Jun 8, 2011

Top homeschool education iPad apps review: Part 1

Here is Part 1 of the Mansted Family Project's review of our top educational picks for the iPad. Whether you homeschool, after-school, have kids in bricks and mortar schools, teach kids in schools, or just love the iPad, these posts are for you.

Dreaming on
I really really really wanted an iPad as I hoped it would be a portable app device, e-book reader, movie viewer and all round kid entertainer. There aren't many physical, shopping-style "perks" for the homeschooling parent but the iPad is all that and more...Mike relented and we went shopping. 

Of course, this also meant getting the perfect case and here it is in red patent leather (from Cygnett in case you are wondering). This is the original iPad now known as iPad 1. I had to have the terry towelling background as a little virtual texture from Paddern.

Naturally, now the iPad 2 is here...hmmm (cease typing as now thinking v-e-r-y hard trying to come up with a justification to have 2 iPads...).

After a quick intro into how to use the iPad in your homeschool there follows in Part 2 a subject breakdown of apps. 

Practicalities of this review
Recommended ages are just guesses really - as usual your mileage may vary! Some are simply iPhone apps that work fine on the pad. We are a long-term Apple Mac family so some of these have been around on our iPhones for years.

Go to your computer's iTunes and then the App Store to find all of the following goodies, or indeed on your iPad go straight to App Store and get downloading.

Most of the following are free, some are cheap, and a tiny minority are between $5 - $30. The most I ever paid was $30 or so for the Australian Oxford Dictionary and it is worth every cent.

WARNING: dead Australian animal photo coming up...

The iPad is finally useful
With system updates that now allow printing, easy export of docs, and nifty apps that let you write on "top" of PDFs I think the iPad is incredibly useful in the home classroom. I am constantly finding PDFs of activities, article extracts etc on the web on our usual homeschool computer which I then save through iTunes onto the iPad.

It is an excellent tool used in this way for independent work.

How to use the iPad in your homeschool
Here are the obvious:
• to play youtube and downloaded videos
• to receive and read emails - especially useful for weekly kids' emails like Science by Email and Maths by Email which have articles, links, experiments and activities, a quiz and other goodies every single week!

• surf the net
• read a huge range of available PDFs or make your own. These PDFs may be as substantial as e-books or as specific as worksheets and activity outlines
• access educational apps (more on this later)
• create documents on Pages for homeschool writing and presentations on book reports, poetry, narratives etc 
• to draw

and the less obvious:
• to view photos up close for nature study drawings and diagramming (like when this unlucky brown bandicoot drowned in our pool, and became the honoured subject of biology study for drawings and classification subject)
• for a calculator big enough for everyone to see the working processes

• to access a dictionary like the incredible Australian Oxford Dictionary complete with etymology and audio files for pronunciation

• tour the solar system, learn the constellations on Star Walk, get the guide for your sky tonight
• virtual art gallery and museum tours

• to give your child a spelling test
• google maps for geography and learning local landmarks, understanding "birds' eye view" using satellite views, how to draw and read a map, and contours
• to learn and practice compass use

• to watch TV documentaries and indeed all kids and adult shows for free on apps like the ABC's wonderfully useful iView (Australian Broadcasting Commission)
• to learn and practice your musical notation and solfege scales for the choristers in your family as well as the instrumentalists

Putting your mark on iPad apps
The hardest thing for me to adjust to with the iPad was that it is really a read-only screen. It looks like a pad of paper but apart from the actual drawing apps, I haven't really had success with using it like paper. It isn't a truly creative tool! 

However, there are some simple (slightly clunky) apps that allow you to "write" on a PDF and save the 2 layers to email or print such as Sign-N-Send

Sometimes you just have to use "old" technology
Have a worksheet with just a few answer fields that you would like your child to fill in?

I actually prefer to use a layer of clear plastic (or overhead projection sheet) and a thin whiteboard marker laid over the screen. This has been great when you don't want to print out from a PDF worksheet  file yet your child needs to fill in answers. Strange and primitive, but it works! Just make sure that the clear film is a lot bigger than the screen to minimise smudges of ink on the actual screen. Just wipe the clear screen off with a cloth when finished. 

More than 10 fields to fill in? Just print it out and then you have a copy for your homeschool registration records.

Part 2 to come
To follow is the nitty-gritty reviews of the apps that are used in high rotation in our homeschool. I'll leave you with a few pics from Mike's mini homeschool coop day on building "simple machines". He used a youtube video on the iPad (see 3rd pic in post) while out in the testing area to explain pulleys and then they went on to create their own pulley system for lifting hairy mammoths (in case you are wondering, Mike was the stand-in for the mammoth).

How do you use your iPad?

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