There’s an App for That: iPads in the Art Room

The following is a guest post from Suzanne Tiedemann who teaches art at Brunswick Acres School in South Brunswick, New Jersey and Tricia Fuglestad who teaches at Dryden Elementary in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Tricia:  In late 2010, I wrote a grant to receive an iPad for the art room. I hadn’t any experience with one at the time, but thought that they may have a use in the art room some how and I was curious to explore the possibilities. I imagined that students would publish a collaborative book, record their voice for video, or access the Internet. The iPad 2 hadn’t been announced yet with camera/video so my thoughts were mostly on apps for exploring art and making art.
I asked my building tech assistant to allow me to play with an iPad over winter break.

That’s when it happened. That winter I was completely smitten with the touch- swipe-pinch-zoom-undo-ease of the iPad. I loved the “tweet this”, “email that” simplicity of use.

Portrait created using Brushes app, 6th grade

I started to play with the Brushes app with layers, transparencies, textures, and playback mode and thought…this is transformational!

For years I’ve been trying to do technology based lessons with my elementary art students and found that they needed a great deal of instruction in how to use the tools, where to click, and how to troubleshoot issues. This meant that I was more of a tech teacher than an art teacher during class time.

Since those days my school purchased 100 iPads that travel throughout the school one grade level at a time each month. This means that I have the opportunity to create a digital art lesson with every grade level on the iPads in my K-5 elementary school. I jumped right in with uncertain expectations. I didn’t know how much my students could accomplish, how many issues we might have with network connectivity, and how I would deal with image management.

Some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Find a way to project the ipad as you teach (I use Apple TV to wirelessly mirror the iPad through my projector. View my blog post to learn more)
  • Learn the vocabulary for the ipads (home button, settings, wifi, share button, swipe, pinch, zoom, undo, double click, tap, shut down, mute, etc.) Manual
  • Teach students to respect the iPads as learning devices (not for playing Angry Birds and filling the camera roll with silly pictures)
  • Teach what you would have normally, but digitally if you can. Don’t let the ipads disrupt learning, but rather transform. Here are some examples.

Suzanne: Over the past four years, I have been taking steps to acquire touch screen devices for my students to use as art making tools. In 2009, I took photos of my family and friends with my iPhone and created silly portraits of them with bulging eyes and very lopsided features using the app, “FaceMelter”. Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” popped into my mind, and I thought that if I was having this much fun creating images in this style, my students might like it too. I found myself lending my iPhone and iPod Touch to my students. It was both hysterical and inspiring for them to learn about surrealism by creating “Melting Self Portraits” . Their excitement about using the touch screen to create made me look past the possibility that my devices could suffer any casualties. Fortunately, students took great care of my technology. The administration in my district believes in demonstrated practice; therefore, I was determined to prove that my students needed touch screen devices in the art room. At that time, I began uploading student work to their online Artsonia galleries and printed others to display in my school.

Love Bird, Created Using Phantasy App, 2nd Grade

In 2010, I invited my supervisor to observe a lesson where my students were using my iPod Touch to create digital collages using the app Faces iMake. To this day she recalls how amazed she was that first graders were all completely engaged and in awe when trying to watch a demonstration on one tiny iPod Touch. She was equally impressed with how intuitive they were when it was their turn to create digital collages on such a small screen.

Polar Bear, Created Using Percolator app, 3rd Grade

At the end of the 2011 school year, my district acquired iPads through a grant. Select classroom teachers and a couple of specialists, including myself, were invited to be a member of the iPad Pilot Program. I was given one first generation iPad to use with my students. We explored digital storytelling, augmented reality, graphic design, photo and drawing apps and more. Each week, I was required to submit a form to my technology leaders that described how I was infusing the iPad in the art room. It was a super exciting time, but only for a select few. Students wanted to use the iPad, but only having one iPad for 550 students meant that the odds of using the iPad were pretty slim for most.

Some of the things I have learned along the way:

  • Publish your students’ digital work online if possible and share the work they are creating with your administrators and technology leaders. Demonstrated practice could possibly go a long way. Read about how the iPad has been infused in the art room B.A. Art/iPads and see my students in action by viewing our B.A. Vimeo iPad Library.
  • Download and install Dropbox on your computer, iPads and iPhone. I cannot imagine managing and uploading my students’ digital files without it.
  • Talk to your students about your efforts to acquire technology for them. My students seem to appreciate that I include them in on the process. This could possibly be part of the reason why they take proper care of the technology when it arrives for them to use.
  • If you do not have a class set, create an iPad station where students can cycle through and take turns using the iPads while others are using traditional tools at their tables.
  • If you do not have a class set, provide time for students to work in groups. They enjoy solving problems together and are less frustrated when navigating tools for the first time in apps like “Brushes”.
  • Apply for grants when possible and look for opportunities that may help you acquire more iPads and perhaps a class set. Having an iPad station makes it possible to offer basic digital lesson extensions. A class set will allow you to teach digital lessons to an entire class on some days while using traditional tools on other days.

Suzanne Tiedemann and Tricia Fuglestad spent the last year exploring uses for the iPads in the Art room. They presented on their findings at the National Art Education Association on Saturday, March 3, 2012 in NYC.  Fnd their resources on their iPads in Art resource site.


  • February 24, 2012

    Heidi McElroy

    a very timely article. I just yesterday requested a classroom set of I-pads on a wish list. this article is perfect backup information. thanks.

  • February 25, 2012

    Suzanne Tiedemann

    Hi Heidi! I hope this article helps! Best of luck in acquiring a class set of iPads!

  • August 15, 2013

    First Timer

    Thank you! This is so helpful! My background is in Music and my school is having me teach art as well. My students have ipads and I have been searching for an article like this! Thanks again!

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