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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

CourtlandFunke's picture
Technology Teacher

Our school just equipped many of our classrooms with small sets (4-8) of iPads. So far we've been using SonicPics a lot for student reflections. We even have our students take the devices on field trips so they can take pictures and work on their reflections on the bus ride home. Moving forward we're going to do a lot with QR codes and iMovie.

Membean's picture
Durable Learning

I've talked to schools who are setting aside lots of budget for hardware upgrades -- iPads or tablets -- and then have nothing left with which to purchase software. One school even claimed to have spent $2k/student on laptops this year, but could not afford another dime for anything to install on to them beyond what was packaged. There seems to be some notion that once you have the hardware, you can just access the "market" to get whatever "apps" you want for little or no cost. I'd like to just remind everyone that beyond books (hopefully you'll be buying fewer of these soon) and hardware there is still a lot of great *web-based* educational software (apps) that you should be shopping. In other words, a market of low-cost/free market apps is not the panacea of education that some expect it to be.

Carlton Johnson's picture
Carlton Johnson
Middle School Math/Science Teacher - Windermere, FL

I just started at a school where each student has access to their own iPad. I have begun using it abit for my Math and Science classes. I have also been given the freedom to put in requests for apps to be put onto the iPads. I would like to know of good apps for Biology , Earth Science, Algebra and Geometry. I am excited to browse more topics in Edutopia.

Sarah M.'s picture
Sarah M.
4th grade teacher from Wisconsin

I love using ipads in my classroom and am constantly searching for ways to utilize them for my instuctional teaching time and not just enrichment games. I recently started using this Base Ten app to help teach them the concept of numbers, including addition and subtaction practice. I think it'd also work perfect starting from 1st grade up: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/base-ten-number-blocks/id474636096?mt=8
I also use Voice Recorder a lot for fluency practice!

Serge Melnyk's picture
Serge Melnyk
Mandarin Teacher

The author forgot to mention such a wonderful tool for students as podcasts. Available on Apple iTunes, students can listen to the audio lessons directly on their iPads. Large screen allows them to view PDF transcripts as well, which is much more convenient than on iPhone.
I have created a program that consist of over 200 audio lessons with accompanying PDF transcripts, worksheets, video lessons that teach writing Chinese characters etc. it's very convenient to print the necessary PDF files right from your iPad, especially when you need to work on the lesson worksheets.

Check out this podcast on iTunes:

Mandarin Chinese Lessons with Serge Melnyk
Language Courses
140 Ratings


Mandarin Chinese Lessons with Serge Melnyk
Language Courses Online

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