The New York Times reports on the spreading use of the iPad in schools. In the article, Larry Reiff, an English teacher from Roslyn, New York, said, “If there isn’t an app that does something I need, there will be sooner or later.” The shortcoming of Mr. Reiff’s views and of the article’s focus is that the iPad can be more than a device to facilitate access to information or new apps. Kids need to be enlisted in the design and creation of iPad apps.
And, they are more than capable, as the story of Utah 14 year-old Robert Nay illustrates. His new app, Bubble Ball, “a physics simulator, challenges players to use objects and gravity to guide a ball to its destination.” His app has shot to the top of the charts, surpassing the ever popular Angry Birds.
Of course, his web programming learning curve grew outside of school and through his own initiative and passion. Ina Fried, from All Things Digital, writes:
“Although it’s his first game, Nay has been into computers for some time, including Web programming and helping others with their computers. When he’s not at the computer (or school) he also likes reading, especially science fiction, and playing the piano and trumpet. Some months back, a friend suggested that if Nay liked his iPod touch so much, perhaps he should try his hand at programming for it. At first he tried the standard Objective-C programming tools, but found the learning curve a little steep. He tried another tool called GameSalad, but didn’t like the results. In the end, he settled on the Corona tools from Ansca Mobile. Corona was easy to use, he said, and also let him write once and publish for both Apple and Android devices.”
Kids should be able to have app learning environments in schools. This is a perfect opportunity to embed design thinking into school curriculum. Kids in school communities can work together with different constituents to identify the needs of the community with app development. Schools can launch programming courses to help catalyze student interest and learning with technology and shift the focus to students as creators with technology, instead of just consuming new apps.
Mr. Reiff also comments, “It allows us to extend the classroom beyond these four walls.” This is no different than laptops, but the iPad is lighter, sleeker, and easier to walk around with on campus. With the remote keyboard, it is possible to transform the device into a laptop.
The article also highlights benefits that educators see: “Educators also laud the iPad’s physical attributes, including its large touch screen (about 9.7 inches) and flat design, which allows students to maintain eye contact with their teachers. And students like its light weight, which offers a relief from the heavy books that weigh down their backpacks.”
One of the challenges with laptops is that students can hide behind screens; with the iPad that’s less of an issue. Students can’t flip screens the way they can on laptops.
Alex Curtis, the head of Morristown-Beard school in New Jersey, in the Times article, comments: “It has brought individual technology into the classroom without changing the classroom atmosphere.” It may be that the iPad comes with less potential disruption from distraction with laptops.
An additional benefit, if schools move to adoption, is the ability to give access to a broad array of applications to students, and facilitate the home-school transition with school work and learning.