Should we use iPads in schools?

  • Should we use iPads in schools?

The Apple tablet is an increasingly common sight in primary education, but is it worth the investment? Having seen it successfully employed in schools across Wrexham, Mike Elliott believes so...

Can iPads change education for the better, or are they just a passing – and expensive – fad? The debate continues but I would suggest that, if you’re sitting on the fence, you and the students you teach are missing out.

I work as a primary teacher in Wrexham and am currently on secondment to the local education authority as an ICT advisor. We now have over 1000 iPads in our Wrexham schools and much of my time is spent showing staff how to use the Apple tablet in the classroom. In my view, they are the best thing to have happened to education since someone decided we needed time out of class to plan, prepare and assess.

Moving from schools to school, I can see why some teachers do not see the potential of the iPad in the classroom. They think about how they use a touchscreen at home to bid on eBay, post on Facebook or play Angry Birds and wonder what this has to do with education. While I could give you a long list of classroom activities to try with these apps, the potential of the iPad to support a creative curriculum goes far beyond this.

The hardware

It seems a simple point, but the iPad turns on in seconds, meaning learners can be online and researching in less than two minutes. The battery lasts all day, it has two cameras, and the screen is the perfect size – everything feels just right in terms of viewing/ working space, group collaboration, or holding the iPad up to show others your work. How many of us can honestly say that the other computers in our workplace have these attributes? Hands up those of us who’ve turned on our PC, made a cup of tea, photocopied, stopped off for a chat, and returned to find the computer is still booting up!

Bear in mind the more of any mobile device you have the more strain it will put on your wireless infrastructure. Therefore, you’ll need routers that can support the number of devices you require (most modern routers will be able to cope). Your biggest issue will be the speed of internet coming into your establishment, and unless you fancy laying some new cable, there’s not too much you can do about that.

When compared to netbooks, laptops, Macs and PCs, the iPad is not as expensive as you might think, either. Prices will vary but here in Wrexham, schools can purchase the 16GB model for £260. If you’re an author and all you do is word process, then maybe a netbook or laptop is your best option. If you’re looking to cover a broad and balanced curriculum and enhance creativity, then the iPad has the knockout punch.

Planning ahead

Before you go and order 1:1 iPads for the whole school, get the staff together and make a plan. I see too many schools invest in iPads without any idea what they are going to do with them.

Get the curriculum out, look at the technology you have, work out where you need to improve and decide how the iPad is going to help you with those points for development. A few key examples here could be:

> Literacy

If you’re looking to improve engagement in writing, then using games and videos on the iPad can help you to achieve this. We run courses in Wrexham using Epic Citadel – an app created as a graphical showcase for the iPad – as it allows students to explore a beautiful virtual world.

It provides unbeatable inspiration for settings, characters and plots. What’s more, it’s free. We sit pupils in front of the screen with no picture, just sound, and begin to tease language out of them.

What can they hear? How do they feel? Why do they feel that way? We then turn on the screen and begin to describe what we see and feel as we explore the Epic Citadel. The beauty of iPad is that you can interact with the environment with your finger and get as close to the action as you want. If possible, leave the sound on whilst writing. Boys in particular love it.

> Science

You can use your own iPad as a visualiser and stream an investigation to the whiteboard for all the children to watch. Or pupils can use their iPads to photograph stages of an investigation and use these pictures to support their write ups. You may also wish to use a time-lapse app and leave your iPad to take pictures of a chemical reaction over time.

The speeded up images can then be displayed as a movie on your whiteboard. From this point, children will have a better focus from which to explain the processes that are taking place.

> Art

The Type Drawing app can be used to support the link between art and literacy as it allows you to paint over the top of pictures with words. Pick a key person from a history topic, use the Safari browser on the iPad to find a picture of them and import this image into Type Drawing. Prior to this, you would gather all the key words the children have been using and display them. The children then use these key words to paint over the top of the imported image. You end up with a painted picture of the famous person formed from the key words the children have learnt during their topic. Great for word level work, art and also for display.

Remember to consider practicalities, such as how the iPads will be charged, stored, synced and deployed. Without a plan, your tablets may well end up being a very expensive golden time toy.

Four essential apps

When asked to introduce four apps, I thought ‘that’ll be easy’ .

How wrong I was. It took some time, but in the end I managed to pick out a selection of core apps that, as a teacher, I simply couldn’t live without. I think they provide a real insight into how much of the curriculum the iPad can support, and hopefully they’ll help to sway any iPad doubters out there.

1 Explain everything

As the name of this app suggests, it is the perfect tool for explaining new concepts to pupils and your colleagues. The user is presented with an interface that resembles an IWB, with a familiar set of whiteboard tools running down the left hand side. A ‘record’ button is position at the bottom of the screen and, once tapped, anything you do on the whiteboard area will be recorded, including any audio.

How is this useful in practice? Well, a simple example would be letter formation: record yourself forming the letter ‘a’ and describe how you form it as you do so. Now give your iPad to a group of children working on letter formation. They can watch and listen to your explanation on demand. Furthermore, they can pause it, replay it, and even add to it.

I’ve seen teachers use Explain Everything to demonstrate column addition, and how to add images from Google Earth

2 Pages

It’s not cheap, but if you’re currently worried that, should you invest in iPad, you’ll never be able to word process again; fear not. Aside from the fact I’ve typed this whole article on Pages on my iPad, it’s just a fantastic app. It’s like Publisher and Word rolled into one, but better.

Want to rotate an image? Then rotate it. Just want to type? Then do it. Need to add a table? Add it, resize it and insert columns and rows (unlike a well known word processing package, when you play around with tables, your text doesn’t suddenly vanish, and you won’t inexplicably add three blank pages. It just works).

In the latest update, Apple has opened up its closed sharing circle. You can now open a Pages document in other apps – including Dropbox (see right) – which, for me and the schools

I work with, is key. It means you can get Pages documents on and off the iPad and share them with others far more easily than before.

3 iMovie

Pupils can now make movies with greater ease than ever before. Import your images or film clips to the app, add music, transitions and some labels and that’s it. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who doesn’t think iMovie is amazing.

Obviously, if you want to be the next Spielberg you may need to look elsewhere. But for school use, iMovie is perfect.

It’s another app that can and should be used across the curriculum. Use it for recording reflection sessions; use it for success criteria; use it for science experiments; PE Lessons; digital stories; fully scripted drama, etc. Like Explain Everything, iMovie is open to wherever your ideas take you.

4 Dropbox

One complaint levelled against the iPad is that it’s difficult to transfer files to and from the device. However, Dropbox negates this problem.

Dropbox negates this problem. If you’re not familiar with Dropbox, it’s a free ‘cloud computing’ service that lets you save files in an online storage space that can be accessed from any computer (or smart phone) with an internet connection. As it’s possible for different people to share the same Dropbox, the children can easily access a file created by the teacher from their own iPad, and visa versa.

I’ve seen children creating esafety posters on the Comic Life app, sending them to Dropbox, and one by one they appear on the teacher’s computer.

As you can access Dropbox from almost any device with internet access, you can read and assess children’s work from literally anywhere and at anytime.


Sarah Reece is e-learning manager at Casllwchwr primary in South Wales. At her school, the convenience and versatility of the iPad has made a big impact on the way in which teachers and pupils approach lessons: “Following the literacy results of 2009 where 70 per cent of boys achieved Level 4+, we were keen to make improvements.

“In 2010 we introduced mobile technology and the proportion of boys who achieved a Level 4 or better in literacy rose to 95 per cent. In 2011 our results rose again, and in 2012 we achieved outstanding results across the board. This is not solely down to the introduction of mobile technology (iPads) but it has certainly played a key role. iPads have engaged, enthused and inspired the children at our school to achieve greater things and the technology has become an integral part of learning and teaching. It’s another tool that children can access to support their learning. It doesn’t replace our curriculum; it enhances it. Most importantly it raises standards.

“At Casllwchwr we are happy to discuss how we have implemented our iPad initiative.”


Pie Corbett