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Gwen Chen
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September 26, 2018

Education Apps: Mobile Apps Help Schools Improve Accountability, Efficiency, and Safety

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                                                                                                             Courtesy of Preston Moore 

Motivating students to do their best is an ongoing challenge for educators. But KIPP: Albany Public Schools has a novel approach for reinforcing desirable behavior. Its middle school teachers allocate points for completed homework and other positive outcomes. Those points appear on student “paychecks.” The kids can spend them in the on-site gift shop, for field trips or other school activities.

The school used to record those points on a paper roster. That method required someone to key in that information later.

Then the district tasked Preston Moore with finding a better solution. He found the right answer with AppSheet.

The Discovery Process

“I was looking for a way to record the data from a form or a sheet into a tablet, and AppSheet came up in one of my searches,” said Moore, CIO and district data coordinator. “And I saw it was really friendly with Google Sheets, which was easy for us to use.”

The district in Albany, N.Y. was already using Google G-Suite with Google Sheets, although not for the paycheck rosters. But the fact that AppSheet worked with Google technology was attractive, Moore said, and creating the initial AppSheet app was fast and relatively simple.

“I downloaded the AppSheet add-on for Google Forms. And so I set up the form that the kids would have to fill out. And from there I just ran the add-on, and that gave me the app in AppSheet.”

The Paycheck App

Now an “auditor” student in each of the middle school’s 11 classes records point entries, per teacher instructions, on a tablet. Teachers can add to and edit entries.

Since launching the initial 11 paycheck apps (they’re all the same, but populated with different class information) a few years ago, Moore has produced six other AppSheet apps for the school district.

Those apps include:

  • A food service point-of-sale app
  • A call logging app
  • A morning attendance app
  • A student’s app
  • An alert app
  • A tech gear inventory app

The Food Service PoS App

In addition to the middle school, the school district has an expanding elementary school. The middle school has about 330 students. The elementary school, which opened three years ago, has been adding a grade a year. This year it has kindergarten and first and second grade classes.

Both the middle school and the elementary school use the food service point-of-sale app. (This is the only AppSheet app now in use at the elementary school. The district may introduce the alert and call log apps at the elementary school next year.)

Here’s how the food service point-of-sale app works.

Moore printed QR codes on plastic ID cards for each of the teachers to use at breakfast, lunch, and snack time. Teachers scan the cards using mobile devices equipped with the AppSheet app to track the food for their classes. The app then provides the food services director with the data she needs for her reports.

In the past the schools gave the students IDs to track food purchases and used a paper “tick sheet” for food service record keeping. But the kids would frequently lose their IDs, and the paper-based process was less than ideal.

Now it all happens digitally and immediately.

The Call Logging App

As for the call logging app, that ties back to the paycheck program.

In addition to rewarding middle school students with paycheck points, the school used to subtract points for student infractions. When paycheck deductions of $9 or more were necessary, teachers were required to call the parents to explain the situation.

The middle school administration wanted an efficient way to track these interactions. That way they would have records to show that parents were contacted. And they’d know when they were contacted.

The AppSheet-powered call logging app helps teachers record those details.

“This just gives them an easy way and a quick way to log their calls,” Moore noted.

The Morning Attendance App

Middle school teachers are also now using an AppSheet-powered app to take attendance. Moore said this app just recently went into production. And it's a big hit due to the time savings it affords.

“Teachers love it,” he said. “They were doing it on paper before.”

920x920 .                                                                                                            Courtesy of Preston Moore 

The Students App

Moore refers to this next app as the students app, but it’s actually the teachers who use the app. But everybody benefits from this app, which has been very helpful in getting students where they need to go following dismissal at the end of the school day.

The students app houses all student names, addresses, what classroom (or “college”) they’re in, the bus they’re supposed to take, their locker information, and contact information. Users of this app can initiate calls and texts from within the app. This app also can provide directions to the student’s house and present maps of other students who live near them.

That way, if a student is still on campus after the buses have left, or a student doesn’t know which bus to board, the teacher can use the app rather than call the school office to get the information they need to help that child.

“That’s something our leadership team and administrators find very useful,” said Moore.

The Alerts App

Speaking of transportation, the alerts app addresses that too. But this app focuses on use cases in which students diverge from their typical transportation plan.

For example, say a student has a doctor’s appointment after school, their parents remember that after they drop off the child, and the parents then call letting the school know one of them is going to pick up the child to drive them to the doctor rather than having the kid take the bus home as usual. In the past, a parent would call with that information, and then a school staff member would walk up to the student and let them know.

Now, however, front office staff can use AppSheet technology to send the teacher an alert letting them know that student is getting picked up instead of taking the bus. The teacher then shares that message with the student, and the student signs a form within the app denoting that he or she has received the message. When the teacher saves the response, the signature is saved as an image file and archived with the message.

The Inventory App

Moore also has created an app to keep track of technology-related equipment at the middle school.

He tagged school laptops with QR codes. And people at the school can use the AppSheet app to scan those codes to figure out where equipment is and where it’s supposed to be.

The Overall Benefits

That’s a lot of apps. Moore said these apps have provided the school district with a lot of value in terms of efficiency, safety, kids not getting lost, and more. He couldn’t quantify the hassle, time, and worry saved, but Moore said: “I know it’s big.”

“There’s no telling how many employee hours we have saved throughout the week for a lot of people at the main office, food services, administration, all the way down to teachers,” he added. “People are saving a lot of time using the apps.”

User Experience & Advice For Others

Moore, who built the apps, said he has had a positive experience using AppSheet too.

“It was pretty easy for me” to build the apps, said Moore. “It was user friendly, I thought.”

When Moore did need advice, he reached out to the AppSheet user community. He also got some help from AppSheet CEO Praveen Seshadri.

“Praveen was very helpful,” said Moore. “I emailed him directly a few times, and he was quick to respond. Overall, it was a really good experience.”

AppSheet’s Expressions feature was also a big help, he added. Moore explained that Expressions work like code or formulas that instruct an app on what to do.

“Here’s a good example,” Moore said. “The rosters. The rosters change a lot. So with 11 deduction apps and 330 kids, if I had to go in and change the rosters manually every time a roster changed for classes, I’d pull my hair out – the little bit that I have left.”

But “with an Expression you can say ‘pull the roster from this college from this sheet.’ And now all I have to do is keep one sheet with all of the colleges updated with rosters. And that updates all of the apps automatically because it’s pulling from that [master] sheet. So that makes life a whole lot easier.”

Moore advises anyone who’s new to AppSheet to leverage the community and learn how to use Expressions.

Expressions “helped me out a lot,” said Moore. “When I was just doing things the straight-up way I could still do things, but not exactly how I wanted them.

“Once I learned how to start using the Expression in AppSheet, that opened up a whole bunch of possibilities.”


Below are three app templates you will find useful. When you are on the app page, click "Look Under The Hood" to see how the app was built. If you the features and functionalities are exactly what you are looking for, click "Copy The App", replace the data with yours, and start customizing your way. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I will respond ASAP.

Class Assignments App

Extracurricular Schedule App

Assignment Manager App

 

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