How I Use It
This would be a great product to supplement any intermediate grade (3-6) science curriculum. The ability to customize the reading level along with the videos and interactive images would keep students engaged with content that supports Common Core Standards. As my district prepares to implement 1:1 using iPads in fourth grade, I could see how the "Pines to Vines - the Forest Biome" app would be a valuable addition to the installed apps. At first glance, it would be easy to be dissuaded from even considering it based on the $14.99 price tag (I was unable to locate the $9.99 educator discount on the website). Yet I think it has to be considered what students are GETTING for that price, which in this case is a lot! Besides, it isn't really $14.99 unless schools are purchasing only between 1-19 copies because "Pines to Vines" qualifies for Apple's Volume Pricing Program, which means it is only $7.49 a copy. That price may be a little easier to get funded.
Through the customized settings, students can independently read the same curriculum content at various levels. So a struggling fourth grader could set the text to a first grade reading level, yet still be learning the same information as an advanced student who sets it to an eighth grade level. This is something we often discuss in education as being beneficial to students yet seldom is it available in e-books. In "Pine to Vines" students can even set the reading level for their tests, which customizes the types of questions at the same time with more essay questions being given at the higher levels. The ability to do this would help teachers meet the needs of all learners in the classroom seamlessly and without calling attention to specific learning needs.
The ability to differentiate to meet student needs within this app are spectacular! Each student can customize their own learning experience using features that allow them to set text size, the option to have text and questions read aloud, and dictate test essay answers. Plus they can choose from 5 different reading levels as needed to learn about the content! This last one was both exciting but a little confusing to me since the app reading levels are advertised in iTunes to range from first to eighth grade in difficulty, yet the level selection is listed as 1-5. I did a little tapping and found a detailed manual provided in the "Media" section of the app, which included a table that outlined how the five levels correlated to both Lexile Scores and grade levels. This manual was VERY helpful!
All of the tools that are typically available in an e-book app are available in this app as well, including the ability to bookmark, highlight, define, and take notes. Images, maps, and videos enhance the appropriate text, keeping students engaged and accommodating various styles of learning. Each chapter concludes with an online test, which again can be customized to a specific reading level. Questions are not only multiple choice and true/false, but also include labeling as well as short essay responses, with more essay questions at the higher reading levels. Upon conclusion, scored tests are submitted as a pdf file to the teacher via an email address that is entered in settings. The app will also sync with a Dropbox account to provide students with a scored copy of the test, which was the only way I saw for students to review their own tests.
I can understand why this app has won so many awards. The ability to differentiate for students along with it's multi-media content that is aligned to Common Core Standards makes it worth every penny of the price. As a technology specialist who works closely with teachers, my only concern with its use in a classroom is the lack of teacher lesson plans and activities. For the entire text, only three lesson plans are available as teacher resources and not many more activities. To a teacher who is using the app in lieu of a textbook to teach the curriculum in a 1:1 environment, I believe that this is a critical missing piece but something that could be easily remedied by the developers. I'll certainly keep my eye on the provided online resources to see if additional lesson plans and activities are added for this amazing app!