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Teaching and Learning: Using iPads in the Classroom

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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Updated 01/2014

If I had thirty iPads in my class, what would I do with them? How would I use them to help my students learn better and help me teach better? Perhaps a better question is what would I do with them that I could not do with other tools that are available and cheaper? Certainly iPads are cheaper than computers, desktop or laptop, and they are more mobile.

Speaking of computers, they were supposed to be the transformation of teaching and learning as we know it. In some ways there has been a transformation, but the basics of teaching and learning have remained unchanged. Perhaps, the iPad will be the tool that really does transform classroom practice. With that, I'd like to share some of the unique features of the iPad and apps, some free, to take advantage of and explore.

Kinesthetic Learners

The iPad has a number of unique features that provide for interesting possibilities in teaching and learning. The motion sensor of the iPad has a number of intriguing applications to learning. Most students today would be classified as bodily-kinesthetic learners. The motion sensor allows students to use their hands in guiding the iPad to equilibrium, balance skills, or remote control of real or virtual robotics, hovercraft, or other vehicles. Students can use the Clineometer app for measuring the level of a wall, or surface, and also the precise angles of incline, or decline. With the internal accelerometers in the iPad, physics experiments of acceleration or change in force can be measured. Imagine taking the iPad with you on a roller coaster ride. Imagine calculating angles and force and then shooting odd birds from a slingshot, destroying buildings and colliding with green pig heads (ever heard of Angry Birds?) Rubberized iPads and iPods in gym class can measure levels of exertion, balance, and repetitions.

As a completely portable learning tool, the iPad camera allows documentation to be taken to a whole different level. An app called Field Notes LT not only allows students to take copious notes of their observations, it attaches the date, time, GPS location and photographs of what is observed. These notes can be instantly shared, collaborated, and published in the field.

Students can also attach videos, and voice recordings to their field notes. They can dictate to the iPad using the Dragon Dictation app and it will type their words. With the iPads in the same network but in different locations, using the Assemblee app, students can create a collaboration web to share findings and discuss conclusions about different perspectives of the same project.

In math class the GPS of the iPad establishes locale in ways that are profound. Students can use the included Map app to calculate the distances, compare routes, and actual speeds of the westbound and the eastbound trains common in word problems. The mathematics involved with trip planning and decision-making are brought to life with actual real-time photographs, maps, and weather data provided by the Google Earth app, Big Blue Marble HD, and many others. The App called TourWrist allows students 360 degree views -- "tours" of locations of interest throughout the world. With DerManDar the students can take their own 360 degree pictures of places they visit.

Connecting Beyond the Classroom

Of course, the mobility provided by the iPad's wireless telephone connection capability allows the unprecedented access to the Internet anywhere students are. This is truly information on demand. As questions arise, students can google for clues and insights to begin their studies. Even more powerfully though, through the iPad phone connection, students can have access to volumes of primary source documents and data to help in their investigations in or out of the classroom, on the bus, in a restaurant, or at the football game.

Because iPad's do not have USB ports, disk drives or CDROM/DVD capability, methods for sharing data with other computers and devices over the Internet or "cloud" have been developed. Drop box allows students set up a personal account in which they can store iPad created documents, photos, fieldnotes, etc. And they can access those documents from any other computer or Internet capable device. Evernote will help students keep track of their notes and Mendeley will organize their research documents and let them take their research done on their computers with them, wherever they are going. The Project Gutenburg allows students to download thousands of classic books to be read on any number of free book reader apps available. With the HMH Fuse app, students have at their fingertips the entire Houghton-Mifflin Algebra One book along with exercises and tools for learning algebra.

While walking around the classroom and interacting with students, teachers can control their computers from their iPad with the Remote Mouse app. With a simple cable, teachers can use their iPads to present their unique and creative Prezi presentation made on their computer by using the iPad application called Prezi Player. The teacher can control the document by simply pinching, twisting and sliding their fingers across the face of the iPad.

Aside from the gazillions of games, tutoring, and pointless apps available for free, a diligent teacher can find treasures of apps for their iPads that engage and challenge the student minds in creative ways. Some of my favorites are Lasers Free, Trainyard EX, Play Chess, Words with Friends, and Contre Jour (not free, but worth the $.99).

How do you use iPads in the classroom to help teaching and learning?

Comments (35)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Ann Kohler's picture
Ann Kohler
Special Ed and Science Teacher from Cumming, GA.

I am lucky to teach in a county (Forsyth County,Cumming, GA) that has been extremely forward thinking on technology. Our classrooms have all had Activeboards,Desktops, laptop carts, scanners, etc. since the 90's. Now, the Forsyth BOE has embraced BYOT or Bring Your Own Technology. Our schools are fully WIFI and students are encouraged to bring in any and all technology. The teachers have been encouraged to utilize teaching incorporating any of these techno tools.

This year the IPad has errupted in the classroom. I teach a self-contained Mild-Intellectually Disabled special ed. population. Over half of my students bring an IPad to school daily and all of them have IPods and cell phones. I have embraced the IPad this year and am always on the lookout for great apps and so are my students! My students will use join.me.com to log in to participate with the class via whatever is up on our Activboard when they are home sick or traveling. I can text or email my students to download an app (we can't download apps on the school network) so we can all investigate how it works in class the next day. My students are so excited about finding new educational apps that it has almost become a competition within my classroom to see who can find and learn the coolest educational app each week. The fact that students interact tactally, visually, kinesthetically and auditorily while performing these learning apps is part of the huge success of the IPad. My students just seem to absorb the content and how to use the apps "intuitively"
-and have fun doing it. And we don't just use them for apps alone, we use them for completing work in our online math application mobymath.com, and for all sorts of science work that we do via online sites such as JASON.org. The IPad frees students up to learn when, where, and how they want to, with the key being "wanting to learn". I agree with one of the comments that this is STEM learning in action. But it is also, reading books in action and writing in action, and learning to document our world in action. IPads are Speech and Occupational Therapy in action. Learning in action is what teaching is all about to me and I cannot wait to see what new "apps" come out tomorrow.......

This was a very interesting and informative article.

April Hill's picture

I have created a website with free worksheets to use with apps in the classroom. It is free for anyone to use and I have left the worksheets in a doc format so that teachers can change them to make them work in their classrooms. We found that there were not always educational apps for lesson we wanted to teach so I have made non educational apps educational. Feel free to check it out - most of the apps are free apps. My email is on the site if you have any questions.
www.app-ymeal.com (Think outside of the app box.)

April Hill's picture

Check out these great free apps. I have used all of these in a classroom and they are great!
Pass the Past (History)
Number Line (Math - Fractions, Dec, %)
Opposite Ocean (English)
Pearl Diver (Math - number line)
Same Meaning (English)
Sleuth Jr (English - Reading)
Sticker Shop (Math)
Freddy Fraction (Math)
Master the Math (Math)
Math Tappers (Several different math apps)
Grammar Express (English - 12 great free versions for different math topics middle and high school level.)

I hope this helps!

Susan L Davis's picture

I think it is great that your county is so forward thinking. Our area is not quite there. I was wondering how it became so forward thinking. Our technology group is saying that we can't bring any ipads onto campus. It would really be beneficial for our resource room to have this technology onsite. We wanted to write a grant and were turned down on that as well. :(

Ann Kohler's picture
Ann Kohler
Special Ed and Science Teacher from Cumming, GA.

Thanks for the response April. There are so many apps out there it is great to get some that have been "reviewed and used" by teachers. I am going thru these now and passing this list on to other teachers.

Ann Kohler's picture
Ann Kohler
Special Ed and Science Teacher from Cumming, GA.

I am not exactly sure how our county morphed into such a forward thinking one. It is a northern suburb of Atlanta and as the county has grown some forward thinking IT people were there to plan. It has just been in the past year or so that the Bring Your Own Technology came into play. We decided to figure out how to make these tools that kids were using everyday somehow become tools of learning. Instead of disrupting class confiscating cell phones and ipods we are asking kids to pull up an app and do an assignment, on those very tools ! The iPad landing on the scene has really been the chage agent in my opinion. My experince is showing me that kids would rather learn on these tablets or other devices and if that is what they "want" to do then they will do more of it. Don't give up on those grants either, keep applying.

Roberto Catanuto's picture
Roberto Catanuto
High School Math, Physics and CS teacher, Switzerland

Thank you for all these insights into iPads in the classrooms.
I work in a high school where each student has his own iPad.
In addition to the apps available for education, i'd like to know if there are courses, resources and similar stuff explicitly planned to be used with iPad.
It'd be really helpful.
Thank you !

Renee Scott's picture
Renee Scott
Fifth grade teacher, Tennessee

My school is looking into upgrading our integration of technology. The plan is to finish putting Smart Boards in all the classrooms. After that the decision is whether we go with laptops or ipads. Obviously, you speak very highly of the ipad. What are the pros and cons of both? Are the students still able to learn keyboard/typing skills with an ipad? We want to make the best decision for our students. Any input would be most appreciated.

Justin Smith's picture

I just can't help but feel we're not doing enough to integrate iPads and cloud technology into our classrooms to create a productive and interactive learning environment. I've mapped out a definitive plan to help take it to the next level: http://justinbriansmith.com/paperless-education-apple-ieducator/

All of these functions can be accomplished with the foundation Apple has already created. The frame work is there - now it just needs elaborated on to fully integrate into the classroom environment.

Alli Scott's picture

I am in awe of this device! I am seeing it transform how my teachers teach and how it is reaching students in ways that seemed impossible. We currently have 14 with plans to buy more. I feel like many of you that this can be labeled as a "game changer".

I personally have been affected as my daughter who has a Speech and Language Delay has improved leaps and bounds with the use of our iPad.

In researching and finding more and more innovative ways we can use these amazing tools in the classroom, I am finding so many wonderful ideas and my teachers are excited about learning. We are all learning this together, and I appreciate everyone's thoughts and ideas.

It will be exciting to see this incredible tool evolve in our classrooms and how it will change education as we know it.

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