Using iPads in the Classroom

From: Teach Make a Difference

Well, it's been a while since my last post, but in my defense, I've started a new job...and created a new life! I'm pregnant! Very exciting, but the two combined keep me busy and exhausted! That said, I wanted to share some of my new discoveries around the use of iPads in the classroom.

There's little doubt that instructional technology can transform learning. The tablet (iPad) is a powerful tool that allows students to access the Internet as well as use apps to support their learning. Ideally, the iPad should be used for more than just skill & drill. That’s not to say that you should never use it for this purpose, however this should not be the primary function of the iPad. iPads should be used to create, collaborate, research, differentiate, and explore! Avoid activities that could be easily done without an iPad; take full advantage of its power!

Now, as those of you who have read my previous blog posts know, I started out as an iPad cynic. I started to come around a bit after an iPad training I attended, but still questioned whether iPads were really better than the alternatives.

Since then, I've had the opportunity to visit classrooms that are using iPads and to explore some of the apps students are using. Now I'm much more enthusiastic, though frankly, I still have my doubts...but not about the device itself any more. My big worry is about the management of those iPads. The iPad is still designed primarily as a personal device. In our district, teachers spend hours upon hours installing apps and configuring iPads. The lucky ones have carts, Mac computers, and Configurator to make the process easier...alas, it's still not that smooth. There are glitches quite frequently, and in those cases our IT department spends hours upon hours setting it up for each teacher that uses it. We're talking over 8 hours a pop. Clearly this is a problem.

So I've been working with our IT department to look at Chromebooks and Android tablets to see if they've got a better handle on App management. It seems like there are more solutions out there, but how well they work remains to be seen.

In the meantime, a big part of my job is to support the teachers in our district who do have iPads and are looking for ways to use them with kids in a meaningful way. So, together with my coworkers I've begun creating professional development opportunities and support documents.

Below are some ways that you can maximize learning in your classroom with iPads, whether you have just a few, or a class full of them!


Writing Support

  • Popplet Lite - FREE A nice mind-mapping tool. Let students use this tool to plan their writing or organize their thoughts. You can easily add photos to your maps as well as text and drawings. It's very easy to use.
  • Dragon Dictation - FREE A very accurate speech-to-text tool. Many students struggle with getting their ideas on paper. They'll complain that they don't know what to write about, but often with very little prompting they can tell you their ideas...they just can't get them written. Enter Dragon Dictation. Students say what they want to write and this app will turn it into text quite accurately. Just be sure to disable GPS access in settings for this app; it doesn't need to know where you are to work!
Reading Support
Speak Selection: iOS6 will read selected text to you, even highlighting each word as it’s read. (only works within native apps such as Notes or Safari.)
To enable: Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speak Selection - set to on. You can adjust dialect, speaking rate, and enable highlighting words.

Improving Fluency
There has been research conducted in which students used iPods/iPads to record and listen to themselves reading passages. The data showed significant increases in fluency and comprehension. 
  • Audio Memos - $0.99 Record audio clips and practice fluency; export to Dropbox, Evernote, etc.
  • Dropbox - FREE create account and folders for each student or for “Fluency” 
  • Evernote - FREE More complex. It does, however, allow students to type reflections along with their uploaded recordings, so it may be worthwhile to use with older students.
  • Edmodo - FREE Edmodo has added an app that allows you to do quite a bit on the iPad. You can create assignments and collect student work through Edmodo as well. Collect fluency recording through assignments.
Interactive Books
Vocabulary Practice
Spelling Practice
  • Spelling City - FREE  Allows students to practice spelling lists that you create.
Skill Practice
Not all skill practice is bad, but keep the following in mind:

Have several apps that pertain to the skill being taught. This way you can at least teach students to take control of their learning. Teach them to think about what skill they need to practice, which apps can help them, and how to choose the best one for them. Even 1st graders can do this!

Let struggling students use some of the simpler skill & drill apps to practice basic skills as needed. Try to choose apps that allow you to view progress such as:

  • Math Tappers Apps - FREE Example: find sums. Some skill and drill, but also concept building. Nice features: individual student accounts, can email reports of progress to teachers.
On the flip side, students who finish early/are advanced can use the iPad to advance their skills with apps that challenge them.

Try looking for apps that require more problem solving, rather than pure skill and drill. Such as:
  • NineGaps Lite - FREE Math puzzle game similar to Soduko. Great for upper elementary/advanced kids learning math facts.
  • Number Line - FREE Makes students put numbers in order, but they’re mixed decimals, percentages and fractions so they need to translate the numbers in their minds before placing them on the timeline.
Centers model
Have the iPads be a center that students rotate through along with your other centers. i.e. Direct instruction with small group and teacher, manipulatives, paper and pencil practice, iPad, etc.

  • Virtual Manipulatives - FREE Fraction, decimal & percent bars or circles for students to manipulate.
  • Probability Tools - $1.99 Practice what you've learned about probability with a spinner, dice, and coin.
Use the iPads as clickers. If working with a small group, have each student use an iPad to submit answers. Or else have several students share the iPad, submit and answer, logout, pass it to the next kid who logs in and submits his/her answer.

Show your learning: Ask students to use an app like Educreations to create screencasts/ lessons/ evidence of learning to post online, share with parents, share with struggling students.

Screencasting Apps:

  • Educreations- FREE Create/record presentations. Add photos, text, ink (one thickness). Very basic tool. You can undo, but you can’t erase just one item.
  • Screenchomp- FREE Like Educreation, but you can’t add text. You can however control the thickness of your pens and erase.
  • Explain Everything - $2.99 Like the Educreations & Screenchomp, but has WAY more features and is therefore more complex. Potentially great for teacher created presentations or MS/HS level students. Also, it has a built-in web browser and anything you do inside that browser is also captured in the video, but it can be a bit temperamental.
  • Doceri - FREE Also a presentation tool. Doesn’t let you type, but you can erase and it gives you backgrounds to choose from including graph paper, maps, etc.
Kathy Schrock’s app evaluation guides

Want to know about App sales? Download the AppShopper app.

  • TCEA iPad/iPod Touch Educational Apps List (scroll down to “App Recommendations”) - The App Recommendations is a list of links to documents with descriptions  of FREE “must have” Apps organized by content area
  • Escondidio Untion School District Recommended Apps - A gigantic sortable spreadsheet of almost 200 APPs vetted by educators in the Escondido Union School district. You can short by content area or grade level.
  • iPads for Learning- This site organizes their apps by subject and purpose. (i.e. collaboration, creativity) Gives suggestion for what you can use the app for.
  • MindLeap: education apps for kids This site includes a description of the app, a a review , and a rating from one of the Mind Leap reviewers who are current or former teachers/educators. You can search by grade level and then subject area on this site.  
  • EdTechTeacher - Good list of apps organized by what you want students to do. (i.e. I want my students to annotate course readings on the iPad)
  • APPitic - A huge collection of apps for education organized in multiple ways to help you find what you need.
  • 50 Popular iPad Apps for Struggling Readers & Writers
  • Math Apps: Tied to Common Core
  • Language Arts Apps: Spreadsheet of apps put together by an educator

Want more resources? Check out Kathy Schrock’s website (where I found many of my iPad goodies!!)

Keep up with fun iPad resources/articles as I find them here!

What are your favorite apps???


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