Thoughts on iPad Pro

So, I’ve now got an iPad Pro (the 12.9″ version). Here’s my thoughts:

  • It’s really big. Like, “Why have you got such a big iPad?” big, or: “What is that?” It’s bigger in footprint than an 11″ MacBook Air or the infamous 12″ MacBook.
  • The really big size makes split screen multitasking really great. You can fit two apps side by side as if you had two ‘normal’ iPads stuck together.
  • Lots of screen estate means a bigger keyboard whilst still having lots of space still on screen. The bigger keyboard has a dedicated number row that is always present, which means I hardly ever have to go to a second symbols keyboard. This is nice.
  • Being so big makes it a little ungainly in the more portable settings, which is probably where most teachers use an iPad. I sometimes feel a little ridiculous carrying it round or pulling it out in meetings.
  • Using it for sitting at a desk and doing ‘proper’ work is nice. It’s just such a big canvas and you don’t feel cramped working on it for an extended period of time.
  • The Apple Pencil writes really nicely. It’s a million miles away from something like the Paper53 Pencil and from any other capacitive stylus I’ve used.
  • The STM case I have (well, ‘shell’, as I still need a Smart Cover) has a handy slot for putting the Apple Pencil in. This is super handy, but the downside is that, because it’s always so close to the iPad, the Pencil’s battery gets drained super quick even though I’m not using it. The only solution I’ve found to that is to turn Bluetooth off on the iPad when not using the Pencil. Or just not to carry the Pencil in the slot.
  • 128gb is very handy. I no longer have to continually juggle storage, which makes it feel much more like a main computer.
  • The speakers are indeed nice and loud.
  • I haven’t used the Smart Keyboard with it, but I have played around with the keyboard on a 9.7″ iPad Pro. I imagine that cmd+tab switching is jolly handy, and so is having cursor keys. I’m not sure the the complex foldy nature of the Smart Keyboard would help with portability on the 12.9″!
  • I do like living in iOS land. Going back to a Mac for various tasks just seems so complicated and old-fashioned: OSX does need way more babysitting than iOS!

I’m not convinced the 12.9″ is the perfect computer for a teacher, mainly because it’s just that bit too big to easy carry around. So maybe the 9.7″ iPad Pro is + Smart Keyboard + Apple Pencil is. If I’m asking teachers to not use a Mac, a hardware keyboard is probably needed at some level.

The original iPad felt a bit like the jump from Apple ][ to Macintosh (not that I was around to remember it…!). In order to make  radical shift to something new, the old was jettisoned: no command line, no cursor keys. But if you look at OSX now, those things are there again. With iPad, the physical keyboard (with its cursors) and the mouse pointer were gone. But in the iPad Pro they’re back: Smart Keyboard (with cursor keys) and two finger cursor for editing (iOS 9 feature).

The post-PC age has been heralded for over half a decade, but (despite falling iPad sales), I do think it’s really starting to arrive with iPad Pro.

#iPadOnly

Since the arrival of the iPad Pro in Autumn of last year, there’s been a bit of a meme on the Interweb about ditching the MacBook and going ‘iPad Only’. We’re going 1:1 iPad with our KS2 children from September, where we’re basically requiring children to use iOS as their main computing platform, so maybe I need to see what that’s like too.

Before jumping in and getting an iPad Pro, I wanted to see if it really was possible to do ‘normal’ life as a teacher just using an iPad. So for the last few months I have almost entirely run my school life off my trusty iPad Air. Here’s what I’ve found…

Things I’ve liked:

  • Having everything in one place, meaning I can do all of my work anywhere where I have my iPad. A MacBook Pro is so heavy and bulky in comparison!
  • Instant-on, so no waiting for slow hard drives or boot up times.
  • The adventure of discovering the potential of iOS. With features such as Document Providers, Slide Over and Picture-in-Picture, iOS really is more and more suitable for ‘real work’.

Apps I’ve found useful

  • PDF to Images is a little app that converts, well, PDFs to images. Handy for making some Apple TV screensaver Flickr slideshows using Keynote!
  • Documents 5 is such an essential app. It provides a file system that you can open documents into, which can then be served up in other places (like in Safari) as a document provider.
  • Word allows you to view .docx files with reliable fidelity. It doesn’t fully play nicely with the iOS world (for example, not supporting ‘Open In’ for files), but is great if you need to view/print/edit Word documents properly.
  • Screens VNC is a Mac remote access app. I’ve been using this to remote into our Mac server if I ever need to do something I haven’t yet figured out how to do on iOS.

So, having basically survived quite well on only an iPad for quite a while, why not just stick with an iPad Air?

  1. So an iPad really can replace a Mac for me. Split screen multitasking, and just having a bigger screen, make jobs like copying data from websites to spreadsheets easier rather than a fiddly and laborious process.
  2. So teachers can see that an iPad could replace a Mac for them too. With Apple Pencil support and a bigger screen, scribing and modelling handwriting becomes a reality.

 

Choosing the device

We’re considering going 1:1 iPad with our KS2 children from September, but the question is about which particular model to go for.  We’ve been using iPad mini with children for the last three years now, and it hit the sweet spot in terms of its size, price and weight. To go 1:1, we’ll be looking at an operational lease, but there is a bit of a tough choice to make about the exact model for the budget we have. Here’s a table to explain the problem…

iPad Model Storage Lease length Positives Negatives
iPad mini 2 32GB  3 years  + Good amount of storage  – Older hardware so will feel old at end of lease
iPad mini 4 16GB  3 years  + Fast hardware  – Storage space will fill up quickly
iPad mini 4 64GB  4 years  + Fast hardware
+ Great amount of storage
– Can hardware last four years?

Perhaps, when it’s presented like that, the solution is obvious?

Quicker and Easier on iPad

At the end of last year, we did some monitoring about how Showbie was being used in our school. One of the insights from that was all of the work that was done in Computing could be done quicker and easier on iPad rather than using an iMac.  In our school, children have a timetabled ‘Computing’ slot when they get to go and use the iMac suite.  The children do enjoy it, but in this increasingly mobile age, children are just not as familiar with using a mouse and keyboard, let alone using an arguably more complex desktop operating system that is OSX. Perhaps they just need the practice, but actually the iPad allows children to achieve remarkably complex things (visual programming, video creation and editing etc.) with relative ease.  If we add in the simple but powerful e-portfolio workflow that Showbie offers for iOS, iPad increasingly comes up tops when compared to Mac.

So, what apps do we use for Computing on Mac and how can iPad replace/improve them?  Is it possible to go ‘iPad Only’ with Computing?

Email

We use LGfL’s London Mail to provide safe and restricted access to email for students during certain Computing units. It’s hosted by Microsoft and is accessed via a web browser.  It works fine on Mac as well as iPad, but on iPad it’s super easy to screenshot learning and add it into Showbie.

Visual Programming

We already use Hopscotch, Kodable, A.L.E.X. and Daisy the Dinosaur on iPad to teach coding using pre-programmed blocks.  On the Mac, we use Scratch, a great coding environment created by MIT. There is a (literally) junior version of it called Scratch Jnr, which is suitable for younger children but unfortunately they haven’t released a full iPad version yet.  However, there are other alternatives out there, such as Tynker.

Typed Coding

When we developed our Computing curriculum a few years ago, we included a strand which focused on getting children to type in computer code, starting with learning to type, then moving onto languages such as LOGO and Python. You can get typing apps for iPad, and even ones for LOGO and Python. Fun as it has been to introduce these to children, I think that they might be just a bit too tricky for Primary aged kids, so instead we’re going to introduce some more fun iPad coding apps.  Like Floors (which allows you to design your own platform games…)!

iWork

Pages, Numbers and Keynote are as fully-featured on iOS as a Primary school kid would need, so no contest there.  And are arguably easier to use.

iLife

iMovie on OSX is powerful, but it does add so many steps to the movie-making process: capture video on another camera, then import into Mac, then edit. iMovie for iPad is so simple and easy to use to use, with the advantage of being able to do everything on one device.

LEGO WeDo

The only sticking point was LEGO WeDo, a simple programmable LEGO kit.  WeDo 1.0 runs of a wired USB hub to connect the motor/tilt sensor/motion sensor.  However, LEGO have recently announced WeDo 2.0, which connects via Bluetooth to an iPad…yay!  I recently had a play with it at BETT and it was really great.

So, I think that going all-in on iPad for Computing can work!

An App for that

From attending different iPad in Education events, the message has often been to limit the number of apps you put on iPads in the classroom: a few apps used well is better than zillions of apps. We’ve been doing this in my school – choosing the key creative apps and training teachers how to use them effectively.

The downside to this is that it’s easy to stop exploring for what’s new and making the most of the huge wealth of educational apps that there are out there!  So recently, I’ve been trying out a few more apps for iPad. Here’s some I’ve found helpful!

ClassDojo

This is a fun behaviour management app for the classroom, allowing you to give out (and take away) points to children in your class depending on their behaviour/work. It’s fun, quick and easy to use.

QR Code Reader

QR codes can be seen as a bit ‘Android’, but they’re actually really handy for quick linking to websites and different online resources. Teachers find or upload resources to the Internet, create a QR code for it and then children can easily access them via their iPad.

Showbie

Showbie is like the glue which can join together digital learning on iPad in the classroom.  It’s easy to set up, simple to use but very powerful for assigning, submitting and feeding back on learning. Support is also great!

Green Screen

This app basically allows the iPad to do chroma-key green screening (or any colour of your choice) straight on the iPad.  You set the background image or video then layer up live or recorded video on top.  Fun!

Book Creator

This is a super simple app for creating eBooks directly on iPad, including adding sound and video. It’s very friendly for children to use and really is a blank canvas for creativity (and includes lots of fun and wacky fonts!).

One Best Thing

As part of the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute last summer, we were all set the homework of creating some resources to share best practice with teachers. We were given three options to choose from: Community Engagement (ADEs collaborating with museums/libraries etc. to create resources), Lessons for the Classroom (an iTunes U course that demonstrates how iPad can work in the classroom) or One Best Thing (a multitouch book sharing one way that Apple technologies have made a difference in the classroom). For ADE newbies, we were recommended to do ‘One Best Thing’, so I decided to do one about using Explain Everything as an Interactive Whiteboard.

 

It’s quite a short book, but is now published on the iBook Store, so do take a look!

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Coding Evening

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of attending and briefly speaking at a Coding Evening at the Mozilla HQ in London. The event was run by my fellow ADE Cat Lamin, who started these events a year or so ago to provide an informal and relaxed atmosphere to learn about how to teach ‘coding’ in primary school and to try out different kit. The new ‘Computing‘ curriculum in the UK is ambitious and probably a really good idea, but I think it does terrify a lot of teachers and I’m not sure all teachers are suitably trained or equipped to deliver it. Hence providing a space for teachers to learn a bit more!

The evening run regularly in Peterborough and Twickenham, but the central London one was a one-off special event, complete with free drinks and pizza thanks to sponsors! It was pretty cool to hang out in what was basically the Mozilla staff room (they have what is quite possibly the largest TV screen I have ever seen), but it was also great to meet new people and learn new things.

As part of the evening, there was a string of ‘lightning talks’ from different people about how they’ve done interesting and cool stuff with coding in schools. I got the chance to share briefly about how we use LEGO WeDo, which I think went down well.  There was also different companies representing their wares, which was interesting:

  • A guy called Marc Grossman was there, demoing Scratch, Kodu and Code Club. Scratch is a great visual programming tool designed by MIT, and Kodu is a cool 3D game designer from Microsoft.  But what really impressed me was the resources he shared from Code Club.  Code Club is a not-for-profit organisation that gets volunteers to run coding clubs in primary schools. What is really handy is that you can download the worksheets etc. that they use and deliver it yourself. I shall be making use of that!
  • A plucky upstart company called Pi-Top were demoing their product, which was essentially a green laptop that runs off a Raspberry Pi. It did seem pretty cool, and reminded me of my childhood days playing with a ZX Spectrum and figuring out how to make things work.
  • There was also a company called FUZE there, who make a computer for schools that is basically a robust keyboard case that houses a Raspberry Pi.  What is unique about them is that they include their own version of BASIC for children to use, claiming that introducing more complex languages like Python to children just puts them off coding, rather than hooking them in. This was an interesting challenge to me, as we have included Python in our Computing curriculum at school, which admittedly is hard for teachers and children to get their heads around. I’m not sure I’d want to introduce a set of computers that would need to be plugged in and set up each week just to teach Computing lessons once a week.

It was a really excellent evening and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get their head around how to teach Computing in school.

Introducing Showbie

We’ve started using Showbie in my school.  Which feels a bit like saying, “Hey, guys, did you know that they’ve invented colour TV?” Or, “I finally had a ride on one of those new-fangled horseless carriages…wasn’t so bad.”

I’m not sure when Showbie was first launched, but it’s definitely been vaguely on my radar as a paperless classroom solution for iPad ever since the magical tablet first appeared in 2010. Since then it’s become a de-facto app solution for managing digital workflows in iPad schools, even appearing as number 4 in a Top 10 list of apps as votes by ADEs in the Summer. However, I’ve always dismissed it as being useful in a Primary school that wasn’t 1:1 with iPads, so haven’t given it much consideration up until now.

However, last year a brilliant Apple Distinguished Educator Julian Coultas came to visit our school to suggest ways that we could take our iPad journey further, and he mentioned about Showbie. We were increasingly hitting the problem of how to evidence, record and generally deal with the digital content that was being made in lessons using iPad. Lots of interesting learning was happening in classrooms using technology, but it was often hard to tell this looking in children’s books.  Some teachers were willing to go through the laborious process of printing off children’s work and then sticking it in books, but most were not: why make a lively, engaging iPad lesson into a laborious bureaucratic chore? Plus, how exactly does one go about printing a video?

Instead, Showbie offers a solution to three interrelated but distinct problems:

  1. Digital portfolio – keeping a record of children’s learning. With Showbie, each pupil has their own account where iPad learning can be handed into. This then creates a record of the learning process on iPad, complete with comments and dialogue between the child and the teacher.  And with the latest version of Showbie, there is even the ability to create ‘proper’ student portfolios!
  2. Managing ongoing projects with shared iPads. Once work-in-progress has been saved to Showbie, a child can then log into Showbie on any iPad, re-download it and then continue.  With shared iPads across year groups, then avoids the issue of children having to remember the iPad they used the lesson before.
  3. Distributing resources/documents. Showbie makes it easy for teachers to distribute documents/images/instructions to children for a given lesson.  We’ve already got a generic email account setup for each class set of iPads which currently offers a lo-fi version of this – teachers can email images and web links to a set of iPads – but Showbie adds more power and flexibility.

We launched all this a week or so ago, complete with some class demos and a staff meeting from Julian, which unfortunately coincided with a horrendous Showbie outage. Despite being entirely unable to even log into Showbie to show them, teachers seemed really up for the solution Showbie offered to the problem of a student e-portfolio/continuing work on a shared iPad/distributing content.

Since then I have been working my way around classes to give brief Showbie demos so that both children and teachers feel confident in the workflow (which, after enrolling into a class, is basically: log into Showbie, do you work, ‘Open In’ Showbie and hand work in at the end of the lesson, and then log out of Showbie).

In order to make the creation of student accounts manageable in a large school, we’ve gone for the paid ‘Pro School’ account. The guys at Showbie have been incredibly helpful and supportive and have ironed out any issues we’ve run into.

The Digital Divide

I had the enormous privilege of attending the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in July, a week of inspiring professional development and hearing from amazing educators from all over EMEIA (Europe, Middle East, India and Africa). Not very surprisingly, many people came from schools that had some sort of 1:1 iPad programme. They could tell stories of the creative and innovate things their students were doing with technology, and more importantly how learning and future life-chances were impacted.

I’ve wanted to have a 1:1 iPad programme at my school ever since I heard about Fraser Speirs‘ pioneering work in his school in Scotland.  Research since has shown that giving a computer to every student has a measurable impact on their education, and so that question is now whether schools should go 1:1 but just when and how.

My problem is the later two questions. Working at a large state Primary school, there is a big budget but there are also a lot of students for it to go between.  With the government busy cutting budgets further, spending money on ‘luxury’ Apple tablets can seem a bit rich.

What I noticed at the ADE Institute was the high percentage of attendees from either International or Secondary schools, which tend to have more money to spend on iPads. I don’t begrudge this, but I do wonder about the digital divide: should children’s opportunity to be part of the learning revolution depend on their parents’ means or have to wait until they’re older?

Talking to people who’ve walked this path before me, it seems that there are two options:

  1. Inspire those in leadership to take a longer and harder look at the 1:1 possibility. In the scheme of things, an iPad for every child isn’t dirt cheap but is affordable: the money is there, but is being spent on the wrong things (photocopying!).
  2. Make the most of what we have. Julian Coultas has done some brilliant work on how to effectively use 8 iPads in a class of 30 children. 1:1 might be the ‘best’ way, but a smaller amount is not worthless.