I’ll be the first to admit that when I first brought iPads into classrooms, I went a little app-happy and encouraged others to follow. I quickly learned through small successes and big failures that the iPad is a much more powerful ally to the curriculum when we prioritize what task we want our students to accomplish then empower them with the tools to fulfill that task.

That being said, it helps to have a baseline of essential apps to add to your teacher/student iPad toolbox.

Here’s my short list of apps to put in your Toolbox:



Canvas by Instructure (Free).

Need: Efficient means to post/distribute and possibly collect documents and information.

Solution: Canvas by Instructure is an LMS (Learning Management System) that offers teachers the means to share information and materials with students and facilitate student communication and collaboration.

Alternatives: Schoology, EdmodoiTunesU+Showbie (On their own, these are fantastic apps, but they lack the strength of a true LMS to complete the teacher/student or student/student conversation and enable collaboration).




GoogleDrive (Free: 15GB for personal, Unlimited for schools). 

Need: Virtual hub for storing and distributing files while saving space on your iPad.

Solution:  GoogleDrive might be the best option for Google Apps for Education schools with its unlimited storage and seamless connection with other Google Apps.

Alternatives:  Dropbox (2GB Free), OneDrive (7GB Free)




iMovie ($4.99 or Free for devices purchased after 9/1/13).

Need: Easy to use movie creator/editor.  

Solution: iMovie is an incredibly powerful video creation and editing tool.  Highly intuitive and fun to use, iMovie has quickly become a favorite among our staff and students for project presentations, book trailers, unit/lesson intros and summaries, and more.  Tutorial

Alternatives: For the price, power, and ease of use, I’ve yet to find a sufficient alternative. Pinnacle Studio ($12.99) does offer a much more expensive close second; Videon ($4.99)




Pages ($4.99 or Free for devices purchased after 9/1/13).

Need: Word processor/document creator.

Solution: Pages offers an elegant solution for document creation. Creations can then be exported into multiple formats, including Pages, Word, PDF, and even ePub.

Alternatives: Google Docs (Free), Word for iPad (Free)



Keynote ($4.99 or Free for devices purchased after 9/1/13).

Need: Presentation/Slide Show creator.

Solution: Like Pages, Keynote offers the most efficient and elegant option for creating presentations on the iPad. Sharing much of the same format and tools as Pages, it’s easy for teachers and students to learn one and skillfully navigate the other.

Alternatives: PowerPoint for iPad (Free), Google Slides (Free), Prezi (Free)




Notability ($2.99).

Need: PDF annotator and note-taking app.

Solution: Notability meets both of those demands with a easy and intuitive design.  Cloud storage access and subject/divider organization set this note-taker apart from other excellent competitors, offering students a familiar three-ring binder structure. Cheat Sheet

Alternatives: Penultimate (Free),  Adobe Reader (Free), PaperPort Notes (Free), Evernote (Free and excellent, but lacks annotations feature like others).




Quizlet (Free).

Need: Virtual study tools and instant quizzing.

Solution: One of the most popular virtual flash card services, Quizlet has a powerful web access and feature-filled app.  Students can create their own study tools and activities, search from the millions of sets online, or join classrooms organized by their teachers.

Alternatives: Socrative (Free), StudyBlue (Free)




Explain Everything ($3.99).

Need: A go to app for annotating, animating, and presenting.

Solution: Explain Everything will do all of this and more, then import and export your content in multiple formats from almost any source available to your iPad. Well worth the small investment for such a large app.  Intro

Alternatives: ScreenChomp (Free), Doceri (Free)


Of course, there are many other truly amazing apps available to help transform a student’s learning experience, but this is a lean list of powerful apps that can be used in any subject while fostering engagement and collaboration.

What apps would you change or add to this list?  Let us know in the comments below.

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