Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Should I buy iPads for my classroom?

I recently changed teaching assignments.

I am looking at purchasing some new technology for my classroom, and I'll be honest, I am seriously thinking about buying a class set (8) of iPads for my students to use.

The context of my classroom:

  • I work at the local hospital where we provide short term crisis stabilization and inpatient assessment to children under the age of 18 who present with a wide range of mental health related difficulties.
  • Maximum class size: 8
  • Class time will be spent focusing on engaging students in a love for learning while also ensuring they can re-enter their mainstream classroom and curriculum.
  • Students stay on average about 2-3 weeks. The longest stay would be about 5 weeks.
  • Due to logistics, my classroom can only have Internet access via USB Internet Sticks or if the device has 3G network capabilities, so I was thinking of purchasing the 3G Ipad (16GB).

I'm not married to iPads, so I am open to suggestions. But I am leaning that way.

What are your thoughts? I would love to engage in a conversation in the comment section for this post. Or you can e-mail me at joe.bower.teacher@gmail.com

Thanks for your help!


  1. If you can get a deal or compensation for the 3G, go for it!

    My wife is a special ed teacher and would love to use the iPad with her kids (PECS et al). With your kids, I'm sure there are similar tools, and if nothing else, what you'll have is a _personal_ device for the child to use.

    You can also use it "out and about" in a much easier manner than other devices.

    The only issue that I see would be management. Be sure to have access to a machine that will be able to handle the backups of the class set.

  2. Hi Joe- get them get them get them!! The school I teach in purchased 1:1 iPads for the whole school at the start of this academic year. We've been bowled over by how much they have increased motivation, enthusaism, in all abilities for kids. There are fantastic apps in all subject areas, lots of free stuff too. Great tool, relates learning to kids in a medium they're already au fait with... our tech teacher Fraser Speirs is the mastermind behind it. If you have qus he's on twitter- http://twitter.com/#!/fraserspeirs- and would happily answer qus.

  3. I don't claim to be an iPad expert, but after reading how they are being implemented in schools I see an enormous amount of potential. The notion of being able to differentiate among the range of learners through a variety of apps (that do not cost very much) could be extremely valuable in your class. The adaptive nature of the device might also prove to be of value.

    Hope this helps and good luck.

  4. If you do decide on iPads I would suggest you get keyboards for them. With the amount of time your students will have them in their hands, you may be able to get away with the limited functionality. They are sure great for consuming media, much less so for creating.

    Good luck on your new assignment. I used to teach adult basic education classes in a county jail and found having students coming and going to be an extremely frustrating thing. I hope you find this position to be much less frustrating. I love that you are going to focus on getting them to love learning.

  5. Wow! This is a major change in teaching assignment! This is the first year I've had a 1:1 environment and 12 of the machines I'm using are iPads. The kids love them.

    That being said I do spend some time each class period asking kids if they're done with their work or what I can do to help them with their work because they are either on Facebook (which is true of any of my computers and not exclusive to the iPad) or playing game apps (I have Rush Hour, Chess, Checkers and Hangman on the iPads). The iPads make it easy to conceal what you are doing making it easier to sneak a game instead of working.

    Even if I offer kids choices on how they learn, what they learn and how they show me what they learn, they'd rather be playing a game or on Facebook. So I gave all my 132 students a survey asking what they think. According to them it's a small percentage of students who are so off-task with the iPads that they're not doing much work. The majority of students tell me that they only use the iPads for Facebook or games before class starts, when class ends or when they're done with their work.

    If I take their account for fact, over my skewed view where it seems a majority are off task, then having the iPads is better than not having them.

    Still, you need to consider what you want your eight students to be doing on or with the iPads. I do have students do research and for you 3G makes all the difference. I prefer the big screen over an iPod Touch (plus it's much easier to steal an iPod Touch) and so do many of my students. I also have students use some apps to make drawings and animations to use on their blogs. We do a lot of blogging. I think blogging and even using something like Twitter makes the iPad more than just a consuming object.

    It is annoying every time I find a great Flash based website that I either can't use it or have to revert to having students share their other computers in my room. I'm very fortunate to have other computers in my room. If you can live without that then the iPad will be a great choice.

  6. Thanks for the early feedback.

    I know there are limitations with the iPad that frustrate me. I will definitely have to consider the external keyboards. Although, if I go with iPads, I might try without to see if pecking the virtual keyboard will be okay.

    If I go this way, I plan on getting the black Mac case that allows the iPad to be propped up at an angle while looking at it in landscape mode.

    I am a little concerned about the iPad's limitations for creating. While the kids will do some consuming of the Internet, that is far from what I want them doing most of the time.

    I can see myself using Pages as a word processor with pictures and such. I also see some promise for Keynote.

    I am struggling to find a social networking site that works really well on the iPad. I'm familiar with Ning, but it costs $ and it isn't necessarily great on the iPad. I am playing with Edmodo, but not sure it's private enough.

    I'm still looking for more perspectives...

  7. What about the new Android pads/tablets? I have an iPad, but it doesn't have any picture or video capabilities, which I believe the Android version does. I do love my Android based HTC Incredible, so I'm willing to believe their tablets would work well, and they run with Google, which I think is an added bonus if you want to work with Google Apps.

  8. We don't use the iPad, but we did get iPod carts this year. I teach a small special ed. class, 10:2. We use the iPods daily. I know many of the apps we use are available on the iPads as well. There are TONS of free education apps that could be downloaded from a hub with internet access and then used without the internet as well. I've found there are tons of great math apps for lower levels. Also, apps like Scribble Lite or Whiteboard allow students to use a finger to write answers for instant response type questioning. iTunesU also has some really great stuff that could be useful to you. In the setting you are in, it sounds like you may not have access to the same types of books and materials as a traditional school. This would give you a much wider selection of literature to use with your students. Plus you could differentiate based on the student age, level, and interests. The motivation and engagement aspects of using technology like this is also something that shouldn't be overlooked. With a class full of ADHD, I rarely have to redirect when the iPods are out. Good luck. I hope you are able to get as much use out of them as we do!

  9. Joe, I would definitely consider buying an iPad. An Internet connection is a must, but the 3G one would take care of that problem. I have one iPad in my classroom (my own), and my students love using it. From the daily tweeter to use during various literacy and math centre activities, the iPad is always in high demand. It's engaging, and the children love learning on it. One student even told me that he likes writing when he can do it on the iPad. I call this, success!

    Good luck making your decision! Can't wait to hear what you decide!

    Aviva (@grade1)

  10. What an interesting learning context...

    I've been lucky enough to have experience with using laptops, iPads, iPods, and Netbooks with kids. I'm a big creation guy, so my breakdown of what I'd prefer in most learning environments is Laptop > Netbook > iPad > iPod.

    But your situation is definitely not a traditional environment. With the amount of turnover you will have and what I'd imagine is a large amount of overlap (ie, I'm assuming you're not going to have 8 kids for 3 weeks, then get another 8 for 3 weeks....they're going to be coming in and out), it would definitely be a pain to sustain any type of long-range project, even if it were to take just a few days.

    No wifi is also a nudge in the direction towards the 3G iPad. You can make 3G work on laptops, but in my experience it's not tremendously seamless....plus some of the creation tools you may want to use the most are cloud-based and may run sluggish on 3G connections.

    So I'd say if it were me and the primary purpose was to get these kids re-energized about learning, the iPad may be a suitable device. I'd still personally lean towards laptops simply because of their abilities to take, create, and render video and large files, but I'd say it's definitely a toss-up because of your context.

    Thanks for sharing and good luck on your new assignment- the one thing I can say for sure is it doesn't REALLY matter whether you go with laptops or iPads- these kids have already lucked out because of the type of thinking you put into your teaching...I get the feeling you'd do just about as well with chalkboards and pencils. Take care!

  11. Creating:

    My husband got 1:1 macbooks for our kids. They also have a Flip camera, a keyboard, and a drawing pad thing (what do you call it? They use a stylus and can draw and the picture shows up on the screen).

    They constantly use Google Sketch-Up and are mastering the tools and creative process of 3-D rendering. They make movies- from storyboarding to final edit and post-production work. One is into songwriting and graphic arts.

    We are looking into getting at least a couple iPads, because in his line of work (acoustic and AVL engineering, design, consulting) my man needs the iPad. He figures if the iPad is figuring into his work, it must have a place in his children's educations.

    Therefore, I support the acquisition of iPad for classroom use, but for the creative side of things you must not limit yourself to the iPad. Do you have some macbooks as well? What creativity packages are available to the kids? Can they do 3D graphic design, make movies, write music?

    One thing I loved seeing this winter was Northpoint Church's band playing an entire set of music using iPad add "instruments." There's an outlet for creativity!

  12. Wow. What an interesting job. The iPads can do a lot and there is creating ability as well. It depends on what you are trying to create. There are also good notebook programs which allow the user to write (stylus helps) into the notebook as well as type or mark figures depending on which one you use. There are apps for all kinds of creative outlets, music, photography, art, etc. Docs to Go was a great tool for working on GoogleDocs even offline.

    The biggest drawback for me when using them, was the lack of Flash which is used in many online science demos and of course websites.

    Otherwise, the 3G really allows for a lot of flexibility.

  13. iPads are fun and all, but I think we are collectively suffering from BSOS (Bright Shiny Object Syndrome). And we educators seem to be more prone to suffer this affliction than our students (see http://goo.gl/hsEMg - 3 out of four students prefer laptops when given access to both after just 4 months with iPads). The reality is that, while the iPad may be "cool", the app-centric model lends itself to short, shallow, and generally simplistic activities which lack the sort of depth and purpose we are trying to achieve in our classrooms. And the costs - both monetary and in terms of inflexible, outdated ownership models (ie vendor lock-in) - coupled with a real inability to scale and a whole host of frustrating incapabilities compared to far less expensive technologies make these devices a real education technology red herring (see http://goo.gl/RVuO for all the "What's working and what's not" of a real iPad pilot). Ultimately, I think iPads (and most other tablets, for that matter) are "of egos and sharp sticks" http://goo.gl/ZqUfm

  14. Regarding Internet access, regardless of whether you're using laptops, tablets, or other devices you can share one 3G USB device to the whole group using a 3G wi-fi router.

    My suggestion would be to use laptops, since they can do anything. As Steve Jobs said, a computer is like a truck. A "car" may be good enough for most people, but there will always be some that need the extra utility of a computer.

  15. Thank you to all for your invaluable feedback. This has been a great help to me.

    I will do up a new post to share my decision.


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