Once you’ve started down the route of bringing iPads into your school, thoughts quickly turn to apps. I often hear ‘What app do you need to teach volcanoes?' Or 'What app lets you do this…?’ but really the best app for the iPad is the teacher. It’s more about how we teach with the iPad than it is about directly focusing on apps.

There are currently nearly 2 million apps on the App Store, so we need to pick out a few to start our journey that both engage children with learning and also don’t overwhelm teachers. Apps that children can use, and apps that teachers can relate their teaching skills and techniques to, so that they become embedded into everyday lessons.

There is no longer a standalone ‘iPad lesson’ – we want to move to a position of lessons being simply lessons, that may or may not involve iPads, just as we would a pen and paper, or whiteboard. It may even be the case that the children decide when to use an iPad in their learning, within the context of a given lesson, developing their independent learning skills.

So which apps should be we be looking at? Well the core need is to be flexible. It’s less about curriculum content and more about giving students the opportunity to develop and express ideas and understanding. Apps that help them learn are the key here.

Standardising these across the school, or perhaps key stages is a good approach, and will help teachers and children focus on the content, learning and evidence, rather than on the app and the iPad. The apps need to be relatively invisible to the process of learning.

Apple gives us a great start in this, with the free apps included with every device. The productivity apps: Keynote, Pages and Numbers, are excellent content creators. Now it’s easy to think of these simply as a presentation tool, word processor and spread sheet, but the more we spend time with these apps, the more we start to discover features that can be brilliant in the classroom:

The productivity apps: Keynote, Pages, Numbers, iMovie, Garageband and Sparkjar
  • Keynote is great for creating presentations, but I often also use this app to make animations to help explain a process; explore the ‘magic move’ feature with the children (which will be highlighted in one of the classroom tips blogs), or to mock up an app design project with the shapes and link buttons.
  • Pages has dozens of templates for different types of documents, but also look for the Presenter Mode option to turn the document in to a script that is displayed as a teleprompter, which works well when we start thinking about the more creative apps such as iMovie.
  • Numbers is a spreadsheet, but has a real focus on handling and presenting the data, so think about data collection tasks, allowing the children to analyse and present their findings within the workbook-style sheets.
  • iMovie lets us create video content, allowing children to produce documentaries of their learning on any topic. Working collaboratively, writing scripts with Pages and recording them against a green screen produces some amazing video projects, but really a lot of the learning is about research and literacy skills in an enjoyable project.
  • Garageband gives us a lot of options and, whilst it tends to be avoided initially, it's easy to create a range of projects – from podcasts, to radio shows, to historical fact-based rap songs with a focus on knowledge and literacy (how about a hip-hop style rap telling the story of the Fire of London?). All of this is before we even begin to think about the music education features of the app.

Apple gives us this great suite of apps for free, and there’s no better place to start. Our next steps are to think about what we might do with these apps, which we can look at in subsequent blog posts. We also need to think about how teachers will teach with these apps, and the workflow for a project, including assessment…

  • Assessment with iPads is a big topic, and in fact needs to include assessment of all work, not just iPad-related tasks. Importantly, it can also include non-iPad tasks, which collectively can have a huge impact on achievement. We’ll examine this in a subsequent blog post where we have the space to focus in detail. However, for now let's look at the Sparkjar app, which  addresses assessment really neatly.

Any assessment app must fit seamlessly into our classroom workflow, give us easy options for sharing work, and also allow us to give effective feedback. So a typical classroom workflow might look like:

Classroom workflow

Once we have established a standardised workflow, it becomes easy for teachers to switch apps around within it, and easy for all to know the structure, which culminates in a shared assessment approach throughout the school.

There are other apps I would suggest we look at in establishing a basic workflow, for instance Book Creator and Puppet Pals, which can be fantastic for key stages 1 and 2, but these can be considered in due course in other blog posts along with advice on how we can use them effectively as learning tools. However, the most important early steps in making app choices for your school must involve finding the apps and processes that enable effective assessment.

This is a big topic and we really need to spend a lot more time talking about this in your school, but at least here we’ve started to think about some of the considerations.

In my next article, we'll look at getting all staff engaged with teaching with iPad.

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