Bringing design thinking to grade schools

blogNashville was lucky to receive a visit from SparkTruck yesterday as part of their cross-country tour to bring design thinking and hands-on learning to young students.

From higher ed to primary ed

SparkTruck is a mobile maker lab run by a handful of alumni from Stanford’s Their goal is to bring fun, hands-on learning workshops to grade school and middle school children across the US.

The idea for SparkTruck came from a year-long thesis project at Stanford in which a group of students talked with teachers, students, and other experts about hands-on learning. The group learned that many schools don’t have a budget or room in their curriculum to support programs for young builders.

SparkTruck is promoting these types of projects with workshops hosted through their “educational build-mobile.” In the back of their truck, they’ve packed a 3D printer, a laser cutter, and lots of tools for curious minds to get building.

Physical learning and digital learning: BFFs

We love what the SparkTruck team is doing. At Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute—an establishment that shares many beliefs and practices with the—Ben & I studied design thinking for both digital and physical products. In fact, Ben’s capstone project required extensive prototyping and iteration of a collaborative educational system with a major physical device component. Kodiak wouldn’t be the product it is today if that work wasn’t a part of his higher education.

Designing physical objects taps parts of your brain that aren’t activated by virtual interaction—but the payoff carries into the digital world. As today’s children grow up in a world where technology is embedded in an increasingly large number of objects, it will become more and more important that they learn to harmonize the physical with the digital.

Read about SparkTruck’s Nashville stop on their blog.

Sharing is caring: Pooling resources to help kids

Sharing through large organizations


We were excited this week find out about a fantastic organization right here in our home state of Tennessee. is an online collection of toolkits for teachers in families to use in educating Pre-K through 3rd grade children. The toolkits address a wide range of topics: Common Core subjects like math and reading; physical education and development of motor skills; even social and emotional development like making friends and building self-esteem.

ReadTennessee’s goal is for this collected information to allow teachers, families, and communities to work together in educating young children. Almost anyone should find something useful here—go ahead, take a look for yourself.

Individual teachers contributing their expertise

Meanwhile, teachers and parents who are in the vanguard of technology adoption continue to provide invaluable feedback on their experience with the latest hardware and software. To name a few shining examples:

  • Carl Hooker is Director for Instructional Technology in the Eanes Independent School District. He’s written several blog posts and given numerous presentations about the lessons learned from his school’s 1-to-1 iPad pilot.
  • Jennie Magiera (who we’ve mentioned on this blog before) frequently posts awesome, helpful articles on her blog Teaching like it’s 2999, such as this post comparing Google Docs to Apple’s iWork apps.
  • The Moms With Apps blog and forum contain contributions from parents nationwide who want to find the best apps for their kids.

Kodiak chips in

Kodiak makes several contributions to the globally shared knowledge base for education. We use anonymous information about how real students are using apps so that you can make better choices about the apps you buy for your children. We post app reviews from teachers and parents—and unlike the App Store, we separate teacher and parent reviews, so that you can better understand where the author is coming from. We allow our users to tag every app with the educational concepts it contains, which makes it easier than ever before for you to find out if an app will teach your child what he or she needs to learn.

By tapping into these shared resources, teachers can make a quantum leap in how fast they’re able to prepare the necessary materials for their classrooms. We’re proud to offer what we can to create a better digital ecosystem for educators and their students.

Educators renew research on iPads for next fall

By the end of June, most schools have wrapped up spring classes, and teachers and administrators have time to begin thinking about the next school year. Education Week’s tech publication Digital Directions recently gave a little insight into what those educators are thinking.

Taking another look

In the June 21st edition of their email newsletter, Digital Directions published a list of the 5 most viewed articles on their entire site over the previous two weeks. The #1 most viewed article? A piece titled “Educators Evaluate Learning Benefits of iPad.”

This statistic is made even more significant by the fact that the article was written over a year ago, in June 2011.

Why is an article about iPads from last summer suddenly trending so strongly? Educators are obviously hunting for information on iPads in eduction, trying to get a feel for how this investment is paying off in other districts.

The iPad proves its worth

These days, there is an increasing amount of evidence that iPads are indeed an effective tool for education. CNN reported earlier this year on a pilot study using an iPads to supply e-textbooks for Algebra 1 courses; the study found that 20% more students (78% compared to 59%) scored ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ in subject comprehension when using tablets rather than paper textbook counterparts. 9ine, a consultancy in the UK, published a report just last week revealing a number of benefits for both teachers and students using iPads at Longfield Academy in Kent, England. Among the findings:

  • Teachers have identified significant benefits for their workload and have also identified cost savings.
  • The quality and standard of pupil work and progress is rising.
  • Both staff and student feel they can work more effectively with iPads.

You can download the report, titled “The iPad as a Tool for Education,” on 9ine’s website.

At Kodiak, we see the potential the iPad has as a revolutionary piece of education technology. Our features—reporting on student progress, keeping teachers informed up to the minute, and guiding app purchasing decisions—provide schools and educators with even more value from their iPad purchase. Take a tour of Kodiak to see what we have to offer.

Personal vs. professional social media

Our friends at EdSurge put together some interesting thoughts this week on what constitutes “professional” or “personal” social media for students. EdSurge collected a great set of links and ideas on this topic.

NYC DoE tries to draw a line

The NYC Department of Ed recently published a set of social media guidelines seeking to delineate between social media used for professional and personal purposes. However, as EdSurge points out, this is a fuzzy distinction for students.

Critics of the NYC guidelines emphasize the importance of teachers to being familiar with the social networks that their students are using both in and out of the classroom. If teachers don’t interact with students on their own turf—mobile devices, Facebook, Xbox Live, or social games such as DrawSomething—they could be missing out on an important opportunity to engage their students.

Kodiak helps teachers and parents understand how children are using the iPad to learn, communicate, and entertain themselves. As the new generation of digital natives grows up with these devices, it will be increasingly important for educators to understand their activity and to interact with them through their favorite mediums.

iPad purchasing guide for schools

Over 600 school districts nationwide adopted 1:1 iPad programs in the 2011–2012 school year, and that number is projected to grow by leaps and bounds next year.

As more schools adopt iPads, there are more services providing ways to supply those iPads. With a wide array of options available, it can be difficult to figure out what method is best for your school.

We’ve put this guide together to help you sort through the information that’s out there, and to make it easier for you to figure out how to bring iPads to your classrooms. Let us know what you think in the comments!

Which iPad do my students need?

There are three generations of iPad available to purchase, and each comes with options for size and wireless capability. These three factors—generation, size, wireless options—affect the cost of the device.

The sizes are 16, 32, and 64 GB. The more storage you get, the more the iPad will cost: each boost in storage costs an extra $100 when buying directly from Apple.

All iPads have the ability to connect to wi-fi networks. Apple also offers a more expensive model that can connect to the internet over a 3G cellular network. Not only is the 3G iPad itself more expensive, you have to pay a network provider like AT&T or Verizon to use their network.

Many schools find that a recent version of the iPad (currently the second or third generation) in the 16 GB size with Wi-Fi only (no 3G access) is the most cost-effective way to meet their needs. Some schools are purchasing 64 GB devices to make it less likely that students will run out of storage space.

Apple’s website breaks down how different features affect the price when purchasing an iPad.

For schools, leasing is more common than buying

Most schools lease their iPads as opposed to buying them. Leasing iPads is an attractive option for many reasons, some of which are listed here by Scott Hutchinson, president of Webb School in in Knoxville, TN. It spreads the cost out over multiple years—3 years is a common duration—which makes iPads an easier addition to the school’s budget. Leases can also include very helpful services: for example, Webb can offer same-day replacement to students with broken devices. Schools can use their institutional buying power to negotiate reduced prices for these services.

Leases frequently include a buyout option when the lease is up. Apple’s financing plan, for example, gives schools the chance to purchase their leased iPads for $1 at the end of the lease term.

Schools typically pay around $20–25 per month for iPads, depending of course on which iPad model is purchased, which features are included, and the duration and terms of the lease.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs lower costs to schools

Some schools allow students to bring their own iPads. This can be an effective budget-saving measure in schools where many students already own iPads.

Schools with BYOD programs build a core list of device settings and apps that must be installed on all devices, whether leased through the school or owned outright by the students or parents. However, these schools don’t prevent students or parents from installing additional apps on the devices they own.

The School District of Palm Beach County has implemented a BYOD program, and has built a wiki with lots of great resources for planning an iPad program, BYOD or otherwise.

Grants can help you pay for iPads

If you want to reduce the impact an iPad program will have on your school’s budget, consider applying for a grant. Grants are offered through a number of government organizations at the federal, state, and district levels. Chicago Public Schools piloted iPads through a mini-grant program. More than 20 schools were awarded 32 iPads, one MacBook Pro for syncing purposes, $200 in iTunes credit for applications and a storage cart for the hardware.

Other schools find grants through the private sector. Brady Public Schools in Nebraska secured funding for an iPod program through the Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation.

Jennie Magiera, a Chicago teacher and creator of the blog “Teaching Like It’s 2999,” was a recipient of a CPS grant. The “Grant Me Some Tech” page on her site lists places to find grant money or other funding for tech purchases, such as Technology Grant News, along with some great tips on how to write a successful grant application. She even includes a link to the grant she wrote to get her iPads. Thanks, Jennie!

Squidoo, a content organization site, provides another iPad grant advice page created by user amylaine. One of her recommendations: use the site to get free email grant alerts for education and classroom grants.

Apple offers discounted education pricing

For many years, Apple has offered discounts for products that will be used in education. Your school might be eligible for these discounted prices on iPads. Go to Apple’s Education Pricing page to find out more.

Additional items that will affect cost


Extended warranty coverage usually isn’t included in the terms of the lease. Schools usually encourage parents to pay for warranty coverage, but do not require it.

AppleCare+ is an excellent warranty program offered directly through Apple; it costs $99 for a two-year plan. Baylor School in Chattanooga, TN, offers parents a 3-year warranty for $79 through their lease program.


You’re going to want to pick up a case for every iPad to shield it from the rigors of day-to-day use. Apple’s Smart Cover ($39 at has a slim profile and attaches to the iPad magnetically, but offers almost no protection against damage. We recommend a sturdier case for your students, such as the Defender series from Otterbox.


Purchasing apps for your students is an ordeal all its own :) . We’ll dig into that topic in another blog post. If you’d like our advice sooner, send us an email! We’d love to help you find the right apps for your students.


Know your tools: School loses data collected via Google Forms

Google Docs can be a fantastic tool for working digitally. The suite of products is comprehensive (word processor, presentation creator, spreadsheet program, and more), the collaboration features are top notch, and to made the deal even sweeter, it’s free.

However, Google Docs has its drawbacks. Teacher and blogger Vicki Davis discovered one recently—in a very frustrating way.

Google’s ToU prohibit personal data collection

Davis’s school lost information when Google deleted some data that had been collected using Google Forms. Google’s terms of service prohibit users from collecting personal information with Google Forms. “This includes a userid, password, AND emails,” writes Davis.

Google runs pieces of code on its servers that search for Google Docs that might be in violation of their terms of service. Problematic files are then deleted automatically.

Google Docs: Good, not perfect

Issues like this aren’t the only potential problem with using Google Docs in your school. You need an internet connection in order to use it, meaning your files won’t be available offline. And some people find that the programs, while simple to use, don’t have all of the features they want.

As we’ve mentioned before here on the Kodiak blog, privacy is a serious concern for us, as we know it is for you. Be careful out there when looking for ways to manage your students’ data.