iPad Pro: Is it a useful classroom tool? Or a personal indulgence?

ipad pro

As anyone well tell you, I am a self-certified Apple fanboy.  Ask my opinion on phones, tablets and computers and if it’s not Apple, I’ll ask “why?”  I wasn’t always this way. In fact, I was the opposite, I was anti-Apple, not wanting to follow the trend.  Luckily I grew out of this and came to my senses after my wife got me an iPad one Christmas and I immediately fell in love with the software and sleek design.  Every phone since has been the latest iPhone, iPads have been upgraded, MacBook replaced my laptop and an Apple Watch now sits happily on my wrist.  So when the iPad Pro was announced I immediately lusted after it.  However, two small wonderful children immediately put a stop to a purchase.  “Is it worth it? Do I need one?” I asked myself.  I avoided Apple stores for fear of giving in.  Then luckily, I was chatting to @eLearning_Laura. She had just got one in her role as e-learning lead for North Tyneside Learning Trust.  Even better, she was looking for teachers to use it for action research.  Sweet music to my ears! I gladly volunteered (or pestered her until she loaned it to me).

My school is lucky enough to have two class sets of iPads, so each child gets the opportunity to work individually to show their learning, and are all proficient users. We often work in mixed ability pairs with one iPad to support each other and generate ideas.  This is very useful, but can sometimes lead to one person using the iPad and stopping the dialogue, as they both want to produce the work.  I was very keen to use the iPad Pro in a group situation and see if it really was a useful classroom tool or just an expensive piece of equipment.  We use maths buddies to support each other in what I call Talk 4 Maths lessons.  I find that they help each other by developing maths discussion, reasoning and problem solving around a set theme and series of problems and statements.  It’s really brought my Year 3 class on with their maths, as high achievers support and develop less confident learners, whilst also further cementing their knowledge. Both take a lot from the process, developing confidence, explanations and reasoning skills in the process.  We use Explain Everything a lot to show the process, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try the iPad Pro with a small group rather than in pairs.  I purposely selected a group of 5, and set them a problem (a local company wants to find the cheapest packaging for a new range of chocolate eggs, how many ways can you arrange 24 mini eggs to minimise the cost? Well it was easter!).  After a quick explanation of the task, they were off.  I sat back and observed, as I often do in Talk 4 Maths activities, listening to the discussion and reasoning that takes place.  What I immediately noticed was that there was a high level of discussion while trying to solve the problem straight from the off.  The group worked really hard to create the first solution, but what caught my attention more was the way they interacted around the iPad Pro.  They had real mini eggs and an egg carton to manipulate the eggs.  Whilst some did this, others used the iPad Pro to create arrays and they compared the results and outcomes.  They then recorded what they found with Explain Everything, but instead of one person doing it and the other waiting patiently as in pairs on an iPad Air, they all gathered round and manipulated the screen, took photographs of their arrays, as well as pitching in on the same recording.  It was fascinating watching how they interacted around a bigger screen using the Apple Pen.  I tried other group activities with the same 5 and an iPad Air and the results were very different, not as much group engagement with only 2 really involved.  We then trialed various other group work, producing recordings, drawings, and other activities all with the same result; a well-rounded team effort with all participating, but also producing a quality piece of work to show their learning and the process they went through.  I loved using the Pro with my groups, it seemed to bring them together and they produced great work.  The children also said they loved using the Pro together as they could all see and have input.ipad pro group

I also found it brilliant to use from a teacher perspective.  I often sat at the back or in the middle of the children on the carpet, or on their tables with the Pro using it with the Apple TV, replacing standing at the front and using the computer to manipulate the interactive whiteboard.  I know this is also possible with an iPad Air or through streamers such as Splashtop, but the use of the Apple Pen made it so much more accessible and fluent. I found I could sit and write with ease and pass it around the children, creating great guided writing sessions, but what also struck me was that I was able to see more of what was going on within my class, interact and discuss things so much easier with them.

So is the iPad Pro a useful classroom tool? Most definitely, it’s just about the best collaborative tool I have ever seen or used. Although a pricey option for schools, 4 or 5 would facilitate brilliant group work and produce some fantastic work and results.  I found it created a lot of confidence in lower ability groups.  Also as a teacher, I’d rather use it than a class computer. It gives so much more flexibility and allows you to see things from the children’s perspective.  It’s a big investment. but I’ll work on it.

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