F E AT U R E A R T I C L E
A mobile journey into apps for learning
By Cecilie Murray
oday we and many of our students carry Having researched and evaluated many mobile
T around in our pockets technology that is
more powerful and better connected than
the computers that sat on our desks ten years ago.
learning projects, what is clear to me now is that
we have in our hands a set of mobile tools that
can make a difference to personalised learning by
Our students are listening to music, messaging providing learning when, how and as you need it.
their friends and accessing the internet as they With the technologies widely available, I looked
travel to school, sit in class or socialise with their for good content for the iPod Touch and iPhone.
friends in the playground. They are intensely Amongst the, then, 4000 apps, I was disappointed
protective of their mobile devices, and can spend by what I found in iTunes in the education or
considerable amounts of time concentrating on games categories.
them as their main mode of communication. This set me thinking about quality content for
As teachers and school leaders we use mobile mobile learning, particularly with an Australian
devices for personal communication in our daily flavour and also linked to our curriculum.
lives, and while many educators access Twitter, This article touches on what the research says
Facebook, blogs and other social networking sites about mobile learning and its impact on young
from their mobiles, few are developing their full people. It then follows my journey into the world
potential as learning tools in schools. Why don’t of apps for learning and how we can use them
more schools take advantage of students’ inter- for assessment.
est, expertise and skill with their mobile devices?
This question has long driven my mobile What the research says
learning journey, and it was highlighted by a While research on mobile learning in the use
chance meeting with some students in Japan 15 of small, handheld devices for learning anywhere,
years ago. Mobile phones were very new and at anytime, is in its early days, a generally positive
that time not common in education in Australia. impact on student learning has been reported,
When I asked these students for their thoughts given the recent convergence of innovations in
about the potential of mobiles for learning, they mobile technology and social software.
showed me how they could access courses any- Mobile learning “helps us think differently
where in the world from their internet-connected about learning: learning in a more personalised
phones. At that time in Australia, this was not way, handing over more control to the learners
possible, but I’d seen the future for learning and themselves” (Stead, 2006). “The use of iPods in
I was keen to make it happen. the classroom holds and heightens student
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interest, engages students in learning, and new company with a games developer, and as
provides yet another means for expressive and App-titude Learning, we set about developing
receptive literacy” (Dogeby, 2007). educationally-sound learning apps with an
“Mobile devices can have a positive impact Australian flavour.
on learning experiences for both educators and App-titude’s aim is to create innovative,
students” (McFarlane, Triggs & Yee, 2008; Ng & engaging and entertaining educational games
Nicholas, 2009). Four mobile learning projects in that reflect Australian curriculum, delivering
Australian primary and secondary schools reflected content from kindergarten to year 12 and helping
these international research outcomes. Using the develop the skills for 21st century learners.
iPod Video Classic, iPod Touch and Nintendo DS, App-titude focuses on producing entertaining,
students demonstrated peer coaching and devel- high-quality, educational games for the iPod
oped activities for each other. They demonstrated Touch, iPhone and iPad which are written by
that mobile learning is important in encouraging eLearning specialists, built by professional game
all learners, particularly ESL and reluctant learners developers and trialled by experienced teachers.
as it promotes confidence and independence Students are drawn into fun, engaging experiences
regardless of year level and age. Students showed that adapt to match their progress.
improved attitudes to school, greater engagement Two numeracy apps, 1 2 3 Sheep! and
and participation in learning and improved Mathstronaut, have been developed for the iPod
performance. Touch and Plinkerton, a cybersafety app for the
Teachers learned a diversity of approaches to iPad, is in school trials. All three automatically
classroom management and curriculum planning, send data to a web-based online assessment
and demonstrated significant pedagogical change, system that enables teachers to monitor student
moving to a more student-centred approach, progress and to gather assessment data. Each
where the responsibility for the learning and the app is supported by teacher resources to help
technology was in the hands of the learners. engage students, explore new concepts and
It was at this point that I looked at games evaluate their learning.
for learning, particularly the convergence of Normally, counting sheep is associated with
challenge and competition with learning pathways helping children get to sleep at night, but we’ve
for disengaged students. What students told me developed a new, exciting and engaging online
about their love and use of the iPod Touch and game to help young learners with their learning.
Nintendo DS led me to thinking about quality 1 2 3 Sheep! is a counting game for young learners
educational games for the iPod Touch, iPhone that is fun and engaging, and features stunning
and potentially the iPad. “A small, cleverly design. Players explore counting concepts in
designed handheld game can significantly three fun activities – flying a helicopter around
enhance learner performance in mental maths as the farm, herding sheep into pens and guiding
well as having a positive impact on other the sheepdog into the truck. Children are drawn
aspects of classroom life” (Robertson, 2009). in with friendly, detailed graphics, playful audio
and lots of humorous encouragement.
Apps for learning Meanwhile the iPod is sending data wirelessly
Why apps for learning? They use technologies to an online interface where teachers can see the
that pervade young people’s lives, they are progress of their whole class at a glance – no
engaging for learning and students can consolidate matter where kids are.
their knowledge independently. Capitalising on During in-school testing at Leopold Primary
knowledge about mobile learning, I started a and Doncaster Gardens Primary, most children
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were reluctant to stop playing after an hour, and she hands out an iPod Touch or an iPad to
we’re talking 6 and 7-year-olds, so that’s pretty children in pairs. She asks the class to select the
impressive. The aim of App-titude is to create icon by tapping on it and explains that tapping
games that will draw students in with fun, and on the screen will move them through the game.
create engaging learning experiences that can be She guides them through the Farmer’s welcome
automatically monitored by teachers and parents message and explains that there are three games
alike. 1 2 3 Sheep! helps children with their – Helicopter, Round Up and Jump – and takes
counting and arithmetic while teachers and them into each game, reading aloud the instruc-
parents can evaluate their progress online and in tions on the screen in this initial tour.
real time in the App-titude online assessment She then asks the pairs of children to pick a
system. game, taking turns to play it after they enter
• Watch 1 2 3 Sheep! trailer: their individual identity numbers. She moves
http://www.youtube.com/ around the class, assisting them with the games
watch?v=AkoGIEIDRTE while using her laptop to access the online
The following scenarios describe teachers system to monitor their progress and identify
using 1 2 3 Sheep! with their students, while those having difficulty.
monitoring student progress on the web-based This initial session allows Teacher Jane to
App-titude online assessment system in their class- monitor student progress online and identify
room. These will give you ideas for implementing the most appropriate students to be Help Desk
it in your own classroom. mentors. The Help Desk mentors are given an
iPod Touch to take home, in preparation for
Scenario: Teacher Jane’s Year 1 class their supportive roles in the next session.
Teacher Jane has a set of 6 iPod Touches and In future sessions, the children are able to
6 iPads for her Year 1 class. In preparation, she pick a game and move straight into it, assisted
enters her class names into the App-titude online by the Help Desk members, while Teacher Jane
system website to generate individual student follows their progress online. Using data from
ID numbers. This will enable her to monitor the online system, Jane is able to assess and
individual student progress in real time and to monitor the students’ progress as they develop
intervene when appropriate. their number skills. In this way, 1 2 3 Sheep! is
Introducing 1 2 3 Sheep! to her Year 1 class, used as one of a range of group activities to
assist with the development of team-based
learning and interpersonal skills as it enhances
engagement and develops basic number skills.
Scenario: Teacher Bob’s Year 2 class
Teacher Bob has an iPod Touch or iPad for
each of the students in his Year 2 class, giving
him a 1:1 ratio. At the start of the term he hands
out the iPod Touches and shows the children
how to turn them on and play 1 2 3 Sheep! All
the iPod Touch batteries are charged, the progress
in the game has been reset and the students’ ID
pre-entered, so they’re ready to go.
While the children try out the game, Teacher
F E AT U R E A R T I C L E
Bob uses his laptop to check the online system into space. The game features addition, subtrac-
and monitors that they’ve all started OK. He can tion, multiplication and division. There are four
follow their progress in real time. “John, I see you difficulty levels, based on the Australian school
haven’t logged on yet. What’s your problem?” curriculum, and two great ways to play the game.
The children can take their iPod Touches In Blast Off, players must answer questions
home after school and are allowed to play 1 2 3 correctly to power their spaceship towards a
Sheep! during free class time if they want. For distant alien planet, pushing past their best
the first week Teacher Bob monitors the online scores to get deeper into space. In Countdown,
system to see how the children are progressing. players have a set time limit to answer questions
At the start of the second week most students at the selected difficulty level. Mathstronaut
have earned the ‘Unafraid’ achievement, showing interfaces with the App-titude online assessment
that they’ve tried all three activities. Others have system, where teachers can run an exciting live
reached the ‘Getting stuck in’ achievement, leaderboard or view student progress and partic-
showing 10 days on the farm, and some already ipation. While Mathstronaut provides fun chal-
have the ‘All rounder’ achievement, showing two lenges for middle school students, it also enables
stars in all three activities. consolidation of skills for older students.
Two students are not up to that level so Using challenging and engaging experiences as
Teacher Bob spends a few minutes with each to contexts for mental calculation, students develop
see what the problem is. One has trouble using efficient mental strategies. The gaming nature of
the iPod Touch – Teacher Bob pairs her up with Mathstronaut allows students to experience
a friend to walk her through it all. The other is success while developing these skills at their
finding it difficult to read the text, but after a trial own pace. The challenges encourage all students
run of each game with Teacher Bob, he feels to become more fluent with mental calculations
more comfortable. as they progress through increasing levels of
At the start of the third week almost all the complexity and difficulty.
students have got the ‘Great Counting’ achieve- Mathstronaut was evaluated by students in
ment, showing nine stars collected in total, and Year 5 at Corio South Primary and Year 6 at
many have completed all four stars in the individual Leopold Primary, with students commenting that
games, earning achievements like Helicopter Ace, it was “awesome and addictive”. Student feed-
Round Up Maestro and Jump Champ. Others back has meant that an ongoing competition will
have earned the Hard Worker achievement for provide the opportunity for student animations
completing 30 days on the farm. A few students to be contributed to the app.
have the ‘Perfect Farmer’ achievement, indicating The following scenarios describe teachers
that they’ve done everything in all three activities! using Mathstronaut with their students, using
With a lot of praiseworthy progress, the children
are feeling confident and have had a lot of fun.
Teacher Bob now has a new set of metaphors
and examples from the game that all the students
can relate to in future maths lessons and they all
remember their time on the farm.
Mathstronaut is a fast paced maths game for
primary and middle school students. Puzzles and
questions play out in a variety of crazy, colourful
and funny animations as players blast their way
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F E AT U R E A R T I C L E
the web-based App-titude Online Assessment groups rotate and the new iPod Touch Group
System to monitor student progress in their resets their devices.
classroom. These will give you ideas about how At the end of the second session, students
to use Mathstronaut in your own classroom. return to the home screen of the iPod Touches
• Watch the Mathstronaut trailer: before packing them away. After the session,
http://vimeo.com/14174195 Shana looks at the App-titude Online Assessment
System class page to monitor individual student
Scenario: Teacher Shana’s Year 3 performance and identify those needing further
Teacher Shana has a set of 12 iPod Touches In future sessions, Shana will display the list
and 6 iPads for her Year 3 class. In preparation, of Student IDs and the children will be able to
she enters her student names into the App-titude logon and pick up the game from where they
online assessment system website to generate left off. This should free up time so Shana can
individual student ID numbers. She can monitor assist those identified as needing further help.
individual student progress in real time as they
play the games and intervene when appropriate.
Scenario: Teacher Julia’s Year 8 class
She breaks her class into two groups, one to Teacher Julia’s school has a class set of iPod
complete worksheets of addition and subtraction Touches or iPads, so each student in her Year 8
problems while the others use the iPod Touches. Maths class has their own device. She displays
She tells the groups they will be rotated after 10 the list of Student IDs from the App-titude
minutes. Her class is familiar with iPod Touches Online System on the interactive whiteboard
but has not used the online assessment system. before students enter the room.
She displays the class page on the interactive As students enter, they collect an iPod Touch,
whiteboard so that students can see their identity logon and begin playing Blast Off at the level
numbers. She sets up the worksheet group to they where they finished the previous class. When
begin work, before leading the iPod Touch all students are logged on, Julia switches the
group through the logon process. App-titude Online System view to show the class
When students are ready to start, Shana tells progress and students play two games of Blast
them to begin with Level 1 of Blast Off. She Off. Students record their scores for the day in
changes the App-titude Online System’s view to their notebook after playing the game twice.
display the Leader Board and student names and These results are used in later classes as samples
scores are added as they complete their missions. of real data that students can graph and analyse.
She is then free to monitor and assist the students By establishing this routine at the beginning
doing the worksheets. After 10 minutes the of every Maths class, Julia sets up a routine that
establishes a pattern of behaviour whereby
students come into the room and settle down to
work straight away which sets the tone for the
rest of the lesson. The regular short periods of
practice and the ability to monitor progress
consolidates the basic arithmetic skills of the
students. The data in the App-titude Online
Assessment System provides regular feedback to
Julia about individual student skills and allows
her to identify those who need further assistance.
F E AT U R E A R T I C L E
A cybersafety app, Plinkerton, is targeted at to curriculum outcomes. Even for students, it
middle school students and it’s currently in provides valuable self-assessment for making a
school trials, due for release in October. Plinkerton judgement on strengths and areas for improvement.
is an engaging story with a hint of mystery. In The games are available for download from
Plinkerton, all is not well with your online life. iTunes and are compatible with iPod Touch,
Your friend is sending out abusive messages and iPhone and iPad devices.
is insulting everyone on Friendbook. Meanwhile, Contact: Cecilie Murray
you have a school project due while your best www.app-titude.com.au or Twitter
friend Bryan is obsessing about earwax. But not http://twitter.com/app_titude.
everything is as it seems online. Feelings will be email@example.com or cecilie@app-titude.
hurt and one of your friends is edging closer to com.au.
danger every day.
Students are engaged in a role-play that References:
enables them to see real cybersafety issues played McFarlane, A., Triggs, P. & Yee, W. (2008)
out with their friends in Plinkerton. Issues Researching mobile learning - Interim report to
touched on include maintaining friendships Becta http://partners.becta.org.uk/uploaddir/
online, protecting privacy, getting schoolwork downloads/page_documents/research/
done and real scenarios students face every day. mobile_learning.pdf.
Safety messages are delivered in action, with Ng, W. & Nicholas, H. (2009a). Introduction of
consequences that unfold over the course of the pocket PC in schools: attitudes and beliefs in the
game. first year. Computers and Education.
Plinkerton demonstrates to kids the importance Robertson, M. (2009) Innovative Schooling
of cybersafety with an engaging script set in their and Responsiveness to ongoing Global Change,
world, rather than abstract messages delivered La Trobe University, Melbourne.
by parents or teachers. The App-titude online Stead, G. (2006). Mobile technologies: trans-
system tracks student progress through the story forming the future of learning, in Emerging
and provides data about the level of understand- Technologies for Learning, BECTA. http://partners.
ing of cybersafety issues. becta.org.uk/upload-dir/downloads/page_
Online assessment system Dogeby, (2006) Using iPods for Instruction,
App-titude’s games and activities interface Principals Partnership, Florida. http://www.
seamlessly with the App-titude online assessment principalspartnership.com/iPods.pdf.
system, a backend tool that automatically gathers
data from the apps as students play the games. Cecilie Murray is Director of Delphian
Teachers have an up-to-the-minute view of student eLearning.
progress, participation and performance. The
assessment system is based online, so it’s as
simple as opening a web page. No setup or in-
house support is required. Data is displayed in
tabular or graphical format and teachers can also
an eye for literacy
School Library Association of Victoria
establish leaderboards for class challenge activities in partnership with NGV Education and Programs
Friday 12 November 2010
The data provides teachers with valuable
See www.slav.schools.net.au for details
feedback on student progress and skills in relation
SPRING 2010 9