Ok, it's time. The sooner I use the iPads and see if my crazy ideas work, the sooner we can see just what my capabilities are now. Through a tea-fueled lesson planning session, I came up with a couple things to try this week. Last week I also successfully got some playtime in with my Algebra kids and my iCloud depedency did not totally blow up in my face. Here's a summary of what I trained them on and a couple of use cases I'm going to implement this week. And sadly, the BIG list of disclaimers that will keep this stuff limited to my room.

Training Day

A big problem with teachers of all kinds and career lengths is that from time to time you assume the kids read your mind. That you can explain how to use a complex device/manipulative while the students are trying to complete an activity simultaneously. In the end, getting the device to work will get in the way of what you want to do. You will spend more time troubleshooting device problems and zero time troubleshooting math. To avoid this, I set up an explicit play date with the iPads to let the kids wander around in a couple apps I want to use and get familiar with some of the conventions. Secretly, it was also a way for me to see if iCloud document distribution to 10 iPads worked in practice. I am SO GLAD I had this training for reasons I will explain shortly.

What I walked them through:

  • GENERAL: tour of my default homescreen, taking a screenshot (the most valuable iPad skill ever)
  • MAPS: switching between map and satellite view, using the location arrow to locate the school
  • PAGES: creating a document, opening a document previously distributed through iCloud, tweaking fonts, adding shapes, renaming documents
  • NUMBERS: creating a document, opening a document previously distributed through iCloud, editing cells, changing data types, tweaking fonts, adding shapes, renaming documents
  • SKETCHBOOK EXPRESS: creating a document, playing with the paint brush
  • CAMERA: switching between front/rear cameras, looking at Photo Stream, seeing pictures drop in from other iPads
  • GRAPHCALC HD: zooming in and out of the grid, changing the background, plotting an equation, using the calculator


iCloud syncing its Photo Stream is absolutely brilliant. Using my teacher iPad to watch the photos and screenshots from 9 other iPads methodically plop in is a "welcome to the future" moment. Through this exercise I realized the Photo Stream is a very quick distribution system. Document distribution via Pages and Numbers worked pretty well. I was able to create something on the computer and had little trouble getting it to appear on all the iPads. SketchBook Express supporting cloud storage is huge too. It even syncs to my copy of SketchBook Pro on my teaching computer. Troubleshooting iPads is a breeze. I feel the pain of teachers in the early 90s having to make magic happen on the clunky computers of the day. The amount of things you don't have to worry about when working with an iPad is tremendous. Typically most problems were rectified with a 5 second trip to settings or a quick full quit/relaunch of an app.

This exercise was fantanstic for finding little quirks in my plan and helping me make adjustments before I deployed something for real. It also helped me ensure all the settings were the same across the devices. A few didn't have the right permissions.


I had to rethink my document distribution philosophy a little bit. My original intention was to pre-load a master copy of a document I wanted them to edit. The students would make a copy on the iPad, make the edits, rename, and we'd take a look. In practice, iCloud does NOT like when you fiddle with one document simultaneously. The problem is the way Pages/Numbers creates copies/new document. iPad A and B open Pages. iPad A makes a new document, Pages will title it "Blank" but you can't rename it right away. iPad B also makes a new document, Pages will title it "Blank" as well. In about 10 seconds, iCloud will throw an error to BOTH devices claiming a conflict because they both wanted to upload a document named "Blank." One or both documents must be discarded to dismiss the error. Same problem surfaces when you copy a document, they'll both be called "Blank 1." The solution is to pre-load a copy for each group (6 documents instead of 1) so that Pages/Numbers won't be trying to do something 10 times and freak out.

Numbers behaved well on all 10 devices we used. Pages would spaz out on a couple, not always able to get the latest information from iCloud. A full quit of the app did not resolve the error. The iPad in question had to be powered down and restarted. Thankfully, a quick process, but annoying. So for the moment I'm going to adjust and use Numbers. A couple of my iPads can't see the collective Photo Stream from time to time.


In Algebra II, we're playing around with proportions. We measure the real height of the students, and the perceived height of the students standing next to tall objects. We use the two perceived heights to reason out the real height of the tall objects (all between 16 and 30 feet tall). Students will collect all the data in their notebook. We will use Numbers to create formal versions of the data and solicit answers to a discussion questions. Upon saving I'll be able to pull up the data and we can compare results. I think this might prevent some groups from fudging their numbers if it becomes apparent they did something wrong if we just shout out our results.

A copy of the spreadsheet for every group in my two classes:


A close up of the spreadsheet:


The iPad is not enriching the math, but I think this falls under the other use technology should serve in the classroom: improving literacy. Kids are high tech these days, but with mine it is not a guarantee they've used an iPad before or used a spreadsheet before. Shoot, there's a subset of people that make it through college without using a spreadsheet.

In Pre-Cal, we just started piece-wise functions. In my War on Bad Lessons I want to generate more moments of inquiry and get them looking at things from a math point of view, shifting from "this is where you USE it in the world" to "this where you SEE it in the world." It's an important difference. So, after some warm up activities with evaluating a piece-wise, we'll talk about how they look as graphs. And then I'm going to send them on a hunt to FIND some.

Launch Maps, find any old set of streets in the area and take a screenshot:


Open Sketchbook Express, import from Camera Roll, and tease out the piece-wise function in their picture. Selection of pieces and where to put the axes is up to them:


They'll send the sketch up to the cloud and I'll put it up on the computer, or on my iPad using a VGA Adapter.

Conclusions and Caveats

Are the iPads essential in these lessons? No. Are they teaching skills relevant outside a math classroom? I think so. If you can grasp that concept right there, that the iPads are a tool for creating content, delivering content, and displaying content in a modern way, I think they succeed in a classroom. As dumb terminals for watching Khan videos? It's a waste. As a glowing version of a math problem set? It's a waste. ENHANCE the lesson, not TEACH the lesson.

And now the problems. You probably can't do all these things. I have no idea how you pull this off, because you need:

  • Pages, $10
  • Numbers, $10
  • 10 iPads (4 from class set, 3 from class set next door, 3 owned personally by me)
  • iPad VGA Adapter, $30
  • KVM Switch, $40
  • VGA Cable, $15
  • A Mac with desktop versions of Pages, Numbers, and SketchBook Express $CRAZY

Even with all this it won't have the penetration I want. In Algebra II the iPad will be a 5:1 use case (using my primary six) and Pre-Cal 4:1 (using all 9). What's that saying? Something about being close and far at the same time.

AuthorJonathan Claydon