As more and more people are given iPad deployments (hello Los Angeles), the first question from everyone is "what are some great apps?"  This is an extremely loaded question and one that's not easy to answer. Spending the last year with a small pile of iPads, I've found the key to a successful and engaging deployment is not a magic app, but proper use cases. Apps replicating traditional activities like flash cards, note taking, or problem sets aren't pushing your lessons forward in a meaningful way, other than to check a box saying you integrated technology.

Last summer I started with a blank slate, having no idea what was really going to work. The homescreen I came up with and kept most of the year looked like this: 

The marked apps/folders are being changed for the upcoming school year. For the most part it had nothing to do with the quality of the app, they just simply didn't naturally fit with the lessons I had.

1: Photos/Videos were tucked away in a folder. Some kids tripped up trying to locate Photos when we needed it. 
2: Educreations is a whiteboard app that lets you do recordings. You can also bring in photos and annotate over them. SketchBookExpress worked a little better for this.
3: ShowMe is another whiteboard app that lets you do recordings. Again, have students record a lesson was not something that fit well with what I did, and sharing from this app is clunky, you have to have an account.
4: Algebra Touch lets students manipulate coefficients and variables by dragging them around. Some of the mechanics are weird and the operations were a little too simple for Algebra II. It'd be a good middle school/Algebra I companion.
5: GraphCalc HD got abandoned by its developer. By the end of the year the functionality of this app got trumped by desmos.

The best use cases I found with the iPads centered around exploring Maps, finding and sharing photos, and fiddling with desmos. As a result, next year's homescreen gets a lot simpler:

Let me introduce the two newcomers. 

1: Adobe Ideas (free)


It's just a sketching program, but the interface is a little simpler than SketchBookExpress. You can import photos and annotate over them, but in the current version, the photo is always the bottom layer, and you can only have one photo layer. Something like bringing in a photo and then bringing in a desmos graph to layer on top won't work. A lot of the sketching I had the kids do would work in this app though. Built-in sharing only uses Adobe's new Creative Cloud which I don't think has any free components. But I would assume just have the students take a screenshot of anything I'd want them to share. The built in photo roll shares really well.

2: desmos (free) 

When this released about a week ago, you could see the clouds open and hear the angels sing for yea, verily, this app is good. Not all the functionality of the desmos website is in here yet. For instance, you can't save (other than screenshots) and you can't enter data tables, but the sliders are here.  Response times from their web app got really good towards the end of the school year, but nothing beats native. I suspect there might be an update or two before school starts up again.

The take away from this should be how few apps are present on my student iPad homescreens. There is so much value in stock items that you should spend time investigating what they can do and not worry about trying to find the magic bullet, no matter how many Top 100 Edu-Apps articles get written. 

AuthorJonathan Claydon