Math and English apps help students study

challenging educational games and tools help with college assessments

jwarren@herald-leader.comDecember 13, 2010 


Natalee Feese, math coordinator for Fayette County schools, keeps her iPhone loaded with educational apps that she enourages her students and her own children to use.

PABLO ALCALA | STAFF — Pablo Alcala | Staff

When Lexington's Meredith Miller had to bone up to take the SAT recently, the Sayre School senior hit her school books and reached for her cell phone.

Meredith, 17, had downloaded an "app," or application, onto her iPhone, which allowed her to review SAT test questions essentially at the touch of a button. She had two SAT apps — one for math and one for reading — but mainly used the math version.

"I had a test prep book that I used, but I kind of wanted to try something to supplement that," she explained. "So I decided to see what the phone app was like.

"I thought it was helpful because wherever I was, if I had time, I could pull up the app on my phone and use it to study. I liked it."

This kind of electronic test preparation is becoming more and more common across the country.

While most students still rely on the printed word to study, many now don't hesitate to use an iPhone, an iPad or other mobile device to practice for big standardized tests or simply to review regular classroom work in order to keep fresh.

Many test-prep applications are available for cell phones — some for free, others for a fee — and more are coming. Educators also are starting to embrace them.

Natalee Feese, math coordinator for Fayette County Public Schools, is a big believer in using cell phone apps to keep math skills sharp. Feese keeps her iPhone loaded with apps, from simple numbers games to serious math programs, and she encourages her two young sons to use them.

"I have so many apps that I have them catalogued on my phone," Feese said. "When we're at the doctor's office or waiting to be seated at a restaurant, my kids always want to get on my phone and play math games. When you have the applications on your phone, they provide great impromptu learning opportunities."

Feese's apps range from "Lemonade Stand," which is designed for young children, to "Wolfram/Alpha," which is aimed at more sophisticated math fans.

"You can type in any math problem, from simplifying a fraction to doing an equation and, in seconds, this app will give you the answer and how to solve the problem," she said. "Apps are starting to be everywhere."

While there is some concern that students' almost constant use of computer, social networking and mobile devices is reducing their ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, use of electronic devices isn't slowing.

Tess Rivero, who heads the math department at Waynesville High School in Ohio, told the Dayton Daily News this summer that she initially was skeptical of cell-phone math preps. But she said she changed her mind after trying out an app by a company called Adapster.

"I think that this is a great way for the modern student to study," she told the Daily News.

Jody Steinglass, president and founder of New York-based Adapster, said today's SAT preps allow students to sharpen their skills essentially anywhere.

"We like the idea that a kid on the school bus, in the airport, or on the subway can pull out a phone and be able to do a couple of problems," Steinglass said. "A kid can use it if he has a few minutes here or there, or spend extended time with it."

According to Steinglass, Adapster's SAT prep adds an extra dimension because it adjusts to individual students' needs as they use it. The program can identify subject areas in which a student is weak, then offer questions to address those weaknesses, he said.

"It leaves alone the things the student already knows and directs them to the areas where they need work," he said. "The feedback we're getting from students has been very positive."

Steinglass said that while Adapster is designed for the iPhone and iPad Touch, the company also is working on a version that could be used over the Internet. While the program is designed to help prepare students for the SAT, he said some people also have used it to study for the GRE. He said the company also wants to expand Adapster for use with other standardized tests.

How far this trend will go only time will tell.

But enthusiasts such as Feese say electronic technology will play an increasing role in education.

"Today, your cell phone is with you all the time," she said. "It's handy if you want to review, or if you're preparing for the SAT and you're not at home or your laptop isn't available.

"If you have your phone and an extra 10 minutes, you can do a review. Even 10 minutes a day could be helpful."

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.

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