At long last I think I've developed some initial run scenarios for these iPads. My focus is not going to be on whiz-bang math apps, because so few exist. But rather use the opportunity to teach the students how to do a little content creation and witness the wonders of cloud computing. I think too much of the emphasis on iPads in the classroom is "think of all the amazing apps!" or "think of the possibilities of digital textbooks!" which are off the mark. Much like the computer makes my job easier by allowing me to create nicer materials, I think the same can be said of the iPads. I imagine the way I'm going to implement them is far afield from what others are planning.
I am sure other uses will come to me as time emerges (I already have a lesson idea kicking around in my head about finding some interesting section of the city via Maps and modeling the streets as linear equations). For now, I'm going to focus on setting the iPads up as answer stations for classwork, as a distribution method for poster/group work, and as a conduit for collecting class data. It won't quite make them day to day use items, but it's a start. First item of business is the home screen:
So, pretty sparse I know. AlgebraTouch is a recent find that is an excellent value at $1.99. It might deserve its own post at a later date when I get a chance to deploy it. Basically it lets you work linear algebra problems through dragging and touching (and you can upload custom problem sets). Go watch the demo video and be amazed. More advanced things like exponents are on the way. Anyway, main idea with the iPads is to find a couple focused uses and stick with them until some other genius arrives. So PDFPen, Pages, and Numbers will be the go to players right now. And you may have noticed that sweet background. I couldn't resist the temptation to customize each one for the given team. The full set looks awesome and the effect is pretty cool in person. It was worth spending 5 minutes fiddling with the gradient tool. If I get some extra cash I might get covers that match as well.
I have tied all the iPads to a new Dropbox account I can use to deploy things as well. It's more a placeholder for now. I disabled music purchases, in-app purchases, YouTube (won't work over the school network anyway), and iMessage. The cameras are still accessible and I buried e-mail on the second screen. All the iPads are linked to the same Apple ID/iCloud account. iCloud makes this all work. I'm signed in to that same iCloud account on the Mac I use to teach. Thanks to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, the desktop versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote gained iCloud document storage. I will also use the desktop version of PDFPen to deploy PDFs, this too can store things in iCloud. When you open any iCloud enabled app you get a cute dialog like this:
Dragging stuff into that pane shoots it up to the cloud, and any device tied to the same Apple ID will immediately pull down the document you just dropped. I can stand at my podium, grab a file I'd like them to look at or discussion questions I'd like them to respond to and fling them out to all six iPads in a couple seconds. No sync cables required. I can only imagine how cumbersome iPad use in a classroom was before this. I threw together a couple minutes worth of demos to show the use cases I envisioned. I did it just so you can see how quickly you can deploy something and get a kid working on it and how quickly you can get their work back for display to the rest of the class. Fingers crossed that the same results can be achieved on a slightly more crowded school network and with six devices instead of just one. This footage has been sped up just a little otherwise it would go on for way too long. HD highly recommended.
Now you might be thinking "well, this is amazing and all, but I don't have a Mac." You can replicate what I did here pretty well. Provided you have an Apple ID and have tied it to a set of devices, you can access iCloud from any desktop computer with a web browser. If you visit iCloud.com and sign in with your credentials you can deploy and receive documents and spreadsheets just as well. It interprets Word and Excel documents just fine, provided your formatting is relatively simplistic (and watch your font choices). Dropbox works on any computer and is just as good for distributing PDFs, Word, and Excel files (it will pass Word and Excel documents to the iPad version of Pages and Numbers for editing). If you already have a personal Dropbox, you can set up a secondary one and access it through the web only. Works fine.
First issue is training the kids to work with these apps. Even if the most computer-enabled schools, kids rarely make use of spreadsheet applications. Thankfully Numbers is simple enough and we won't exactly be crunching logarithmic regression equations and plotting 5% error bars or anything. Pages is pretty straightforward, most of them make use of Word through English class. The math stuff like Algebra Touch, WolframAlpha, and GraphCalc HD will be new. My timeframe for the first in the wild use is late September, allows for a couple days to rotate them through a training station and that's the point where class rosters have settled, so less of a chance I expend the effort and the kid is out of my class the next day.
Second, some of you might be screaming "Google docs!!!!" and I hear you. Go play with Google Docs on an iPad. Just try it. See if you don't tear your hair out after 10 minutes. One day Google will fix it with a native editing app. The other problem with Google docs is the kids will have to individually sign in, I have to deploy the document with the right permissions, etc, etc. There will also be a few netbooks at my disposal for collaboration, but it still has the same many accounts problem. Via iCloud this all operates off one account that is perpetually signed in, the kids don't have to think about it.