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Does Your App Make the Grade? It’s All About A.P.E.

How to create truly engaging educational apps for children using three key ideas

Imagine you’re a classroom teacher. You only have 30 minutes each day to prep for your students. You want to find the most effective instructional tools for today’s tech-savvy kids, but when do you have time to comb through all of the options? 

Truth is, you don’t. As a former teacher and current designer of educational apps, my goal is to help teachers with this process, not frustrate them. And, that’s why teachers need game developers like you to truly “make the grade” when developing apps for kids.

Give Your App a Perfect “A”

Teachers are challenged daily to “sell” educational app use in their classrooms to administrators and parents. All tools need to tie directly to the curriculum objectives. It’s important for gaming professionals to understand what teachers are looking for in an educational game app and also what makes an educational app fail.

In my experience, there are three key ideas that need to be in place in order to smooth over this process for teachers. To remember it easily, let’s use the acronym A.P.E.

A: Authentic Instructional Design

In a well-designed app, the learning goals and lesson’s objectives are authentic. They are clearly stated and align with curriculum requirements. Providing performance reports for individual students based on these skills would also be helpful for planning individual intervention lessons, as needed.

P: Purpose-Driven Usability

Teachers are using games to personalize the learning environment of their classrooms. Because their students arrive with so many different learning styles, games offer that differentiated approach. With a mastery-based approach, too, this gives students a purpose to participate—they only move ahead once they’ve achieved skill mastery. Providing a multi-user interface, as well, helps a teacher manage the use of the games through small-group instruction and learning centers or stations.

E: Engagement of Students

Over the years, students have always been more engaged and motivated when their activities are directly tied to what they’re most interested in. Their keenest interests guide them to want to gain new knowledge without being told to do so.

Keep Your App on the Honor Roll

Want to keep your app on the honor roll? Understanding what NOT to put in an app is just as important as knowing what needs to be included. Again, in order to remember it easily, I use the acronym A.P.E.:

A: Avoid Assumptions

“Our kids like it, so yours will too” is one of the biggest mistakes a game development team can make. That’s why placing your games in front of kids from the beginning of the development process is very important. Another assumption to avoid is that students playing games need no additional help. Oftentimes, a teacher uses games to provide uninterrupted, smaller group instruction. Providing help screens or button options within your game app can help ease that pressure.

P: Purchasing: Paid vs. “Freemium” Model

“You get what you pay for” is a common misconception in a paid versus free app. The pop-up ads and in-app purchase options that some apps include create a classroom management nightmare for teachers. (Kids are not necessarily making purchases, but they’re clicking on the links—and this takes them away from the game.)

E: Educational Substitutions

Apps and games should never be used a basic substitutions for “kill and drill” worksheets. Embedding a performance-based report, so that the teacher can incorporate an intervention plan, enables instantaneous assessment that benefits both the teacher and the student.

The Evolving Educational App

Creating truly high-quality apps that follow the A.P.E. principles is an evolving process—and one that Evanced Games is still figuring out. Knowing firsthand the challenges teachers are facing, my experiences in the classroom give Evanced a different perspective on educational game development.

Prior to developing an app, our design team tests the game’s elements. We invite kids and their parents into our design room, or we send members of our team to schools to engage with both the students and their teachers. We modify the apps to ensure that playing them offers truly authentic experiences. And if an app doesn’t do just that? Prior to its release, we tweak the game, going through the review process again and again until we get things right.

With the right combinations, teachers can effectively captivate their students by leveraging their digital lives to the lessons’ objectives.

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