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Kids and Tablets: The Perfect Match

Jacqui Murray


Kids love tablets, especially iPads. It doesn't matter that they won't run most software, don't have USB ports, don’t run Flash applications, allow very little storage, and can't easily print because kids aren't using them for that. In fact, according to a report from the UK's MailOnline, most kids use tablets to play games, watch videos, and access the internet.

Which is different from how students (as a subset of 'kids') use tablets.

As a tech teacher, frequently employing iPad apps for teachers, I think that kids don't email, they prefer to text. Yet according to the second article linked above, it's the second most-popular use for kids utilizing tablets. At the very least, I would have put it behind “reading books,” an activity probably at the cusp of why kids received the tablet: Parents want to encourage reading.

Let’s examine two popular uses of tablets in the classroom and one custom-built use of the tablet that could revolutionize the classroom of the near future.

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What really got my attention in the above article was that 40 percent of kids use tablets for note-taking.

Sure, that's a lot, but I expected more. In fact, let me go on the record that this number will increase substantially when students get used to having a tablet in their backpack.

“Note taking” is what I'd consider the proverbial “killer app” when it comes to tablets and education, including iPad apps for teachers. What could be simpler than a student pulling out his tablet any time he needs to take notes -- with the keyboard or a voice recorder? S/he can even tape an entire class or lecture for review later.

Students who can't make class (sick, family emergencies, whatever else keeps kids out of school) can arrange with the teacher to tape it by activating both parties' (free) Google Voice. Watching a movie is good too -- a large file, but Google Drive (accessible from tablets) can handle it easily and then share it with whoever needs it.

Other good note-taking apps, which are also useful iPad apps for teachers, include the built-in Notes (basic, but functional), Google Docs and Notability -- I know there are more.

The ability to take notes is not the problem. The issue is getting students used to that -- which means getting teachers used to it. At some point, both parties will recognize the synergy and no one will use paper and pencil anymore.

Digital Textbooks

Another killer tablet app is the digital textbook. The late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, believed textbooks to be an $8 billion market ripe for "digital destruction." Publishers seem to agree.

Every month sees more interactive, colorful, intuitive books popping up in classrooms around the world. All the major book resellers -- Kindle, Barnes and Noble (what's left of them), Amazon -- are in this market, as are dozens of other companies specifically focused on provisioning students (i.e., Chegg).

Digital textbooks are easy to carry, cheaper, and more durable. They're also easily updatable, which allows schools to keep curriculum current. But so far, the product hasn't lived up to its hype. Publishers say once they come up with features like note-sharing, digital annotation, instant quizzes, links to social networking, videos and the ability to add third-party content, the future will be unstoppable.

And, if you have a tablet, you'll use it to read digital texts.

Purpose-Built Tablets

Purpose-built tablets are the type you see in medical environments where a doctor can access information and not be distracted by anything unrelated to the patient. You may have seen your plumber use these, too. He came to your house, swiped through his company prices and services to come up with exactly what you needed, and when he finished, took your payment and digital signature. Wow.

They're now coming to a school near you. Student-ready tablets suited exclusively for academic environments such as Educational Resources' LearnPad come complete with standard school materials, specific Internet access and apps integrated with the school curriculum. No distractions. No social media. No videos that weren't cleared. No oops-your-child-saw-what?

These tablets provide access only to the digital places students need to go -- online sites, digital books, specially picked videos -- and Flash isn't a problem (Flash is back). Students love them because they're digital -- which means they're cool and cutting-edge. Teachers love them because they focus on what needs to be studied.

Yes, there are a whole lot of reasons students use tablets, but so far, none has taken off. One will, I assure you. What I don't know is if it'll be note-taking, digital textbooks, or purpose-built tablets that will turn tablets from the poster child for education reform to real change.

What do you think?

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. 

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