This past summer we refreshed all of our student devices in our one to one iPad program for grades 5 -12 and all teacher iPads K-12 with the iPad 6 which supports the Apple Pencil. We also purchased some Apple Pencils for about half our teachers in order to learn the benefits of this new tool. Using pencils in school, of course, is nothing new but the Apple Pencil exponentially increases the capabilities of a traditional pencil. An Apple Pencil is more than just a stylus. In addition to being able to annotate using digital ink, opening applications, moving objects, and interacting with menus and more using the tip of the Apple Pencil, the device itself connects to the iPad using bluetooth and is pressure sensitive. This means that when used with an application built specifically to utilize the features of the Apple Pencil, the user can simply increase the width of a line of digital ink by pressing harder with the tip of the Pencil on the same way that you would with a paintbrush. Applications also recognize when the Pencil is in use and can be set up to only accept input from the tip, meaning a user now has the ability to rest her/his hand on the iPad itself while writing or drawing.
At first, this last feature might not seem like a bid deal. However, one high school math teacher who described the Apple Pencil as the biggest change to her teaching in years explained it this way: with it she can now write super legibly while resting her wrist on the screen as she walks around the room teaching from her iPad, wirelessly mirroring her screen on to the projector display at the front of the classroom. Being be out in the class with her students allows her to look at their work and interact with them. She can precisely graph lines and write exponents in equations with fine details and precision not previously possible without the Apple Pencil. She uses the same app that students use--Notability--to work through problems together as she’s teaching and walking around the room. Prior to having the Apple Pencil, she had attempted to use her finger or another stylus but these did not allow her to rest their wrist on the iPad. This resulted in messy handwriting and she just stayed in one place in order to write on her iPad or stayed at the front of the room using the SMARTBoard instead.
Last week we surveyed the teachers who received Apple Pencils and asked them to provide feedback about their experience so far. Here are some of the comments and feedback collected when asked about the benefits of the Pencil and if/how it had changed their teaching:
- Everything! I use it for notes in class, for creating video lessons for students, for creating answer keys, for demonstrating to students how to do certain problems. I use it primarily within Notability (also with Reflector) and Explain Everything.
- I am much more excited about utilizing the iPad. Writing is easier and neater with the Apple Pencil. Students have commented that they appreciate when I teach using the Apple Pencil and Reflector rather than the SmartBoard. I am able to be more mobile during class.
- I am able to teach from my iPad, allowing me to walk around while teaching. I do not stand in front of the room, but am constantly walking around. The apple pencil allows me to write legibly while writing, especially since we are solving math problems every day.
- It has significantly minimized the time using the SMARTBoard. I start the lessons with SMARTBoard, but when I do examples, or extended writing, I mirror the iPad. This allows me to freely walk around the room and establish a greater presence.
- I also use it to create examples of Art and how the iPad can allow the user to improve on current artistic capabilities.
- The Apple Pencil basically encourages me to use the iPad more and Smart Notebook software less. I use the following apps: Paper53, Notability, ExplainEverything.
- Notability and Brushes Redux. I use it to manage behavior and meander around the room while I’m working so students feel more connected. I am able to be more involved and do the work along with them, which is very beneficial for keeping pace as I work with special education program students.
- I have been able to immerse myself in learning more and improve my teaching style. I use the SMARTBoard a lot for writing and math problems but I have small group classes. This allows me to sit among students and work alongside them which improves their engagement. I am able to monitor their learning while I teach rather than needing to stop and meander the room. I also have students who struggle with writing and this has been a big motivator for them (borrowing it).
- I am able to use Notability and Reflector way more effectively, my writing is clear. I use this for direct instruction. I can write notes/feedback on student iPads more clearly during work time as well. Grading with the Schoology app is much easier as well.
- Grading!! It is so much more efficient to write feedback for students on their Schoology submissions. I also am better able to model work for students.
As you can see, teachers are finding multiple benefits of the Pencil. When asked how frequently they are using a pencil, 52% of teachers stated that they use it every day and another 19% percent stated they use it hourly.
We have also seen a few students purchase their own Apple Pencils to use with their iPad, too--right now about one or two students per class. This number will likely increase in the months to come. The Apple Pencil design could be improved: not having it be completely round so that it wouldn’t roll off of desks and tables, making the cap attach somehow to the Pencil itself, and making the pencil sturdier to prevent getting cracked or broken when stepped on (although I have yet to hear of this happening). We have also tested out the Logitech Crayon, which cost about $30 less, but unfortunately is not pressure sensitive, so the cost savings doesn't seem worth it. We'll continue to monitor the benefits of this tool and look forward to improvements to the product in the future that likely will yield even more benefits for teaching and learning.
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