iPads In The Classroom – A new year begins

Well, it looks like another school year is on a collision course with my summer vacation, so I guess I better start being useful again. Since my usefulness generally doesn’t go much beyond the 9.7 inch dimensions of an iPad screen, I figured I should pen a preseason post on using iPads in the Classroom.

As I type this post, truckloads of iPads are being delivered and prepared for use in classrooms all over the world. Educational institutions are jumping on board the runaway train called the Apple Express, even though we have yet to prove that the iPad is the best personal electronic device for the classroom.

Undeniably, these are exciting times for tech geeks like me but what about my colleagues who are not sold on iPad mania but feel they need to step into the fray?

The devices are sitting in the principal’s office primed and ready to use but there has yet to be any Pro D on how to use these $500 paperweights?

What do you need to know before you start dolling them out to the inquiring minds sitting before you?

What follows are a few things I think every iPad using teacher needs to know, before being absorbed into the continuum of the iPad.

Plan your iPad time – I know it sounds a bit redundant but iPads do not a lesson make. Sure there are days when you can say “Go Crazy!” and students can spend the class exploring everything the iPad has to offer (within appropriate use guidelines) but they are not a replacement for good lesson planning.

This is something we learned very quickly in our little iPad experiment last year, not that we depended on the iPad to do the teaching but it didn’t take long to see that the iPad was more of a hindrance then a help in certain situations.

  • Kids don’t listen very well with an iPad in hand.
  • Class discussions are difficult to get going with an iPad in hand.
  • Group work does not always go well when each kid has an iPad in hand.

Cover your FOIPA – Not to be rude or anything but the Freedom Of Information & Privacy Act (Canadian) is nothing to mess with and can get you into a heap of trouble if something should go sideways during your class time, so you have to cover your vulnerabilities.

What people seem to misunderstand about the iPad, is that it is not the device itself which makes it a powerful educational tool. What makes it powerful is the immediacy with which students have access to relevant, real time information from anywhere at anytime. What the iPad is allowing teachers to do is break the traditional mold of using tired old, sanitized, static sources of information to deliver our educational gospel. In a way, the iPad is the tool of the pedagogical heretic.

Certainly, you can’t go out and let the kids use the iPad all willy nilly and may even need to engineer its use at the primary and intermediate levels but by the time students hit high school, we need to be able to turn kids loose and expect that they have the knowledge and the maturity to use any electronic device for academic purposes both effectively and responsibly.

So… To cover your FOIPA, ensure that parents are aware and approve of their children interacting with the real world on the internet before you turn kids loose with their iPads. Also ensure that parents and kids understand that students are expected to use the iPad in anĀ appropriateĀ manner in the classroom. Last year I sent a hard copy explaining what their child will be doing along with the expectations and safe use guidelines but I will also send a digital copy this year to ensure parents get the document.

Create Routines – Elementary teachers are really good at this and I should know! With a wife who is an elementary school teacher, I sometimes feel I am in grade 3. Everything has its time and place and in an iPad classroom, regardless of grade, it is a really good idea. Managing the use of the iPad is hard work but if the work you do with the iPad has been routinized, things become a bit easier.

The most common way to go about routinizing iPad use, is to tie it to a regularly scheduled task you do as part of your daily classroom activity. There are dozens of different tasks you can use for this purpose. What follows are three quick and easy possibilities.

  • Journaling – First 10 minutes of class have kids jot down some thoughts or a response to a prompt.
  • Twitter Time – Use twitter feed to follow a current event and have kids participate with comments and opinion.
  • Collaborate – Use a community sticky board to collaborate and share ideas after direct instruction.

Have a class set of Apps – Last year in our iPad pilot, we quickly discovered that in a BYOD classroom, Apps can be a pain in the backside. For any giving task, there can be as many Apps as there are kids in the classroom. It can be a logistical nightmare when they don’t all work as expected and you spend your class time troubleshooting App issues. This situation should be averted at all costs.

In the BYOD classroom, I would suggest providing a list of approved apps for use in your classroom and stick to it for the year. If a kid says “But I like this one!” Hold the line… You will be happy you did. If the kid insists… Don’t be their class time trouble-shooter.

In a setting where the iPads are school based this is not so much of an issue because you control the Apps that get installed but regardless of how kids are getting access to the device, MAKE SURE YOU ARE ALL USING THE SAME APP!

Take a risk – Now when I say “take a risk” I don’t mean push the boundaries of what might be considered acceptable use in the classroom… What I mean is that the iPad is in its infancy and it is front line teachers like you who are leading the way in discovering how it can best be utilized in the classroom. Forget the self-proclaimed iPad Gurus out there and cook up some hair brained idea of your own to try out in your classroom. Who knows, at this stage of the game, you might become an almighty iPad Guru yourself.

Roll with it – Here is the thing with iPads in a classroom… Things can go to hell in a hand-basket in a heartbeat but in the same breath, the opposite is true too. Because the information used in an iPad classroom is often dynamic, you never really know what might come up. Twitter feeds are a great example of an information source can send your class in a direction you did not plan for and sometimes it is a FANTASTIC learning opportunity which you just roll with.

For an example, you decide you need to do some current events in your Social Studies 10 class and the topic de jour is Arab Spring. You spend your entire evening researching and planning the perfect class and the next morning you are ready to enlighten the unwashed masses. You throw up the topic on the projector and put your flawlessly planned lesson into action. Not 10 seconds later the kid in the back of the room, who has only spoken once all year-long yells, “HEY TEACH! THIS IS SOME CRAZY STUFF… YOU GOTTA SEE!”

Cautiously you take a look at what is on his iPad screen and he has a live twitter feed of what is happening in Egypt live and uncensored. Tweets from a revolution on the other side off the world! How can your perfect lesson plan compare? So you throw up the feed on your projector and you follow and discuss what you are seeing unfold in your classroom live.

Compatibility – Although the whole idea of an iPad is that it runs Apps which do everything you need or want to do, every once in a while you will head to the web. Like most poor teachers who can’t afford an iPad of their own, you will find the websites you need to visit on your computer at home and assume everything is just ducky.

Next day, you show up at school – grab the iPad cart – get everything set up – the kids roll in – you start your lesson – send the kids to the great websites you found for this lesson and then you find out the iPad only works with one of the three!

You curse under your breath and frantically change gears. The only thing you can think of before your first coffee takes effect, is to have the kids pull out paper and pencil crayons and kick it old school.


So there you have it… My two bits worth. If you are venturing toward an iPad classroom, I hope you find my advice useful. It is an adventure for us all and things are changing on a daily basis. I also fully expect to make dozens of new errors over the coming school year, so check back often as I may have more advice to offer you.

Cheers & Happy New School Year


  1. EdTechSandyK

    Thank you for sharing the realistic side of iPad and mobile device integration. Posts like this are necessary reads for anyone planning mobile device implementation including the professional development piece that needs to go along with a mobile learning initiative.

    Just yesterday I also read the following post which details more of the technical side of implementation. I think it is an excellent compliment to your post above: A Friendly Guide to Deploying iPads at Your School

    1. Post

      Thanks for the comment and thanks for the link.

      Yes the Pro D piece is going to continue to be a problem. I think those in power are hoping that there will be a natural adoption of technology and they won’t have to fork out $$$ to train teachers.

      1. Brenda Reffner Spanish II teacher

        I definitely think that teachers need to be trained. When I took the IPads in Education course I had not idea how involved that it would be. What kinds of problems can occur as far as FOIPA is concerned in the classroom besides students getting into inappropriate sites?

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