to teachers.

      • I think you hit it on the head, Russ. Make it a blog post – or a list – somewhere. I can certainly read a quick blurb on 60 apps much faster – and that saves time for what a conference is really about: connecting with others on a personal level and going deeper.

  13. Russ – thanks for adding that conference time needs to be held dear. The networking is so valuable and is more serendipitous than online connections. And, yes, these app sessions could definitely be blogs…
    Katie, PLEASE don’t ever use the words “just from a teacher’s point of view”. Other than a student’s perspective, a teacher’s point of view is the best in a school.

  14. Anastasia Martin Reply April 16, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    The video makes a valid point that too much is being presented at one time. One great app that can authentically be used in the classroom is better than 60 that are just OK.

  15. I would have to disagree and agree, if that makes sense. I present the presentation style you say is worthless. My question is why do so many teachers attend these types of sessions? There must be some value to it, and I do believe it does enhance their classrooms. My montra is one tool at a time, pick one, then go back and pick another. I think there should be a balance, but some want to be exposed to as many apps and web tools so they can go back and test them out and explore on their own. The key is those apps and tools must be vetted and good ones! That’s my job.

    I could just share 10 tools, but then there are 50 that they were not be exposed to. I do however agree, beyond spray and pray, I think there should be a PLN that supports each other on the use of the tools. There should also be more in-depth learning on how to best connect the tools to the curriculum.

    I appreciate your post, because it makes me step back and look at my own practice. I have started to do 60 in 60 inverted, which the audience creates the presentation and presents it in the session. People loved it, because they go to share and learn from each other and hopefully start to create a community.

    Thanks for your post!

  16. Brandon includes links to ALL sessions, leading to more in-depth perusal for those interested. This is about finding something that works for the participant in their situation, not one size fits all! I have a problem with anyone who makes all-encompassing statements. It’s about the outcomes, not this week’s pedagogical wrapper….

    Carol, guess where Brandon currently works? Dave, have you been to a 60in60 @ PETE&C?

    I trust participants to put in the energy to find something useful to them for most of their time at a PD or conference (yes, some are not really there to learn or share).

    • Hi Mark!

      Yep: PETE&C, ISTE, etc. I guess it’s just not for me. I understand your argument — but I guess we’ll have to “agree to disagree.”


  17. Sorry for the extra post – but wouldn’t that hour be better spent teaching those folks HOW to find their own apps instead of just spewing at them? “Give someone a fish, they eat for a day, TEACH them how…(you know the rest.)

    • There is something like 500 new apps per day on the itunes store. So even if you are skilled at evaluating apps for effectiveness, it can be slow going: with the app reviews I publish, it typically takes detailed testing of 4 or 5 apps for every one deemed acceptable.

      My two cents is to first decide what you want the app to do:

      challenge for gifted learners?
      remediation of foundational skills/knowledge?
      practice of the high stakes testing concepts that most students get wrong?

      Then decide on a budget to SPEND so everyone knows what’s possible: for example, DragonBox is an award winning educational app that has taught Algebra to four year olds, but if you don’t have the $10 per student that it costs, you’ll have to pass.

      (If $10 per student for an educational app sounds expensive, remind yourself the cost to buy one ipad/laptop for a 1:1 initiative.)

      Keep in mind that some review sites charge app developers for reviews, so a teacher may not be able to rely on glowing reviews for valid recommendations.

      Lastly, I think the reason why teachers attend the 60 in 60 sessions is because they are hoping that someone actually took the time to test the appropriateness of these apps, rather than just copying them down from a review site: solutions vs homework.

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