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Selecting the Best Apps for Teaching and Learning – Use a Rubric!

by Kelly Walsh on November 25, 2012


A simple yet powerful tool for determining which apps work best in your classroom, for your subjects, and your students.

Last week I had the privilege of providing a keynote address at a regional education technology conference in North Carolina focused on Teaching and Learning with the iPad. This two day gathering was coordinated by Franklin Academy Principal David Mahaley and Assistant Administrator and teacher Tim Hall. Over 120 educators came to learn, share, and discuss ways in which the iPad can be used effectively in the teaching and learning process. A student showcase was also offered, and it was very informative and enjoyable (those Franklin Academy students are an impressive bunch). Hopefully this event, now in its second year, will continue for years to come.

One of the most valuable sessions I attended covered methodologies for determining which elements of an app make it most useful in the classroom. This session, offered by David Mahaley, addressed the question, “How can instructors maximize the effectiveness of apps used in the learning environment?” We learned about how to evaluate, test, and assess apps for the iPad and their potential for the educational setting.

iPad App evaluation rubric for teachers teaching classroom

We’ve all experienced the initial excitement that can come with a new technology like the iPad. Its not too hard to find apps that we think might be useful in the classroom (check out this recent post for more on that), but we often find in practical use that many of them are too single-purpose or have other limitations that make them less useful than we might have originally envisioned. How can we evaluate apps in a consistent, straightforward manner, so that we spend our time and money (for paid apps) wisely?

Use a Rubric!
One of the resources that David mentioned is Kathy Schrock’s “iPads in the Classroom” web page, which contains links to a wealth of information related to teaching with the iPad, in various sections. If you scroll down the page a bit, you’ll find a section titled “iPad App Evaluation Guides”. Here you will find various rubrics that can be extremely useful in determining whether an app will be a good fit for your classroom.

Let’s examine one of these in particular – the Evaluation Rubric for iPod/iPad Apps:

  • Curriculum Connection
  • Authenticity
  • Feedback
  • Differentiation
  • User Friendliness
  • Student Motivation
  • Reporting

A quick read through the criteria for the highest weighted ranking for each of the domains helps to clarify what each one is addressing. For example, to score a 4 for Differentiation, the app must “offer complete flexibility to alter settings to meet student needs.” To score a 4 for Feedback, the app must provide feedback that “is specific and results in improved student performance.”

An Example
Let’s assess the app Times Table Quiz (from Koalapps) using this rubric. We’ll assume we are using this in an elementary grade level where the multiplication tables up to 12 x 12 must be learned. Times Tables Quiz is a simple free app that provides random multiplication questions and four multiple choice answers to select from. Questions will keep coming until you get one wrong, and however many the student gets correct is their score. If you get an answer wrong, it shows you the right answer, and that run of the game is over.

My ranking for the Times Table Quiz app for each of this rubric’s domains is as follows:

  • Curriculum Connection: 4 (“Skills reinforced are strongly connected to targeted skill of concept”)
  • Authenticity: 4 (“Targeted skills are practiced in an authentic format/ problem-based learning environment”)
  • Feedback: 2 (“Feedback is limited to the correctness of student responses and may allow students to try again”)
  • Differentiation: 1 (“App offers no flexibility to adjust settings to meet student needs (settings cannot be altered)”)
  • User Friendliness: 4 (“Students can launch and navigate within the app independently”)
  • Student Motivation: 3 (“Students use the app as directed by the teacher” – this is an imagined ranking, as I have not had multiple student actually use it and provide feedback)
  • Reporting: 1 (the only feedback is the student’s score, which only they see, so I thought this was the best match to the ranking criteria offered)

Total Score for Times Tables Quiz: 19 (not bad for a free app). If we wish to improve on this app, we know how to focus our search – look for an app that is stronger in the lower ranked areas. If we could find an app that ranks well in all the other areas but improves on Feedback, Differentiation, and/or Reporting, it should be a better fit. Perhaps an app that lets us select specific times tables to drill, offers tips on how to work within different multiplication sets (like ‘the digits in multiples of 9 add up to 9’, that sort of thing), or provides summarized performance feedback from the teacher.

Wrap Up
This is an excellent tool for examining different software applications for student use in general, not just for the iPad – but for any tablet or other computing device. This logical, methodical approach can enable a teacher or a group of teachers to bring an informed perspective to selecting apps for student use. By having a number of teachers use different apps and then use this rubric to assess their applicability and rank them, schools can bring efficiency and uniformity to app selection and teaching.

Kathy Schrock’s “iPads in the Classroom” web page also contains links to many tutorials, lists of apps & related materials, a section “Especially for Special Education”, and much much more. It is definitely worth spending some time with this resource site if you are an educator using the iPad in the classroom.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Book Review – THE RULE OF 6: HOW TO TEACH WITH AN IPAD eBook by Jim Norwood

15 Favorite iPad Apps As Selected By Teachers
Announcing our new eBook – iPads in Education: Implementations, Apps, and Insights


Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer at The College of Westchester, in White Plains, NY, where he also teaches. In 2009, Walsh founded He frequently delivers presentations and training on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. His eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book is available here. Walsh became the Community Administrator for the Flipped Learning Network in June of 2016. In his "spare time" he also writes, records, and performs original music ... stop by and have a listen!

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, or those of other writers, and not those of my employer. - K. Walsh]

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisette Casey November 27, 2012 at 4:24 pm

One other important aspect to consider is the price of the app and whether the app has in-app purchases or upgrades necessary for moving through the levels within the app. It is not uncommon for developers to create an app where the first five levels are priced at $.99 and additional costs are needed to further advance through the app.

Kathy Schrock November 26, 2012 at 7:46 am

Thank you for mentioning my rubrics and page! (And for letting me know that it was mentioned at the conference!)

There are two different evaluation rubrics– one for creation apps and one for content-based apps. Each type needs to be looked at a bit differently.


BalancEdTech November 26, 2012 at 6:47 am

There’s an important element missing from that rubric that may or may not come out when looking at authenticity and student motivation. It might be worth adding it as one more criteria. Where does it rank with regard to SAMR?

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