Mar 16, 2013

An Apple for the teacher: are iPads the future in class?

David Andrews embarked on an iPad journey with his school last year. Here he tells us about using the devices in his classroom

Pupil with iPad

iPads in primary school: David’s three-year-old daughter helped him to see the potential of using tablets in his classroom. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/D Legakis Photography/Athena

I’m a self-confessed Apple fanatic so I was curious to see how iPads and iPods could be used successfully in a primary school. I was sure they would inspire and encourage the teachers I work with to take a chance and think outside their comfort zone and embrace new technology.

But before our school jumped on the iPad bandwagon, I wanted to determine how these devices were going to offer a better learning experience compared to the laptops that we already had in our school.

My ‘iPad journey’ began approximately a year ago, when I bought an iPad 2. I was hooked. My then three-year-old daughter, was also showing an interest. It was at this point that I was beginning to see the huge potential that this device could have in schools. She was learning to count, do simple subtraction and addition problems, recognise different shapes, listen to stories, learn her alphabet, beginning to spell out words and learn how to write letters, all this with very little guidance or support – plus she was having fun learning.

Having seen the huge potential of the iPads as an educational tool, I decided to investigate the pros and cons of iPads compared to laptops in the classroom.

In my mind these were the pros:

• Ease and speed of use and accessibility: The touch interface and app system on the iPad makes it easy to access learning tools. On a laptop you have to open the lid, turn it on, wait for it to load, log in to your account and then wait for the operating system to load.
• Audio visual (AV) tools: The iPad has extremely easy access to AV tools (camera, video and voice recorder) which can be used creatively across countless number of apps. The laptop does have built-in cameras and microphones but they are so much more difficult to use and could require an additional piece of hardware to be connected and installed.
• Books: iPads are great for reading. iBooks allow the user to annotate, highlight and look up the meaning of words.
• Creativity: The in-built AV tools means that the iPad has endless possibilities to be used creatively in any subject in the school curriculum, it just need imagination. For example there are apps for drawing, editing photos, creating movies, ebooks, animations and photo stories, composing music, writing graphical novels and other useful creative apps. In addition, many of these apps have the option to publish work to larger audiences online, increasing the incentive for the children to produce quality pieces of work. The laptop doesn’t have the same efficiency and ease of use that the iPad has and the touch interface just makes it more fun and interactive.

And here are the cons:

• Adobe’s Flash and Javascript: One of the biggest criticisms of the iPad is its inability to work with Adobe Flash and Javascript. A lot of content in schools is dominated by Flash. Despite this, it could be argued that the iPad easily makes up for this restriction with a huge selection of apps.
• Multitasking: A drawback with the iPads is the fact that multiple ‘windows’ or files cannot be kept open, side-by-side unlike on computers, although there are apps that allow multiple pages to be open side by side.
• Word processing: The iPad is quite limited as a device that you would use regularly to word process on. I much prefer to type lengthy documents on my computer, where I can switch quickly between browser, word processing and email. Despite this I still use the iPad regularly for light writing such as emails and Twitter.

The next part of the iPad journey was to get these tablets into the hands of the teachers and provide adequate training and support.

It was decided after numerous discussions that all 23 teachers should have their own iPad first before a big investment for the future was made. This decision was not made lightly, but it was decided on the basis that if this handheld technology is going to have maximum impact throughout the school, from the nursery through to Year 6, then teachers had to be confident with this technology.

Initially, five members of staff (head, deputy, phase leaders and ICT co-ordinator) were given an iPad. This was a chance for them to discover apps, become confident with the device, to make sure that an investment in this technology was going to be worthwhile and ultimately how they could use the iPad to impact children’s learning. All the teaching staff (23) were given iPads as it was agreed if this device was going to have maximum impact in the school then teachers had to be confident with this technology.

The apps that were put onto teacher’s iPads had been thoroughly researched, as the app store can be a daunting place searching for appropriate apps for educational purposes. These apps are by no means an exhaustive list and I envisage them constantly evolving. To aid teachers in their choices in apps I collected useful apps by subject area, including apps for creativity, teachers and children with special education needs. Below I’ve listed a selection of my top 10 apps for creativity, as I feel these can have the biggest impact on teaching and learning in the classroom:

iMovie: add video, photos, music and sound effects and trim the length of any clip. You can create trailers with immersive graphics and original scores, build polished projects with themes, record and edit soundtracks.

Creative Book Builder: add paragraphs, images, videos, audio recording and links. You can also add page breaks with chapters, change font and preview in iBooks.

GarageBand: turns your iPad into a collection of touch instruments and a full-featured recording studio. Play pianos, organs, guitars, drums and basses, which sound and play like their counterparts, but let you do things you could never do on a real instrument.

Strip Designer: create comic strips using photos from your photo album. Select one of many page templates and insert photos, add balloons with words and add additional symbols to spice up a story.

Explain Everything: easy-to-use design tool that lets you annotate, animate and narrate explanations and presentations. Create interactive lessons, activities, assessments and tutorials.

Skitch: use shapes, arrows, sketches and text annotation on photos, screenshots, maps and web
pages then share them.

Videoscribe: create animated videos that replicate the stop-motion capture style of drawings that’s so popular on commercials.

SonicPics: turns your images into a custom slideshow movie. Add voiceover narrating your image as you swipe through them.

Brushes: features advanced colour pickets, several realistic brushes, multiple layers, extreme zooming and a simple interface. Records all your actions when painting.

I Can Animate: capture frames using the in build camera, displays onion skinning, undo support, preview whole projects and then add to an iMovie project for a really polished movie.

You can read example case studies on how apps can be used creatively at:

As I only really managed to scratch the surface of the apps on the teachers iPads in the training session, it was decided that we should ask other teachers to get involved to share their knowledge of an app because teachers were clearly embracing this technology. For example, one teacher had done some fantastic artwork using Brushes, one had created some great iMovie trailers with his children and another had created his own music in GarageBand. This creativity had to be shared.

Therefore, throughout the summer-term every Monday during our staff meeting I timetabled teachers to share an app with the rest of the staff.

Giving the teaching staff time to become familiar and sharing good practice using the iPads has been a great success. Seeing the potential these devices could have on teaching and learning has meant the school has now invested in a managed wireless system, 16 iPads with a syncing/charging trolley in both key stage one and two and 62 iPods with syncing/charging units to be used in year six.

Starting in September I plan to use both iPads and iPods creatively, by using a combination of apps, which can be used across the curriculum to engage, motivate and inspire children’s learning in the classroom. I want the children in my class to create content, not necessarily always accessing it. If the iPads don’t enhance the learning of the children that I teach, then I shouldn’t be using them.

David Andrews has been teaching for seven years, spending the past six years at Spring Cottage Primary School, Hull in Year 6. David blogs hereand tweets as @dmandrews15.