Managing: The Nuts & Bolts of an iPad Classroom

Awhile ago, I wrote about the beginning of the one-to-one iPad journey in my classroom.  I have always appreciated when others have shared not only their pedagogy,  but the organization of their tools or classroom as well.  I’ve also had more people ask me questions about my set-up than how I use iPads to actually teach in my classroom, so here’s my “share”.

Purchasing the iPads was the easy part. Managing them is another matter.  Dean Shareski says that “iPads are meant to be owned, not managed.”  I think he is correct, but managing them still needs to be done for my grade one students.  Managing them is the nuts and bolts that makes our iPad classroom run. Truthfully, the management has turned out to be more work than I imagined. Setting up email on each device (gmail worked the best), syncing apps, updates to firmware, making (and re-making) folders and keeping the devices charged has kept me busy. My IT department has been supportive, but they are clear that this is my job and not theirs.  I am not complaining–I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything–but it has meant a great deal of learning and planning.


Each iPad was named with a number.  This number is also written on its case.  Initially, I  had put numbered stickers onto the iPads, but they began to fall off the first day, so I used a gel pen to write the number right on the iPad case. I have a record of which child goes with which iPad, but I have rarely had to use it. Each student knows their own number as well as many of the numbers of their friends, so if an iPad is not put away correctly, it only takes a moment to find out who it belongs to.  This is working, but next year, I think I will put student’s names on stickers on the front of the shelves as well to eliminate my “who didn’t put away their iPad?” questions.

Before we purchased the iPads, the students had been storing their headphones at the other end of the classroom.  The students use the iPads and/or headphones over and over during the day so it has proved to be time consuming to be fetching and returning both to two separate places.  We now keep their headphones or earbuds on top of their iPad, making getting and putting them away a much quicker process.

Ipad Storage

The iPad shelf in my classroom has become as hot an item for discussion (at least for the adults who visit us) as the iPads themselves.  Designed and built by my ever-supportive husband, it has been working exactly as I hoped it would. I had heard from more than one person that iPads are more often broken putting them in and out of a charging station than they are broken when in use.  I wanted the students to be as independent as possible in getting, putting away and charging their iPads themselves. (Avoiding the high cost of a cart–not available through my winnings–was also a big factor.)I frequently mused about this and my search for some type of shelving on my daily walk with my husband.    Since he had already designed and built a book trolley, a bench and a poster storage unit for my classroom, he began to see the writing on the wall and started making plans.  The day we drove to Best Buy to pick up the iPads, we stopped to pick up the wood for the shelves as well.

To power the iPads, I used four Belkin charging stations, which are fastened right onto the back of the shelves. Their size ‘just’ allows for the chargers.

Students Making the Rules

Up to this point, we had had a couple of the original iPads in our classroom, so the students were fairly familiar with their care, but having so many more in use at a time is a different story, so I asked the students to come up with any rules they thought might be necessary to keep our new devices safe.  They came up with two:

  • Use two hands to carry the iPads.
  • Don’t leave the iPad on the floor. If you have to go to the bathroom or somewhere else, leave the iPad on a table or a counter.

I can’t recall a time I have had to remind any of the students about these two rules.  I often hear the students policing the other students themselves.  No one wants anything to happen to these engaging devices.

Updates and Adding Apps

Because we chose to not get a charging cart, I instead purchased two 7 Port USB Hubs. Since we have 30 iPads, I sync new apps or do updates in three separate lots of ten iPads. It does take more time, but has saved a lot of money.

Currently, I have to remove ten charging cords from the shelf to do this, but my plan is to purchase ten extra cords that can be left attached to the USB ports.  This way, they will be able to be used for easily syncing other iPads in the school with other computers as well.

So for what it is worth, this is how I am “managing” our iPads. It’s like the nitty-gritty of all teaching. You have to deal with report cards, policies that you don’t agree with and lots of frustrations so that you get to do the incredible job of  teaching kids.  In the same way, you have to take care of the syncing, the storage of the iPads and the frustrations to get to use tools that have such tremendous potential. In both instances, it’s well worth the effort.

As always, I know that there are people doing this better than I am. I’d love to have your input in the comments.

46 thoughts on “Managing: The Nuts & Bolts of an iPad Classroom

  1. I admire your homemade charging/syncing station.

    Can you somehow attach the 7 port hubs to the back and when you are ready to sync who plug the cables into the hubs instead of the charger. It might be a little congested back there though. Or get 30 different coloured cables and you could plugin the whites to charge and, say, the blacks for syncing.

    1. My thought before I actually saw the shelf on the counter was that there might be room for that, but unfortunately, there is not. I like the idea of different coloured cables. Hmmm. Thanks for the idea.

      1. I believe you can use Apple Configurator from the Mac APP store to assist with multiple syncing of apps, permissions and profiles across all devices. Not sure if you’re eligible for the Volume Purchase Program (VPP) but that might also be a good option.

  2. Thank you Kathy for sharing your organizational strategies. Two schools in our division are about to go one-to-one with iPads so we appreciate management tips and strategies. Your app list has also been very helpful and hopeful over time we will be able to add to it.

  3. We are going to be an iPad school next year and I appreciate your posts on this topic. I hope to share our learning curve next year. 🙂

  4. Kathy, thanks for sharing the nuts and bolts of your new adventures in all of this. Although, as you write, there may be people who “do it better” than you and who have been doing it longer than you, there are countless out there who have yet to begin the journey and even who have begun but are looking for helpful tips and advice in this area. So keep sharing, even if you consider what you’re learning “old hat” for many. We all learn (and share) in our own unique ways and the diversity of stories is what makes learning so rich, isn’t it.

    Tell your husband that I love the charging station!

  5. Hi Kathy,
    You might consider a home screen background that is the image of a big number. I’ve also seen where students use Photobooth to snap their picture, and then use that as the home screen.

    1. Yes, I actually did that. I had the students make their own number in a drawing program and set that as their home screen. Unfortunately, you can’t see the number unless you wake it up!

  6. Thanks for giving us a chance to learn and copy! We in New Zealand are a bit behind you and are grateful to have your experience to draw on.

  7. Hi Kathy!

    Please tell me how to do the seven-syncs-at-a-time…

    When I enquire on this side of the world nobody knows what I am talking about! And Dr Google is also not helping…

    Do you only have 1 Apple ID for the 30 iPads?

      1. Can you explain the synching step easier I am a novice but trying to accomplish this task. All iPads are plugged into the hub and then into a Mac computer logged onto iTunes? Step by step please. Much appreciated

        1. Hi Elizabeth,
          I don’t feel I am an authority on this in any way. I rely heavily on the iT support from my school to do this. I did check on YouTube, and this video seems to be syncing the iPads in the same way as I am. I hope it help you. If not, there may be another video on YouTube that will help. I rely on it for help with so much!!

  8. Thanks for sharing the nuts and bolts. I love that you had the students make the rules! Can you tell me – do you have wifi in your school and, if so, are these iPads connected to wifi, or have you disabled wifi access?

    1. Good question. Yes, we have great wi-fi in our school, and I would never consider disabling it. I wish I had put that in the post. Perhaps I need to write another one. 🙂

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this! Next year my school will have ipads in every classroom for the first time, and I will be teaching 1st grade for the first time as well… so I will follow your posts!

  10. Thanks so much for sharing, Kathy. I use my own iPad in the class with students this year, but we are getting our own for the class next year. I am a little concerned about the management so this is great information. I’m wondering if you could share a front photo of the cart your hubby built. Great idea!

      1. Thanks Kathy, I saw this after. We just purchased a cart, but was showing my husband thinking about our next purchase (haven’t even got these ones yet!!). How do you find the power situation for the 4 chargers to plug in? Is the power bar ok?

    1. Lora…in what ways are you using just the 1 iPad. I am currently taking an iPad in education course, but it focuses a lot on 1:1. I only have 1 iPad as well right now. Thanks!

    1. Great post! I’m very interested in this idea. I do want the kids to do some self-management, but there definitely needs to be some done by a teacher for grade one students. How much I need to let them do on their own is always a balancing act for me.
      Your post makes it sound like each student is responsible for putting on their own apps. Is this the case?
      We have only had the iPads about six weeks. We made the decision to not send them home this year for many reasons, but next fall is another ball game. I’m still thinking about that one. I’d be very interested to know what the expectations were that you set out with your students when you allowed them to go home. Can you share?

  11. Terrific idea, thanks for sharing! Some real ingenuity here. This may not be as creative an idea, but I came across another money-saving prospect for those people who have an old laptop cart but are switching to iPads. Datamation Systems sells a conversion kit that allows you to utilize your older cart with newer tablets. It’s called the DS-IP-32SC and it is available at Just thought I’d share

  12. Love your storage solution to the iPads. We are a small school with 2 teachers per grade level. We currently each have 10 iPads but are getting another 10 to make a classroom set. Our computer lab teacher and another teacher have been sourcing storage carts that could add the power cords, but they want them to be locked up.

    1. I’m glad what I posted is useful to you. My school is also small–we have only one or one and a half teachers per grade level, so I completely understand the challenges this size means.

  13. Hi Kathy,

    Thank you for the great ideas! I’ve looked at the link you provided in terms of syncing multiple iPads. Still can’t get it to work. When you plug in all the iPads, do they just sync automatically? E.g. new app syncs by itself to the same location on every iPad? And any changes you make on 1 iPad, it will sync them all.


    1. Sorry, I’m at home for the weekend and don’t know the brand off the top of my head. I checked what is available at BestBuy online now, and it doesn’t seem to be there. I don’t think it was a special brand, just what I saw that was available.

  14. Hi, Kathy,
    I am very interested in building this type of shelf myself. Any chance that your husband would share his design? What type of wood did he use? What are the dimensions? I would appreciate any help he could offer.

    Thanks so much. I hope that the iPads are still functioning well!

    1. Jason, he says he used laminated pine. He no longer has the design or remembers the dimensions, but I do remember that he measured the iPads and allowed for space between them and space to put a hand in to grab the cord. I don’t think there is a “perfect” dimension for this. Lots of options would work.

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