My iPad™ or Yours: Apps That Inspire and Inform

By Dr. L. Robert Furman, principal of South Park Elementary Center, South Park, Penn.

I love my iPad. I love its portability, its interface, and its ease of use. And I love all the stuff I can load it up with – stuff that makes my life easier and more fulfilled, stuff that allows me to communicate, work remotely, and remain on course as a lifelong learner.

The love of iPads is universal among adults and students, many of whom use them not just for recreation but also in the classroom. Just about anything a student does on an iPad instantly makes that thing cool, so why not use iPads to expand their neural synapses? While we’re at it, let’s expand our own neural synapses by loading our iPads up with our own communication, learning, and professional development tools.

  • Administrative Tech Tools: Dragon Dictation, the iTunes U app, and Learnist- Dragon Dictation is a voice recognition system that costs about $150 for a computer but is free (my favorite price) for the iPad™. It allows users to send texts and emails up to five times faster than with clunky typing. It’s also crazy accurate. The trick is to speak naturally. The one downside is you have to be on 3G or a Wi-Fi network for it to work.

  • The iTunes U app, downloadable from Apple or the iTunes store, gives you access to a virtual classroom where you can create and participate in free courses for students from kindergarten through college. Play lectures, take notes, read books, view presentations, keep track of assignments, and do just about everything you would do in a conventional classroom – aside from paying for it or having to go to it.

  • Learnist | Share what you know features what’s new in art, design, science, major categories of educational life. Click on an area of interest, and it searches the Internet for the latest developments. And you can merge areas. For instance, if i choose education and sports, Learnist will take me to the latest in sports education. It even has lifestyle, crafts, politics – you name it. You want the latest information, and Learnist serves it up for you on a virtual silver platter. Love it. You will too.

  • Literacy Tech Tools – and As a percussionist, music is my heartbeat. I was a band director before I became a principal, and I believe there’s something to all the research that shows music enhances learning. It simply makes for better, smarter students – and adults too, if you ask me. Using iMashup, music teachers can help students do a lot of cool things with sound equalization. Students can take two different songs from their iPads and beatmatch them together with perfect harmonic results. (Translation for non-musicians: It makes the beatmatch sound good.) For instance, a student could drop the sounds of a lead vocal in one song but still hear the vocals, bass, and rhythm of other song. Now, you’re probably thinking, “What on earth does this have to do with literacy, Rob?” That’s where – self-described as “the world’s largest community of artists, bands, podcasters and creators of music and audio” – comes in. Kids them share and blog about their harmonically flawless beatmatches on SoundCloud, and they can also discuss other people’s creations. So music isn’t just for music class anymore. Now it’s for all those special reading and writing classes you’re including in your class rosters.

Dr. Furman is a guest blogger for The Huffington Post and the author of Instructional Technology Tools: A Professional Development Plan. Email tips or questions to him at, or text him directly at 412-999-0449. Follow him on Twitter @DrFurman.
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