iPadoPedia excerpt

BrainstormingBrainstorming: Of course brainstorming is possible without iPads—it just takes longer, is harder to structure, more difficult to make sense of at a glance, resistant to change and bound by the size of your whiteboard…

Why brainstorming is better on an iPad

No matter what props you call on, the core technical challenge in running a classroom brainstorming session is managing the flood of incoming ideas. In a pre-digital age, this meant making notes on a whiteboard, or a big sheet of paper on an easel, and not worrying too much about what goes down as long as it goes down fast.

Nothing wrong with that…until you need to substantially reword what’s already there, or move an idea from here to where it more logically belongs under that heading over there, or have to add an idea when the board is already full, or reorder what’s there, or find an idea that was raised earlier and is here somewhere

…all problems neatly solved by iPad’s dimensionless, searchable and readily editable approach to brainstorming.

No matter which brainstorming app you settle on, once you’ve run your first brainstorming session with an iPad, it’s very, very hard to go back to what you used to do before.


5 key advantages iPads have when brainstorming

(1) Flexibility

number_1It’s much easier for students to grasp what’s being listed if related points can be grouped, unrelated points can be separated, less important points can be relegated, key points promoted…all of this is dependent on being able to move points around. On a whiteboard that means erasing the point and writing it back in its new location, something that is not only clunky and time-consuming, but only possible if there still happens to be space where you need it.

On an iPad, you’d accomplish the same regrouping by simply dragging the item to its new location. Bingo.

Change your mind? Drag it back again. Or drag it under this heading to make it a subpoint. Or over there to make it a heading in it’s own right. Or over here to remove it from a group entirely. It’s all about frictionless and continuous restructuring, allowing you to nimbly organize incoming information in real time.

If you’re still not convinced by this, run a brainstorming session on a whiteboard, and then at session’s end, try to re-sort all those recorded ideas in alphabetical order. With the right iPad app, such a comprehensive restructure takes just seconds; with whiteboard and marker, it means so much fiddly erasing and rewriting and hang-on-does-anyone-remember-what-was-written-here-a-moment-ago that nobody would even try.


5 key advantages iPads have when brainstorming

(2) Clearer Structure

number_2Unlike your whiteboard scrawlings, most of the better iPad brainstorming apps have been put together by teams with graphic design expertise. The resultant clarity during brainstorm sessions is more than just aesthetics—it means that students are better able to see at a glance that this idea belongs with that; that both those notes are grouped under this heading; that this note is just an aside, while that point is very important…the clarity on screen facilitates clarity of thought.

There are ways of replicating such clear visual structure with markers and whiteboards, but unless you’re similarly trained in graphic design—and are prepared to constantly hold up the brainstorming session while you fuss about how all your notes look— it won’t come close to the effortless clarity that the right iPad app will bring.

A moot point, because even with graphic design training it’s all but impossible to write as fast as you need to, and still keep things looking clear, which segues neatly into reason no. 3…


5 key advantages iPads have when brainstorming

(3) Faster transcriptions

number_3The bottleneck in most brainstorm sessions is not the rate at which students can come up with ideas, but the rate at which those ideas can be captured. Given the basic trade-off that exists in handwriting between speed and legibility, traditional whiteboard annotation will struggle to keep up with the hands in the air.

So how is the iPad any faster? For a start, you can type notes, which unless you’re an index-finger-only-hunt-and-peck typist, is a much quicker way to get legible results. If you don’t like the on-screen keyboard—and it does take some getting used to—you can pair your iPad with a full keyboard, and type as fast as you do on your laptop.

It’s still slower than students can talk though…that’s ok, because as we’ll see, there are brainstorming apps that will allow you to simply record or video what is being said in real time. Alternatively, you could use the built in Siri software to dictate summaries of your own.

The point is, you have options, most of which are faster than what you’re used to, and all of which are clearer than those oversized doctor’s-prescription-scribbles that are trying to pass for classroom notes on your whiteboard.

Redefining Closure

5 key advantages iPads have when brainstorming

(4) Redefining Closure

number_4It’s such a silly thing, but it happens time and again: despite the fact that brainstorming sessions are supposed to be about the free-spirited collection of ideas, the physical dimensions of the whiteboard can end up dictating what constitutes finished. As the available recording space fills up, pressure grows to declare the session closed (we’ve got room for maybe six more ideas everyone); until it’s filled though, the brainstorm can feel incomplete somehow (c’mon! Lots of room left, let’s keep thinking). A whiteboard that’s mostly empty just looks like the group isn’t even trying.

Of course, ideas are not bound by dimensions like this. They fractal and grow organically, and the question of the physical space they occupy should be as meaningless as asking what a rectangle tastes like.

Connecting an iPad to your big screen in the classroom and brainstorming directly on the device removes such arbitrary closure triggers entirely. Unlike the fixed dimensions of a whiteboard, you can’t “fill up” the infinitely expanding and scrollable recording area on an iPad, which means you can always add more ideas as they come in, without having to cramp or shrink or compromise or erase. The virtual space used will always be filled exactly by the ideas recorded: add more ideas, and it will expand, delete ideas, and it will contract—there is no sense of “full” because it’s always full.

This is one of those little things that’s not little at all, because it changes how people think.


5 key advantages iPads have when brainstorming

(5) Persistence between sessions

number_5Having to interrupt and resume a whiteboard-based brainstorming session creates a problem of a different type for whiteboard users: Erasing a whiteboard after a brainstorming session means erasing all trace of that brainstorm session too; however keeping that information means you can’t use that part of the whiteboard—often most of it—for anything else in the meantime. Not convenient if Part 2 of the session isn’t scheduled until the beginning of next week.

iPads are not nearly so ephemeral or resource-hogging: brainstorm sessions can be saved, interrupted, resumed and shared, without compromising what the iPad can and can’t be used for in the meantime.

Better still, as we’ll see when we start to look at some of the various brainstorming apps, the sessions can even be asynchronous, so that students can continue to add ideas long after the original question was posed, rendering the whole issue of having to wait for Part 2 irrelevant.

How does your class brainstorm?

There are a plenty of brainstorm apps available, but the distinction between them is more than just branding—different apps offer different styles of brainstorming. I’ve listed several below, sorted by the type of brainstorm session you prefer to run:

Fast, text-based, just-get-it-down

Outliner based brainstorming: Just drag and drop to restructure ideas as they come in using Omnioutliner.

Outliner based brainstorming: Just drag and drop to restructure ideas as they come in using Omnioutliner.

Omnioutliner: Created by one of the best known productivity software teams for Apple and IOS, featuring a clean design and a simple drag-and-drop system for structuring information. It’s what I used for the initial brainstorming for this book, and is my go-to whenever I need to quickly organize masses of incoming thoughts. Relatively expensive but powerful—see how it works at the Omni website.
Sketches and diagrams and oh-gosh

Paper: Apple Design Award winning notetaking app, comes into its own for brainstorming sessions with a more artistic bent, and best suited to being able to run a session where your iPad is mirrored to a big screen or whiteboard. If you’re confident in your sketching abilities (or have students who are), you should take a look at the movie tour on the right of this page—this is a stunning app.

Classic Buzan-style mindmaps

If you’re familiar with classical radiate-from-nodes Buzan-style MindMaps, you’ll be immediately at home with iThoughtsHD or MindMeister: Again, you can drag and drop ideas wherever you need to, all on an expanding canvas that clearly shows how every idea is linked.

Traditional mindmapping: Fractalling your way to order has never been easier than with iThoughts HD. Note that this mindmap can continue to expand indefinitely—there’s no limit to the number of branches or nodes you can deploy.

Traditional mindmapping: Fractalling your way to order has never been easier than with iThoughts HD. Note that this mindmap can continue to expand indefinitely—there’s no limit to the number of branches or nodes you can deploy.

I find the whole process a little more fiddly than OmniOutliner—and therefore perhaps a little slower to get those notes down—but definitely higher on the wow factor, and a more accurate reflection of structure if the ideas are truly non-linear in nature. (The top-to-bottom workflow of Omnioutliner will be suggestive of a hierarchy even when none is actually present)

Capture it all on video or audio

Scribbie Pro: Offers a wealth of conventional notetaking tools, but also allows you to capture audio or video responses to then re-use later. For assessment purposes, you’ll end up with a useful archive of exactly who said what, but the various recordings also provide raw materials for a best-of multimedia recount at end-of-year class showcase events. (How would our students address urban poverty if they ran the country? Listen to what they had to say for yourself!)

Asynchronous Brainstorming

Mindmapping with online collaboration:  You’ve never brainstormed like this before. Popplet offers brilliantly intuitive mindmapping options that students can contribute to collaboratively, whenever they like, from wherever they happen to be.

Mindmapping with online collaboration: You’ve never brainstormed like this before. Popplet offers brilliantly intuitive mindmapping options that students can contribute to collaboratively, whenever they like, from wherever they happen to be.

If a question calls for more considered responses, some teachers prefer to give students an extended time window within which they can make submissions, rather than having everyone with their hands up at once and a ticking clock. VoiceThread and Popplet are two apps that allow students to contribute their own ideas—in their own time— to a running thread of responses, the former as verbal feedback that they audio record and upload (almost as if recording a voicemail message) the latter as a co-contributor to a collaborative mind-map, a highly visual format where every new node is labelled with the name of the person who contributed it.

Where are the students when they make the contributions? It doesn’t matter. They might be at home. They might be at their desk in the classroom. Or at a friend’s house. And if the Big Idea they’re about to contribute didn’t occur to them until two days after you posted the question, that’s no problem, because the entire brainstorm session will still be online, ready to add to.

In both cases, the class conversation is updated every time a fresh contribution is made—as well as responding to the original question, students can also respond to each other. The idea collection will grow organically, and can include many more (and much more detailed) responses than would be possible in a single in-class session. (See also the entry on discussions)



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ArchivingHow iPad makes a class Archive possible • Collecting everything your students have ever done • Creating portfolios for parent/teacher meetings • Setting up Best Of galleries • Getting written work into your Archive • Giving students access • Tagging student work so you can find anything instantly


AttendanceFaster, smarter ways to take the roll • Going beyond what’s possible with paper • Visual tap-to-mark-off photo-based roll options • Multi-purpose classroom admin tools • Replicating traditional rolls • Archiving paper records • Taking the roll in less than a second

Behavior Management

Behavior ManagementUsing iPad for daily orientations • Waiting-room style cycling announcements • Personalized runsheets for special needs students • Noise monitoring • Behavior gamification systems • Managing class chores • Turning students into celebrities • Using iPad as both a carrot and a stick


BrainstormingWhy brainstorming is better on iPad • Fast, text-based just-get-it-down brainstorming • Sketches and diagram based brainstorming • Classic Buzan-style mindmaps • Capturing sessions on audio or video • Asynchronous Brainstorming



Calculation with working(!) and rewind(!!) • Themed, fun and quirky calculators • Calculators on demand • Using iPad to measure everything from angles and distances to seismic activity • Conversion tools • Calculating with Siri and Google Search • Timers and Stopwatches


canstockphoto11121938Video analysis • Slow motion replays • Highlights and blooper reels • Virtual back page newspaper reports • Playbooks • Scoring and stats • Drill compendiums • Team management • Managing temporary groups within a squad


communication1Setting up group email for instant classwide contact • 
Alternatives to face-to-face meetings for busy parents • Creating an online document repository for students and parents • Plugging iPad into existing schoolwide communication management systems • Setting up a class website or blog

Creative Writing

canstockphoto3592668Using iPad to generate random creative writing triggers • Triggers for younger writers • Tools for fleshing out characters • Apps to help students find the right words • Drafting tools for poetry and lyrics • Planning and outlining • Writing collaboratively with iPad • Drafting, editing and proofreading


demonstrationsUsing iPad to create replayable video instructions • Archiving your demonstrations • Freeing yourself to teach more, repeat yourself less • How students can access your video demonstrations • Creating help-on-demand with QR codes • Student-created demonstrations • Using existing video libraries

Device Management

thiefMaking iPads harder to steal • “Branding” iPads for easy identification • Setting up a serial number database • Preventing damage • Recommended usage rules • Monitoring usage • Making students accountable: setting up a licensing system


discussionsUsing iPad to involve shy or unengaged students in discussion • Working with asynchronous discussions • Maintaining a record of who said what • Giving speeches to the class...from home • Recording and annotating discussions • Using iPad for groupwork assignments


canstockphoto4209397Apps for traditional flashcard-based test preparation • Going beyond what’s possible with traditional flashcards • Math drilling for basic arithmetic, tables, mental math tricks, pre-algebra, basic algebra and geometry • Options that work with the entire K-12 math syllabus • Spelling Drills • Foreign language vocab drills • Music drills • Gamification of drilling


Also included in the iBook

Handing in Work

Freeing yourself from needing USB drives • “bumping” ipads to hand in work • iPads and email-based submissions • Using DropBox • How your iPad can accept handwritten submissions

Managing Homework

Using iPad like training wheels for time-management • Standalone homework management apps • Syncing homework online • Using GTD to organize their whole week • Basic homework management with Calendar

Marking Work

Annotation options for iPad • Marking handwritten work • Going beyond written feedback • Iterative marking • Peer review • Pre-emptive marking • Marking by panel • Using your class Archive to calibrate your marks


Entering the post-photocopy age • Five reasons you can replace most of your photocopying with your iPad • Using your iPad as a scanner • Apps that turn handwritten words into wordprocessor-editable text


Using your iPad to plan the year ahead • Freeform planning • Managing the teaching day • National curriculum references • Referencing plans and notes from previous years • Planning classroom layout


Going beyond PowerPoint • Creating Keynote presentations on iPad • Non-linear presentations • Getting iPad onto the big screen in your classroom • Using iPad as a speaking prompt • Presenting directly onto your students’ iPad screens • Dazzling with Augmented Reality


Rapid repurposing of one source into many types of publications • Setting up a class blog • Creating a magazine-quality PDF • Turning work into an iBook • Creating a comic • Producing a class radio show • Building a self-guided kiosk • Turning assignments into a movie • How younger students can create eBooks


Setting up and working with paperless quizzes • Paperless testing with Google • Real-time testing with Socrative • Turning testing into a game • Students as quizmasters • Creating QR-triggered video walkthroughs of the answers • Adding mystery and anticipation: Using QR to reveal questions


The case for students doing most of their reading on iPad • The essential reading apps • Creating notes, bookmarks and highlights • Accessing a free library of all the classics (over 42,000 titles and counting) • Reading on the web • Deferred and curated reading • Magazines and journals on iPad


Turning field trips into publications • Adding high impact production values to raw media • Your excursion as a comic strip or slideshow • Creating written reports on iPad • Using iPad to edit and assemble video recounts

Report Writing

Using your iPad classroom Archive as a comprehensive student reference • Summoning examples of written work • Attendance and photo cheat-sheets • Tracking and annotating student behavior issues • Customizing your own records • Keeping your records secure


Collecting and organizing information on iPad • Setting up and working with curated resources • Researching with apps (atlases, encyclopedia, Wikipedia fractals • Resources for the classic elementary school units • Options for upper secondary students • Referencing and citation generators

Taking Notes

Getting past the input hump: using keyboards with iPad, writing directly onto the screen with styluses, or using iPad to annotate recordings • Working with Cornell or guided notes • Options inspired by traditional blank page notebooks • Indexed notes • Managing huge collections of notes • Notetaking with mindmaps • What notetaking with iPad means for students

Video Learning

Helping students work with tens of thousands of teachers • Auditing lectures from around the world with iTunes U • Curating YouTube and Vimeo for your students • Stealing brilliant ideas from great teachers • Commercial video libraries • Creating your own video library