Apple Watch

So, a few months ago I became the happy owner of an Apple Watch. Now I know I’m pretty late to the game as it’s been around for years now, but that does mean I’m entering the world of Apple Watch with it in a more mature state.

So, why did I want an Apple Watch?

  1. To tell the time. Fishing out a phone all the time to know what the time is, or continually scouring rooms to find the clock on the wall, is quite frustrating! I know that other watches are available, but I wanted something more…
  2. To record my runs. I use Strava to log my running, which had involved strapping an iPhone to my arm. This wasn’t so bad in the days of dainty iPhone 5-sized phones, but phones are getting bigger and bigger: surely strapping a little computer to my arm would be better?
  3. For all the other cool stuff. Like being able to quickly receive and respond to messages on my wrist. Or easily set a timer. Or see what the weather is. Or any number of little jobs.

So what’s Apple Watch like?

  • It’s a nice piece of kit! It’s really beautifully designed and has clearly had a lot of thought into it, from the inductive charging and easy setup from your iPhone to how easy it is to swap wrist bands and use the Digital Crown.
  • Battery life is really good. I can go several days between charging, and probably three if I really needed to. I know that other fitness trackers offer better battery life, but this is fine for me.
  • The interface is really clearly thought through. The watch face is where everything starts, with complications giving you glanceable information that you need (like calendar/weather/date etc). The Digital Crown is a great way to scroll through lists, and the hard press gives that extra option in the interface (a bit like the idea of right clicking something).
  • There are so many little thoughtful touches. It’s as if they took a computer, made it small enough to fit inside a watch and then thought of all the cool little jobs they could give it. Like being able to easily control audio playback on your phone from the watch, including turning volume up and down using the Digital Crown. Or how it gives you taps on the wrist and indicator sound effects when you’re using directions in the Maps app. Or the ability to ping your phone from the watch.
  • The ‘Activity’ app is very effective in motivating you to keep fit. It has three different rings: a blue ‘stand’ one, that wants you to stand up and walk around for at least a minute every hour; a green ‘exercise’ one that encourages you to do 30 minutes of activity a day; a red ‘activity’ one that tracks additional active calories burned up to your self-imposed target. You can earn all kinds of badges for completing your rings, and even compete with friends! I’ve realised that I walk around quite a lot during my school day!

So is there a case for an Apple Watch in education? I would say it’s a useful tool for teachers, allowing you to stay connected without being sucked into your phone. The little tools are also really handy.

In terms of 3rd-party apps on the watch, her are some that I have found useful:

  • Our Groceries – sync shopping lists across all your devices!
  • Strava – tracking runs.
  • Bus Times – find when the next London bus will turn up.

Why iPad

When I was training to be a teacher back in 2007, I originally thought that I would teach Year 6. After all, I had done A-Level maths and so it would be fun to teach 11-year-olds algebra, right?

However, when I began my initial placements in school I was shocked by how boring this education business was for children: lots of sitting on the carpet staring at a whiteboard, then lots of pencil and paper work in books. There obviously is room for this approach, but it depressed me that children didn’t have much opportunity for independent exploration and discovery, working with rather than against the in-built curiosity of childhood.

I then spent a couple of days in a Reception classroom where I could see children showing independence and genuine agency in their learning, learning through play and exploration and in a way that matches the way that children learn. I then switched to the Early Years route in my PGCE and ended up getting my first teaching job in Nursery.

Fast forward to today and I now lead a 1:1 iPad deployment in a primary school. Is there a connection?

It stuck me, as I sat in some professional development from Apple about the ‘5 Elements of Learning‘, that there is a link! Those 5 elements are as follows:

  • Teamwork – working together on learning
  • Communication and Creation – expressing your ideas to a real audience
  • Personalisation of Learning – students have a choice about the approach to learning
  • Critical Thinking – students creating solutions to problems
  • Real-World Engagement – engaging in tasks that serve a genuine purpose outside the classroom

These elements make up effective learning, and iPad can be used effectively as a tool for learning in all of those elements. But actually, those quite nicely describe a decent early years classroom.

So why iPad? Used well, it allows children to learn in a more creative and meaningful way, not just when they’re in Early Years!

Getting excited about…printers?

At BETT this year I got talking to the guys at the Epson stand and ended up looking at their range of business ink jets. Now I am not a huge fan of printers generally as they cost a lot of money to run and you can make savings and reduce printing costs by utilising digital workflows. But the reality is that you sometimes do need to print so I was interested in ways that we could trim the budget for my school on this.

What interested me about Epson’s printers was their approach to using inkjet. They have taken the same technology they use on a commercial scale and have shrunk it down to provide a reliable and affordable alternative to laser in an office/school etc.

The printers I saw had some cool features:

    Because they don’t need to fuse toner onto a piece of paper they use a lot less energy to run and have much faster startup times
    Print speeds are really fast
    There are fewer parts to maintain and replace — ink comes in bags that can be slotted in — which lowers costs

All of this results in printers that are substantially cheaper to run. Comparing the WorkForce Pro WF-C5210DW with our existing HP laser printers, consumable costs with inkjet are basically half that of laser. So even with the outlay of buying new printers, we are estimating a 30% saving this financial year. Which means more money for iPads!

So we got one of the Epson printers at my school to try out, and I’m pretty impressed so far. The ink comes in little bags that just slot in and take way less space to store. Print speed is very fast with a good print quality as well. It even has decent AirPrint support as well, which makes setup on our network nice and straightforward.

In these increasingly financial constrained times for schools, the thought of saving money by not burning through expensive toner is certainly welcome!

2018: A Year in Review

It’s that time of year when it’s good to reflect on what has been and look forward to what is ahead. Nothing ever stands still with technology (apart from in schools…I jest!) so it’s always fascinating to take a look back over a 12 month period and see what’s changed and what’s been accomplished. So, what’s been happening for me with Educational ICT in 2018?

Google Drive

At school we finally made the move to cloud storage this year, prompted in part by the release of Google Drive File Stream which allows a Mac/PC user to have their files and file hierarchy of their personal and Team drives on their desktop without all the files and data being copied down. This allows Team drives to work like glorified SMB shares in a Mac, with data being pulled down from the cloud as needed and changed being synced back up.

We made the switch with our admin team/SLT first, setting up a series of Team Drives for the different subsets of users and then copying across data from the old Windows shares. Apart from a few problems with files not syncing and the File Stream app needing the occasional restart, it’s been working pretty well!

Following this success, we moved the remainder of our network drives to Google Team Drives in September. It’s a no-brainer in education as it gives you unlimited cloud storage that you can access on a multitude of devices and platforms.

The Google Drive app on iPad is pretty decent enoough, allowing for easy viewing and sharing of files between staff. It doesn’t offer proper integration with the Files app on iPad, so it’s still the case of opening a copy of files in Pages/Keynote/Explain Everything and then uploading to Google Drive when you’re done. As teachers were used to WebDAV before, it works at least comparable to that.

One nice extra feature is the ability to share links to Google Drive files in Slack, which then displays the file itself (so long as you’re using single sign-on with G Suite).

Back the the Mac

Having trialled going #iPadOnly at school, we decided to put some macs back in classrooms for all teachers at the end of the summer term. It felt a little bit like a defeat, but actually was also a relief as iOS can’t yet take the full weight of being the only computer you use. The replacement retina 4K iMacs are lovely machines as well!

Recently, we recycled some rather old 2011 iMacs and instead bought a few of the new 2018 Mac mini’s. They are really fast little computers, with very handsome ‘space grey’ colour scheme.


Having said that, I still find that the iPad Pro is an excellent productivity machine, particularly with a keyboard and an Office licence (much as I hate to admit it). But what’s been particularly great is the regular stream of iWork updates from Apple, relentlessly adding in desktop functionality to the iOS version. The fact I can now edit master slides in Keynote, edit conditional formatting in Numbers and even publish eBooks in Pages makes using a ‘proper’ computer increasingly unnecessary.

I hope to be able to roll out some more iPad Pros to teachers, giving them a powerful mobile productivity device with an amazing stylus (perfect for teaching!).

Showbie in KS1

We had the wonderful opportunity of extending our 1:1 programme to include Years 1 and 2 in September, and I decided that we would use Showbie for organising all the learning rather than Seesaw as we’d used previously. Because kids don’t have to log out of Showbie on a 1:1 device, this gets rid of the username and password barrier. I’ve been impressed with how teachers are really making the most of the annotation and voice memo tools in Showbie to really make the most of each learning opportunity. We’re seeing a lot more development in oracy this year!

Shared iPad

With KS1, we also deployed the devices in Shared iPad mode. It’s worked pretty well, although there is a big restriction on the number of apps that can be installed due to the partitioning of space on the devices. There have been a few strange app issues too when moving files around, probably something to do with the Shared iPad mode.

Managed Apple IDs

It was with great joy that I welcomed Tim Cook’s announcement in March 2018 of 200GB of storage for school Managed Apple IDs. We had been using them with students because of the relative ease of making hundreds of Apple IDs at a time, but hadn’t used them with staff because of the 5GB storage limit. With the increase in storage, we moved all staff over to Managed Apple IDs. It wasn’t an easy process, as you basically have to download and re-upload all the photos and documents from one ID to another, but it’s definitely been worth it. Knowing that there’s more than enough storage for teachers, plus the ability to easily reset passwords, is great. Plus it’s free!

Cheaper Education iPads

The March 2018 Apple Education event also brought us the (slightly) cheaper and faster entry level iPad. It’s a great price with a more than decent processor, so it made choosing the device for our 1:1 programme very straight forward. Sure, it’s not got a laminated display or a super-amazing camera, but they seem pretty tough as iPads go (on delivery of our KS1 iPads, one of the pallets had been punctured in transit and one of the iPads was seriously bent by the impact, but yet the screen had not shattered).


This resource was previewed in the summer and was launched at the beginning of the Autumn term. It provides student and teacher guides with suggestions for how you can weave video, photography, drawing and music-making across the curriculum using iPad. I’ve been having a go at some of the resources with some Year 3/4s on a Friday afternoon, and it looks like good stuff. It definitely is Apple’s unique offering for iPad in education.

What have been your highlights?

Going 1:1 using Shared iPad

So, back in 2016 Apple released iOS 9.3 with a slew of features for education. One of these included ‘Shared iPad’ mode, which allowed a single iPad to have multiple logins, giving a personalised experience to using the iPad without having to actually have an iPad each. It worked with a combination of Managed Apple IDs created in Apple School Manager and a sympathetic MDM, as well as requiring iPad Air 2/iPad Mini 4 or better with at least 32GB of storage.

Now, I’m not really sure how many schools actually use Shared iPad. At its inception, the iPad specs were quite high (our 16GB iPad mini 4s don’t have enough storage) and it needed an MDM that actually supported it. It was a year before we had enough newer iPads to even try it out, let alone deploy using it across the school.

Fast forward a couple of years, we were looking at extending our 1:1 programme and I was thinking about how to actually manage and setup the devices. With KS2 classes, we were able to get children to set them up themselves, putting in usernames and passwords as well as Managed Apple IDs. The thought of getting 5-year-olds to type all that in, or to do it for them, wasn’t appealing in the slightest.

Enter Shared iPad. I then had the thought that maybe we could use Shared iPad mode, but with each device only ‘shared’ with one student. The advantages would be:

  1. Easier to set up. Because all the accounts are made in Apple School Manager and then assigned to the iPad using MDM, the initial login process literally involves tapping on the child’s name on the iPad. This signs the child into the iPad with their Managed Apple ID without having to type the whole thing in.
  2. Easier to manage. With our KS2 classes, some students enjoy changing their iPad passcodes and then promptly forgetting what it is. If they then enter the wrong one too many times and then turn the device on and off again, the iPad will not connect to wifi until the correct passcode is entered. Because of this, any MDM command to reset the passcode just won’t get through to the device and so the iPad has to be wiped and re-setup again…which is annoying! With Shared iPad, the passcode is the Managed Apple ID password (which can be set to four digits) and can be reset at any point by the teacher using Apple Classroom.
  3. Harder to break. When an iPad is in Shared iPad mode, there are all sorts of options in Settings that are no longer available. This gives less options for students to accidentally (or on purpose) break things. It also doesn’t let the student log out of their Managed Apple ID, meaning all their data is always going to be synced to iCloud successfully.

So, a month or so in, how’s it going? Here are a few reflections:

  • Initial setup really is easy! Once the devices are all organised and set up in your MDM properly, getting kids started with the devices literally involves tapping on their name, putting in the temporary passcode and then choosing a new one. Compared with setting up iPads normally, this is hugely easier.
  • You really must make sure you wipe the device properly before you begin. iPads these days come with all sorts of apps installed already (such as the Apple Store, GarageBand etc). We found that we couldn’t use our MDM to remove these apps on a Shared iPad device, so it’s important to completely restore devices before you roll them out.
  • You only get so much storage for apps. According to the Education Deployment Guide, a Shared iPad partitions up the space in a fix manner, which you need to be aware of. With a 32GB iPad, for example, 10GB is allocated for the system, 8Gb for apps and then the remaining is split between the number of users that you decide you want cached on the device. As we are only using the devices with one user, this gives 14GB for the user’s documents and data. However, 8GB for apps doesn’t go a long way, particularly if you want GarageBand on the devices.
  • Updating the OS isn’t entirely straightforward. To update to a newer version of iOS, this cannot be done by the user on the device but instead must be done via MDM command. There must be enough space in the ‘apps’ partition for the iOS update installer, and the current user has to be logged out too. Once we had figure this out, updates were a bit easier.
  • Replacing a device is easy. Because Shared iPad mode has the idea of users logging in and out, swapping out a device is as easy as changing a few things in MDM for the replacement iPad and then logging the user back in. All the data for the user is saved to iCloud and so is immediately available for the user.
  • Make sure you turn on ‘Shared iPad’ mode for apps. Some apps need settings turned on in MDM in order to fully work with Shared iPad mode. Follow the links to find out more information about turning this on for Book Creator and Explain Everything.

All in all, I’m glad we’ve given it a go with our KS1 students. I’m still in two minds about whether to extend it to KS2 in a future roll-out: probably the 8GB app limit will be a show-stopper…

Austin Reflections

I had the enormous privilege of attending the Apple Distinguished Educator Worldwide Institute 2018 in July of this year — a huge thank you for my school letting me go and Apple for the invitation! It was an epic four days (plus a good two days of travel to Austin and back), with plenty of insight into where Apple are going in the world of education and lots of inspiration from 370 other amazing educators from around the world, either through workshops and ‘showcase’ presentations or just in conversation over some good Texan food.

The stated theme for the week was about creativity in education, under the banner of the #EveryoneCanCreate hashtag on Twitter. This, along with #AppleEDUchat and #ADE2018, garnered 60 million impressions during the Institute, which in itself was quite remarkable.

An unstated question throughout the week though (perhaps just for me?) was essentially ‘why still bother with iPad?’ With the onslaught of the Chromebook in schools across the US, with its physical keyboard, cheap devices, full desktop browser and comprehensive Google backend, what have Apple got to offer? From the start, ‘creativity’ was the answer to this question.

This kicked off with an intriguing presentation from ‘Marcom’, the marketing and communication team at Apple. Creativity is not something tacked on with Apple, but a core part of their whole approach, with a stated ambition to be at the heart of culture through being the world’s most creatively inspiring brand. This combination of creativity, simplicity and humanity can be seen in the Cannes Grand Prix award-winning advert for the Home Pod. Perhaps even more remarkable is how they made it, doing nearly all special effects ‘in camera’, with amazing effect.

So, if creativity is so important, how do we encourage its use in the classroom? Announced back in March, Apple are making a set of educational resources entitled ‘Everyone Can Create’. We were given a taster of some of the planned lessons ideas and resources around the creative disciplines of drawing, music, photography and video. These really make up the unique offering of iPad in education: you can’t really do film-making, take photos, create music or draw on a Chromebook! The resources seem to be shaping up nicely, providing a ‘way in’ for educators to use the more creative disciplines across the curriculum.

No Institute is complete without the obligatory Project, which this year was around the creativity theme. We were divided into small ‘homeroom’ groups (the US version of ‘tutor groups’) to help shape ideas, with our first task to define what we think creativity means to us as educatiors. You can see ours here. After sharing ideas, we each individually had to make a pitch about our proposed project: mine is to make a short e-book about how we use iPads and Book Creator in science in order to make lessons more interactive. Again, you can see mine on Twitter. Hopefully the finished product will be published soon!

A real highlight of the week was an update from the iWork team, outlining some of the latest updates to Pages, Numbers and Keynote, particularly how you can now create fixed-layout ePub files and draw directly into documents using Apple Pencil (or just a finger if needed). Do check out the helpful tips on how to draw chickens… We also had the absolute treat of a presentation from the Senior Product Manager of GarageBand, including a round of ‘spot which famous pop song uses Apple Loops‘. GarageBand is a remarkable app and full of potential in the classroom, once you get an idea of how to use it. The recently added Toy Box sound pack includes Live Loops with counting in different languages and NASA space travel samples.

Another powerful differentiator with Apple across all their platforms is their deep commitment to accessibility as seen through the extensive features that come built-in. This video about Sady (ADE Class of 2017) is profoundly moving and gets me every time. The fact you can edit on Final Cut Pro X using head switches is remarkable, both on a personal level but also from an engineering perspective. All these tools can be used by anyone, so do take a look in Settings > General > Accessibility or visit

On top of all this, Apple has also just released their SchoolWork app, which is basically a more agile classroom learning app for iPad. We got to talk in more detail to and hear from the team behind it, which was useful. It requires Apple School Manager to be set up properly for your school, with both teachers and students on Managed Apple IDs. Once this is in place, it allows you to easily set up collaborative iWork documents with students (either with the whole class or with each student individually). You can also direct students to particular parts of apps, if they support ClassKit. It’s still a first draft I would say, but I am looking forward to giving it a try during the next academic year.

Spending most of a week with such distinguished educators has made me realise that creativity in education isn’t easy. Apple’s tools certainly make it easier to do amazing things, but it still takes a huge amount of effort, hard work and perseverance to make a difference in students’ lives through the quality of education we offer them. A particular mention to Anthony Stirpe and Bianca Woodard, fellow ADEs, for leading a great workshop on how they use video with Clips to teach poetry and sound with GarageBand to explore the history of slavery. It was inspiring!

I’ve come home amazingly grateful for the opportunity I get to lead a 1:1 iPad deployment at my school and determined to continue make learning creative and meaningful to students and teachers alike.

Back to the Mac

At year ago, we had 10 teachers at my school agree to go ‘iPad Only’, to do their day-to-day work as a teacher just using a 10.5″ iPad Pro with an Smart Keyboard and an Apple Pencil. So how did it go?

Things people liked:

  • The iPad Pro is a lovely iPad. It’s a little bit more spacious than your average 9.7″ with basically the same footprint as the original iPad The ‘ProMotion’ retina display is also really nice.
  • Having a keyboard makes a real difference in terms of productivity, both for specific typing tasks and general use.
  • For those who made use of it, the Apple Pencil was a really great bonus, making the iPad really fulfil the dream of replacing the SmartBoart.
  • We bought people Office 365 licences, which was a hit! Having full fidelity read and write access to planning documents is just really useful.
  • Having everything in one place has always been the great thing about iPads for teachers, and the iPad Pro amplifies this effect further.


  • Ergonomics. Possibly worse than with a laptop, having to hunch over and look down at a screen, as opposed to looking at eye height at a properly positioned iMac display, isn’t good for posture. Plus the 10.5″ is just a bit too small to be a main machine (9 out of 10 teachers said they would happily swap for a bigger iPad, given the option). And reaching up to touch the screen isn’t as good ergonomically as the traditional mouse plus keyboard.
  • Being second/third class citizens with the shared network drive gets wearing after a while. Our teachers still access a Windows SMB shared drive, which can be accessed natively on a Mac in Finder but requires to Documents app and WebDAV for use on an iPad. With an iPad it’s still very much the case of make-a-local-copy-then-upload-new-version-when-done. A switch to Google Drive in the summer will in some ways alleviate this.
  • You just sometimes need a desktop. Like for writing 30 reports. Or printing off stuff for displays. Or using legacy and outdated educational resources that bizarrely still require Flash. Or accessing Apple School Manager (looking at you Cupertino!).

So, in light of the above, we decided to roll the trial back and put iMacs back into the ten teacher’s classes.

The biggest clincher was the ergonomics: if teachers use their iPad a lot because it’s the best device for them, that’s a different matter than being required to use it all the time.

It was also interesting to reflect on the motivation and reasoning behind the trial; in many ways, it was an attempt to save money when looking ahead at looming Mac refreshes. Saving money isn’t always a bad motivator for a decision: after all, we made huge savings on printing through getting rid of many colour printers and encouraging the use of black and white copiers (and Showbie) instead. But with the attempt to go ‘iPad Only’, money was the primary reason for the switch. To attempt it again, we would need to be able to articulate the reasons why it would be better for teachers, not just for my budgetary spreadsheet!

A Year with iPad Pro

I watched with much interest the product launch of the 12.9″ iPad Pro back in Autumn 2015. Here was a fast iPad with a huge display, an intriguing super-accurate stylus and a simple to attach external keyboard.  I began to wonder: perhaps an iPad Pro could serve as a single multi-purpose computer for a teacher, rather than relying on the Mac plus iPad combo. With leaner financial times cutting into school budgets ever deeper, could this be a viable option?

There was only one way to truly find out: go ‘iPad Only’ with the iPad Pro. So from May 2016, that’s what I did! I passed on my MacBook Pro to our new technician and got myself a 128gb 12.9″ iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and a Smart Cover.

Here are my thoughts, one year on…

It’s Big!

The 12.9″ iPad is certainly big. I still get children asking me, “Mr Lings, why is your iPad so big?”, even though I’m sure they’ve seen me wander around the school with it all year. The screen size is literally twice as big as a ‘normal’ iPad, meaning you can comfortably fit two full sized apps next to each other when doing split-screen multitasking. This generous amount of screen estate is great for when you’re sitting down to do some work at a desk. Developers are beginning to take advantage of the size too, such as how iWork apps now can have an on-screen formatting panel rather than relying on a pop-over. However, it does feel a little bit too big for using the iPad when teaching lessons. It’s not impossible, but a slightly smaller iPad would be better for day-to-day classroom teaching.

Split-screen Multitasking

This has been a feature of the operating system since iOS 9 and requires a newer model of iPad (iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, iPad Pro and iPad 5). And it’s really useful! The productivity gains of being able to have two different apps up at once is hard to understate: whether that’s Notes and Keynote when creating a presentation, Safari and Numbers when doing some data crunching or just having Documents by Readdle open on the side when moving files around. The fact the 12.9″ Pro has such a big screen means that both the apps have plenty of room each.


The A9X chip is fast. Coming from an iPad Air (and an iPad 2 before that), this makes using the iPad so much more enjoyable. Apple’s iWork and iLife apps can be quite intensive to use at times, but the Pro handles them all fine. It truly does feel like ‘desktop class’ processing power, which makes a big difference to productivity.

Apple Pencil

Ever since we had started using iPads instead of Interactive Whiteboards in my school many years ago, a decent stylus was something that the iPad was missing. With the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, that decent stylus is here! It’s really nice to use, particularly when modelling any form of writing when teaching. It really does offer that pixel-level accuracy and has a lovely feel in your hand. Charging using the lightning socket on the iPad is really fast, although it does seem a little precarious. You can use an adaptor to charge it with a normal lightning cable, but it’s much slower that way.

I use a back cover from STM, which includes a little slot to store the Apple Pencil. The only downside to this is that the Pencil stays in Bluetooth connection to the iPad all the time and so discharges in about a day, even when it’s not being used at all. Hopefully there’s a fix to this coming in future…

There an app for that

Part of the journey this year has been discovering and making use of new and existing apps to ‘get jobs done’ on an iPad. With a bit of creativity, you can do most things!

  • Documents 6 ( – FREE: this allows you to manage documents and files on your iPad as well as easily access a range of cloud and network storage. The most useful way to use it is a bit like the desktop on a Mac: you put stuff stuff there whilst you’re working on it. Because it makes use of ‘Document Providers’ in iOS, files can accessed in other app, allowing you to easily upload files on Safari or quickly email multiple documents.
  • Word (, Excel ( & Powerpoint ( – Office 365 Subscription: I’m still a big fan of Apple’s iWork suite, but sometimes you just need to edit and create native Microsoft Office files. They’ve done a really good job with it and it definitely comes in handy.
  • Screens ( – £19.99: a VNC app that allows you to remotely connect to a desktop computer. I use this for keeping tabs on a couple of Mac servers, but it’s also useful for those pesky websites that just don’t work on an iPad (Apple School Manager and Mathletics Dashboard I’m looking at you!).

Print Preview and the Share Sheet

One really great ‘Easter Egg’ hidden in iOS 10 is the ability to generate a PDF wherever you can print. When printing something on iOS, it should bring up a print preview below. If you pinch out on it, it opens full screen and has the share button to then do what you like that PDF. This little trick opens up loads of possibilities!

To conclude, going ‘iPad Only’ isn’t for everyone, but it definitely is a viable option. Using iOS all the time makes ‘legacy’ desktop operating systems just feel so overly complicated and time consuming. In a sense, the iPhone is the ‘post-PC’ device, with over 1 billion of the hand-held super-computers sold so far. Because the iPad uses iOS too, it can benefit from that world of apps and workflows too.

Computing with iPad

Ever since the arrival of the National Curriculum subject ‘computing’ in 2014, figuring out how exactly to teach computer science and coding in a Primary school has become a hot issue. Using a Mac or PC (or even a Raspberry Pi), there are some obvious contenders: ‘Scratch’ from MIT, maybe a bit of ‘LOGO’ or even some ‘Python’ for the more adventurous. But what about the iPad? Can computational thinking and an understanding of algorithms be taught using Apple’s intuitive and easy-to-use touch screen device?

There has been a range of coding apps for iPad right from the start, but only recently has the iPad started to really shine when it comes to learning to code. Here are three strong contenders.

codeSpark Academy with The Foos

This paid-for app (with free access for educators) aims to teach the basics of computational thinking to children aged 4+ with a fun, visual and no-words approach. It’s based around five different characters, called ‘The Foos’, who all have different skills and abilities that can be used to solve problems to try and catch the elusive ‘Glitch’. Using an intuitive interface and attractive 3D graphics, it quickly teaches children about sequencing, loops, events and conditions. There is also a curriculum that teachers can download, including ‘off-line’ activities to help explore coding concepts further.

We tried out using codeSpark Academy with our Year 1 children as part of the Hour of Code in December, and are now using the full app this half term as part of their computing lessons. I really like how it uses puzzles to really get children to think and increasingly harder levels to teach new concepts and consolidate learning. Definitely worth taking a look!

LEGO Education WeDo 2.0

Version 1.0 of LEGO WeDo was first released in 2009 and offered a simple way to teach robotics and coding to 7-11s using LEGO bricks. A USB hub connected various sensors to a computer, such as distance and tilt, as well as a motor. Following the onscreen building instructions in the software, children could construct various models and then use block-based coding to program them, e.g. making a crocodile shut its mouth when something is put inside it. We’ve been using these kits for several years and children love them: it’s accessible computing and you get to build with LEGO!

In 2016, LEGO announced WeDo 2.0, with brand-new models and parts and a Bluetooth hub to connect the updated sensors with iPads and Chromebooks, as well as PCs and Macs. The new WeDo 2.0 is a free download (obviously requiring the paid-for LEGO kits) and includes all the build instructions and a range of ‘Guided Projects’, both for science and for computing.

Version 2.0 is a really strong upgrade, both in terms of the hardware and iPad compatibility, but also in terms of the pedagogy; it requires problem-solving skills and creativity from children to both build and extend models as well as design the code required to complete the different projects.

Swift Playgrounds

Debuting at WWDC in June 2016 and launched last Autumn, Swift Playgrounds is a truly remarkable piece of software. It aims to teach children (Year 7+, but definitely accessible at the start for those in Years 5 and 6) the foundations of computational thinking whilst using real Swift code – a programming language Apple created that is used today by professional developers in many popular apps. Many other computing apps take a ‘block-based coding’ approach, where students can drag and drop pre-defined blocks of code and combine them to create a program. This is great for teaching the concepts of computer science, but leaves a chasm of confusion when students try and code using a typed language. Swift Playgrounds overcomes this by using written code from the start, but code that can be selected from smart autocorrect suggestions above the keyboard and then can be dragged around as if it were a ‘block’ of code.

The app is also really fun to play! On the right of the screen is a 3D world that you navigate to solve puzzles, entering code on the left of the screen. The puzzles can be quite challenging, requiring student to think carefully, spot patterns and apply the skills they have learned in a variety of ways. As you progress through the levels, it really does teach you how to think like a programmer through crafting efficient, reusable and readable code.

Accompanying each of the ‘Learn to Code’ books in Swift Playground is a multi-touch book that teachers can download. These provide a full curriculum to help with teaching using Swift Playground, complete with Keynote slides for each lesson.

All three of these apps show how iPad has really grown up as a platform for learning computational thinking.

iPad Wish List

The iPad has been around for 7 years now. It’s trajectory has been quite a mixed bag: stellar sales initially but a year-on-year declines since; aggressive uptake by schools at first but Chromebooks overtaking since in the US due to easier management and cheaper unit prices; 1:1 iPad making a transformative difference in some schools but being left to rot in others.

To be fair, recent developments with iPad have made a huge different and show promise for the platform in education. Apple School Manager, Managed Apple IDs and device assignment of apps make deploying iPads much easier, so long as you have an MDM that supports it. Classroom is very cool and makes teaching using iPad fun and in-control for the instructor. The 12.9″ iPad Pro is a great device for a teacher (if a little too big) and I’m definitely looking forward to the rumoured 10.5″ device. Collaboration tools in iWork are amazing and reliable and the creativity potential with iMovie and GarageBand are remarkable.

However, some parts of the iPad experience could definitely do with some loving attention from Apple. Here is my wish list:

  • iBooks Author on iPad. It feels like an abandoned piece of software on macOS, but it’s crazy that interactive multitouch books can’t be made on iOS. Book Creator is super simple and fun, but a more feature-rich equivalent would make a big difference.
  • Apple to support iPads with all of its websites. I hate how I have to VNC into a Mac to use Apple School Manager on an iPad and how is  essentially inaccessible on iPad.
  • Xcode for iPad. I don’t develop apps, but it would definitely send a strong signal about the potential and direction of the platform if Apple released it. With Swift Playgrounds, maybe it’s already in the pipeline somewhere in the bunkers at Cupertino?
  • More aggressive feature parity with iWork between Mac and iPad. I like how all the new additions (like collaboration tools) come to both platforms, but there are quite a few glaring legacy omissions. Like editing print headers in Numbers. Or editing master slides in Keynote. Or highlighting text in tables in Pages.

Those are some of my wishes. What are yours?