It’s been really useful.
I know everyone and the kitchen sink have touted the benefits of having an iPad in homeschooling, but I wasn’t totally sold. In fact, I was a bit of a naysayer. I saw videos about how school teachers were using them as fancy delivery systems for multiple choice quizzes they could instantly grade and simply groaned. No thanks, I thought. Sure it would be fun to have, but I didn’t think the educational potential would exceed the laptop.
Then the Husband generously gifted the family with one for Christmas and I got all excited about exploring the possibilities for its use. Now, a few months into having it, like any new device, it feels like I’d never want to part with it. Yes, most of its uses could be done on a computer or on paper, but the iPad makes it easier for us in ways that have surprised me. Here are some of the ways in which we’re using it for schooling.
The first extra that I got for the iPad, which has turned out to be infinitely useful, was a stylus. A stylus allows you to use a pen to write on your iPad, which is nice if you want to use any art apps or handwriting apps or just happen to be more comfortable with a pen in your hand. I’ve tried several and tossed all but two brands. The Kuel H10 is little, cheap and very sensitive. It writes extremely well. The only downside is that you’ll probably have to order it online and it’s so short that you may crave a longer implement. The Targus, which you can find at pretty much any big store selling extras for your devices, isn’t too much and feels really nice in the hand. If you have an iPad2 or 3 with the magnetic smart cover, it’ll stick to the magnet fairly well. The tip isn’t quite as good as the Kuel, but it’s decent.
When we first got the iPad, I installed Notability, an app that allows you to load your pdf files and then write on top of them, either by typing or simply by drawing (thus the need for that stylus). I envisioned that we would clearly load all the pdf curricula on there and stop being such paper wasters. While we’ve done some of that, allowing Mushroom to do some MEP Math and BalletBoy to do some Math Mammoth, it hasn’t been as much as I envisioned. However, it has been very useful for me as just a portable notepad and binder of stuff. I love writing little notes, to do lists, and so forth. I never stick with an organization system and always have a mess of little pads and notebooks. Now, suddenly, all my little curriculum planning notes are in one place! I can delete them when I’m done. I can organize them and move them around. I can annotate them by copying and pasting text or images from websites. It’s really useful. Over on the side, you can see a shot of how I did my messy Africa unit planning on Notability. Plus, I’ve found it so much more useful for reading books I want to highlight and write in. I read The Writer’s Jungle on Notability and doodled, highlighted and margin noted my way through it. I have our Shakespeare play script on there and numerous other documents.
This is a pretty simple app that essentially just creates math drills, but I really like it because it allows you, as the teacher, to control the parameters so well. You can choose how many problems, what type of operations, what range of numbers, and multiple choice or free answer. It goes up to simple algebra. You can even have kids find the missing number instead of the answer. There’s a little chalkboard area for working out longer problems on the side and a feature that works the problem for you if you get stuck.
Okay, now I’m just ramping up the price on apps, but I’ve just begun letting the kids make their own visual reports with this and I’m loving it. This is a full word processing program for the iPad. It’s more intuitive than on a traditional computer and the interface makes it even easier, so the kids can use it more easily. You can see BalletBoy working on his visual report on our Africa trip. I cut and pasted in the text he wrote in his notebook and he chose, inserted and manipulated the photos he wanted to use to tell the story. I’m also using it to make our co-op’s yearbook this year. I felt crazy putting down that a whole ten dollars for an app, but I’m really enjoying all the possibilities this app has.
From pricey to free. This app lets kids draw, narrate, and “animate” (I put that in quotes because it’s a bit like making a stick puppet show) their own stories. It’s not necessarily academically educational, but this little app sums up for me the ways in which the iPad can be used for entertainment that is also interactive and creative instead of passive. Mushroom and BalletBoy have now spent an absurd amount of time making little stories that make almost no sense, but which send them into peals of giggles. Presumably they’ll eventually start to make sense when their storytelling ability gets more sophisticated? Oh, wait, no, I’ve taught middle school boys and read their comics… if anything, my kids are advanced.
Educational Apps and Games Unending
I think nearly everyone out there knows about Stack the States, Stack the Countries and Rocket Math, right? We’ve also found numerous useful tools like Google Earth, abacus apps, and a faux Cuisenaire rods app. There are so many neat interactive apps as well. One that’s been popular in our house lately is the Nova Elements app which lets you “build” things like a banana from the atom up. And you know Khan Academy has a wonderful app with a nice interface? Oh, I could go on and on.
There’s something so simple about being able to, in the middle of a book, grab the iPad from next to me, roll the cover off, and find a picture or video of exactly the thing we were just talking about. And because it’s so small, it’s quicker and doesn’t steal my lap or put us in a tangle of cords. In other words, the feeling of being cuddled on the sofa or the bed for school isn’t interrupted. That’s the best part for me.