24 best iOS apps for school, college or university

31st Oct 2011 | 12:10

24 best iOS apps for school, college or university

Top educational apps

Introduction and primary school apps

At schools around the world, change is afoot. Big, big change, driven by technology. We're not talking electronic whiteboards or classroom projectors. Those were both minor advancements compared to the sea change we're seeing unfold at the moment.

At the centre of this technological revolution isn't a traditional computer, but the iPad and iPod touch. They're proving so popular that some schools are providing every pupil with one of their own.

To find out what sort of impact these devices are having in our schools and colleges, we spoke to those involved in rolling them out, and discovered how they're being used and what the best apps are.

Combining their recommendations with our knowledge of the app market, we've got a definitive list of the apps that will turn the iPad, iPhone or iPod touch from a blank slate into the perfect educational companion for you, your children or your pupils.

And don't forget about iTunesU on the iTunes Store, which is jam-packed full of educational material. It's natural, though, that such a huge change to the way our schools teach will raise plenty of questions from parents, teachers and students alike. So let's start by answering these, to help turn anxious minds into enthusiastic ones!

Ask any parent and they'll tell you how much kids love the iPad. So whether they're in pre-school or year six, here are some must-have fun apps to help kids' learning

1. iThoughtsHD

Map out your ideas
Price: £6.99
Works with: iPad
Size: 5.9MB


Spending ages staring at a blank sheet of paper (or an empty Pages document) when someone asks you to write them a story is incredibly disheartening. But with the iThoughtsHD mind-mapping app (also on iPhone; £5.49), kids can quickly sketch out their ideas, adding thoughts without things becoming a mess.

Easily increase the size of key words, drag others into place, and when they're ready to start writing, send the mindmap to another app. It's a favourite with primary school children, who find it a really helpful brainstorming tool.

2. Intro To Letters

Start learning the alphabet
Price: £2.99
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Size: 60.1MB


As seen on Apple's TV ads, this app will teach kids the letters of the alphabet from an early age. Combining both single letters and common groupings, your little ones can practise writing by tracing over the characters with their fingers or a stylus. There are arrows to guide them along the way, too.

Intro to Letters does more than just teach them to write, though; it's packed full of sounds to help kids with pronunciation, and they can record themselves talking and listen back to it. It's a lovely interactive way to introduce children to the alphabet and the world of words.

3. Britannica Kids - Rainforests

One of Britannica's range of children's apps
Price: £4.99
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Size: 192MB


Designed to bring the wealth of Britannica knowledge to children, the range of 'kids' apps covers topics including volcanoes, the solar system, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome and, in this case, rainforests.

The Britannica Kids apps are a great source of information for homework projects. Alongside an illustrated listing of animals found in the rainforest, there are articles covering everything from the native plants to threats the habitat faces. You've also got beautiful photographs of forests around the world, plus interactive elements, including a browsable world map with images pinned to it, and several puzzles to tackle.

4. Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus

What it says on the tin…
Price: £13.99
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Size: 29.3MB


Now there's no need to carry round a bulky dictionary and thesaurus, because all that information's right here in one place. Useful for adults and children alike, the Search bar of the Oxford Dictionary app is a brilliant timesaver, and you don't need to be connected to the internet to use the app – everything's stored right on your device for easy access.

5. BrainPOP UK

Works with: iPhone/iPod touch/iPad
Price: Free


BrainPop shows kids an animated film every day to teach them something new. Great for general knowledge.

6. World Atlas HD

Works with: iPad
Price: £1.49

World atlas hd

Browse the world using National Geographic's atlas, which includes key stats per country.

7. MathBoard

Works with: iPad
Price: £2.99


From simple addition to trickier division and multiplication, MathBoard is a lovely way to practise maths.

8. GeoMaster

Works with: iPhone/iPod touch
Price: 69p


Test your knowledge of the world's countries and more with a variety of GeoMaster puzzles.

9. Toca Robot Lab

Works with: iPhone/iPod touch/iPad
Price: 69p

Toca robot lab

Let your little ones design their own robot and then fly it through a series of puzzles with Toca Robot Lab.

10. Alphabet Fun

Works with: iPad
Price: £2.49

Alphabet fun

Alphabet Fun is a popular interactive app for teaching young children about letters, numbers and colours.

Secondary school

Take the iPad to school and you can do more than just play Angry Birds during breaks. Whatever subjects you take or teach, there's an app here just for you…

11. Things

Never miss a deadline again!
Price: £6.99
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch
Size: 3.3MB


It's a a horrible sinking feeling to realise you haven't finished an assignment on the morning it's due in.

Things (also on iPad; £13.99) is an easy way to stay on top of your to-do list, helping you keep track of one-off tasks and longer-term projects. The app will alert you when a due date's approaching, too, so that there are no nasty surprises on hand-in day…

12. Evernote

Organise your notes
Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Size: 11.7MB


Make sure you never lose bits of paper with notes on again – instead, type them into Evernote and they're stored on the web to be accessed from anywhere you're online. You can add images to your notes straight from your device's camera, too.

These appear alongside the notes when you're browsing, which makes it easy to find what you're after. With your collection of notes growing, keep things organised by using notebooks and tags. And if you have an iPad 2 and Smart Cover, check out the free Evernote Peek app, which uses the folding cover to create a brilliant revision helper.

13. Pages

Create and edit stylish text documents
Price: £6.99
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Size: 87.9MB


Whatever subjects you take or teach, you're going to need a good word processor, and Apple's Pages is an ideal choice. It'll easily open and save Word documents, you can share your work over email and, when iOS 5 launches this autumn, it will work with the free webbased iCloud sync service.

Beyond basic text editing, you can format your documents into multiple columns, add images, tables and charts and then print the results over AirPrint.

14. The Elements

Chemistry is beautiful
Price: £9.99
Works with: iPad
Size: 1.71GB


Brighten up chemistry by exploring this interactive periodic table. Elements contains a vast amount of scientific information about each element, plus a 3D model of them all. There's also a page of facts about each entry, showing you real-life uses – we've been genuinely surprised by what we've learned!

15. Keynote

Works with: iPhone/iPod touch/iPad
Price: £6.99


Keynote enables you to knock together dazzling slides, or play PowerPoint and Keynote presentations from your device.

16. iTranslate

Works with: iPhone/iPod touch/iPad
Price: Free


iTranslate is an attractive app that taps into Google Translate and offers text-to-speech in other languages.

17. Graphing Calculator/HD

Works with: iPhone/iPod touch/iPad
Price: £1.49

graph calculator

Plot equations on cartesian axes, view tables and find intersections with Graphing Calculator 3D.

18. Numbers

Works with: iPhone/iPod touch/iPad
Price: £6.99


Bringing style to spreadsheets, Numbers lets you create tables, charts and more besides.

19. ArtRage

Works with: iPad
Price: £4.99


For budding and established artists alike, ArtRage is a feature-rich yet easy-to-use app.

20. Scientific Calculator – Pro

Works with: iPhone/iPod touch/iPad
Price: £2.99

Scientific calculator – pro

This Scientific Calculator app from powerOne is essential for maths or any of the science subjects.

Apps for university

Forget lugging round a heavy laptop – with our hand-picked selection of apps, your iPad, with its amazing battery life, is the perfect study companion for uni or college

21. University Apps

Add audio to written notes
Price: From Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

Uni apps

Lots of universities have their own apps, which can include lecture timetables, student union events, maps and more. Search for your uni's name on the App Store to see if it's there.

Two other useful ones worth knowing about when you're deciding which university to go to are the World University Rankings by Times Higher Education and Prospectus Library.

22. Notability

Never miss a thing in a lecture again
Price: £1.99
Works with: iPad
Size: 17.2MB


No matter how fast you type, you're never going to note down everything that's said in a lecture. But when using Notability, it doesn't matter, because as well as letting you type notes as you go along, your iPad makes an audio recording of the lecture, so you can always go back to listen over bits you missed.

Better still, you can tap any point in your notes and play what was being said at the time you wrote it – no need to listen through the whole recording to find the bit you're after.

23. Papers

Manage research resources
Price: £10.49
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Size: 11.1MB


Reading research papers is a key part of most degrees, but it's easy to lose track of useful ones you find. Papers works on the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac, and is a one-stop-shop for finding, organising and annotating papers you find as you go about your research for essays and dissertations.

24. Dropbox

Access all your work from anywhere!
Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Size: 8.7MB


When you're working on multiple machines – as you inevitably will be – you need some way of syncing your files between them all. Dropbox, which offers 2GB of online storage space for free, allows you easy access to your stuff on the iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, as well as on any computer using its app or a web browser.

iOS in the classroom

Schools across the country are rolling out iPads, so we caught up with a few of the frontrunners to find out how they've managed it and see how they're getting on

iPad schools

A classroom full of iPads or iPod touches isn't the future: it's happening right now at schools up and down the country. From Kent and Somerset in the south all the way up to the reaches of Scotland and Northern Ireland, Apple's gear is being embraced by teachers, parents and schoolkids alike.

At the forefront is Apple Distinguished Educator Fraser Speirs, who's overseen the rollout of iPads to every pupil at Cedars School of Excellence in Scotland, and doing so has completely transformed the classroom, enabling the school to tailor learning to the needs of individual children.

"We combined several classes together to teach the kids about the water cycle. They were told to go and find out about it using the iPad, then come back and show that they understood it," Speirs explains. "So some wrote about it, some drew animations, another took a screenshot of the Maps app and annotated it," he continues.

And the exciting thing is that the iPad's potential is growing all the time, thanks to the ever-increasing number of apps. "Over the year we've had it, the iPad has become more capable," Speirs enthuses. "I can now use it for HTML editing in computer classes – a year ago there wasn't an HTML editor, now there are several. So as we in the school get better, the iPad gets better."

Providing an iPad to every child in a school may seem like an expensive undertaking, but Speirs is at pains to stress just how cost-effective the iPad is. "A ballpark figure for the cost of the iPads is roughly £12.50 per pupil per month over three years – now when you divide that cost over the budgets of seven or eight departments, look at the value that device delivers. It's changed the school in ways we couldn't imagine and there have been much deeper savings than we'd expected," he explains.

Big savings


"It's a mistake to look at the iPad as a way for a school to save money on textbooks," Speirs says. "You have to think about the cost of art materials, science equipment, classroom toys for the youngest kids, pens and paper even. So many things that used to be equipment we needed to buy are now software for the iPad."

Even if a school can't or doesn't wish to cover the full cost of providing iPads across the board, there are other options. Longfield Academy in Kent is rolling out 1,400 iPads as part of an opt-in scheme, with the help of monthly parental contributions and a £5,000 grant from the e-Learning Foundation.

The organisation's chief executive, Valerie Thomson, says that the level of take-up from parents shows just how popular the iPad is. "Quite a lot of the cost will come from the parents at Longfield. They could have said no, but there's been a tremendous uptake – about 60% already and they still haven't heard back from everyone," she tells us. "Parents can see the relevance for coursework and other work, so they've completely bought into it.

"iPads do everything that a laptop can do, plus they start up much more quickly – if you've only got 40 minutes to get 30 children into a classroom, focused and learning, you don't want to be waiting for slow laptops to boot up and log on," she says. "And when you have different abilities in your classroom, you can tailor what different children are doing to their abilities. As long as the teachers are as good as the children at understanding the possibilities of what the iPads can do, the opportunities are endless."

At Wallace High School, near Belfast in Northern Ireland, Apple Distinguised Educator David Cleland is overseeing the introduction of 500 iPads. The school says it chose the device because it helped create a seamless transition between working at school and at home.

The iPad's not the only option when it comes to using iOS in education, though. While the iPhone's difficult, due to the need to make ongoing contract or pay-as-you-go payments, several schools have bought their pupils an iPod touch each.

The Taunton Academy in Somerset recently bought 60 iPads for use in class, but got a further 600 iPod touches to give out to its pupils. Interestingly, the headteacher pointed out that the cost of the touches was about the same as buying 60 computers.

Essa Academy in Bolton has also gone down the iPod touch route, buying in an incredible 900.

The future


As schools up and down the country buy into the possibilities of iOS, Fraser Speirs believes this is only the beginning.

"Lots of the teachers have been saying, 'Wouldn't it be good if you could easily get your iPad screen on the classroom TV?' With iOS 5 and AirPlay mirroring, you can. The kids will be able to take over the TV, too," he says. "iCloud will let me keep backups of the kids' iPads without having to sync them to the classroom iMacs. I'll be able to hand over more control of the iPads to the kids, knowing they'll have a good backup."

Speirs' enthusiasm for the iPad is infectious, and as he continues to advise schools across the land, you may see tablets appearing at schools near you.


First published in Tap! Issue 08

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