Using an iPad in History teaching

Image by s. yume

When the iPad first came out in April 2010 (was it really just over 18 months ago?) I wasn’t blown away. Here was an Apple device (as opposed to a very familiar Windoze one) which was unable to sit comfortably on a school network. It lacked USB ports or a camera, it had no compatibility with Flash and a complete absence of multitasking. This made it a fairly attractive thing to look at, but to me, more of a media player and leisure device. Not useful for teaching then.  It wasn’t until we decided to buy one for school as a trial that I began to understand its real power. After having become familiar with various apps, I’ve decided that it is time to put my bulky laptop aside and use the iPad almost exclusively in my history lessons. I have resolved not to go out of my way to accommodate the iPad, but to teach in a way that I would normally. If I am to discover new ways of doing things in lessons along the way, so be it.

What has been useful about the iPad:

    • Size and weight: at approximately 240 x 185 mm, it’s only slightly bigger than an A5 exercise book – something I carry around most of the time. It only weighs 1.3 pounds, as opposed to the 3 to 4 pounds in weight of a laptop.
    • Battery life: although advertised as 10 hours, the iPad can more often be used for much longer than that, allowing browsing throughout the day. Most laptops cannot boast a battery life of more than 3 to 5 hours with continuous use.  The joy of not having to power up my laptop’s depleted reserves between lessons is extremely useful.
    • Boot process: To boot up an iPad takes approximately 10 – 12 seconds, and the one I use is loaded with apps.  There are no delays and distractions in trying to boot the device through layers of software. This makes it so much easier to get the class in front of me focused quickly.
    • Using Teacher Assistant Pro, £4.99: I really like this app. As with most teachers I keep a mark book with recorded assessments for students. This does so much more. It’s very easy to import a CSV file of classes into the app (via email) and then create various ‘Actions’ and ‘Teacher Responses’, to set colour codes as flags and more. The whole set up is easily edited, but I’ve decided to stick with the default options. Once the actions and responses are edited with bespoke phrases, assigning these to students is very quick. The beauty of this app is that students can have behaviour and work focus included in a record which says much more than a numeric score attached to a piece of work. I’m looking forward to the next Parents’ Evening where I can select a student and show a comprehensive pattern of his work and behaviour. It will also certainly be useful when it comes around to report writing.

At the moment, I’m struggling to find many visually engaging apps for History, similar to the ones we have for Biology.

However, we have a comprehensive set of Productivity Tools which I have found very useful.

We started our Year 8 lessons this week with the topic, ‘England in the 1500’s’. However, just before the lesson began we reviewed the previous week’s homework. I used Good Reader £2.99, to display the MS Word document: Princes in the Tower. This had been my biggest fear with the iPad; it is an Apple device, how would it display work in Microsoft format? Well, it does so very well indeed with this app. Good Reader is one of those apps which is on everyone’s list and for good reason. It connects to Dropbox, Google Docs and designated servers in order for you to access, download, preview and manage all types of files. Its not a document editor, but the latest version supports scribble notes on PDF’s.

Once we’d checked the homework responses, I used Safari to access and choose specific Google images in order to generate discussion about the people, their homes, farming methods and trade & industry. Unfortunately, the powerful image display which was once Cooliris is not suitable for the task I had in mind and whilst I was preparing the lesson I also realised that a search on Bing displayed images which were far more relevant than the same search on Google.

I had planned to use an excerpt from a YouTube video, ‘The Supersizers Eat Medieval‘ but came short when I couldn’t edit the video with Tube Chop on the iPad as this requires Adobe Flash. I had to wait until I was back in front of a Windows laptop or make the purchase of iMovie £2.99, a priority.

The students were then split up into groups in order to discuss images on life in England from their text books. I passed the iPad around and students used the ShowMe app (free) to record descriptions of several images and then share these with the class. We haven’t quite finished this exercise, there are more to complete next lesson, but the students were engaged and delighted to have the iPad. I don’t think the results are too bad either!

ShowMe from Kerry Turner on Vimeo.


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