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Your iPad or Mine?

It’s clear that the iPad has the power to transform education from stationary learning to a process that can be performed anywhere. With a starting price of $500, it’s on a par with netbooks and a lot easier to swallow for a class than notebooks that cost 50 percent more. The iPad is also thinner, lighter and has a touch screen that kids can’t keep their fingers off of.

The key to any computing platform is the software that runs on it and the iPad has 150,000 programs available with many more on the way. On top of newspaper and magazine content, there are thousands of iPad programs designed for education. Some are free, $10 goes a long way with these programs and $50 is about as much as you can spend on a single education app.

Here’re more than dozen of my favorites of iPad apps for students and teachers. Send me yours.


School zone The latest iPad learning app is School Zone’s First Grade Pencil-Pal Learning Game, a $10 program that’s now available at the iTunes online store. With a nautical theme, Captain Bingham Bear shows first graders letters and numbers as well as starting the process of teaching sight reading. With 8 videos, lots of music, jokes and riddles the game teaches kids about money, telling time and the rudiments of adding and subtracting – all without it seeming like learning.


Degeo5-1 U.S. Geographyby Discovery Education is an innovative program that makes learning about our country as painless as possible. Developed with Phunware, U.S. Geography is as much fun as it is challenging with videos, games and quizzes with curriculum that’s aligned to national middle school standards. Kids can get to know about things like bodies of water or culture in the 7 American geographic regions (Pacific, Mountain, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and New England). It’s available for $4.99 at Apple’s App Store. 



Declaration a Clint Bagwell Consulting has a trio of apps for iPad-centric social studies classrooms. Declaration and Constitutionare must-have apps for social studies teachers and one of my absolute favorites. The two apps can help bring the text of these founding documents of the United States into focus. On top of an image of each document, the app has the full text along with the biographies and historical notes that can help provide the perspective that kids need. There’re both free-bees for the iPad aware school.

Although the Manual of the United Statescosts $1.99, it is priceless for middle- and high-school students. On top of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and Constitution, the app includes texts of Washington's Farewell Address, Lincoln’s second Inaugural and Gettysburg Address, plus a dozen more key American documents. It shows how laws are made and has biographies of all the Presidents and Supreme Court justices. 



Bingo b With ABCya’s Bingo, kids can play their way to a better understanding of math.  Inside there’re four games for helping students master adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Kids can assume any of 8 different avatars and play games that help hone their skills collect Bingo Bugs and compare how they’re doing.





Omnisketch There’s nothing like finger painting and the iPad along with OmniSketchcan turn anyone into an artist. OmniSketch turns the iPad into an artist’s easel for anything from quick sketches to detailed art projects. On top of a variety of 18 brush types and the ability to mirror your work to create hypnotic symmetrical pieces, OmniSketch has a digital eraser. The software can store a virtually unlimited number of art projects in its gallery so that many classes can use the same iPads. Best yet, it costs $1.99.



Netter anatomy b Advanced Placement biology students will love Modality’s Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards because it brings human anatomy to life. There are more than 300 illustrative animated cards that explain all the body parts from head to toe. There are 7 sections on the Back and spinal cord, head and neck, abdomen, thorax, pelvis and the limbs. At anytime you can zoom-in or –out or put a digital pin in to create a custom label or mark a place of interest. When you think you’ve got it all down, take the anatomy quiz. While at $40, it’s among the most expensive iPad school apps, Netter’s Anatomy is a great way to learn what makes us go.



Pasco sparkvue a On top of SPARKvue software for collecting and analyzing sensor data for science classrooms that works with PCs and Macs computers, Pasco has an app for the iPad as well, making it a more visual experience. It features real-time collection of data from a number of sensors, visualization of the data in graphs and new analysis tools. On top of reading the iPad’s built-in accelerometer readings, the software works with Pasco’s Passport sensors through the company’s Airlink2 Bluetooth interface. Best of all, it’s a freebee from the iTunes site.




Thumbjam b ThumbJam make beautiful music without a piano, guitar or xylophone in sight. In fact, the app can transform any space into the music room with more than 30 digital instruments, including violin, cello, piano and even a Theremin. There are more than a dozen drum loops for a variety of different musical styles. Anything you do can be recorded and looped for use in other programs and creating more complex compositions. It costs $6.99.




Sentence builder b If you have a class of early learners who are having trouble turning their thoughts into complete, grammatical sentences and essays, Sentence Builder  can help by adding a visual approach with 100 different images to build writing around. Good for elementary students, Sentence Builder lets students pick words from a rotating dial that’s like a slot machine. After a while they have a full sentence written. The software has 60 audio and video clips to encourage the kid and a voice tells them whether it’s correct or not, and it keeps track of how often the student gets it right on the first try.  



Outliner a Sometimes all kids need is a little help organizing their thoughts and material, and
Outlinercan help them get their act together. Regardless of whether it’s for a report on the causes of the Civil War or a fund raiser for the football team, Outliner does everything from a daily to-do list to the ability to track a complex project to fruition. Kids and teachers can share their outlines, add notes to them and visually view how many of the items are finished. It costs $4.99 at Apple’s iTunes store.


Molecules aWhile the Elements interactive Periodic Table app is a keeper, Sunset Lake’s Molecules takes it to another level. The software creates a 3-D rendering of molecules that you can rotate, pan or zoom-in and –out of by using your fingers. Images of a variety of chemicals can be directly downloaded and then visualized and manipulated on the iPad’s display. It’s a free-bee that any science teacher will appreciate.

Take Two Tablets

T900 top t730 bottom Tablet PCs are a great way to bring the power of the pen into the digital classroom, from scribbling math equations to highlighting key elements of a map. Fujitsu’s LifeBook T900 (top in photo) and T730 (bottom in photo) feature multi-touch screens that fold flat to act as a pen-based slate or open to reveal a keyboard. While the base T730 comes with a 12.1-inch screen, a powerful Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive and a DVD writer, weighs less than four pounds and costs $1,750, the T900 has a larger 13.3-inch display, but its base model weighs 4.6-pounds and comes with 2GB of RAM for $1,889. Either way, you’ll get a system that’s just as good for typing an email to a parent as for drawing an equilateral triangle.

Survey Says …

Project tomorrow The four walls that constitute the physical classroom still dominate for primary education but teaching in the online realm is getting more and more popular, according to a survey by Project Tomorrow that was paid for by Blackboard. Of the 360,000 students questioned, 21 percent of middle school kids and 27 percent of high schoolers said they took an online class in 2009, up from 16- and 14-percent the year before. The problem is that only about half of the students surveyed said that online courses were offered. All the details are in Project Tomorrow’s Learning in the 21st Century: 2010 Trends Update.

Blue Mouse

IMouse-S100 The beauty of having a computer that has Bluetooth built-in is that it can easily connect wirelessly to a variety of gear, including a mouse, like Adesso’s iMouse S100. The $25 mouse is ambidextrous, works with all recent Windows and Mac releases and features an ultra-precise 1,000 dot per inch resolution. My favorite is the metal scroll wheel for flying through long Web pages or documents.  It requires a pair of AAA batteries.

Lug a Laptop, and More

Evo-backpack-family_1_1 For those teachers and students tired of hauling around their computer in a traditional notebook hand bag, think about a backpack. Mobile Edge’s EVO Backpack can hold up to a 17-inch system, all the gear needed for a day at school as well as a slew of books, pencils and file folders. There are 16 individual pockets to stash everything from a cell phone to flash cards, plus all the straps are padded and there’s a handy spot to stash a water bottle. The bottom is tough enough to can stand up to daily abuse from being dropped, dragged around and stuffed into a locker. It’ll be available next month (just in time for the new school year) and is available in black and the choice of silver, yellow, blue or red trim for $80.

The Big Read

While I don’t think that teaching reading will ever be a science because every kid seems to learn this skill differently, there’s a lot that can be done to help kids make the leap to fluent reading. While a traditional book about how to teach reading is a big help, new software might go a little further towards getting everyone in a class to read on grade level.

8 great By reading, understanding and using the ideas in “The Great Eight Management Strategies for the Reading and Writing Classroom,” teachers can make learing to read a more efficient process. Published by LitLife, the book is written by Pam Allyn, Jaime Margolies, and Karen McNally and shows how to make it all work a little easier with practical ideas and instructions that range from how to best arrange a room to scheduling. 

Reading explorer a By contrast, Gamco’s Reading Explorers seeks to attack reading by working on the 42 individual skills required to turn a string of words on a page (or screen) into a coherent thought leading to comprehension. Students go through narratives, informational passages and everyday readings that are keyed to their level while learning critical thinking, vocabulary and focused reading; it’s all tested with a comprehension quiz at the end. For those schools that use both PCs and Macs, Reading Explorers works with both platforms.

Academy portfolio There’s a new room in the Academy of Reading, School Specialty Literacy and Intervention’s premier program for assisting in reading for struggling students. Called Portfolio, the multimedia module contains content to help kids read more fluently and develop a real work vocabulary. Kids work on both silent and oral reading of selected passages and can practice in the reading studio, where they record their oral reading so they can hear how they sound. Students can put it all together in a personal portfolio so that teachers and parents can track progress.

Friday Freebee: Trash to Cash

Think recycle logo Recycling helps the environment and can help schools when used as the focus of a fundraising campaign built around parents and students bringing their old gadgets and gear. Think Recycle will pay schools between $1 and $10 for every old camera, cell phone or printer turned in; you can even get cash for old ink or toner cartridges. They don’t have to work and the money piles up quickly. Just register and Think Recycle will send out a free shipping label to send in your junk.


See and Say

Tecom interactive multimedia lectern b If you’ve ever come to a lectern in a large classroom or auditorium only to find that it either didn’t control what you needed or it was too complex to figure out, you’ll see the need for Tecom’s TechPod Interactive podium. It not only has room for a notebook and pile of papers, but has a screen for previewing what will be put on the projector. Its touch panel integrates all its functions – from microphone and iPod to the built-in document camera and notebook – has icons for its major functions and is easy to fathom, even with a big crowd of kids or parents in front of you. There’s even a place to stash a DVD player or VCR.

An All-in-One with Everything

UNDER NDA UNTIL 6.22 - HP Compaq 6000 Pro All-in-One - Angle All-in-one computers a great way to do everything from stock a computer lab or library with workstations to putting a PC on a teacher’s desk, but many use components and parts right out of a netbook design. But, HP’s Compaq 6000 Pro is the first all-in-one that does it all and delivers more than enough performance for schools. Based on Intel’s Core 2 Duo processor, up to 8GB of RAM and up to a terabyte of hard drive capacity, the 6000 Pro has an HD-ready 21.5-inch display. A big bonus is that the system comes with HP’s SkyRoom videoconferencing and app-sharing software, and the system can be ordered with an optional TV tuner. Available next month, the 6000 Pro line starts at $900.

Question of the Month: Putting it All Together

At school, we deal with all sorts of technology, from notebooks and tablets to projectors and networks, but how does it all fit together and to create a digital classroom? In other words, what have you been doing to integrate all these gizmos, cables, online services and programs into a unified whole that supports teaching.

John Orbaugh (2) John Orbaugh
Director of Technology Services
Tyler Independent School District
Tyler, Texas

Integrating all the whiz-bang tools and applications into a useful instructional setting is a challenge. As a district we have made a conscious decision to not jump on everything that comes along. There are a lot of things I’m asked to supply our teachers to which I give a simple reply…No. 

That answer, of course, doesn’t help win popularity contests. Instead, we’ve picked a set of baseline technologies to be implemented before we start spending resources on other optional items. This has helped up focus our funds and training in order to help our teachers raise their skill- and comfort-level so they can concentrate on the instruction and not the technology. We’d like to see our staff using technology naturally and as a normal part of their everyday instruction and if we jump from thing to thing without building skills and comfort we’re going nowhere. 
In order to get our teachers to that comfortable and natural use we provide several layer of support. We provide a Web based Help Desk application, technicians to resolve hardware problems. We also have trainers, all of whom are former classroom teachers, to help our teachers see how to make use of all these technologies. We also seek to build the knowledge of our technologies all the way up to the superintendent so everyone in the district has an understanding of what we have available and how it can be utilized in instruction. One way we do this by taking a few minutes in our bi-weekly Leadership Team meeting to demonstrate the equipment we have in our classrooms. 
John Laws John Laws
Executive Director for Technology
Lakota School District
West Chester, Ohio

Think of good K-12 technology like the great pyramid at Giza, although from a historical perspective we’d need to rebuild our pyramid every five to six years to keep up with technological change. On the bottom is the foundation. There must be common elements to support the operational and curriculum needs of the district. In today’s environment that means Gigabit wired networks, wireless support, account management, environmental controls, software security systems, servers (internal or external), service providers and a supporting cast of business partners.

All these items must run 24 x 7 x 365 with 99.9 percent uptime. More importantly Curriculum and Technology must have a mutual understanding of how the foundational pieces will support development of programs, budgets and project time lines to deliver and support the activates of the second layer.

On the second floor, the middle tier technologies live: digital curriculum, cloud based services, end stations (district or student owned), e-learning portals, software applications (administrative and instructional), layers of technology support services and technology advocates with the expertise to quickly incorporate various products into an instructional program. Key at this level is provisioning for professional development including instructor lead courses, mentoring programs (by building or across grade levels), e-learning programs and reoccurring weekly or monthly quick hit topics of interest to staff.

On the top is the capstone, where the teacher (facilitator), the student (researcher), the curriculum and the technology join as one. Everything should reach its zenith at this point with the technology blending into the instructional environment in an almost invisible way. Are we doing all of this? Well, keep in mind we’re talking about a perfect system to blend instruction and technology together. Of course, the real world is more complicated and hard to manage than this.

How we respond to anything beyond a “how do I do this” question is a tricky one because it involves timing. In using the curriculum resources provided by the District, the staff member has assurance the instructional materials have been vetted and operate correctly on district technology. If issues do arise, a good Technology Department will have a Web-based issue reporting system that’s constantly monitored by a staff member so support can be directed to instructional issues quickly. This doesn’t mean that everything can be addressed immediately, but it does ensure the issue can be run through a feedback loop to determine if this is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed at a higher level.
Yes, teachers do gain assistance from students for standard software applications like Microsoft Office. Many, but not all, students are comfortable with technology and can aid the staff to resolve application related issues. In the past we have run student internships to provide support with mostly positive outcomes.
Our most addressed issues are related to delivery of digital content; be it an end user device, the cabling system or the video delivery system. The majority of our materials have been digitized over the last three years and digital boards are the norm. If any portion of these systems fail, the teacher can have a difficult time falling back to a paper based delivery model.

Basically, we are highly motivated to support the technology because the time spent between the teachers and students is precious.

Mark Weedy Mark Weedy
Retired Superintendent
Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools
Groveport, Ohio

It has been my experience that the technology folks in schools typically have the best handle on the expertise of other staff members when it comes to technology. I believe staff members are more likely to go to the technology folks for assistance than an administrator. I think that staff members believe they are less likely to look less than technology-literate to a tech employee than they would to an administrator who is responsible for their evaluation. 

This is the main reason that I  mentioned  in  last  month’s  question  that  technology  folks  need  to  be  involved  in  the development and presentation of the technology professional development. Staff  members tend to learn more readily and quickly when the instruction comes from someone they view as non-threatening. Staff members typically are not concerned with the behind the scenes things such as networks, switches, etc., except when it affects their use of technology such as email and access to the internet. 

Some students will provide tech expertise and help to their teachers, but it depends greatly on the relationship between the teacher and the student. The duties tech folks typically do for staff members range from simple tasks such as  “how do I do this” in a particular software application such as Microsoft Word or Excel to assisting with staff member web page development. It all depends on the tech expertise of the individual staff member. 

It has been my observation that the area that typically requires the most assistance from tech folks is the simple tasks related to “how do I do this.”


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.