With schools across the country expanding their budgets for iPad purchases–especially relative to their existing PC buying budget–there’s no better time to explore the function of iPads in the classroom. We’ve taken a look at if iPads are a good match for school, and what the best apps are for iPad-aided learning.
If your school district is one of the many who have taken the first step towards replacing all of its textbooks with iPads, you already know some of the benefits. No longer will students have to lug around giant backpacks filled with bulky hardcover books, which are often heavy enough to pose a serious health risk to young kids. Oftentimes, these textbooks become degraded over time, marked up by students and proven wrong by new editions. Digital copies, on the other hand, are tamper-proof and easily updated. The iPad versions of new textbooks are also experimenting with interactivity and multimedia, which can increase the fun-factor of book learning and draw students into the lessons. Virtual books are easier to search through and can be linked to further information on any given topic. And with technology so important to everyone’s future, putting such powerful tools in the hands of our youth can only help prepare them and foster interest in an important (and profitable, when mastered) segment of modern culture.
There are downsides, as well, and it’ll be interesting to see how early adopters handle them. While a great tool for learning, a tablet computer is an expensive responsibility to transport between home and campus and web access can be a thing of great distraction. Schools are forced to install monitoring software that restricts which apps can be run and allows them to peek at what students are up to. But software isn’t perfect, and neither are school administrators; efforts are already underway by enterprising students to hack their new iPads, and a 2010 lawsuit showed that a school district in Pennsylvania was spying on students via the cameras in their provided laptops. If there is a silver lining, it’s that parents will be forced to discuss technology with their young children and think about the role it is certain to play throughout their development and education.
Besides school-assigned textbooks, there are a lot of great supplemental apps for the iPad that can help out at home and in the classroom. Here are some of our favorites:
Dictionary.com Dictionary & Thesaurus ($4.99) – While you could just head to their website for free, Dictionary.com also has this ad-free reference guide available, made specificall for the iPad. It includes tons of example sentences, as well as audio pronunciation guides and voice search capabilities.
inClass (Free) – This app will help keep your class schedule, assignments, and notes all together in one handy place: inside your iPad. Students can use inClass set reminders and alarms that will keep their homework and school projects on track, and can even record audio or video of lessons in app and share them with other users.
Flashcards* (Free) – Apple’s intuitive use of gestures to navigate their devices make the use of flashcard apps like Flashcards* for studying an obvious and natural choice. Swipe through all of your most important notes, which you can manage in multiple decks and share with friends or classmates via e-mail. You can never have too many cards, and organizing them (or mixing them up for a fresh look) only takes a second.
Solve Pro ($2.99) – This clever app is more than just a calculator: it’s four calculators that work at once. With Solve Pro, you’re encouraged to tackle a single problem from multiple angles by doing the arithmetic and then graphing the results in a concurrent tab. Or grab the more comprehensive MathStudio ($19.99) app for further functionality, including algebra, calculus, and statistics.
Grammar Up ($4.99) – The included 1,800 multiple choice questions in Grammar Up should have you identifying clauses and tenses in no time at all. By taking the included quizzes, you allow the app to chart your progress and identify the areas that confound you the most. Focus further efforts on strengthening your English language weaknesses, and then e-mail off the automatically generated results report to your teacher so that she knows you’re making progress.
The Elements ($6.99) – One of the first apps to demonstrate just how cool it can be to learn on iPad, The Elements is an interactive guide to the periodic table filled with incredible photography. While daunting to the uninitiated, chemistry becomes much more approachable when the elements are laid out next to the real world objects that contain them and the history of how they came to be discovered and used in practical science.
Alexei Bochenek is a lifelong tech nerd & film buff based in Los Angeles. When he’s not playing with his phone, it’s because the movie has started. Shhhhh!