8 Essential iPad Apps for the Educator

Recently, my wife and I were at dinner with a professor friend. She’s planning to buy her first iPad, and she asked us about apps that she should get after the purchase. Of course, my wife, who’s involved with education, and I started making a list right away. This is the end result of that discussion.

But first things first. Out of the box, the new iPad comes with some preinstalled utility apps that will help the new owner right away. There’s a good calendar app, a reminder app, Google maps, a camera app with a companion photo manager and music and video players. Also included is Apple’s Safari web browser and the email app. That set is nice, but it’s not everything an educator will need.

The art of teaching also requires one to communicate, present, write and manage information. Accordingly, here’s the result of that collaboration. The apps listed below are in no particular order, but we think this set is where any educator will want to start.

Utility Apps

KeynoteKeynote by Apple. US$9.99. Keynote is Apple’s version of Microsoft’s PowerPoint. As of this writing, PowerPoint isn’t available for the iPad, but Keynote is a perfect and powerful substitute. You can create beautiful and animated presentations on a Mac with the OS X version, in the iWork ‘09 package, and transfer files to the iPad, or you can create them directly on the iPad itself with the Keynote app, a best seller. To project your presentations on the big screen, see the Acessory section below.

PagesPages by Apple. $9.99. If you’re a teacher, you’re a writer. Whether it’s a lesson plan or a grant proposal, you’ll be writing. Pages for the iPad can save your work as either a native Pages document, compatible with the Mac version, or PDF or Microsoft Word format. If you move a native Pages document to the Mac, your options for saving expand to plain text, RTF and EPUB.

KindleKindle Reader by Amazon. Free. Whether it’s a fiction book for English literature or an physics text book, you’ll probably find what you need at Amazon’s massive book store. You’ll also be happy to carry around most of your books as digital copies rather than lug paper. Just be aware that most modern, for sale books have digital rights management (DRM) and can’t be read outside of the Kindle reader. The good news is that there are Kindle devices, like the Fire, as well as reader apps for the iPhone, iPad and Mac. You may also want to have Apple’s iBooks app, but be aware that there’s no iBooks reader for the Mac — plus Apple’s offerings aren’t quite as extensive.

PCalcPCalc by TLA Systems Ltd. $9.99 Whether you’re calculating a grade point average or a binomial probability, you’ll need professional calculator. While there are lots of free or 99 cent calculators for the iPad, many are cooked up by non-professionals and have been found to have various computational errors. As a professional, you just don’t want to go there. The one I recommend is PCalc by James Thomson, a developer who understands the science of computation. Plus, PCalc can go with with either algebraic or RPN notation.

PaperPaper by FiftyThree. Free. While Keynote is great for text and mostly pre-defined shapes, sometimes you’ll want a more free-form sketching app for drawings, art, doodles, back of the envelope calculations, paper-napkin-inspirations and so on. Paper has a great business model too. It’s free, but you can buy additional pens with different capabilities. It’s just a wonderful app for free-form drawing.

TAPTeacher’s Assistant Pro by Lesson Portal, LLC. $6.99. You’ve heard of CRM, Customer Relationship Management software. Well, this is student relationship management. This app has the tools you need to track student actions, achievement and contacts — but it’s not a grade book. (If you need to keep your own grades, I recommend FileMaker’s Bento, described below.) Teachers Assistant had received some very good reviews. And, of course, you can set a pass phrase to protect that content from prying eyes if your iPad unexpectedly wanders away.

The Weathe ChannelThe Weather Channel for iPad. Free. Teachers at all levels need to be aware of the weather, especially bad weather alerts. Schools are often used as shelters, but can also become tornado targets, and teachers need to be aware of alerts — or just plain bad weather, like snow storms. This app from the Weather Channel is my favorite. It has alerts, radar maps and detailed forecasts for your area.

Merriam WebsterMerriam Webster Dictionary-HD Premium. $3.99. It’s possible to use the Internet and Google as your dictionary, but sometimes you want a fast, authoritative, standard reference for words. I recommend the Premium/paid version of this dictionary because it doesn’t have advertising and no internet connection is required. Note that many utility apps are free because they track your habits, log your activities (or the words you look up) and so on. It’s better to stick with paid apps because they generally don’t depend on a business model that pries into your work. In fact, watch for that in all your iPad apps, especially the free ones.

All these apps above amount to only about $41. Finally, in terms of utilities, if you need a small, easy-to-use database, I recommend Bento by FileMaker, Inc. for the iPad. $4.99. It can be used for projects that go far beyond, say, a simple grade book. If you need a spreadsheet, there’s Apple’s own Numbers, $9.99. It’s part of the iWork suite such that, like Pages and Keynote, it has a counterpart on the Mac.

NoteshelfUpdate: May, 2, 2012.  Recently I reviewed “Noteshelf” from FluidTouch.  This app exceeds the capabilities of “Paper,” mentioned above, but it’s not free, at $5.99.  However, I think any student or teacher who takes notes or wants to project notes on a large display will find Noteshelf to be well worth the price.  It earned a 4.5/5 rating in its recent review and is highly recommended.

Social Apps

There’s only one official Facebook app, and that may or may not fit in with your educational duties and interests. However, there are myriads of Twitter apps, and that’s a matter of taste. The one I like the most is Osfoora by Said Marouf, $1.99. You might start there, and see how you like it.

Of course, every iPad owner should have a free Skype account and app for connecting with students and colleagues. It’s especially helpful if they’re traveling overseas.


To connect to a desktop projection system, you’ll probably need the Apple VGA Adapter. $29.00. Most portable and built-in projection systems in the classroom still use VGA, for broad compatibility, but be sure to check with your AV specialist. Also, this connector will not pass protected content, such as movies. But it’ll work fine for your own created content.

Apple VGA connector

Image Credit: Apple

If you need to display protected content on, say, a modern HDTV system with an HDMI connector, use the Apple Digital AV Adapter. $39.00.

Apple Digital AV Adapter

Image Credit: Apple

Most iPad users who are on the go use some kind of case for the iPad. One way to think of cases is which side needs protection. If you have a briefcase, backpack or some other carry case that protects the display, you may only need a case that wraps around the back. That protects it from dirt or scratches from a desktop or lab table. I have reviewed several of those, both polycarbonate and gel cases, but they were for the iPad 2. Be sure to check with the developer for iPad 3 compatibility.

If you need wrap around protection, one case that we liked a lot is the MicroShell Folio case from Marware. It doubles as a stand that can be set at various angles.

Marware MicroShell

Image Credit: Marware

And if you just need to protect the display, there is, of course, Apple’s iPad Smart Cover. Note that this cover likely won’t work with those that wrap around the back and edges, so you’ll have to chose just one way to go.

Wrap Up

There are over 200,000 native apps for the iPad, and as you use your iPad, you’ll find many more of interest than listed here. For example, apps that record voice memos or help with ToDo lists may be something to think about. In time, you’ll discover apps that suit your special needs and subject matter. However, Apple’s preinstalled apps and this set of initial apps and accessories should get you off to a great start.


Teaser Image Credit: Shutterstock

Author note: for an interesting perspective on students, iPads and app development, see “Mac in the Classroom: How a School got into App Development,” by Jeff Butts.