Best Practices for Using iPads in the Classroom

By Scott Sterling

In just a few short years, iPads have become almost as ubiquitous in classrooms as white boards. Yet even though they are incredibly popular, there are still plenty of teachers who get lost in the idea of using them to affect student learning. In some implementations, their adoption is akin to handing someone car keys and telling him or her to go to an unfamiliar destination without a map.

Learning Sciences International’s book, iPads in the Classroom, is that map.

Written by the co-founders of EdTechTeacher, Tom Daccord and Justin Reich, this book fills the gaps in iPad adoption for the technophile teacher, as well as the educator still using paper copies from 20 years ago. To that end, it ramps up the discussion gradually. Think of the progression of the book as a kind of taxonomy for learning how to integrate iPads into your curriculum.

iPads in the Classroom is not, however, a list of cool new apps for you to try or innovative lesson ideas that you need to shoehorn into your curriculum. Those do appear, and are quite good, but that isn’t the sole meaning behind the book. The purpose of the book is to help teachers integrate iPads deeply into their teaching—not provide quick fixes that may not affect student success. This is a discussion meant to change or improve the minds of educators.

The book starts with an introduction that discusses the rapid rise of the iPad in schools, but also why that is the case and what this tool can help teachers accomplish. Namely, how the world of work in the 21st century requires students to be well versed in technology usage. Yes, today’s students come into school having already used technology their whole lives, but many have not used technology in ways that will make them marketable members of the 21st-century economy. It is now the job of schools to educate students in these ways of work just as much as it is to educate them in math, reading, science, history, etc.

We then move into a discussion about the things iPads do well and how those mesh (and sometimes work against) best practices in teaching. You cannot bridge gaps without knowing what those gaps are. In particular, tablets in general are almost purpose-built for consumption. Otherwise, the App Store wouldn’t have nearly as many goodies within. Meanwhile, the top of most educational taxonomies is for students to be able to create new things out of information they have mastered. That is a significant disconnect, but one the book sees as key to solving.

Finally, we get into the meat of the book. The authors have coined three “Cs” that form the basis of iPad use in the classroom: consumption, curation, and creation. Think of them as their own taxonomy. There are best practices for students to consume ideas via the iPad, best practices for both teachers and students to curate ideas, and then ways for students to exercise their creativity after having mastered said material.

Is the book just a philosophical discussion on iPad use? Of course not. There are actionable steps that help make the tool more effective in the classroom, including settings hidden in the iOS operating system that can have broad effects on student usage to examples of student work. Yes, certain apps are discussed, but keep in mind that the world of software development, particularly for iOS and definitely in education, changes on a daily basis.

Overall, the book accomplishes its goal and then some. It is accessible for the technology newbie as well as insightful for the teacher who has everything in their classroom connected remotely. It contributes something new to the education technology discussion: a discussion not only about what to use and how to use it, but when and, most importantly, why.

Let’s put it this way: it might make sense for iPads in the Classroom to be purchased alongside a class set of iPads, and required reading before the teacher even plugs in the cart.