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ATPM 16.06
June 2010





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Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life

by Sylvester Roque,

The iPad Goes to School: Creating a Vast Army of iPad-Carrying Minions?

We all know what happens when Mary brings a little lamb to school, but what happens if someone brings an iPad?

I wasn’t planning to watch Apple’s January 2010 keynote. At least not the same day. I was right in the middle of several projects, and I could get the gist of things from several of my favorite Mac forums. The keynote could wait until the weekend. Besides, no matter how spectacular the announcement, I probably wasn’t going to buy anything—at least not for a while, anyway.

As the night progressed, I went from “The keynote can wait” to “I’ll watch just long enough to see what’s announced.” I owed it to our readers and a few podcast listeners to keep up with what was happening in the Apple world. So, in a weird way, this is partly your fault. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway: an incredible lack of restraint on my part had absolutely nothing to do with what followed.

Captured Hook, Line, and Sinker

The first hint that I was probably going to be buying an iPad came when my wife pointed out that entering meeting dates and times would be much easier on the iPad than on my Palm Centro, which hasn’t synced reliably with the Mac for some time. Given the difference in screen size, it would probably also be easier than entering information on an iPhone. Besides, at the time, it would be months before my current contract was up. Even then, the next iPhone upgrade wasn’t likely to be announced announced until the 2010 Worldwide Developer Conference.

The second hint that I would be buying an iPad came when I realized there would be an iWork suite for the iPad. I regularly travel between two different schools. When at the second school I usually have easy access to a computer, but sometimes it’s not very convenient. I could bring my trusty MacBook Pro—and that works well—but the iPad is significantly lighter and smaller. Score another point for purchasing the iPad.

By the end of the night, I wasn’t completely convinced that the iPad was right for me. I knew, though, that if I bought one, I was going to wait for the 3G version. I could complete some of my work using the Internet and a cellular data plan, if necessary. We would also have Internet access while traveling.

The third push to buy an iPad came when my wife said, “I really think you should get one of these things.” Her thought was that if I were using the iPad to manage my calendar syncing, I could get by with a cheaper phone when it was time to replace my slowly dying Centro. Even if I ended up with an iPhone, I might be able to get by without the top-of-the-line model. What are the odds of that? In either case, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy one, so I pre-ordered the first day that it was an option. I splurged a bit and “settled” for the 64 GB 3G version.

During the keynote it had occurred to me that a touch-based interface might be very useful in education, but how much useful software was really out there for kids to use? When a colleague told me how little trouble her daughter had using some of the educational games available for the iPhone, I started to wonder how easy a time my students would have learning the iPad interface. I was pretty sure they would catch on quickly. By this point, I had also seen this video, but the only way to find out was to wait for the iPad to arrive and take it to school.

I think while I was waiting for my iPad to arrive, someone at Apple decided to tease me a bit. A day or so before the Wi-Fi models hit the stores, I received an e-mail from Apple complete with a FedEx tracking number. For a few minutes, I was excited until I realized that this couldn’t be the delivery notice for my iPad. The 3G models weren’t scheduled to ship for at least another month. The tracking number was in fact for the iPad case I had ordered. It would arrive before the iPad.

A few weeks later, I received another e-mail from Apple. No, it wasn’t the tracking number for my iPad. This time it was merely to inform me that the iPad would ship as scheduled. No mention of the shipping date though. Are these people trying to torture me, or what?

The iPad Goes to School

Thanks to the pre-order, my iPad was delivered the same Friday they hit the stores, and I spent the next several days experimenting with it. Although I took it to work the following Monday, no students got to use it since I hadn’t really loaded anything really interesting yet. No point in showing it to them until I have something interesting to show. Although I was really looking for phonics software, it would take some time to find the software I wanted. In the meantime I downloaded Music Studio Suite.

Over the next several days, in the rare free moments, I showed the iPad and that music program to several students. Each time, I showed them the iPad once, demonstrated how the program worked once, then turned the iPad off to see if they could remember how things worked. Every student, from preschoolers upward, had no problem whatsoever starting the iPad, finding the program, and interacting with it appropriately. There’s been a definite “wow” factor all the way around.

Building an iPad Army

Over the next several days, I added a few other programs such as iTouchiLearn Words, Word Magic, SightWords, and Bookworm to the iPad, among other things. The Monday after Mother’s Day, my nephew asked to see the iPad while we were in the car on the way home. The next day, I was in the hallway at school when he was waiting to be picked up. By now, the iPad was virtually attached to my left arm so he knew I had it. I let him use it with the understanding that if anything happened to it, he was in deep trouble.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, something interesting happened. Several other students shortly gathered around looking at the iPad. One of the students in the crowd asked if he could “see” it, and several others asked the same question. When I told them they had to share the iPad without arguing, they worked it out without any intervention from me. Each time I have been out there at the end of the day, the same thing has happened. It starts out with one student asking to “see” the iPad, and before you know it a dozen or so kids will have gathered around, all interested in “seeing” the iPad.

About a week ago, I added Bejeweled2 to my collection of iPad apps and noticed something else interesting. Some of the students will choose to play Bejeweled when it is their turn, but others choose one of the word games. If the first person chooses a word game to play, chances are the group will continue with that game. They’ve figured out pretty quickly that they don’t have time to switch games on every turn. If they do, someone won’t get a turn and will be very upset.

Staff Reactions

Reactions from my co-workers have been pretty interesting as well. I generally get asked if it is a cell phone or where I got it. One or two people have asked whether it is a computer, and only one has asked it you can run Windows or Office on it. While experimenting with the virtual keyboard, one of the teachers left this message:

Hello Mr. Roque. How is your day? This is soooooooo cooolllllll!!!!!! Can I have your iPad, please?

Obviously, she was just a tad excited.

The one negative reaction from some of the teachers has been cost. At this point, they just can’t justify the cost of the 64 GB 3G model ($829). I get the definite feeling that if the price were to come down a bit, almost every adult I have shown this to would have one. We can only hope, right?

Summer iPad Projects

As I write this, the end of the school year is approaching, so I have a couple summer projects in mind. I won’t be giving up Mac projects, but these projects all seem to involve the iPad.

First, I want to add some additional software and make a few other changes so the iPad can be used effectively as a learning center in the classroom. That will involve removing or disabling some of the potential distractions that come as part of the iPad. Let’s face it: who hasn’t been distracted by YouTube?

Second, I would like to experiment with using the iPad as a remote control for our media setup. I’d like to be able to create a custom button layout that has the functions I use all the time highly visible. Since I already have the iPad, this would be cheaper and perhaps more versatile than most of the tabletop remotes on the market. While I am at it, I might as well make it possible for my iPad to control our currently headless media Mac.

Third, in the course of work, I sometimes find it necessary to record a child’s statement verbatim as part of testing. Some children don’t like to wait long enough for me to do that. I think I can basically use the iPad as a recorder, then transcribe the sentences after testing is completed.

Final Thoughts

Lots of other projects have occurred to me in the last few weeks, but these should be enough to keep me busy for a while. Most of the projects will make use of the iPad to one extent or another. Don’t worry, though—I have no intention of abandoning Mac-only projects. If you’re interested in the projects, let me know and I will keep you posted on my progress.

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Reader Comments (4)

Grover Watson · June 5, 2010 - 06:40 EST #1
That's an amazing story, one that will repeated everywhere as this device goes mainstream. I'm headed back to Thailand in October, and I've already loaded all my pictures from my nine previous trips onto the device. My Thai friends will be even more impressed with this device than they were with my iPhone and iPod touch. I see Apple just hit the official 2 Millionth iPad sold. Imagine seeing these things product 'placed' in Movies and TV shows.....
That will blow the lid off the sale figures! I was hesitant to be a early adopter, but I think things will be just fine.
Robin N. · June 8, 2010 - 23:22 EST #2
I, too, have used my iPad in my 3rd grade classroom. The kids LOVE it. They are so enamored of it that some of the students made paper drawings of an iPad with several pages for the different screens. They take them out at recess and play with them like the real thing.
Randy Farmer · June 9, 2010 - 07:57 EST #3
Okay...... this is the silver bullet we have all dreamed about and waited for since the very first episode of Star Trek....... Our school has ordered 40 to be used with 1 group of students and 2 teachers (as an experiment). However, this is going to be tough. We have to ensure the students don't abuse them but we don't want to shut everything down.... We have got to figure out how to set them up for our students and maximize the possiblities without making it a glorified netbook.... any suggestions???
Sylvester Roque (ATPM Staff) · June 10, 2010 - 14:31 EST #4
Thanks to everyone who has responded so far. it seems that your experiences with the iPad have mirrored mine.

Randy, I am asking similar questions about the iPad in the classroom. I would love to try a project like yours at my school. I plan to spend some time looking for solutions to these questions.

I think I have seen something in the App store that would allow setting up something similar to user accounts. That might be a partial solution if I can find it again. I'll keep you posted.

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