Use iPads to Enhance Your Classroom

Cut through the numerous available iPad apps to find the ones that will help you to start using this terrific tool right away.

By Barry Nitikman

ipad users

Your class has an iPad, or more if you're lucky, and you’re wondering how you can use it to enhance your classroom program. More likely, you are faced with so many possibilities you don’t know where to begin. Here is a whole crop of great apps to get you started.  

Before I begin though, I need to mention that for most of us, there is the obvious question of how to best manage a limited number of iPads in a large classroom. Rather than go into this challenge in great detail, I am going to assume that for most teachers, this is just an extension of the same issue we’ve always had to deal with regarding computers, and for which there are a number of strategies. For example, keeping a class list on the board so that students can keep track of whose turn it is to use the iPad, treating iPad use as a reward for on-task work, having the kids work in pairs or even in groups of 3, and so on. The motivation to use the iPad is so high that it serves as a wonderful carrot for most kids.

Here are some apps that are guaranteed to be winners, either for use with pupils or to enhance your existing program.

  • Educreations - All Grades - $1.99 in iTunes: This is an interactive white board for the iPad that I’ve used extensively this year. It is basically a personal SMARTBoard with audio recording that kids can use to record solutions, sequences, brainstorming; anything. I use this often to have my kids record their thinking and solutions for high-level math problems. They have also used it to import images, sketches, and diagrams which can then be labeled or commented on. The teacher can record an entire demonstration or lesson and make it available to the class online or on the iPad itself. There are a thousand uses for this application!
  • Puppet Pals - K-6 - $0.99 in iTunes: Here is a really fun application that your students can use to create their own shows with full animation and audio. You pick the actors and backdrop, drag them onto the stage, and begin recording. There are limitless possibilities for creating stories, scenarios, whatever you like. This could be used easily as low as kindergarten, and up through high school for more advanced subjects. You can also import images with this application.
  • Dropbox - All Grades - Free in iTunes: This application is becoming a must-have in most settings, but in the classroom, or classroom/home environment, it is invaluable. It will allow you to store files in the cloud, whether documents, videos, or photos. It provides you with the ability to easily access them on any device or computer with an internet connection. So for example, if you have some videos or files you want your kids to be able to access, you simply put them in the Dropbox, and everyone can access them easily, even from smartphones. Also, when you have a set of iPads in your classroom, this will allow you to sync files and folders between your students and yourself. By using Dropbox, you can collect and manage student work by having them share folders with you. It’s just like sharing to the network but with the added home/school/anywhere capability that will make your life much simpler.
  • - Grades 5-12: This is THE dictionary/thesaurus  app that you need for your classroom iPad(s). It is an offline dictionary, so no internet connection is needed. You can view over one million definitions and 90,000 synonyms and antonyms. In addition, it features audio pronunciations, plus Word of the Day example sentences, and a selection of similarly spelled words.  Note: I would recommend this for fifth grade and up because the definitions are not lower grade-friendly.
  • Teacher’s Assistant Pro: Track Student Behavior - All Grades - $6.99 in iTunes: This is a very popular app that, although expensive when you consider that most apps are much cheaper. However, it is well worth the cost. Teachers swear by it! With this app, you can easily track student behavior, both negative and positive, as well as points earned. You can also track interactions such as every time a student responds in class. It records everything in a way that keeps it all organized, to be accessed at a moment’s notice. Ideal for records, conferences, you name it. You just have to check this out to see how beautifully it organizes everything; it will become a must-have.
  • Motion Math Zoom - Grades 3-6 - Free in iTunes: A really great math app that deals with place value and decimals in an intuitive and really fun way. One of those dream apps where the students learn through playing a game that they really enjoy, and absorb the concepts in a natural and positive way. This one has generated hundreds of top reviews from teachers and parents.

Note: There are several other different Motion Math apps you can check out- they all look really good.  

  • Pages/Numbers/Keynote - All Grades - $9.95 each in iTunes: These three applications are the components of Apple’s iWork suite. They are Apple’s iPhone/iPad versions of Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You really need to get these as basic apps to do the standard classwork your pupils are accustomed to doing. Important note: all of these apps can save their documents in Microsoft format so that they can be opened and shared on PC’s.
  • Playtime Theatre - Grades K-5 - $0.99 in iTunes: For lower grades especially, this is really a great app. Learners can design and present a virtual puppet show, and have all sorts of options: interact with the characters, change costumes, add props; they can even put their own heads on the puppets. The possibilities are endless for either designing their own original presentations, or re-enacting stories they are reading. They can also record their presentations using voice-overs so they can be played back for the class.
  • Toontastic - Grades K-6 - $0.99 in iTunes: This is a similar app to Playtime Theatre, which allows the kids to draw, animate, and share cartoons that they have created. There are all sorts of options. For instance, they can draw their own characters and backgrounds, animate the action, and then select titles and music for their show. It's really important and useful to know that using this app will help the kids learn about creating a story arc and plot, so that they learn and reinforce the idea of good story structure. This is an app that has been heavily recommended by both students and parents.
  • Stack the States and Stack the Countries - Grades K-6 - $0.99 in iTunes: These are two terrific applications that are not only a lot of fun, but will do wonders for helping the kids learn their states and countries. These are multiple award-winning apps that have proved extremely popular. And for this price, how can you go wrong?
  • Montessori Crosswords - Grades K-4: This is another app that has been highly-rated by reviewers. Kids will enjoy playing the game, which is intended for early readers, and is a great way to help them practice various skills such as spelling, comprehension, and improving reading fluency; but especially for spelling, it is a great investment. A very popular app for youngsters.
  • Wikipanion - Grades 4-12 - Free in iTunes: Wikipanion is the iPad version of Wikimedia, but its format is even better than the regular Wikipedia, with everything nicely arranged for easy navigation and searching. This is what you’ll be using for every reference and quick search and factoid you need to have at your fingertips, to either look up an important item, or merely to settle an argument.
  • Star Walk and Solar Walk - Grades 3-12: Do you want your kids to really appreciate astronomy? These very popular apps will allow you to find millions of stars, planets, nebulae, galaxies, and anything else you might conceivably wish to find in the night sky, with internet access not required. Everything you ever wished to know about anything in the sky is at your fingertips. You can use it any time of the day, though it’s especially amazing at night. By pointing it at the sky, you will be able to identify anything you see. Or don’t see. This is an incredible app for teaching and appreciating astronomy.


Bringing the World of Educational Apps Into Your Classroom

This article not only provides some great apps to use with your class, but also contains good advice about what should be your criteria when deciding which apps to use.

Thinking About Technology: What Is It? How Can It Help Us?

This is an interesting lesson sequence which has generated many positive reviews. It is not geared toward iPads or any other specific technology, but rather toward the concept of technology itself, getting the user to think about the whole concept in a meaningful way. Fifth or sixth graders would definitely benefit from this resource.

Integrating Technology In Your Classroom

Not specifically for iPads, but for integrating technology in general into the classroom. Nevertheless, it's full of good ideas, advice, and several lesson/unit/subject ideas.