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Apple's iPad for schools had a education debut



  Apple boss Tim Cook checks out one of the demos at the company's educational event in Chicago

Apple boss Tim Cook checks out one of the demos at the company's educational event in Chicago.


James Martin / CNET

"Welcome in the first hour with Mr. Harmon," says a large screen in the front of the classroom. The teacher stands by and holds an iPad in his hands.

I'm sitting on a stool at a black lab table in what appears to be a scientific classroom, along with about 40 other adults stuffed in it. In front of us are shiny new iPads enough for two.

Jim Harmon, actually a learning specialist from Apple, brings all our iPads to life at the touch of a button and launches the company's clips on every device without having to move from its place at the top of the classroom. Our job is to use clips to create a poem and video that explains the Fibonacci sequence. For the life of me, I can not remember what that is.

"Hi, I hope you enjoy my Fibonacci poem," says Harmon (sorry, this is Mr. Harmon) into the iPad camera before instructing us to do the same on our own tablets.


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For a moment I am back in elementary school – with high-tech tablets.

In fact, I'm in the midst of a rather unorthodox Apple launch. These types of events usually follow a standard template that includes a keynote and hands-on time with products. But instead of a standard bay area, Apple hosted its event at Lane Tech College's Prep High School in Chicago. There was no traditional product demonstration, instead Apple sent hundreds of journalists, industry analysts, and educators into classrooms for their own freshman session.

And Apple was committed to its performance. When I came to school, I was emailed a timetable that included a general meeting (the keynote) and various sessions.

The theatrics helped make a relatively incremental update to Apple's 9.7-inch iPad which remained at $ 329, but an increase in specifications and support for the Apple Pencil with 99 US dollars received. Apple has spent most of its "assembly" building new programs to help classroom administrators and teachers, including the Schoolwork app, which allows teachers to distribute tasks and track students' progress as easily as they do Write an e-mail.

But equally important was that the school environment and demos helped reinforce the idea that Apple was serious about bringing its iPads back to class. It's an area in which Apple used to be so promising, except that the Chromebook from Google dominated the market with its cheaper, laptop-like options. According to Futuresource Consulting, in the last quarter of 2017, three out of five mobile devices shipped to a K-12 school in the US were Chromebooks. By comparison, only 14 percent of schools used iPads or Macs.

"Apple is very much about education because we love children and love teachers," said Apple CEO Tim Cook on Tuesday in his keynote presentation. "We know that our products can bring out the creative genius in every child."

Gene Munster, a longtime Apple analyst who now runs the Loop Ventures VC fund, asked me the last time I went to high school, and I could not remember.

Apple probably hoped that. He knew that most of the reporters who reported on his event probably had not been to school for years. Even those with children do not necessarily understand what it's like to use a mobile device in a classroom. In my case, we had Apple's colorful iMacs in the library, but Apple's iPad came on the market only seven years after I graduated.

When iPad Does Homework

Lane Tech is not your normal public high school, or at least it's nothing like my high school. The large, red brick buildings are set on a 30-acre campus, and the interior draws comparisons to something like "Harry Potter" or "The Breakfast Club." More potential graduate students come from Lane than any school in the country, Cook said in his keynote speech.

Fortunately, I do not have to be an expert on Fibonacci. My partner at the meeting is Jeff Dillon, Superintendent of the Wilder School District in Idaho.

  Reporters participating in Apple's event in Chicago received lesson plans.

Reporters attending Apple's event in Chicago received lesson plans.


Screenshot of Shara Tibken / CNET

I record a video saying, "Hello, I hope you enjoy my Fibonacci poem," as Mr. Harmon instructed. I think my pronunciation was over since Clips thought I said, "I hope you enjoy my Jeep."

Dillon and I edit the text and move the video in front of some nature images that are already lined up. Before we can actually write a poem, it's time for the second lesson and my favorite class: History.

Our task in this session is to use music to interpret a famous speech. We use GarageBand to create a soundtrack to the famous quote from President John F. Kennedy: "We decide to go to the moon this decade and do the other things, not because they are simple, but because they are hard. "

Mr. Harmon turns on our iPads, and we start by selecting zooming sounds and surreal, otherworldly tracks.

After all, it's a coding with Mrs. (Shannon) Osheroff, actually a K-12 development manager at Apple. With Swift Playgrounds we learn how to walk a cartoon character on a square and climb stairs. We even make a UBTech Jimu Meebot robot dance.

By partnering with superintendents, teachers, and students, Apple's classroom lab makes it clear that the company is focusing on educators. In Dillon's case, each of the 500 students in his K-12 district has an iPad and he was at the Apple event to see the new offerings.

For Dillon and other educators like him, it's not just the new iPads themselves that fascinate him. It's also the seemingly small things, like a school's ability to set up hundreds of Apple ID accounts in less than a minute. Or for students who quickly log on to shared iPads by tapping a picture of their face and entering a passcode. Or, for teachers who simultaneously control all devices in the class, automatically open for the same lesson and lock them so students can not turn on sounds or use apps they should not use. Teachers can easily monitor students' progress and see if some children fall behind.

Apple "is going in the right direction," says Dillon between soundtracks using GarageBand and encoding with Swift Playgrounds. "They listen to us and take action."

Apple Goes Back to School

The last time Apple focused on education was January 2012. It happened to be the first Apple event I've ever seen while I was still working for Dow Jones / The Wall Street Journal in New York wrote.

The two events could not be more different. In 2012, Apple rented the fancy Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side in New York. The announcements focused on how publishers like McGraw-Hill and Pearson could use Apple's new technology to create digital textbooks.

This year, Apple chose a public school in Chicago, where half of the students come from low-income families receiving government aid. It is also diverse, with 41 percent of the students being Hispanic, 36 percent white, and 8.2 percent black.

Apple's event this week was about showing the things that people can only do on an iPad. That's the key if the company is trying to reclaim schools that have switched to Google's Chromebooks.


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At an early age, the iPad went to school. Many bought tablets to try in classrooms, and some, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, planned to buy a tablet for each student and teacher. But the iPads did not quite live up to their promise.

They were expensive and the software did not make it easy to manage multiple devices simultaneously. Even the digital textbooks have never really worked out, and LAUSD has asked for his money. At the same time, Google's Chromebooks hit the market. These devices were cheaper and easier to control with Google's web-based software.

Today, more than 25 million students around the world use Chromebooks.

But education is not a market Apple wants to give up. When children are tied to their products early, future generations of loyal customers can benefit. And it is often the teachers who help to shape the preferences of the children.

"If Apple can provide the teachers with the tools they need to give examples of projects and tasks that children can aspire to, that will greatly change the story for the iPad," said analyst Creative Strategies Ben Bajarin.

This brings me back to my timetable. It's time that my class ends and my next session begins. I'm going to Apple's Creative Lab / Coding Lab / IT Room set up in the Lane Tech Music Room. There I use the Apple Pencil to draw roots, stems and flowers on a plant to learn about photosynthesis, among other things.

But before I go, Mr. Harmon still has a job for me and the other students. "Your homework is," anyone can create "download," he says. This is Apple's new curriculum that aims to teach students this fall to develop and communicate ideas through video, photography, music, and drawing. In other words, exactly what I did in the last hour.

These are some homework I can handle.

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