Tuesday, March 5, 2013

If I could only have one app - Explain Everything


If I could have only one app to use in the classroom, it would be Explain Everything, available for $2.99 from the app store.  This was the first paid app that we downloaded in our class, it has been worth every penny for the students, and I suspect that we have just started to see its potential as teachers, especially now that version 2 has been released.

If you are not familiar with Explain Everything, it is a general purpose tool that is both an interactive whiteboard and a way to create screencasts.  A teacher or student can annotate or narrate lessons or presentations in multiple ways.  These lessons or presentations can then be saved to the camera roll (important in our case so we can import it to Edmodo) or to Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, WedDav, mail, or as a video file.  It is an extremely versatile app.

I was initially reluctant to pay for a screencasting app because there are free options available. We did our first screencasting project using the free Educreations app on a teacher recommendation.  However, our students were frustrated because they could not edit their recordings and I was frustrated because there was no way to save their projects to the iPad camera roll.  Money is often an issue in schools and there are other tools similar to Explain Everything.  There is a comparison chart created by Jac de Haan a year ago here

For the educational bang for the buck though, Explain Everything is one app worth paying for because of its versatility.  It can be used in any classroom, with any subject.  What follows is only a tiny sampling of ideas for student use.  Our students will be doing more with the app next year and I anticipate using it more, as a teacher, for lesson preparation and to provide make-up and specialized lessons for students who have missed class, or need lessons explained in a different way than the one I used for the whole class.

Math ideas:

Students can use it to explain their mathematical thinking to each other.  Earlier in the year, students were struggling to remember the rules of divisibility and we were struggling with a way to motivate them to want to remember them.  We decided to have them work in pairs to create screencasts of the rules for future students.  The students had to learn the rules well in order to explain them.  When they had trouble explaining them, we as teachers could easily look at their screencasts and see what students were not understanding because they had recorded their thought processes for us. This lesson exceeded our expectations.

Students can be assessed on their mathematical thinking.  Students can be given a math problem and asked to provide multiple ways of solving it.  These assessments are much more valuable and thorough with student explanations included.

Language Arts

Students can be assessed on their reading fluency.  A teacher can import a screenshot of a piece of text for a student to read.  The student can then record himself reading it.  Our students have wanted to re-read text multiple times when they have had the opportunity to hear themselves read.  These recordings can be saved throughout the year and compared. 

Reading groups.  Students can record their collaborative thoughts after reading and re-reading texts in class.  This could be in the form of reflecting on theme, mood or author's point of view by discussing words used or by excerpting supporting materials from the text (perhaps by taking photos of highlighted portions of the text). 

Students can create digital stories.  If you saw my last post, you saw some of the digital stories the students created using Explain Everything.  We have only begun to explore the possibilities with language arts.

Using the app

Rather than try to explain the app myself, here is a great video that highlights most of the key features.

                                        Video courtesy of Digital First Ohio State

Additional Explain Everything Resources:
Excellent archived Explain Everything session presented by its developer, a former math teacher, at EdTechTeacher. If you have not tried out this resource, I highly recommend it.
Associated list of resources and videos here.