Project Based Learning with iPads

projectKidsBringing learning to life – Bringing Life to learning!

To start with, I think Project-based learning is the future of education. It puts students into real situations where they have to:

  1. Act professionally
  2. be a team player
  3. understand their assigned role
  4. Stick to deadlines as a team
  5. Problem solve
  6. Project manage
  7. Communicate ideas

… I could go on for a while here!

Photo by USdagov

These are the skills the world,  employers, charities and universities are crying out for, far more than any specific content schools might have traditionally taught. The world is changing too quickly to be concerned with static content and these general skills that enhance one’s ability to learn new things quickly will be key to success in this century.

Fortunately, I don’t have to cover PBL in much detail as there are a number of sites and Youtube channels that do it brilliantly, especially EDUTOPIA and BIE.

Here’s Edutopia’s introduction:

Just one Important distinction!

Project-based learning is not ‘doing projects’. PBL is student-driven and specifically open to interpretation to ensure students learn through carrying out a project and not doing a project pre-designed by the teacher. They are driven to answer a ‘big’ question and carry out their inquiry and design in teams. They are also under pressure to present their results to a third party of some kind. The students decide on how to achieve the goals and are not carrying out teacher-designed tasks.

PBL APPS (version 1)

Here’s my quick representation of PBL by iPad App. The process is not necessary linear but the apps might help you start various stages and help students and teachers understand the task at hand.

i4S PBL Apps

Learning with iPad? Use the News!

Can any day’s world events or featured articles be tied to all learning objectives and make learning more meaningful?

One good use of student iPads is to appreciate that all creative output that comes from the device can feed directly from real-world stories, delivered by the various news apps. There should be one of any day’s events, stories or features that connects to a learning objective in any subject area.

The iPad can be used to produce media products or documents that cover how the story connects with the learning objectives in question. Appropriate news apps for your country or even local area can be used by the students to make learning more real and tangible.


Connect the learning to the story. It’s just a matter of asking the right question. 

How does the story:

  1. relate to current immigration issues?
  2. prove or disprove the wave equation?
  3. parallel the mindset of Macbeth in act I Scene V?
  4. show that humans need to change their approach to politics?
  5. indicate that health problems are linked to religion in more than one country?


These are just some examples (from the top of my head) but given that the news apps divide stories and features into categories, teachers should always be able to find something appropriate and design decent projects from it. It doesn’t have to be that exact day. Anything from the last week will still feature in the apps and offer a range of opportunities.  Connecting topics to real-world stories often humanises the context and engages students through an emotive connection. Studying weather patterns is one thing but connecting it to the effects of 8 million people loosing power after hurricane Sandy is quite a lot more powerful, especially if you demand solutions to their problems!

Fixed content - irrelevant?This approach to learning does go hand-in-hand with project-based learning and does not fit well with the more common approach of one-size-fits-all topic by topic approach (fixed curriculum factory schooling – see right). This is precisely why I encourage it. 21st Century learning, if it is to be engaging and successful (long-term) must appear relevant in today’s world. Separate from what school offers, information is delivered to students too easily and quickly for schools not to connect it to bigger learning objectives and discuss it’s meaning and impact.

Getting Started

Technical issue 1: The news apps don’t often allow for the saving of images or the highlighting of text.

Solution: Use the 2-button (Home+off) screenshot to grab content from the screen and crop using the photos app. These can then be entered into any iMovie project / keynote or in fact any app.

Solution 2: Many allow sharing through email. This will give you the website link and you can grab content using Safari with the normal copy-paste.

Remember copyright and kids should attribute their sources when using the material.

Technical issue 2: Which apps?

To save me a lot of time, here’s a good list but I would add 4 things:

  1. The Guardian Eyewitness app
  2. The Boston Globe Big Picture app (now US only?)
  3. Summly app (quick story summarizing – great for kids)
  4. BBC News App (might be the best one)
  5. Look for your local TV news channel, it might have an app that covers more local stories.

Technical / teaching benefit: Safe surfing
Using the News Apps gives you a simple internet filter and is safer for younger students over general internet surfing


Make want to teach relevant to today’s world because it is and always will be. Humans will always be human and so everything you want to teach still has relevance even if it’s to discuss the stark difference between ‘then’ and now. Make the students think and make connections, hopefully while tackling problems that have a real purpose.