The iPad Part 1 – some thoughts appertaining to its use in education

The Apple iPad 2.

I finally got my hands on one about a month ago and since then I’ve been playing, adding and removing apps, trialling them in the classroom environment and generally trying to see if and how I can use it effectively and not just as a replacement for my school PC for administration and showing Powerpoints.

The priority for me was to think about how I might save time doing things such as making regular notes, assessment points or learning/ disciplinary incidents. To be able to jot a thought about Student X for his/her annual report/monthly chat would be useful as would the ability to quickly look up previous notes and grades or school policies about how to do things. I currently use my tablet for this and OneNote with jottings and audio as well as video clips on the Flip camera or tablet webcam showing students achieving or otherwise in their learning. Given the increase in formative assessment and need to make even more copious and regular notes on each student under CfE we really need a better system than most schools have. Trying to sort a jumble of notes, post-its and folio pieces prior to each report is often time-consuming and inefficient anyway as we lose the immediacy of the notes we made on the day six months before.

I’m also keenly aware of the way such technology needs to be used to ENHANCE learning. I’ve gone off SmartBoards in every classroom as they limit the engagement to individuals or small groups rather than ALL and really want each student to have access via phone or other ICT so we can SHARE and distribute the learning, the assessment and the group engagement.

Onwards to the iPad. Rather than teach the noble  art of egg sucking to the old grannies amongst you gentle readers, I intend to show you MY system, layout and make recommendations based on MY thoughts. Any attempt to offer me inducements, financial rewards or donations to my Departmental per capita will be rejected unless it involves chocolate, Scottish shortbread or textbooks for my students.

The Home Screen

Organisation is always key when using handheld equipment such as the iPad. This is the master screen. You will see the Toolbar at the bottom with Pages (Word processing) Keynote (presentations) Safari (browser) Mail, Settings and the Camera. (I use the camera  lot to take pictures of flip-charts, screens, presentation slides on the walls, post-its splattered all over flip-charts after INSETs and formative assessment with video etc. so like it to be readily available). Other icons on the master screen include PowerDocs (free or 59p) (lets me get at Google Docs in school) ActionNotes (£1.79) and Awesome Notes (of which more anon) I also have my iBooks, Contacts and Google calendar apps on the master screen as I use them all the time.  The Time (free) app is a Star Trek lookalike for countdowns and timers which gives instant “nerd cred” in class to the geeks amongst us. (Live Long and Prosper)

The folders are sorted into what MY feelings are regarding layout and which ones are used more. Such choices are individual and are merely offered as an example. The first folder is X9 English

Apps within my CLASS folder include

T Charts (free) for making for/against charts – great for discursive essays/group discussions

TeacherPal (free!) is great for making class lists, taking attendance (the kids simply prod their name and it records their arrival) as well as grades. I’m in two minds about this app. It’s a good way of making notes on learning incidents, disciplinary problems and attendance/absence warnings. But we already get this in SEEMIS and I think it is far to ‘Americanised’ especially in the grading system to work well here. I’m trying to see if it will work after next Monday with the new timetable. If not I think I’ll be making use of the post-it type app to quickly jot down ‘stuff’ as it happens for each student.

TeachersPick (59p) is simply a set of lollipop sticks. You can quickly add class registers (get a student to do this) and then a quick prod will blank out those not in class so you can then select a random name to answer a question, empty the bins, make your tea…(works less well with my wife for some reason as she’s the only name on the ‘Home’ class sticks..) Dylan Wiliam recommends the lolly sticks for assessment so this is the 21st Century version. I also had a thought (which I’ve sent to the maker) that this is useful for selecting random talk topics. I have a set of 150 cards with random topics on which the kids have to choose and then have 30 seconds to think before talking for 30 seconds on the topic. They love this quick inter-transition activity. By adding the topics to sticks you can randomise this process too and make it even more exciting.

Essay Grader (£3.49) is fantastic but requires a lot of work to set up. Once done, however, it saves you so much time and effort giving detailed and personalised feedback on essays. You can add comments, freestyle thoughts and then click the relevant topics to add remarks about vocabulary, style and so many things. The resultant feedback is clear, very detailed and helps the students much more. Look at the screen shots on iTunes here. I’ll do a separate post on EssayGrader later on methinks.

MakeDice is available in free and paid for (59p) versions. You can amend the writing on each face of various dice and use them for selecting actions, random characters to write about in an essay, selecting a setting to describe in a two paragraph story opening and so on. Hundreds of uses I’m sure.

MyLessonPlans (£1.79) simply stores your plans as you write them. Not sure if I’m going to keep it – my lesson plans are already in Word and there are hundreds.. 😎 But useful if you want to quickly look at/refer to during lessons.

iJournal (free or £1.79) is what I use to make quick reflective notes about ME and my teaching, notes for blog posts and so on. Can add pictures and audio too.

Finally in X9English we have Infinote (free only one board) or £1.19). Simply put it is a set of cork-boards on which you can add cards etc to try and organise your thoughts. I tend to dislike mind-maps for brainstorming as I find I add so much stuff I lose sight of the trees for the huge Caledonian Forest in the way. This works better for ME as I can add bits about a future unit for example and update as I go through the term.

The next folder is English. This has self explanatory apps such as CliffNotes for novels and Sides which are great for scripts, background and themes etc for Shakespeare and so on. Also strongly recommended for English teachers or poetry lovers are the Poetry Foundation free app ‘Poetry‘ and an app created for the Irish Leaving Certificate (A/Higher Levels) (£6.99) which has so much detailed information on a range of poems.

I’ve also paid for StoryCubes. (£1.19) I have the analogue ie real dice version of this storytelling app (£9.99). The idea is to randomise the story opening and plot as well as characters and setting. Very useful and boys especially seem to engage with the real thing and the ‘shake to create a new set’ iPad app.

Moving on from the educational type apps here is my Productivity folder.


Firm favorites here include:

Dragon Dictation (free!) Speak and see your words come alive in text! A miracle and rather accurate too 😎 If you like speaking your thoughts to get them typed up there and then, this will work quite well. I use it for longer written pieces as I also have AudioBoo and VoiceRecorder via the iPad microphone to make ‘quick and dirty’ audio clips about things to sort, students to think about etc.

Fuze Meeting (free) is like FlashMeeting and GLOWMeet. Simple but limited. Used for quick meetings with more than one teacher or those who don’t have iPads/FaceTime

GoodReader (£2.99) is THE app you will need. You add files from Word, PowerPoint etc and it will let you read them, cut and paste from the documents into other apps such as ActionNotes or Awesome Notes.

iAnnotate PDF (£5.99) is for adding, reading and annotating pdf files.

AudioBoo and QuickVoice (both free) are for quick 5 min (AudioBoo) or 30sec (QuickVoice) clips.

Scrumboard is another free cork-board type thought collection app I’m trying as well as InfiNote (See X9English notes above)

Penultimate (£1.19) is a notepad for writing with your finger or stylus. Useful but I’m leaning towards AmazingNotes for in class use.

The Reference folder simply contains what I regard as the books I need to refer to for further information or background. The Bible (free) (for poetry and novels such as Cone-gatherers). History Today gives daily historical facts useful for starters or discussion. WordWeb is a great dictionary and Wikipanion is your gateway to Wikipedia without having to use the browser. Discover is a visual aid to Wikipedia. Starwalk speaks for itself. Hold it up and the GPS/gyroscope in the iPad let you see what star is what. Fantastic personal app but also great for when the nights are dark and kids are restless.

Internet folder. Self explanatory. Dropbox (free app) blocked in school but useful for backing up data etc. Splashtop (free or 59p) allows you to control your PC from the comfort of the living room chair should you want to quickly check something, transfer a file etc without stirring. True couch potato stuff 😎 Again blocked in our school but others may find it useful to go get that forgotten file! FindMyiPhone (free) is actually for iPad as well. Should some nefarious student/adult steal your iPad you can track it down and eve delete everything remotely. The first major app you should put on your iPad and set up.

Blogsy (£1.79) lets you quickly update WordPress or other blogs. Not great but useful for a wquick draft post etc.

InstaPaper (£2.99) lets you add websites etc for further reading offline. I use ReadItAll on the PC but the InstaPaper one works better on iPad.

The Travel, Media and News folders should all be self explanatory. Being able to see what the status and arrival times are of Tube Trains (free) will be useful when I visit my daughter in London. Maps (comes free with the iPad and is based around Google Maps) are always useful as is a free compass.

Media includes iPrompt (free) which lets you turn your iPad into a teleprompter – great for talks, kids love it for movie making etc. The standard iMovie are shown with TED talks app (free) (in my case the subtitled one)

Entertainment Ambiance allows you to create calming music/picture movies….peace out. Good for revision periods prior to prelims and real exams.

Utilities are those wee apps that fill tiny but useful slots in your daily needs 😎 Qrafter (free) for QR Codes, eBanner (free) for scrolling messages along with various timers, clocks and PrintnShare (£5). You need an app for printing otherwise you can’t get onto the network to find printers and get hard copies of your notes etc.

The last folder (News) has two main apps I want to recommend. FlipBoard shows you twitter, news and other sources of info in a magazine style layout. So cool and really shows off the iPad as a digital media device.  Feedly is an RSS reader.

That’s the folder now onto a few recommended apps.

ActionNotes – this is like an A4 bound notebook. I use it for keeping my ToDos and highlighting information. I also add policies and class lists etc. The beauty of this is that if you click the left hand column by a note it highlights it and if you click the next column in it turns into a ToDo action. You can then see all the ToDos by the side and the whole list can be filtered by colour etc as well.

The Vade Mecum (A handbook is sometimes referred to as a vade mecum (Latin, “go with me”) or pocket reference that is intended to be carried at all times.) contains all my staff lists, telephone lists, policy documents, timetables and all the administrative documents we get every August. The other folders are S1/2 S3/4 and S6 which contain notes, forward plans, student individual notes for SfL etc. The personal one is simply my ToDo for personal things such as shopping, orders from the Wife and so on.

Whilst I use ActionNotes for my admin/ToDos I use Awesome Notes (free version and paid for £2.39) for everything else to do with my classes. The ease of use and the ability to quickly add a calendar post-it, a quick note or a To-Do is excellent. I can quickly jot down a learning note, details of a disciplinary incident and so on. They can be printed off or simply backed up to DropBox and then downloaded into Word for reports and the like.

Other things I brought:

The VGA Converter is well worth the money. Some claim it only allows you to project via your class projector Keynotes and films. I stuck mine on and it shows everything so useful for projecting stuff from the iPad such as countdown timers, information, learning objectives indeed just about anything you want.

I brought a Stylus to enable me to write quick notes rather than use the fat sausages that are stuck on the end of my hands. Don’t use it that often as onscreen keyboard is great and bluetooth keyboard even better.

Screen protectors are vital unless you want the screen to be covered and smeared by your 3 year old grandson……

Other points:

Wifi and 3G model best. I have used a mere 51MB from my 2GB allowance in four weeks! Wifi in BTFon/Openzone hotspots (at Hampden for example…) or at home makes life easier. The 3G signal drops a bit in the Far North as it always does anyway. Down South or in my staffroom it is great.

Got the black version rather than white as it makes it easier to watch films believe it or not.

Thus endth Part one – the equipment and apps. Next time we’ll look at use in class, Pedagogy and ways to make your day better! (Grateful thanks to Neil Winton and Drew Burnett etc for pointing me in the direction of most of these apps)


  1. Excellent post David, thank you. Being in a very similar position myself it was interesting to read where you are. Perhaps we should chat / network!?

    Sent from my iPad 🙂

  2. Hi Dave,
    Wow! What a detailed, informative and impressive blog posting. As an ICT novice with very many anxieties about buying the right thing, using the right thing in the right way, understanding the terminology, etc, but at the same time being a very keen advocate of relevant and effective new technologies in the learning environment, I found this extremely interesting and inspiring.
    Great post.

  3. Hi Dave

    Thanks for this – a really useful post. I’m also a bit of a novice but this has given me more confidence in how to proceed. Look forward to Part 2.


  4. Great Post Dave, Thank you!
    It is always great to hear thoughts on different apps. I have shared your post with my colleagues. I look forward to the next installment!

  5. Hi Dave,
    Great post about the IPad 2, it would seem thast most of the apps you have paid for are for note taking to remind yourself of things you might forget, plus keeping a check on the time and little engaging apps to keep the students amused. You don’t say how you keep in touch with other members of staff or how you access your schools admin documents or VLE or even your home folder on the school network. How do you encrypt your documents on the IPad 2 just in case you leave it somewhere out of school or it gets pinched as it attracts that kind of attention (great eye candy). Could you not have done this cheaper using another unit does it have to be an IPad 2 or is this because of the above mentioned eye candy influence.

    There are lots of other questions which I could ask which would be more on a technical basis but I have asked enough already. 🙂

    Again great post and maybe you might want to test other less costly units that schools can afford and will be sustainable for the future instead of having to purchase the latest Apple gadget in order to get the latest apps.

  6. Thanks Mark for this link
    Wow! Dave, impressive & inspiring – I think the ipad will be a fab tool for unlocking imagination when it comes to reading poetry in particular – something which 21st century kids do find hard as the film director does all the unlocking while they sit back and enjoy – now kids too will be able to don the mantle of inspired director!

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