Back to the roots

You find sophisticated apps in Apple’s App Store and those which are shining examples for simplicity and plain designs.

In this article I talk about

  • Discount Spreadsheet by Luminant Software
  • PlainText by Hog Bay Software

Why? …

Discussing simple issues with young people is the first step to improve knowledge. Knowledge is the basis of creativity. So the two main targets of teachers must be to transfer knowledge and initiate further discrete thinking of their pupils.

Working with a simple app initiates thinking about the need of further features.
An originally created ‘concept map’ as a feature description for those using the app later can be extended to a map with the typical properties of a mind map by adding elements of brainstorming.

By the way, pupils learn an alternate technique of summarizing results of their learning process, alternate to commonly used textual descriptions, spreadsheets, or images.

So the learning process might look like

  • Learning the use of the app by using a pre-created concept map
    This concept map can be seen as the documentation of the app.
  • Developing ideas for improving the features
    In a first step pupils build a new topic adding their ideas for
    – new must-have features
    – new nice-to-have features
    using special properties for new topics (color, icons, etc.)

    In a second step these new features may be dragged into the concept map by keeping the color of the new topics.

The benefits of combining a concept map with elements of a mind map are

  • Existing features stay always in the focus
  • New features must be brought into line with existing features

Discount Spreadsheet …


It’s simple with a plain design that lets the users focus on the relevant tasks.

So I think it’s a perfect app to explain the basics of creating spreadsheets to young people.

Learning targets could be …

  • learn the common actions cut, copy, paste, undo and redo which are provided by all operating systems
  • build a sum with cells in a column or row
  • enter a simple expression where the arguments are cells
  • drag a formula for a row/coulmn to another row/column and see that a spreadsheet app automatically adjusts the cell coordinates in the formula to the destination row/column
  • access the iOS app specific folder via a browser by using a http address

Here is a mind map containing a full feature description of the app.
The map was created with the app iThoughts by Craig Scott, UK.


You may download it here as a PDF

Discount Spreadsheet (PDF)

Visit the mind map library

Biggerplate, UK (group APPLE)

to download further mind maps related to Apple’s iOS devices.

PlainText …

This app can be compared with Microsofts dinosaur app EDITOR.

I myself use PlainText for writing down ideas for blogs. There are no functionalities available, not even formatting, so you have to completely focus on the contents.
Saving of text is automatically and frequently done by PlainText in a folder called PlainText on Dropbox.

It’s all automatic except writing the text.


This app is, like Spreadsheet, suitable for teaching children in writing texts.

Learning targets could be …

  • using the on-screen-keyboard
  • learning orthography by turning off the iOS setting ‘Check spelling
    (Settings – General – Keyboard – Check Spellings)
  • learning collaboration by using the same Dropbox account on two or more devices
    The pupils should recognize that relevant functionalities for collaboration are missing, e.g. who edited existing text and what part of the text was changed.
  • developing a mind map with preferable extensions to a more powerful text editor

Summary …

Learning to use a simple app initiates the creativity to extend the basic features.
This learning process can be combined with learning a new technique which brings the activity to a very personal level.

It’s because a touchscreen is much nearer to human activities than any other device or textbook could be. What we do is mostly what we do with our hands. It’s our first approach to new things. Creating artworks, modeling new devices or writing down all the ideas leading to the E=m c c equation on a sheet of paper while walking through the room and reflecting our thoughts is almost always done by hand.
So it’s obvious that using a mind map in schools improves the motivation of pupils to intensively get in touch with a topic.

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