iPad Integration in the Research and Inquiry Process

Area(s) of Focus: technology
Division(s): Intermediate
Level(s): Grade 9, Grade 10

Using the inquiry process, we examined and tested many iPad apps. We facilitated trials during various inquiry tasks, then gathered student feedback. We generated recommendations based on the utility of apps examined for the inquiry process phases.

Referencing the online documents “iPad Apps for the Inquiry Cycle,” “Apps for Inquiry: Using the LADDER inquiry model” and “Core Teacher Apps,” and making connections to “The Inquiry Process” found in Together for Learning: School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons, we compiled a master list of potential apps to be reviewed and assessed.

  • After determining potential apps for the inquiry process, we connected with classroom teachers and identified potential apps that would benefit specific research tasks and projects.
  • With the introduction of the tasks, in our role as teacher-librarians, we facilitated instruction on the logistics of using the app throughout the inquiry process.
  • Feedback on the utility and the effectiveness of the apps during the inquiry process was gathered with student responses to surveys generated by Google forms and the Socrative app.     
  • Considering the survey information, in addition to debriefing with teachers, we generated a comprehensive review document in which we included the following: identification of apps appropriate for each phase; detailed descriptions of apps’ functions; and recommendations for apps that would enhance the inquiry process, accompanied by reasons and justifications.

Team Members

  • Sue Hushen

    Avon Maitland District School Board

  • Jennifer Raleigh

    Avon Maitland District School Board

  • Stacey Somerville

    Avon Maitland District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

  • merge technology with other 21st-century skills, including the inquiry process
  • determine which apps will foster critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, communication and creativity during research and inquiry process
  • collaborate with classroom teachers to design research and inquiry activities that support shift from teacher-directed learning to self- and participatory- learning

Activities and Resources

  • identified and extensively explored inquiry-based apps to determine those with potential
  • completed a critical analysis of all pertinent apps and devised a resource list based on the analysis
  • from the critical analysis, chose possible apps for the students to use in current research and inquiry projects and subsequently, provide feedback
  • collaborated with classroom teachers in development/modification of apps
  • taught students the apps and gathered data

Unexpected Challenges

  • because our secondary school panel has not started the NGL program, only a limited number of classes had access to iPads based on preset school plans, plus apps could only be added to one cart per school which had to be factored into logistics as those iPads were assigned to specific classes
  • we found that the stringent process and procedures connected to both ordering bulk apps through the school board and have these apps placed on iPads limited the ability to order any other bulk apps once the first order was placed because it took a lot of time and multiple steps to get the apps, pay for them and install them on the iPads

Therefore, testing out apps was not as easy (or authentic) as originally planned due to these unforeseen technical hurdles:

  • challenge of integrating authentic tasks and the apps so the apps could be utilized without compromising the task itself
  • getting classroom teachers on board with the idea as many are still struggling with their own learning curve associated with iPads and apps in general terms (including the inquiry process)

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

Using our observations and feedback, teachers can provide multiple options for engaging with the inquiry stages while addressing differentiated learning styles.

  • Choosing apps requires students and teachers to critically assess the type of task at hand, and to determine the best app to complete that task. More apps will inevitably be created and promoted, and students will need to use their intrapersonal skills to determine how best to proceed with a task, and then critically assess an app’s utility.
  • Because students are eager to proceed as quickly as possible to the creating phases of the inquiry process, students do not always engage effectively with the initial stages of the inquiry (brainstorming initial ideas, surveying possible resources to select the most effective) which do result in a superior final product. These apps have the potential to make participation easier and more efficient, as well as aiding with organization of ideas.
  • Many of the apps are compatible with various platforms (Evernote, Google Drive) and with one research task, several apps can simultaneously be used.   Therefore, students can hone their organizational skills as they strive to determine strategies and systems for accessing the information and storing the information during the various stages.


Describe any activities that the team felt were not helpful in meeting your goals:

  • all activities that were included in our evaluation and testing of the apps were all necessary… in fact, additional opportunities for assessment of apps would have expanded the number of results and recommendations


Our target audience is other teacher-librarians and classroom teachers in grades 7 to 12 who are searching for apps which will assist their students in developing research skills and working through the inquiry process. We will be providing a document outlining our critical analysis of inquiry process-related apps (both positive and negative) to assist classroom teachers when they have to choose apps for class use in this context.

On a local level, we plan to do a number of different things.

We plan to share our results with our peers by presenting at a staff meeting at each school.

We will connect with individual departments that we believe will be interested in some of the specific apps. (Sue, for example, shared Tools4Students2 and PaperHelper with the SERT  who, in turn, asked administration to purchase licences for some of our Grade 9s who have iPads as their primary SEA equipment. The SERT has been been working with her students and have received a great deal of positive feedback from them.)

We also plan to share the results of the student surveys with our administration and make recommendations for apps to purchase for students entering Grade 9 next year to have on their 1:1 iPads (Sue has already recommended Tools4Students2 and Paper Helper apps to her school’s Tech Coach and administration for purchase).

Furthermore, we will be sharing the document we have created (and shared here) that provides a critical analysis of numerous apps that were promoted online as being great options when working on the inquiry process with students. This analysis shares not only those apps we thought were beneficial, but also those that we did not find to be so in an attempt to help save the time and money of others as they look for these type of app resources. We will be asking that this document be placed on our board’s Intranet site and we hope to be able to share it with our Intermediate and Senior Curriculum Coordinators at the board level (as well as Tech Coaches) so they can disseminate this information to classroom teachers in their schools.

Finally, we will be sharing with our teacher-librarian peers at our next Leader’s Council meeting.

Project Evaluation

Goal Success:

  1. Because we are teacher-librarians, and one of our primary roles is as a resource for staff and students as well as an expert in the area of research skill development, gaining a general knowledge of the types of apps available was a productive endeavour based on the following results:
  • reassessment of the inquiry process, making connections between the phases and the new learning environment in light of technology use;
  • identification of apps that will meet student needs in relation to the inquiry process;
  • development of knowledge and skills to determine the utility and advantages of apps specifically for research and more general tasks in a course; and
  • Fostering collaborative relationships with both classroom teachers and students who engage in research.

2.  In addition to our exploration and evaluation of the apps, we also wanted teachers and students to use the chosen apps in authentic applications.

Despite some limitations in logistics, we had some opportunities for classes to test the apps in conjunction with the inquiry process.

Using student feedback, we determined that some apps were advantageous, as long as the following considerations were in place:

  • introduction of an app was accompanied with explicit instruction on how to use the app;
  • tasks generated using the app could easily be shared, saved or stored in an existing platform; and
  • whenever possible, there were accessibility features that could be accessed or students had the choice of more than one app, of which at least one included accessibility features.

Determining success:

  • our ability to find relevant apps that potentially address various aspects of the inquiry process;
  • positive student feedback reflecting their reaction to apps that we had identified as being the best to utilize in various stages of the inquiry process (our survey results are included later in the report); and
  • development of a document to share with colleagues involving our critical assessment of inquiry-related apps.

If given the opportunity to do anything differently, we would have aligned our surveys so that we were asking the same questions to elicit comparable results. Due to the questions asked and the nature of the platforms we chose (Jenn used Socrative Student and Sue used Google Forms), the response setups are vastly different. If we did it again, we’d definitely set out one set of commons surveys.

Resources Used

Ontario School Library Association’s “Together for Learning School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons,” APPENDIX A: The Inquiry Process (pages 44-51)

– provides framework for our alignment of apps and stages at which they could be potentially utilized


“Apps for the Inquiry Process” from blog Librarians on the Fly (September 9, 2013)

– authors developed based on stages from Kathy Murdoch’s Inquiry Cycle (we then aligned them in relation to the four stages set out in the “Together for Learning School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons” document)


Apps for Inquiry – Using the LADDER inquiry model

– using this resource, we aligned these stages in relation to the four stages set out in the “Together for Learning School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons” document


“36 Core Teacher Apps For Inquiry Learning With iPads” from blog Te@chThought (October 14, 2013)

– we examined this set of apps and looked at how they fit in relation to the “Together for Learning School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons” document


“The 100 Best iPad apps” from blog Creative Blog (December 24, 2014)

– this resource provided us with an overview of different apps and some ideas about apps that are available

This blog is British-based so all apps may not be available in Canada.


“Classroom in the Cloud: Technology as a Learning Environment” from blog Edutopia (September 23, 2014)

– this blog posted provided us with some broad stroke ideas as we worked on our initial research


“Critical Evaluation of Mobile Apps” from Kathy Schrock’s Ipads4Teaching

– we examined this rubric when designing our surveys for students

**NOTE: Republishing of links or content of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is not allowed.**


“Ways to Evaluated Educational Apps” from blog Learning in Hand with Tony Vincent (March 4, 2012)

– we examined this resource when designing our surveys for students