Apple App Store
BrainPOP Jr. Movie of the Week is an app available for Apple devices.

Editor's note: This post originally appeared on Innosight Institute's education blog. It has been posted here with permission from the author.

Todays blog is a how-to for converting an iPod Touch into a tricked out e-learning handheld for pre-K and elementary students. Disclaimer: I dont own any stock in Apple and I am not paid by any of the vendors below. Im just doing this for my own holiday recon and hoped some of you might find it helpful too!

Background: This Christmas were flying and driving with our kids. Im sure well bring along copious goldfish crackers and sippy cups, but Id rather avoid the traditional craziness of our bursting carry-ons. Im looking for small devices that will be easy to carry aboard, simple for our kids to use, and make better use of the travel time than a DVD player. Plus, on normal days my kids spend too much time in the car shuttling to activities. Id love to fill that void with productive learning time.

The other attraction is that the system Im envisioning will help us occupy the masses while each takes a turn getting individual parent attention — arguably the most important part of this equation.

So heres my plan:


Im buying four refurbished 8GB iPod Touchs (4G) from the Apple Store for $129 each. Id rather buy the new iPad mini, but the $329 price is too high for me, given that I need four of these. The 8GB is enough to hold roughly 100 songs, two videos, 300 pictures, and 50 apps. If I had older kids, Id want more memory. Less expensive iPods Touches with more memory are routinely available on eBay.

Learning Apps

Here are 12 of the apps were going to try first:

iBooks (free). Lets users download and read books from the iTunes bookstore.

Brainpop Jr. Movie of the Week (free). I like the way Brainpop exposes them to a wide range of subjects, particularly science and history.

Kindle (free). We already have an Amazon Prime account, so this will give us access to all the books weve bought through Amazon. The app syncs last-page-read across devices.

Super Why! ($2.99). Alphabet, rhyming, spelling and writing for ages 3-6.

Dinosaurs: The American Museum of Natural History Collections (free). More than 1,000 images from the museums archives, plus information about each one.

The Pianist ($3.99). Turns the iPod into a full 88-key piano keyboard, with record and play-back functionality.

Memory Matches (free). The classic game of memory.

Checkers for the younger two. Chess for the older two. (Both free).

WordSearch Kids ($0.99). Hundreds of word-search puzzles.

Google Earth (free). Tour cities, landmarks, natural wonders, and watch our progress as we travel to grandmas house.

The Night Sky ($0.99). Hold the iPod up to the sky to explore the stars, planets, and galaxies directly overhead.

Duolingo (free). Learn Spanish, French, and German for free. Might not work, but well give it a try!

There are a bunch of others Ill rotate in, like Motion Math, Digit Whiz Math, Wacky Safari, Infinite Maze, and Mad Libs. When my kids are older and I want to make the investment, Ill think about iPads so we can use a service like eSpark to get recommendations and build individual learning playlists. (Hopefully eSpark will start selling their service direct to parents soon.)

Audio Playlists Im building these playlists in iTunes:

Standin Tall set. I love these 12 CDs about different values like courage, self-esteem, honesty, and work.

Their Safety Kids set is well done too. ($215.95 for the set; pricey, but tons of great content)

Im checking out several classic books-on-CD from the library and will rotate them through. (free)

iTunes also has dozens of read-aloud books, many of which are free. (free to $6.99)

Well also create a few playlists with the kids favorite songs. (The John Williams superhero anthems are always top requests.)


The younger kids are starting with a video like Meet the Sight Words, because a little straight up memorization has worked wonders to speed up their preK and kindergarten reading.

The older two are going to watch documentaries (theyre still young, so I wield this kind of power!). Im starting with Brooklyn Castle because it reinforces their current participation in their schools chess club. Ill also download the podcast of the filmmakers.

Other Ideas

Im planning to buy a few favorite digital books for each child, customized to their reading level. Im also going to download pictures of their cousins and relatives so they can practice with names before we arrive at the festivities. The older two will be able to take pictures along the way and create a slideshow of their trip.

So theres my plan.

Post script analytical spin

For those of you who enjoy disruptive innovation theory, heres the skinny on me through that lens. My kids are nonconsumers of digital learning during their travel time and commutes. They have books and DVD players, but they do not have access to the much broader set of content and instruction available digitally. My jobs-to-be-done are to entertain young kids so they can travel somewhat independently and to make traveling and commutes more educational. The iPods arent as good as being in school, but thats not the job Im hiring the iPods to do while were on a holiday.

Smartphone-sized devices are disruptive relative to personal computers. Theyre less expensive, simpler, and will delight my children even though they may not be as good as laptops and tablets available at higher prices for users with deeper expertise. The performance hurdle required to delight my new-to-the-market children is quite modest. Heres an infographic about Apple and how it is currently dominating the tech war in Americas classrooms. Watch out though Apple, because you are currently being disrupted by Android devices, which have a more open architecture and will make handheld ownership available to many new-market customers over the long term. But the performance of the Androids is not yet good enough for me, because I want an all-in-one device for MP3s, video, and education apps, and Apples ecosystem does that best . . . for now.