You’ve no doubt heard grown-ups complaining that teens and tweens waste their time online by getting sucked into the black hole of social media or watching reruns of The Office on Netflix. Yet I’ve known many students who scour the Internet for tools that can help them study and learn.

A few years ago, I posted a blog about “5 Apps Your Students Are Using When You Aren’t Looking” and as I expected, I learned a lot from my students about how they independently mine the web for the tools they need when they need them without the assistance of teachers or parents.

I return to this subject with app reviews by two ninth grade students, Danielle Garten and Zoe Osgood, who researched apps for their “Digital Thinking: Apps to Ethics” class at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, Maryland, under the direction of their teacher, Renee Hawkins.

As you’ll read below, Danielle has used Duolingo not only to support her academic courses but to pursue her love of learning new languages just for fun, and Zoe has stepped up to create online study groups in Quizlet and then share them with her entire class.

I don’t think these girls are unusual. Like most of us, they depend on word of mouth to discover new tools that can help them learn. If they are like my former students, they are often shocked when teachers suggest online tools or apps. Even now, too few educators work with their students to vet the tools that might accelerate their students’ learning–or at least make it more efficient. So the question that haunts me still is this: Why aren’t more educators involved in guiding their students towards the helpful tools online that will help their students succeed?

If you are a teacher, I have a challenge for you: ask your students which apps they’ve claimed for educational purposes. In fact, I hope you will also take on the challenge of collaborating with your students to curate the best tools for learning in your classroom, whatever your curriculum may be. I’d love to hear from you if you do!


Ooh-la-la-ing with Duolingo

By Danielle Garten

For many of us, learning new languages can be an extremely daunting task, while others of us spend just a small fraction of a day brushing up on a language learned in elementary school. While everyone has a different reason for the new exploration–immigrating to another country, taking a semester abroad, wanting to speak to a distant relative or even a need to support family members–we can all benefit from the popular language learning app, Duolingo, which was created so that everyone can explore a passion for learning a new language without the cost.

Designed for non-native English speakers learning English to apply for jobs, Duolingo benefits any students who want to learn a new language’s grammar or vocabulary. The app and website focus on listening, reading, writing and speaking skills, emphasizing the importance of being able to do all four tasks accurately and confidently. It is hard for someone with even the highest level of language skill to not have a new challenge with twenty-two languages to choose from and hundreds of lessons within each topic. Duolingo presents a type of “game-based learning” which takes keeping streaks, losing lives and leveling up to a whole new standard as it creates an environment where it is exciting and interesting to learn.

However, I believe that it may be incredibly difficult to learn a new language without any accompanying class unless the learner has enormous willpower and determination to stick with the app. Duolingo has thought of having a “Coach” and setting daily goal limits to keep you engaged in learning so much you end up staying up late to try and learn the most you can with the highest scores. After your enthusiasm and energy die down, you may not go on the website for another few months. I know that the time I invested in learning the material was incredibly helpful for re-learning some of the basic words in French that I had forgotten from lower school.

Additionally, a new feature of Duolingo for Schools brings the app into the classroom to create an even more effective environment. At my high school, I do not know any teachers who are using this specific program, but I have been assigned as homework to complete specific sets of problems. I believe that this feature is not as well known, but soon it will become as popular as other learning websites such as Khan Academy or Kahoot.

Teachers can use Duolingo for competitions in class as students can “friend” each other to compete for the most experience points (XP) in a lively and competitive activity. It feels rewarding to receive prizes or bragging rights for your efforts, which makes you even more keen on playing. Students also benefit when studying for tests on the website because they can find levels for exactly what they need to study.


Making the Grade with Quizlet

By Zoe Osgood

As younger generations become more and more exposed to technology, paper resources are becoming exceedingly outdated. When students are asked to create physical flashcards of the material they’ve learned in class, more often than not they lose some or all of the flashcards, leave them at home or end up accidentally recycling them. Studying using online methods wasn’t routine for us, though, until just a few years ago when the idea for Quizlet was developed by a teenager who was having trouble studying on his laptop at home.

Quizlet, an online learning website and app founded in 2005, is one of the most widely used study platforms among students today. Created by Andrew Sutherland, Quizlet makes learning fun and accessible for my generation. After creating an account, members can create personalized study sets, access sets other users have created and play several memory-based learning games. Users also have the option to upgrade to Quizlet Plus and study without ads, upload their own voice recordings and images into flash cards and gain unlimited access to classes.

Regardless of whether or not you have the upgrade, Quizlet makes it easy to collaborate with classmates and teachers through online classes, which anyone can request to join. The class administrator, usually a student or teacher, then has the ability to grant students access to all of the study sets that have been added to the class by its members. Simply said, classes are a great way for students to organize their study materials.

Along with this, Quizlet’s game features give students a break from generic study methods, forcing you to submit the correct information to prevent an asteroid from crashing into a planet or daring you to beat your classmates in a timed matching challenge. Personally, other than the occasional false information put in a study set by a classmate, I can’t find much fault with this website.

At my high school, I only know of one teacher (my English teacher) who frequently uses Quizlet. My teacher uses the website to create study sets of all the words we have to memorize. The rest of my teachers don’t really care what method of study we use, as long as we actually learn the material. When I was in middle school, my Latin teacher would always insist that we make physical flashcards for each set of vocabulary words. In his eyes, this enforced our memorization of the words. It was always a huge pain to make every single flashcard, complete with a complementing image representing the word and one or two English derivatives. The work was tedious and usually took me about an hour to complete. There was rarely an occasion on which the entirety of my class had their flashcards in hand when the bell rang. Since I have always been plagued with misplacing my flashcards, Quizlet has been a lifesaver.

For those who still believe that writing out material helps students to learn better, I’m going to have to contradict your beliefs. The “learn” feature on the Quizlet app is a phenomenal way to study very similarly to using pencil and paper. If you type in an answer wrong, the program gives you the right answer, but then won’t go to the next slide until you type it up word-for-word. It’ll then take out all of the cards you answered correctly, allowing you to study only the material that you answered incorrectly. It forces you to remember the material in order to finish learning the set. Although this can be frustrating (I often find myself scowling at my computer screen while studying), I’ve discovered that it’s a much more time-efficient and effective way to study.

Using both the website and the mobile app, I can study anytime, anywhere. I never have to worry about losing my flashcards, because the website automatically saves them every few seconds as I create them.

With more than 40 million users each month and 125 million user-generated study sets, Quizlet sets no limit to how much students and educators all around the world can learn.

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