Essential Paid iPad Apps for Schools

I’m not a big fan of Top 10 lists but after a year of experimenting with apps on iPads at school, it’s getting to that time when decisions need to be made on what apps we will invest heavily when the App Purchasing Program comes into full effect in Australia, hopefully soon( Yes, rightly or wrongly, I have been running multiple copies of apps from one account for testing purposes, waiting for Apple to release its Purchasing Program so we can be 100% legit. If they had it in place from the start, I would have done it from the start.) So I’m starting to put together a list of what I think are the essential apps that are worth spending the money on for bulk purchasing.

In making my choices, I’m considering multi-purpose apps that can be used across all curriculum areas, apps that take advantage of the multimedia strengths and apps that can help us use technology in new and innovative ways that can change the way we teach, not just do it the same way with a different tech toy. Some apps are needed to handle the shortfalls of the iOS in a shared network setting and others are chosen because they can make the iPad interact with other tech in the school.

I understand that for some schools the cost for a large number of apps for a 1:1 iPad setup may become prohibitive but in our setting of sharing small numbers of sets, the price is controllable. I’m also from an era where we spent (and still do ) $1000s on Microsoft Office licenses that restricted us to using 3 programs with creativity limitations or $1000s on licenses to use a couple of CD-ROMS that quickly became obsolete. For far less and with free upgrades, we can buy a wide array of apps that offer great creativity options for different learning styles. So here are my essential paid apps, in no particular order. Feel free to agree or disagree. (Prices are in Australian $, similar but sometimes slightly  more expensive than US prices, despite our dollar being higher!?!) Get an app like AppShopper to keep track of sales – I actually bought a lot of these apps at discounted prices. Also, even though I haven’t had access to it yet, my understanding is that The Apple App Purchasing Program discounts prices when apps are bought in bulk.(These prices are current as of August 22nd, 2012. Prices do change.)

FileBrowser ($5.49)– effective access of school network for transferring files through open in… command, transfer of picture/video saved to photo library, views a large range of files. Here is a post I did earlier on this app, including video instructions. It’s the best solution I’ve found for working with our school’s network and is an effective way to get a lot of work created on our shared iPads onto individual student’s folders. It means we can delete work on iPads when they are completed, freeing up space for others to use.

iCab Mobile ($1.99) – full featured web browsing with great downloading capabilities( especially video) and sharing functionality . Great for capturing clips of the internet that could then be imported into iMovie to make documentaries. The collaborative research possibilities are endless with the range of sharing options. I wrote about this app in this post on Safari alternatives.

Notability ($0.99) – Low cost word processing (if you don’t want to spend money on more expensive word processing apps more compatible with Word) with sufficient formatting and image importing and labeling. Its main function is as a  full featured note taking app with-

  • in app web browsing and web clipping ( great way to collect websites and quickly access them
  • note synced audio that links audio to specific notes automatically – great for reviewing presentation notes
  •  simple drawing capabilities including graph paper backgrounds for creating hand drawn graphs and charts
  • efficient filing system for sorting and organizing notes including search. In a 1:1 iPad environment, this can enable Notability to replace multiple exercise books, with each subject having its own category for all related notes.
  • Good file transferring setup with automatic syncing to Dropbox and other options.
  • Can save as native Notability file to open on another iPad or as PDF or RTF ( which can then be edited in Word if necessary. )

GoodReader ($5.49) – my favourite PDF annotation app because of its extensive file system and sharing options. Can link to all major cloudservers, mail systems, WebDAV, etc. for sharing files with other students or staff. Save a truckload of paper by avoiding handing our photocopies ( that then get lost or damaged ). Set up folders in your favourite file servers that students and teachers can download PDF versions of anything you want them to read and work with. You can create Folders for arranging and storing files. A great range of annotation tools for taking notes on PDFs, including highlighting, multiple shapes, text annotation, underlining and arrows/pointers.

Explain Everything ($2.99)
This screencasting app is one of my favourite apps for use at school. There are free alternatives but they are linked to online accounts or lack saving options or advanced features. If you can afford this app over ShowMe or Educreations, get it.

  • Useful across all curriculum areas
  • Alternative to PowerPoint for Slideshow making (instead of buying an extra app like Keynote)
  • Great way for creating tutorial videos for flipping classroom
  • Can be used to record student work in any subject, including audio recording of the student’s thinking and explanation accompanying all of their drawing, writing, working out, notes
  • Can save as videos to photo library which is not an option in some of the free screencasting apps

SonicPics($2.99) – A really simple to use app for any age group ( Grade 1s have used it at our school ), SonicPics is a great way to collect photos together into one file and add commentary. Because of the portability and multimedia capabilities of the iPad, you can take it on excursions with junior grades, snap some photos and record the students’ comments right on the spot. Of course, you could come back and do the recordings in class. The fact that all you have to do is import photos and swipe from one to the next while the audio recording is operating makes this a breeze to operate. Great for language experience, oral language practice, recording ideas for writing, reflecting on and reviewing Maths experiences,working with children with special needs who may not be able to write but can talk about the pictures in front of them. a simple, must have app for me.

Strip Designer ($2.99) – I believe in the power of comics as a communication tool. This comic creation app is easy to use and offers a great range of creative options to allow children to plan, tell and retell stories, record reflections and brainstorms, organise explanations and procedures across curriculum areas, make posters… the list can go on. I love the Comic Life app too, especially the Mac version, and in some ways it looks more polished, but Strip Designer is cheaper and has more options. Features include:

  • basic drawing tools to create your own artwork for your comic
  • lots of photo editing and filter options to alter the imported photos
  • Multiple page creation to make a full scale comic book using a large range of comic panel templates
  • Text editing ( reshaping, resizing, colour)  to make graphic Titles
  • Highly editable speech bubbles and text boxes for recording ideas or narrations
  • “Stickers”  add graphics that enhance the comic’s story telling capabilities
  • Exporting options include iCloud, Dropbox, email, Facebook, Flickr, PDF export, emailing or export to iTunes Strip Designer file to edit on another iPad and save to Photo Library as image ( one page at a time)

iMovie ($5.49) – it’s not in the same league as its Mac Desktop companion but coupled with the built in camera and audio capabilities its a great, quick way to put together an edited video with basic titles, sound effects, back ground music and transitions. It’s easy to use once you work out its idiosyncracies ( it has a good help section that explains each function in detail). In a 90 minute class today with Grade 5 students, all students were able to record, edit and publish videos in one session with a five minute overview of features at the start. The students were absolutely absorbed in the process ( the grade tends to be a noisy bunch in general). Students from Grade 2-6 at our school have created iMovies this year with iPads in Maths, Religion, Inquiry, PE and Literacy. Multimodal texts are an important part of learning today and being able to create them, not just view them is essential. iMovie on iPad makes it easy for young students. I’ve just started investigating Avid Studio on iPad – it has a lot more features which I will probably find more useful, and older students might as well – but for simplicity and expediency, I think iMovie is worth the cash.

Creative Book Builder ($4.49) and Book Creator for iPad($5.49) – I put these two apps together as they both create ebooks – Creative Book Builder has more features and a workflow more suited for older students ( late elementary/primary or middle school); Book Creator can be used even by Kinder/Prep students. I think both (or either) of these apps are essential in today’s classroom where we are trying to make writing more authentic by providing an audience to our students. Students at my school from grade 1-6 have already published ebooks across a range of curriculum areas and seen their publsihed books being read by other students in other grades on the iPads. It’s a great incentive to the writers to see other people read their books. We can even email the books to parents to read on their iDevices at home. Both apps allow text, photos and video to be included in the books. Creative Book Builder lets you include weblinks, glossaries, tables of contents, charts and tables in your books. This allows students ( and teachers) to create complex non fiction texts.

Numbers ($10.49) – Apple’s iWork apps are all useful but a little costly buying all three. Notability can do a good enough job as a word processor, Explain Everything can be a Keynote substitute. Numbers, though, as a spreadsheet app is necessary. It’s not a perfect spreadsheet app and is no Excel in terms of overall features but then I’m talking about students not office workers or adult professionals. Spreadsheets are underused in Maths classrooms often because Excel is full of functions that make it too complicated. I love Numbers’ simplicity. I’ve been using it a lot with my extension Maths group recently to support problem solving and modelling using graphs. They have been absolutely engaged in using the app and love how they can easily make several separate charts for related tasks on the same page. The touch screen workflow seems to come easily to them as was dragging graphs and spreadsheets around the iPad screen. Having easy access to an app that can quickly create data and graphs for analysing in all curriculum areas is a big advantage. Critics of Numbers have to stop evaluating it at an adult level when talking about its use in education. I think its a winner, especially in Primary and Middle School grade levels.

Wolfram Alpha ($1.99-drop in price recently from $4.49) – A powerful app for searching for information. Click here for more info about this app – it has too many features to explain. For Maths, though, I find it indispensable.

Garageband ($5.49)– As a Music teacher among other things, I love this app. But it can be used for so much more. Students have used it to create Radio programs, mixing different recordings of news, interviews, competitions, talkback, music ( created in Garageband or imported in). The drag and drop UI of Garageband makes this process so easy. Other students have used it to record songs they have written as creative responses across subjects, adding voice and music. Other uses have been Readers’ Theatre recordings and recording children read for assessment and feedback purposes. And yes, I have also had students create their own multi instrument musical masterpieces in music workshops. For  creative purposes, Garageband is a must have.

SplashTop (Currently $7.49 but was $0.99 last month – keep an eye out for price drops because it regularly changes) – A great app for wirelessly accessing and controlling a computer from your iPad. Great for moving around the room and letting  students control what’s on the interactive whiteboard your computer is connected to. Needs the free Splashtop Streamer installed on computer

Reflection/AirServer Not  iPad apps but an app to install on your whiteboard-connected computer. This is a much cheaper option that Apple TV. It allows you to project any iPad screen in the classroom onto the whiteboard. Students in my grade have loved showing their work on their iPads with a simple swipe and click on the Airplay button. More info on their websites. ( click on the links at the start of this  paragraph.)

These are my must haves. I love Art Rage ($2.99) for realistic artwork and Snapseed ($5.49 now but I got it for free – watch for sales) for easy photo editing if you want other creative options. I’m sure different teachers have different favourites and I’d love to hear about other essentials from readers. Technology is not cheap but sometimes if you want the best, you have to pay for it. ( Total cost of listed apps at current prices $64 – with an eye on sales you can get much cheaper). I wouldn’t go into an iPad classroom without these.

COMING UP – Essential Free Apps.

11 thoughts on “Essential Paid iPad Apps for Schools

  1. Thanks for the thorough list! Question about two of your choices. Why buy the Wolfram app when going to the website on the iPad Safari browser seems to do the job? I must be missing something there and would appreciate your insight.
    The second app i’m curious about is GoodReader. After I started using Notability, I haven’t used GoodReader. Can you clarify why I would need both? Thanks!

  2. Jeanne, I get what you say about Wolfram Alpha. The basic functionality is free on the website and is probably enough for most. What I like about the app is the built in extended keyboard ( only available in pro version on web ) that allows for more efficient inputting of equations for math purposes, the ability to save favorites and record search history and the category examples are far more extensive in the app which help teach how to use Wolfram Alpha effectively.The app is optimized for iPad which makes it more user friendly but yeah if the basics are enough, save the couple of dollars and use the website.

    As for Goodreader versus Notability,again it comes down to personal preference. I’ve used Notability for annotating and I find it a bit clumsy to add text to PDFs and the highlighting is freehand which makes it a bit messy. I appreciate the clean interface of Goodreader’s annotation tools – more precise and more options. Notabilty ha great syncing options but GR has more. I prefer to keep Notability for writing notes and GoodReader for annotating. again I can see how there is duplication of uses but personal preference for me is having both.

  3. You’ve mentioned how you handle office docs, but for me Office2 HD is a must-have. It lets you create and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and can access Dropbox and Google Drive (amongst other things) so that you can seamlessly move from pc to iPad. It’s not quite as well designed as Pages, Numbers, or Keynote but it costs less than any one of them and lets you edit all three file types!

    • Chris, I have Office2HD as well and it’s a good solution that I’m happy to recommend. It does have great sharing/syncing/networking options. It’s more because I like Numbers and I’ve suggested alternatives for Word and PowerPoint than Office2 not being good.

      • I’ve heard that Office2HD does not do well when you have pictures in a word doc and save to Drive. The formatting is off. Have you noticed this?

  4. Thanks for the list of apps! Used Splashtop last year and plan on installing the Reflection/Airserver on PC this year. Also, I played with Notability this summer, to test out the Dropbox integration.

    Do you find that students can use the Explain Everything app usefully? Or are there just too many tools/options? Something like Educreations or ScreenChomp might provide more simplicity and the most needed tools.


    • Thanks for reply, Dan. I agree Explain Everything has a lot of options but I’ve used it quite a bit with my Grade 5/6 students and they have good control over its features. Probably for younger kids Educreations and Screenchomp ( or ShowMe) are easier to use but as I said in post, EE is the only app that can be saved to photo library – the others save to a website. The post is about paid apps – the others are free and I would have them in my free list for the younger grades. Explain Everything is my choice for older students and definitely teachers.

  5. This is certainly a nice list of apps and I can see how each of these would be used in a classroom. This is, however, a very expensive list of apps. If each device needs to purchase these apps this is an costly exercise. Even in a 1:1 model that is parent funded it is a big ask for parents to find another $65 on top of the price of the device itself and I would imagine that further apps would be identified down the track. I would imagine that most schools would need to source free or cheaper options for some of these apps.

    • Greg, thanks for comment. I agree for many it might be expensive; I actually close the post acknowledging that. However, from my understanding the Apple volume Purchasing program, which I have been told will be introduced in November in Australia, cuts the price of app purchases by half. Having said that,cost is an issue to be discussed at individual school level and solutions can be varied. At my own children’s school, which has gone 1:1 each student was given a $50 iTunes card to purchase apps. Our school, which is going down the shared sets of iPad route, will be considering sets of specific apps for different levels, so The $10 Numbers app would not be purchased for the juniors as they wouldn’t be using spreadsheets. The $5 Goodreader app would also be unnecessary for them so we would only purchase for the senior grade iPads. This would free up some cash for apps more suited to juniors. Also, yes there are free alternatives to some. As I mentioned, ShowMe/Educreations/Screenchomp are all free alternatives to Explain Everything but lack the ability to save as videos to camera roll. As noted by Jeanne in her comment, many will choose Notability over Good reader.
      It’s a hot topic though as price is always a concern

  6. Great list of apps, Mr. G. Our district also maintains some similar lists of recommended free and paid apps. I find that the lists go stale after a few months and need constant pruning and curation! Thus the sharing of good for all of us.

    We are deploying sets of 30 into K-5 schools. We use Configurator to clone them and set profiles for wifi and restrictions. They are shared between many classes so we need strategies for managing student projects and files. I see you are a fan of FileBrowser. Can you share how you use this with students (workflows, strategies).
    Here is our website for Mobile Device Support in Abbotsford School District

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