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Here’s help for teaching with digital apps

The sheer volume of new learning apps being created every day poses a key challenge for educators looking to teach with mobile devices, as many teachers say they don’t have time to find and evaluate the best apps for their classrooms. But a brand-new service could help.

Called Graphite (www.graphite.org), it’s a free online portal to help educators from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade find, use, and share the best digital apps, games, and websites for their students.

Created by Common Sense Media with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the service contains objective ratings of apps and other digital learning resources from professional reviewers, along with reviews from dozens of “Graphite Educators,” teachers who are hand-picked by Common Sense Media. The nonprofit children’s media group says its system is the first centralized source for unbiased reviews of the learning potential of apps developed for a variety of platforms.

Users can search for reviews of resources by subject, grade level, cost (free, “freemium,” or paid), and resource type (app, game, or website). An option at the top of the page, called “Top Picks,” reveals the best-reviewed resources on the site.

When you click on a review, it tells you the price, the grade levels the app is most appropriate for, setup time, platforms (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, or Nook HD), and subject areas—with a link to specific standards the app meets. There’s also a list of skills the app meets, too (such as “memorization, thinking critically”…), and the review indicates whether the resource includes a teacher dashboard and who the maker is.

For each review, users will see a “Graphite Rating” and a “Teacher Rating,” each based on a five-point scale. These ratings use a rubric with three dimensions: Engagement, Pedagogy, and Support. The maximum score within each dimension is five points as well.

Graphite launched in beta version with about 1,500 reviewed apps, and within three years, its database “will easily grow to 5,000 apps,” said Common Sense Media’s Mike Lorion. A full rollout is planned for the fall, and it will include a space for teachers to collect and share reviews of their favorite apps.

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