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When Choosing Apps to Help Your Child With Schoolwork, Keep This Tip in Mind

By Sean J. Smith, PhD on

During a recent expert chat, a parent asked me to recommend an app to convert paper worksheets into digital text. (This is called “ digitizing).”

There was a time when I would have immediately suggested an app. But experience has taught me that before deciding to use an app, it’s important to stop and think about what your child really needs.

Here’s an example to explain what I mean.

When my son started sixth grade, he had a social studies teacher who liked using worksheets. A typical week in her class included independent reading from a textbook, followed by worksheets and a class lecture.

Three weeks in, my son, who has learning differences, was struggling. And the teacher was questioning if he belonged in the class.

I looked over the worksheets my son was turning in. They were incomplete and full of messy handwriting.

To help with his writing issues, I could have digitized the worksheets with an app like Claro ScanPen. That would have allowed my son to read the worksheets with text-to-speech and use a keyboard to type his answers.

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Instead, I decided to take a closer look at why the teacher was using worksheets.

So I talked to the teacher. She explained to me that worksheets were her way to check if students understood what they were learning in class. She had nearly 120 students. So she needed a quick and consistent way to test their knowledge.

Now, I know my son’s strengths (and weaknesses). A worksheet—printed or digital—wouldn’t help the teacher check if he understood what they were learning in class.

The problem was that the worksheets used complex vocabulary. There were new terms each week. The worksheets also covered more than the required classroom content. (This was to give accelerated students in the class an opportunity to enrich their learning.)

So even if we had used an app to digitize the worksheets, it still wouldn’t have met his needs.

What to do? I knew my son loved to talk. He’s the kind of kid who likes to tell you about what he knows. He’s actually a bit of a ham.

That got me thinking—what if my son could share a digital presentation every week, rather than completing worksheets? I explained my idea to his teacher, who was open to trying.

So we started looking for an app for podcasting. We needed an app that would record his desktop screen. It also had to let him put together visuals to accompany his voice. This would allow him to show and tell his teacher everything he’d learned.

Working with the teacher, we identified an app called Camtasia. It records your screen, audio and video. It also has a user-friendly editing tool. (We also considered two other screen-capture apps: Screencastify and EZVid.)

Using Camtasia, my son made a brief three-minute video presentation and emailed it to his teacher. Within 24 hours, she replied with amazement.

She now understood that my son was learning. The worksheets just weren’t the right way for him to show that. For my son (and several of his peers in class), video podcasts became an effective way for them to demonstrate their knowledge.

Finding the right app for your child can be a challenge. You can make the process easier by first looking carefully at your child’s needs and the purpose for the app. That will narrow the search and you’ll avoid wasting time with apps that may not help. Once you determine the need, there are many search tools for finding what you’re looking for.


Want more ideas for apps? Explore these apps for grade-schoolers and teens and tweens.

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  • Twitter
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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom