Building a budget iPad cart for education

I was asked at one of my recent sessions if I could write a ‘how to’ for the iPad carts that I collaborated on building for 10 classrooms in my current school.  I am going to do that, but before I get to the ‘how,’ let me tell you the ‘why.’

When we were working toward going 1-1 with school-owned devices in our school, we realized that the process would be a drawn out one if we couldn’t cut some costs.  Retail cases, high-priced charging stations, and expensive management options were not in the cards for us. So we opted to get creative. It took some research, some elbow grease and some innovation, but we were able to come up with some very effective solutions for outfitting our devices, allowing us to get more iPads into more student hands sooner.  So, in the spirit of maximizing the little money we have in education fro these kinds of purchases, here is the process, and the pictures to help you build your own iPad mini cart!

*this cart MAY work for regular iPads as well depending how well you space the levels of the racks, but I have not tested it.

Our first goal was to find something to contain a class set of iPads.  Prior to going 1-1 in classes, we had provided 5 iPads per classroom and were using a power bar in a drawer to secure them in each room.  Clearly this was going to have to change when adding 20+ more devices.  So we looked at what could store that many iPads in one place.  One of my colleagues found a cart that fit the bill…from IKEA

The Raskog Cart was the right size to fit about 30 iPad Minis side by side on the three levels, and was available to us at only $60 per cart.  We needed some other accessories, but it was a good start.

Raskog Kitchen Cart from IKEA ($60)

Next we needed some way to keep all the iPads in the proper location on the cart. Thanks again to IKEA we found some dish racks that suited our purpose. (BOHOLMEN $9) When our local IKEA ran out we sourced some others from Amazon ($10) as well. We needed three of these racks for each cart, one on each level.

Boholmen dish rack from IKEA ($9)


Bamboo Wood Plate Holder from

Power management was a major concern with these carts. We wanted to ensure that they would not be drawing too much power, and that we were not ‘daisy chaining’ power bars (plugging one into another.)  We had to find another way to power all these devices that would fit into fire code.  So, after some research we found these nifty devices:

Antec 4-Port USB Charging Station ($30) at

Each of these 4-port USB Charging Stations can charge 4 iPad Minis using one outlet plug. It took some research to find this particular charger because most USB hubs do not charge devices, even if they are powered.  With these hubs, they are strictly meant for charging, not syncing, so they fit the bill for a classroom cart.

With no more than 28 students in each of our elementary classrooms, we could use a 7 port power bar ($20) and 7 USB hubs to power all of our iPads.  If you needed more iPads on the cart, you could source larger power bars as well.

All that was left was to run wire and use an extraordinary amount of cable ties to keep it all in place.


I started by securing the racks in place, and then laying an iPad in the first slot to  measure how far out the charging cable needed to be, leaving a little play for students so they would not have to ‘pull’ the cord.


Find the right spot for the cables, and a convenient length for each, then cable tie them into place.










A view from the bottom, showing how each cable is tied to the mesh frame.  I then cable tied all the cords to one side of the cart leading down.  Note that the USB cables must be fed all the way from the bottom, unless you want them to have to travel down the outside of the cart to the Antec hubs.


Lead the cables to the side and secure them to the inside of the cart leading down, Your cords will be different lengths at the bottom, but that’s ok.










Once all your cables are leading through to the bottom, find the most convenient USB plug to put them in, wrap and tie down excess cord. Mine didn’t look pretty, but the key is that no cords will be hanging down and left to drag on the ground or get caught on anything.  Don’t spare the cable ties, get EVERY cord.


You can see the attached power bar, 7 plugs leading to hubs, and many wires charging happy devices.










This is what the final product looks like in my classroom.


The finished cart, with all the iPad minis tucked in for the night.










It is compact, portable (the carts have wheels) and costs…$320 versus the thousands you could spend on a manufactured cart.  As I said earlier it takes some work, but ultimately we had much more money to spend on devices for students by using some ingenuity.  Another consideration we discussed was security, but our classroom doors remain locked in off times at our school, and during the summer months, these carts can easily be transferred to a secure location in the building.  At this time we are comfortable with that, but I know this may not be the case for all schools.  If security is a concern, you may wish to look at locking mesh bags as a security measure.

Let me know if you have questions, or found this useful.  I receive questions about our project all the time, and I am happy to respond as I can.

iPad Oddities: Finding iPad/iOS apps


In my iPad Oddities session today I was asked about resources for finding effective iPad apps and apps that are on sale.  So I have decided to put together some of the best resources around the ‘net to locate apps that a teacher may want to use in the classroom.  Obviously, any list such as this cannot be exhaustive and certainly is subject to change, but these are sites I use to research apps for apps I may want to use.

Apps Gone Free – This app will give you leads on apps that have gone from paid to free on the app store. There are hundreds or thousands of these apps daily, and Apps Gone Free aggregates them and gives you leads on the ones that will likely have value to you.

App Shopper – Another sale app aggregator.  Based on your options, App Shopper will bring you sale apps and apps that are free.  I like the fact that App Shopper allows you to choose the options you want and brings you a very personalized app selection

Teachers With Apps – This website features reviews of apps that are added on a regular basis.  I like the layout of this site, and that they give direct iTunes links with each review.  It is an effective, organized site. – While this site hasn’t been updated in some time, it was a very effective site and still has great reviews to offer of apps that were listed before they stopped publishing.  I like the layout of this site, and the fact that they categorized by level and subject matter.  All reviews are written by teachers for teachers.

Listly App Review Site – This Listly post links to a Google Doc that is managed by Lisa Johnson. It is a comprehensive list of sites for finding educational apps, a fantastic resource for teachers.

If this isn’t enough, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter and I’ll search out whatever you’re looking for!

I'm Drawing Again, thanks to Paper

When I was younger I used to carry a sketchbook around with me.  In fact if I wasn’t drawing, I was writing, and if I wasn’t doing either, I was reading. I might not have been a party animal, but I loved losing myself in a story, poem or drawing. I haven’t done any serious drawing since University, when life turned busy and time spent on drawing seemed frivolous.  Well, now that we are in the digital age, I have taken up drawing again, but this time with the amazing Paper app by 53.  It started with my preparation for my upcoming TEDx talk.  I was unable to find the images I was looking for, and was trying out some apps to draw out what I needed.  I had tried Paper some time ago, but like many apps, I had tested it a bit then filed it in “Might use it someday,” well, last week the day came.  By the time I had unlocked the app, I realized that I was unleashing a powerful creative tool and spent literally hours with a stylus in hand crafting some fun, some poignant and some effective images.  Now my talk entirely contains images I have created, aside from a few technology images I had to use to illustrate points.

So, how does this relate to you?  Well, there is a lesson I have learned with this app in relation to my practice with technology, particularly apps; there is a someday.  I have downloaded literally hundreds of apps for reviews, for school, for presentations, very few of which have a permanent place on any of my devices.  However, with the power of Apple’s distribution and the cloud, apps are never more than a minute or two away on a Wifi connection.  If you think an app may be useful in the future and it is on sale, or you have a promo code, grab it.  You may not use it right away, but that cloud of Apple’s can be really handy.

Finally, I am posting any images I am creating that I think might be useful to educators on my Twitter feed.  If I have posted it there with the hash tag #freetouse you can take it, modify it, sell it in your assignments on Teachers pay Teachers, whatever.  It is out there for everyone.  All I ask is if you can, and remember, tag it with my Twitter handle so others can find the resources too.  I don’t claim that my images are great, but I enjoy creating them.  I have also started ‘visualizing’ many of the meetings and chats I engage in, to create a summary of learning.  These will be posted to my Twitter account as well.  It’s how I learn, so I might as well share it!

Have a great week everyone, and thanks for reading!


The iPad and Apple TV as a classroom solution (iPadpalooza 2013 Presentation)

It took a little time to get this post up, my wifi was not cooperating in the USA, and I have been very busy since touching down in Calgary just before the massive flood that is devastating that city.

I’ve decided to try something new with this presentation, and give you a slide-by-slide post of what I discussed, hopefully highlighting the same things I was able to discuss in person.  At the end of the post is an embedded PDF that you can download if you would like the whole presentation.

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I decided on this presentation for iPadpalooza because when I moved into my new classroom at the beginning of this school year, the iPad and Apple TV were the first system I was able to set up to be able to present content to my students and begin to start managing my classroom.  In a converted library space that did not even have a whiteboard, I was able to set up a projector, connect an Apple TV and present to my students on the bare wall.  Once my district was able to install more comprehensive equipment, the interactivity and use of the space became more refined.

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Ways to contact me, and my current philosophy for professional learning, learn it because you want to and make it fun!

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Whenever I speak internationally, I like to give a little snapshot of where I have come from. I find it helps to give some perspective for learners of where I have come from and how I came to be standing in front of the audience.  Much of this information is available elsewhere on this site, so I won’t dive to deeply here.

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An initial discussion of what participants wanted from the presentation followed.  Quite varied responses and perspectives were given and I was encouraged by the fact that many of these educators were looking for ways to use existing technology that they already had more effectively.  It seems the biggest hangup in schools is the wireless infrastructure in schools.  Remember, if you are allowed to do so, you can pick up an Airport Express from Apple to make a cable connection into a local wireless network.  A great advantage of this is that you can limit access to only your devices and are not competing with others for bandwidth to stream your signal.

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Like the Airport Express, the rest of the equipment to set up a wireless solution for your iPad is inexpensive and simple to set up.  If your projector does not have an HDMI connection (the Apple TV only uses HDMI) you will need to purchase an HDMI to VGA adapter.  The two adapters pictured are available through the Apple Store online.

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I wanted to present a little bit of the amazing research that is developing about iPad use in the classroom.  Some very large-scale, sponsored studies have shown the benefit of iPads in the classroom, but there are now some very comprehensive qualitative and quantitative University peer-reviewed studies that are showing some very important results about iPad use in the classroom. The results; that there is no cost to learning with iPads, and learning continues.  What does show clearly is that there are significant secondary benefits to students in using iPads, including increased autonomy, creativity and willingness to support other students.  Many of the benefits that Sir Ken Robinson discussed could be the benefits of new technologies as used in education.

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Another article I reviewed recently discussed the benefits of learning literacy using the iPads as an instructional and interactive tool with students.  The key takeaways were consistent with those that Lisa Carnazzo presented at iPadpalooza as well.  Students who were able to use iPads for literacy learning using effective apps and well planned lessons showed higher engagement and more learning when using iPads when compared to times when taught traditionally.

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One of the great benefits of these studies are the comprehensive description of the apps and activities used in the classes.  In this case, the apps used for instruction and rehearsal by the students included: iBooks, Popplet, Doodle Buddy, Strip Designer and Sundry Notes. Each of these apps, while not specific to subject content, offers the students ways of creatively and effectively showing their learning and working through problems.  It is this capacity that makes them highly effective classroom additions, and draws us away from seeing the inclusion of technology as ‘play time’ for students.

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Apple has come a long way in the past seven years of iOS development, and it is now quite easy to get connected with an Apple TV in the classroom.  One of the key considerations you have to make is the state of the technology infrastructure in your school. If you connect too many devices at once, you may find yourself being disconnected and dropping signals quite often.  When you are just starting out with this technology, that can be quite disheartening.   If you have a computer that you usually leave plugged in to the projector anyway, a stable method of presenting is using the Reflector program on the computer, allowing you to mirror your iPad screen on the computer that is already showing on the projector.  However, even this solution requires some network connectivity, so you have to make sure that is available.  Another consideration you may want to think through is how this new technology will impact other teachers and students.  While I consider it a positive pressure if students want other teachers to use iPads in the classroom and instruction, other teachers may not see it that way.  It can lead to resentment, particularly if other teachers do not have access to the same technology as you due to grants and funding disparity.  I have always made a point of sharing whatever technology resources I have freely, so that other teachers can try what is working for me, or just get a handle on the technology for themselves.  I believe it has saved a great deal of stress for everyone.

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It was at this point we discussed the current practice in education of purchasing tools to simply ‘drop’ into classrooms with little awareness of the stresses or intended uses of that technology.  Many educators have experienced receiving a ‘tool’ that they did not ask for or particularly want, but were asked to use it in their classes.  I am a big advocate of using the technology you do have as effectively as possible, and effectively pairing tools together to allow for even greater benefit, and the iPad is a good tool for this, as we can see below.

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Smart has created a pairing that allows for highly effective use of their Smart Notebook software with the iPad.  While it is not perfect (the iPad version can’t use Flash objects, for example) it does offer options for those who wish to interchange between the software and hardware that Smart offers to make better use of the technology they may have in their room, or have used in the past.

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As time goes on, tools for educators evolve and become more refined, and one of the great developments in this area is in the area of multi-platform tools.  Class Dojo is a great behaviour tracking and management tool, but better than just being a simple tool, it is multi-platform as well.  In fact, it is one of the more refined multi-platform tools I have used.

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Class Dojo allows for instant feedback of student behaviour for students, teachers and parents. When used in conjunction with an Apple TV, a mirrored computer or the Class Dojo app, teachers have various methods to note student behaviour, and any behaviours on each of the various methods updates on others simultaneously.  I love this as I can have Class Dojo on the board at the front of the room during a class task, and then update it from my iPad or iPhone while moving about the room.  The visual and audio feedback of the site still appears at the front of the room for students to respond to.

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Google Drive is another solution that provides opportunity for real-time collaboration and connection. Districts can contact Google for a self-managed, free Google implementation for their students.  One of the huge advantages of this system is that individual applications in Google can be turned on and off as need be.  That means that students who are too young to need email don’t have to have a working email account.

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I also discussed the benefits of giving students a shared document to collaborate on, and the benefit of putting work to be edited on the projector to display for students.  Students on several iPads, or on yours, can brainstorm with the results appearing at the front of the class.  As a multi-platform option, Google Drive can be used through an app or browser.

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I believe that Aurasma, which is an augmented reality app, has incredible possibilities for us as educators.  This app uses a trigger image (perhaps the cover of a book) and then overlays an image or video (perhaps with a review of the book) that appears when the image is scanned.  It is pretty incredible, and there are so many ways you can ‘tag’ in the classroom to show student learning, or set up engaging activities for the class.

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Learning solutions like Mathletics have built in mini-lessons and reviews that don’t only have to be  used individually.  Why not project these apps on your iPad and use these apps for class review, teaching and discussion?  An added bonus of this use is that students are then seeing you use the app, rehearsing the manner in which it can be effectively used.

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Three ring is an assessment and learning evidence collection platform.  Using the app, the iPad can quickly collect video, images and audio evidence of learning.  I use this app to collect student activities as they complete it.  It uploads in a blog-like format and, like Class Dojo, has the ability to connect parents to the system to provide real-time learning data.  It’s a pretty powerful platform!

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Like Mathletics, puzzle games allow for the possibility of class solutions and modelling processes for students.  Once the concepts are highlighted and rehearsed, students will be more likely to use apps effectively during their own time.

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If you have the ability to secure even a few additional iPads, there are many ideas of how you can use them in the guide “Less than a Class Set” written by  Kristin Redington Bennett. If you are proficient in project-based learning, iPads can become a very versatile tool that allows for different modes of expression and learning.

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Ultimately, it will be your flexibility and perspective on using your iPad that will make the difference to any implementation of iPads.  If you are willing to give it a go, you will find the Apple TV a highly effective tool for presenting and interacting in the classroom. If you need support, let me know. I’m always glad to help!

What the iPad represents in a New Generation of Learners

It makes me smile to read blog posts discussing how the iPad is not the panacea of education that everyone seems to think it is. It was never intended to be. After millions of iPads have been deployed around the world are they fundamentally changing education? Yes and no. I can point to great studies and examples of iPad use that are increasing student involvement, test scores, and teachers’ efficacy in education, and I can also point to articles showing the deficiencies of the operating system and how an iPad is not a ‘complete’ classroom solution. I see both sides, I get both.

A couple weeks ago I had a discussion on Twitter about technology integration, and many of the same points I have heard from teachers came up again. What is the point of integrating technology if I am getting good results? I am not an entertainer, I am a teacher. Students need to meet my standards, I am not lowering standards by using new toys. I am paraphrasing a bit, but the message comes through loud and clear: We do not need to change our methods of educating, students need to adapt to us.

I have heard the following phrase over and over this year, ‘Technology is only technology if it existed before you were born.’ I love this idea, because it highlights so many of the battles we are having right now around progress and change in education. How many of us still teach by candlelight? I seems an odd question, but there was a time when ‘false light’ was unnatural to people. I can imagine the first schoolhouses that were set up with this new technology, that there would have been excitement around it, but change also. Structural changes to a teacher’s routine, the school day, times at which you could read and learn.

I bring this up because in my lifetime I have never had to think about turning on a light, plugging in a TV, even computer use was becoming common by the time I had reached high school. Most of the research I did for my various degrees was done on computer. I didn’t think twice about it; I took books out when I needed them, and blended that with digital resources.

I did have a professor who limited the amount of online works we could cite for our papers, in an effort to get us to use the physical library resources the University had collected over time. I did the assignment, but it was one of my poorer papers, not because I was not good at library research (I spent literally days in the library building,) but because I didn’t have access to the best that was out there. The process of forcing ‘his method’ of research onto his students resulted in far lesser quality of work.

It is much the same for students and iPads, smart phones and computers. Students use these devices and are as comfortable with them as we are with a light switch. They want to use them, adapt them, and make them work for their education. Not every student, and not for every situation, but overall I think we are doing our students a service by allowing them to turn on their light instead of making them light our candle. I do believe we have to be responsive to ‘technology’ that changes, not because it is novel and new, and not to throw out the old ways and learning, but essentially because it is not ‘different’ to them, it is just what they know. They can blend their methods of learning with ours, and the results will be great. If we ignore that, we run the risk of missing the connections that make the learning we have to offer relevant to their lives, passions and future.

Support for iPads in the Classroom? Check your Staff!

I had a great discussion today that reminded me why I feel it is so important to do what I do with Developing Education, New Teacher Chat #ntchat and other supports I am involved in online.  My conversation was focused on the best way to deliver support to teachers with the various technologies we have been providing teachers.  While there is an inclination to digitize support and send the teachers to a website, video tutorial, or even Google, this misses the mark with teachers who are already overloaded and don’t have the ‘extra time’ to go out to these sources to learn about technology.

Think about it for a moment, if teachers were apt to go online and had plenty of time to spend on their own personal development on their own time, I think the uptake with technology in many cases would be exponentially further than it is.  The truth is, great teachers worry about the art of teaching and the preparation for it in their own time.  Their dedication is part of what makes them great to start with. We burn these teachers out by pushing them to do more in an environment they don’t understand, even when we provide support by way of training videos or websites.  They simply don’t have a passion for technology learning, or they would be doing it themselves.

Instead of offloading training and support for technology to be done ‘at your leisure’ (how many of us have leisure, or use leisure time for that?) look to someone on your staff who does have the passion for using technology in learning.  Give that person some extra prep time, collaborative time, or better yet, make that person a full-time educational technologist.  If you are able to provide your staff with someone who effectively uses a passion for educational technology in the classroom, and has or is developing a knowledge of the curriculum links associated, I bet you will find that the money spent on that position will go far further than the man hours putting together presentations on technology or training guides.  Every teacher I’ve known who has taken up a technology I have offered has seen the value of that technology to their own classroom and situation before they started.  It is hard to instil that value without a passionate, articulate teacher who is willing to walk with them into the classroom and help them make it happen.  Think about your team, your staff, do you have someone you think could fill that role?  You may be further along the path to great technology instruction than you thought!

I have had the fortune of being in this role in two schools, and let me tell you as someone who is passionate about this, it is FUN to watch teachers flip the switch.  It’s why I get so fired up about technology in the classroom!  If you want to ask me more about this, or have me work with someone you want to test in this role, see my contact link above and connect.  I would love to support you!

5 Great Creative iPad Apps for Earth Day {iPads in Education, iOS, EdTech}

Alright, I wanted to write a post about iPad apps that worked with an Earth Day theme, and did a little searching online to see what had been presented.  There are some nice lists of apps (like these: 1, 2) that are focused on the earth, on history, on animals, but few that seem to actually present an educational method for teaching about the purpose of earth day.  While I am all for appreciation of our planet and the beauty contained within, I am more apt to direct students toward action on preserving our planet and appreciating our world.  So, in that light, this post is dedicated to ways students can create artifacts that show their planet love with iPads.


Aurasma is platform forcreating augmented reality overlays for things in your immediate environment.  What it enables students to do is create wording, video, images that they can ‘tag’ to a camera location, so when others come to that point, they see the content ‘floating’ with the image.  The obvious implication would be to have students tag things in their environment with some of the environmental considerations, so others could become informed as well.  The app is simple enough to use that a single teacher account could catalog all of the student work, or you could have students create their own free accounts.  For younger students, a teacher could pre-tag a school yard, classroom or school and give students the ipads to do a walkabout and learn about things in their environment. I am very excited about this app, and have at least one big project coming up with it soon!


Google DriveGoogle Docs

If you have access to Google Docs, or wish to set it up with your students, you can upload your activities for Earth Day and have a paper free learning day!  As Google Docs is connected online, students can share their work with others and reach out to others taking action for Earth Day.  Another option is to have all students collaborate on a document, perhaps a group of strategies to help their peers become more eco-friendly, then share the document and see the feedback you can get.


MinecraftMinecraft PE

I think Earth Day provides an excellent opportunity for students to use Minecraft educationally.  In a virtual world where supplies must be gathered, scarcity exists and it takes time to create things, students could be placed into a carefully designed scenario to achieve a goal. (irrigate, build shelter, create a rare item) As students work through the challenge, parallels can be drawn to our world, and the lack of availability of some resources, or the impractical way in which we use those resources some times.


PathOnPath On

This little app is so simple, but so connected.  Basically, it allows a user to take a picture and then draw a line that becomes the direction of the words the user writes ‘on’ the picture.  So, you put a path of words on the picture.  However, it also has some basic editing functions, similar to Instagram and the like,  and the ability to upload the finished images to social media.  I like the idea of students being able to find something that they want to make a social comment on, taking a picture and making the statement directly on it.  Added to that is the ability to then connect those statements, facts, information to the broader world either through a moderated school account, or their personal social media accounts.



Ok, so I am cheating a bit with Google Docs and Twitter, as they are platforms, but there is no substitute for connecting students to the worldwide #earthday conversation as it is happening.  Either on the projector or on their own iPads, have the students listen to the conversation, and then join in, depending on their age.  If I were still teaching High School I would be having my students research and produce valid and poignant tweets using information they have found.  How can they state their facts and a perspective in 140 characters to create a call to action?  If you have your students add a custom hashtag, you can even archive the perspectives for review and discussion in class.


My point with these apps is that there are ways to actually get students actively engaged in Earth Day all over the app store if we are being creative with our uses of technology.  I want to make sure my students are learning something that matters to them about the earth the other 364 days of the year as well.  I am looking forward to discovering more ideas for Earth Day in the coming weeks. I know my planning won’t stop until April 21st.  Let me know if you have any great apps or ideas you plan to use!

Why we need to move away from App-Based Learning {iPads in Education, iOS, Educational Design}

I have been and continue to be a huge proponent of iOS in education, mainly because of its effectiveness in getting the tool out of the way as a hindrance to student learning.  You can read more about those perspectives here.  However, in every talk I give, I try to mention several apps for each task I have students perform.  This can, at times, seem counterintuitive to those I am speaking to who want a ‘single solution’ in their classrooms.

Why do I do this?

The answer is simply that I believe students should have the opportunity to pick a tool to do a job.  I want students to have options and think about why they are choosing the tool they do.  If I give students one option, they may learn how to use that app, but have not learned why that app is there and why it was chosen for use.  As opposed to other areas of learning in their lives, the ‘reason’ behind technology is often hidden from the view of the student.  Students understand, or can be easily taught, why they would use a dictionary to define a word instead of a newspaper, though using the newspaper might be an interesting exercise.  However, there are a multitude of reasons for using or not using an app, and my reasons for choosing an app may not be comprehensive or valid for all students.

What do options in apps bring to the table?

I worry about our students’ ability to discern what is best for them if they are always handed the tool and then simply ‘go through the motions.’  If we are looking to inspire learners, we need to give them some dead ends and have them rethink their route.  I understand that this is not always practical or expedient, but students can find more than one way for students to achieve learning and reach outcomes.  To be honest, I am working hard at blending technology and other learning methods in my classroom so students don’t even simply go to technology to answer a problem.  It is tough, and I am learning as I go, but I am learning that there is an advantage to being 1:3 instead of 1:1 in a classroom.  Students learn that technology is but one tool in the cupboard, and not the one they should always turn to.  Good lessons in grade 4!  Likewise, even in a 1:1 environment, having a plethora of apps to achieve a task leads children to evaluate what is working, and isn’t, for them.

Obviously, some apps have particular purpose, and I am not saying that there is no value in having apps to highlight a concept or review learning.  What I am advocating is for teachers to spend more effort on creating great projects that could use any number of apps, than on creating a process in a specific app that students must follow lock-step.  Let’s use our digital tools to broaden the possibilities for our students, instead of narrowing them!

Shifting Conversations: iPads in Education

I am quite amazed at the transition that is taking place in education. After attending the Florida Education Technology Conference, and reconnecting with many of the amazing educators I have had the pleasure of getting to know on Twitter and elsewhere, I have noticed the depth of conversations about the integration of technology and particularly iPads has shifted. While I am sure that there are many educators out there who still have not used iPads in education, the ones who now have a year or two of integrated use of these devices have shifted their analysis of the value that they bring to education. Generally, the initial conversations were theoretical and dealt with the surface level outcomes to be reached. As conversations have moved forward, there is more of a blend of pedagogy, curricular outcomes and real assessment of the learning processes that students are are engaged in. I have seen amazing lists of apps sorted into Bloom’s taxonomy, but going even further I have seen highly developed criteria for assessing the value of an app.

In my current school, we are looking at taking a significant number of apps off of the iPads, as they aren’t meeting our developing need to use these devices in a more focused and less ‘edutaining’ way. We are developing a committee and criteria to do this, a way to maintain the educational integrity of this technology and move the iPad fully from toy to tool in the classroom and move out of the ‘wow’ factor and solidify its position as a regularly accessible technology.

On the converse side, the concept of gamification of education is taking hold and maintaining traction in education. I don’t think that this is an either/or scenario. I really think that true gamification, the use of game design and immersive game-based learning is a far different thing than using edutainment to rehearse a concept as a worksheet might. Gamification is not about a device, but rather an environment, and is really quite distinct to using a tool like the ipad educationally. I will write more about both of these concepts soon, as I am completing more research on game-based learning, but in my research and mind, I see iPad implementation as significantly different, even as the depth of gamification increases as well.

I’m curious to know if others are seeing this shift as well, and whether you have seen your own conversations around iPads in education changing. If so, let me know what you think the key takeaways are, and how you are distinguishing the valuable apps from the ones that are less about learning, and more about entertainment.

Why iPads are (Still) Great for Education

I don’t actually hear as many people asking the question, “Why iPads?” as much as I used to.  It seems that in the last year, the value of ‘the little tablet that did’ has been solidified, and there are fewer asking why.  What I do hear now are the questions of whether competitors or other technology could be as valuable to education. I believe that the iPad is a solid investment for schools and districts for many of the same reasons that prompted me to see them as viable initially, though there have been some developments I think few of us could have predicted at the onset of this technology.  So, here are my top five reasons that iPads are still relevant, and so far, the best option for educators looking to add technology to their education environments.

Ease of Use

The iPad is a simple device to use.  I have had them in the house throughout the entire life of my youngest son, and it is at times easier for him to use than many toys that were designed for his age group.  While I would never look to a device to replace physical toys, puzzles and the like, as these items have important developmental functions, the fact that a toddler can pick up an iPad, find an app and use it effectively speaks to the lack of ‘training’ these devices require.  As I will discuss further, the physical use of a computer should not be the limiting factor in being productive or learning with it, and laptops and certain other tablets still require an inherent knowledge of operating systems and processes to use.  iPads do not require this sort of training, and as such, an iPad loaded with quality content is accessible quickly and easily.

The Ecosystem

I read a great deal about the Apple ecosystem these days, and little of it is positive.  People don’t like being tied to a single hardware producer for accessing their content.  While I see the value of having the ability to move to other product distributors, I also see the immense benefit of knowing that what I purchase will always be there.  I know of few technology companies that have the ‘staying power’ of Apple.  I think of the money I spent in university on Palm device software that are now defunct, and it makes me thankful for an ecosystem like Apple’s.  I know software is vetted effectively, that it will continue to run on the hardware it was designed for, and that I have a managed process of accessing that software.  My Palm software years ago was purchased individually, and if a company stopped producing updates or distributing the product, you had no recourse save from the developer themselves.  Apple is really trying to make the system simple for users, and though it also comes across as controlling, it does have benefit to the consumer. So much benefit in fact that others have tried to emulate this ecosystem from its inception.

Device Management

I have spent many years around portable electronic devices, and I appreciate more than many the difficulties of large-scale deployment (or small scale deployment for that matter) of devices.  Apple has created tools and offers them freely to manage, mirror and distribute to devices for large scale deployment.  There is an interesting subset of companies now devoted to micro managing images and deployment that may be very useful in some situations, but Apple is willing to support through software, knowledge bases and even direct expert support, the use of its devices.  As consumers, it is easy to poke at the giant and say they are not doing enough, but Apple does offer for free many of the solutions that other companies leave to secondary companies.  That said, all of the setup and implementation I have done I have been able to do without Apple support directly, which again speaks to the simplicity of the Apple systems in setting up and managing their devices.

Cultural Relevance

I’ll be honest, I see many more Android devices in the wild than I used to, but I also think that it was only a matter of time until I did.  Some people have different needs than an iPad for their tablet use.  However, invariably when I see devices used in a professional setting, it is an iPad.  Culturally, the iPad is a device that is relevant and used.  Some will scoff at using cultural relevance as a reason to make a technology purchase, but I saw the same thing said as a reason not to purchase Macs when Microsoft Office was leading the pack.  If it is what business, media and the general public have embraced, we in education should at least be looking at the possibilities it holds as the tool our students may best prepare themselves with for the future.

Creative Tools

The iOS app store is the most active development environment on the planet right now, and there are literally new creations daily for educators to test and use in the classroom.  While other platforms can offer new apps daily as well, the sheer number of developers working in iOS makes it the standard today.  While this may not always be so, I want the newest and most varied selection of tools to use in my classroom, and iPads offer this.

This is not an exhaustive list, and I am encouraged that I have recently talked to who had reasons of their own about iPads in education.  What I am also encouraged by is the value of the iPad mini to the educational sphere, with its own list of interesting benefits, it offers a new form factor to the mix of iOS devices.  I see it as a welcome addition, particularly in the ability to run full-size iPad apps in a smaller device.

What do you think of iPads in education?  Has the technology peaked, or do you think there is still something ‘magical’ about this device that so changed the landscape for educators.