My top 10 apps for a Primary School iPad


Whenever you speak to teachers about integrating technology into learning experiences, the first question is usually, “Which apps should we be using”. I’m always on the look out for new tools to assess students understanding, support collaboration and provide meaningful feedback, I can usually rely on my toolkit of my top 10 apps  for a primary school iPad.

Top 10 Apps Poster WEB

My Top 10 Apps for a Primary School iPad inc. Toolbox by Nicole Katherine Griffing from the Noun Project

I am a firm believer in using open-ended process apps which can be used across the curriculum. This makes them versatile and allows students to use them to explore material and enquire.
Although most of the apps I use are free, I think an investment in the few paid apps I have in the list are worthwhile, as they can be used for many different things.

Skitch – FREE by Evernote

This annotation app allows students to add text, drawings, arrows and more on photos, maps and websites directly in-app. This can be really useful to make more traditional learning activities paper free. Their projects can then be saved to Photo or shared through a number of other Apps. Here is an example where I’ve used it in the past.
Annotating PDFs requires a premium account, so consider file formats when sharing work with students.

PicCollage – FREE by Cardinal Blue

Create collages including photos, screen shots, stickers and animated gifs quickly and easily using PicCollage. I’ve already blogged about using PicCollage here. Students absolutely love using PicCollage and after a few projects they will be adept at creating visually appealing images quickly. These can be saved to Photos or shared through a variety of apps.
Some in-app purchases can be a little frustrating and social sharing through Facebook and Twitter may turn off a few teachers. PicCollage Kids is also available which is similar but without FB and Twitter!

Book Creator – £3.99 by Red Jumper Limited

A fantastic, simple to use ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ type of app. Students can quickly create professional looking ebooks which can be exported as .PDFs or .epub files. Students can also collaborate on books by sharing pages they have been working on. There are some more sophisticated options within the app so tech savvy students can include audio notes or hyperlinks between pages.
The recently added comic book templates & stickers have made this app even more of a must-have.
Although this app is relatively expensive, it is well worth the investment. If your school has VPP the cost can be reduced to 50%, with the developers hinting that new tools will soon be added:


Explain Everything – £2.99 by Explain Everything sp. z o.o.

The use of screencasting apps has huge potential. Watching a student laying out their maths work, verbalising their thoughts in a 30 second video gives you so much insight. You can instantly see where any misconceptions are and how they can be addressed. Explain Everything is brilliant for this, and more. The first thing I look for in a screencasting app is the ability to save to the camera roll. That instantly rules out the vast majority of the apps available for use in the classroom, Explain Everything probably has the best compatibility with other apps I’ve seen including easy sharing of videos.
Explain everything have (relatively) recently allowed numerous recordings which can be layered. This opens it up to the realms of digital storytelling, creating animations and more.
It took me a while to get used to the interface and it does take students a couple of attempts in order to use it well.

Showbie – FREE by Showbie Inc

There are a few excellent workflow solutions platforms out there. In my opinion, Showbie is the best. At the heart of showbie is a robust platform for assigning, collecting and giving feedback. The builtin tools for feedback are the best I’ve seen and avoid the need to export work to the camera roll, open in another app then redistribute (which I’ve seen in other apps).us-ipad-1-showbie-paperless-classroom.jpeg

It takes seconds to set up an account at and your students join your class by entering a short PIN code. We are still using a free account at our school which is workable but are considering upgrading to PRO as the ability to share videos with students (and teachers) over 60 seconds and files larger than 25MB would be great.

QRafter – FREE by Kerem Erkan

I use QR codes a lot in class. Whether it be to share a website quickly and easily with students, link directly to a file in my OneDrive or include a tutorial video link on a piece of work. QRafter is the best tool I’ve found for use in the classroom for this. By default, QRafter uses Safari (unlike most other QR Reader apps which use their own Browsers which are often prone to crashing and are full of adverts). In addition, students can use QRafter to create their own QR codes. Students of mine recently authored their own website. In order to show it off, they created their own QR codes, printed them and distributed them around school. How about that for initiative!

Popplet – £3.99 by Notion

Popplet is the easiest to use and most versatile mind map tool I’ve found on the iPad. Create webs of ‘Popples’ with a tap and add drawings and photos. These can be linked and complete popples can be shared with students, teachers or peers by PDF or jpeg.

While I use this app a lot, I think it could be so much better.

£3.99 makes this the joint most expensive app I ever use and it has such stripped back functionality compared to their website (which is also very expensive). I would love to see the ability to collaborate on popplets, share work in progress to be added to later and even voice/video compatibility. Notion haven’t added to this app for a long time, so I don’t think it will be long until Popplet is replaced on many educators iPads with a more affordable and useful tool.

iMotion – FREE by Finger Lab

This simple to use, stripped back app is excellent for creating both time-lapse videos and creating stop motion animations. It has a few options but the beauty of this app is that what it does, it does well. And of course, to get onto this list, you can share videos directly to the camera roll.


iMovie – FREE by Apple

I love iMovie. So many of the other apps included in this list can be used alongside iMovie in order to blend together audio, voice overs and screenshots in order to produce a fantastic professional looking finish to your projects. Creating trailers can be an extremely engaging activity with the right stimulus, but the best use of this app is when students have to create a summary of their learning. I’ve seen some brilliant uses of the split screen, picture in picture as well as titles. Now, if they were to add green screening to the iOS version…

Adobe Voice – FREE by Adobe

Adobe Voice is a fantastic tool to create simple presentations including: pictures, icons (from the wonderful noun project) background music, text and your voice. In a few minutes, you can create engaging slideshows which are nicely edited together and are visually appealing.
There are two things which make Adobe Voice stand out for me though. All images, music and icons are properly accredited. I think this is really important, as too often, students copy and paste from google images with reckless abandon, not considering whose work they are using. In addition, Adobe built in wonderful templates in order to scaffold the story telling process. This includes a traditional story mountain, as well as templates tailored towards persuasion, instructions and explanations. From my time teaching the national curriculum, I LOVE to see things like this which make it easier for learners to see how different texts should be structured.
In order to use the app, you have to create an account with Adobe. The age restriction on Adobe accounts is 13. It is important that in the classroom you set up an educator account, and have your students login to that, instead of trying to setup their own, which blocks their email address.


If you have any iPad essentials you think should be included, let me know in the comments!

Toolbox by Nicole Katherine Griffing downloaded from The Noun Project remixed by @theteachgeek

10 thoughts on “My top 10 apps for a Primary School iPad

  1. Pingback: OTR Links 03/24/2016 | doug --- off the record

  2. Pingback: QR Codes – Taking it to the next level | The Teach Geek

    • Hi Kathy, Thanks so much for this information. I knew that it was no longer available for Android but didn’t know they were ending support for iOS also. That’s a real shame. Do you have any suggestions for a substitute other than Evernote itself? I like the fact that students don’t need to sign up to use the app. It can be a real handful if you have 25 little ones trying to remember their passwords!
      I wish more apps would have Office 365 sign in as an option as we are not a GAFE school so that would be a great solution! I’ll get on the hunt for a replacement to update this!


  3. Thanks for these! With the exception of two (only because I had not heard of them before) I love and use all of these! I do want to add that there is another category of apps that are very powerful in the classroom; those are content apps. I was reminded this morning in a blog post by George Couros about the need for learning before innovation. There is a place of “direct teaching”—if you will—in the learning process. There is also the need for practicing for fluency. Content apps can do this. However, I advocate the use of adaptive, mastery based apps because they are not just for practice. They take a student at their individual entry level and scaffold their learning via the adaptive nature of the app, This is “individualized” learning. Giving students choices of different apps, or concrete materials, etc, provides the “personalized” learning. Content apps definitely are one way of providing that personalized learning. The issue is…there are WAY too many apps for any one teacher to review and test; and most educational apps are only drill and kill packaged in digital format. That’s one reason I rely on adaptive/mastery apps. See @BalefireLabs reviews of apps. They review all types of apps,but their highest rated apps are those that are adaptive, provide feedback and support, and are mastery based. Their metrics focus on the elements required for deep learning. At a glance you can see if an app embeds these elements, or not.


    • Wow! Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and leave such a detailed and thoughtful comment! I’m honoured!
      May I ask which 2 you hadn’t heard of?
      I’d not heard of Balefirelabs, it sounds like a really useful resource. I will give it a look!
      I agree that there is a use for content apps, particularly those which provide an adaptive curriculum as you mention, personalising learning targets for students depending on their strengths and weaknesses but I prefer to focus on process apps in my classroom. I am not a fan of what I like to call ‘drill and kill’ apps which quiz simple fact knowledge in the classroom but certainly think that this can be useful for some students to complete at home to consolidate their learning.
      My philosophy on technology in the classroom is that it should be used as a tool to enhance the learning facilitated by experiences engineered by the teacher, or those which serendipitously occur through child exploration and inquiry.
      Thanks again for your thoughts. I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. Yes, the two are Showbie and QRafter. I do use a QR code generator and reader, just not this one. I’ll check these out.

        I used to be anti, and I DO MEAN RADICALLY ANTI, technology for content. That’s because most is really truly not very educational! Time is critical. I can’t stand wasted time, mine or my students! It took me awhile to warm up to the idea of adaptive/mastery software – some call them cognitive tutors. Then I used a few and realized that these types of software can provide the learning, practice, and fluency in ways I can not do 1:1. This is not an issue of engagement; to me that is a non-negotiable in any activity regardless of whether it involves technology. Beyond that, these adaptive apps provide formative assessment and actionable data. I have not found any that I would say replace the need for teacher feedback. I think humans are too complex and machine learning isn’t able to parse out what stumbling blocks a student might have. Maybe someday, but I am very skeptical. At any rate, these types of software are excellent for “blended” learning.

        For sure I use the process/creativity apps as artifacts of student’s learning. I am “anti” grading as I have found that grades have evolved into fairly meaningless measures without the intentional process of providing feedback and opportunity to revisit concepts missed. Rubrics used with performance tasks and problem and/or project based learning are much closer to “real world” artifacts. When we write, we edit, when we create a project or a product, we revise, adjust, and rework until it is the best product we can create. So, absolutely, the apps you recommend are fantastic tools for these types of artifacts. Thanks again for sharing.


      • In my opinion, Qrafter and i-nigma are the two best QR readers around.
        Showbie stands out from other workflow solutions for me as they provide amazing feedback tools. You should definitely give it a whirl with your class. Verbal feedback is particularly impressive.
        Can you recommend some of the better ‘cognitive tutors’ you’ve come across? I have had a quick look at front row edu but think as with most of these, they are good for dipping into, so often not worth a large investment which forces you to use them a lot.


  4. Sure, glad to. Want to frame this, again, with the fact that I use these apps AND provide support. I use the apps in “center” or learning station type activities. These are part of my overall learning activities, not stand alone. I have used those too, but only web-based ones that the district purchased. Really, I’ve only had experience with three. One I detest, and so I won’t name it, but the others were Reasoning Mind (math) and Reading Eggs (reading). These were district implemented and required. While I like these, they also required feedback and monitoring by teachers. I just don’t think we are ever going to get away from that, nor should we. The AI community might take exception.

    Second, the recommendations I have are for early childhood only (PK-2). I know of some cognitive tutors from reading research articles on their efficacy; those are more for high school and middle school. Carnegie Mellon has a suite of math programs, for example. But…I’d prefer to stick with one’s I have actually used and seen in practice.

    I also would like you to look at Balefire’s site as you consider these because you can see which elements these apps are missing: none of my recommendations has a perfect score and the elements missing need to be pointed out. Which, to me, is the beauty of Balefire’s metrics; I know in advance what to expect. These apps I am listing are GOOD, but I use them as one of MANY different learning opportunities in class.

    I do agree with your assessment of Front Row, though I have used it and my students like it. It isn’t really adaptive, in terms of the program itself leveling up and down. I have to do that by viewing their progress, etc. So, adaptive also needs to be clearly defined. Some companies use the word adaptive and mean that there is a choice of levels from which to choose. When I say adaptive, I mean the program looks at interactions and makes a prediction on whether or not a student is ready to move on. I believe there is lots of room for research on these algorithms, but I also believe, and have seen, they are much more efficient than I am even working 1:1.

    So…that being said…here are the apps I’ve used:

    -Native Numbers (I love this app because it uses rods, like Cuesinaire Rods, and many schools do not teach with rods)
    -1st Grade Math Splash
    -2nd Grade Math
    -Xtra Math
    -Motion Math Zoom

    READING/LANGUAGE – might pose a problem as English words are different in UK than US 🙂
    -Sky Fish Phonics
    -Letter School
    -Eggy Phonics
    -Pocket Phonics (I think they are a UK company???)
    -Rhyming Words
    -Lipa Train
    -K-5 Spelling (not mastery based)
    -Simplex Spelling (nor mastery based)

    When I was preparing to take the GRE I used SAT Vocab Mind Snacks. I liked it.

    Ok…check these out and let me know what you think. “-)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: The best replacement for Skitch? | The Teach Geek

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