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Apple’s got a new plan to bring creativity (and more iPads) to schools

The company's encouraging teachers and students to embrace music, drawing, video, photography -- and its products.

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

Two years ago, Apple targeted the left side of kids' brains with Everyone Can Code. Now it's turned its attention to the right side with its new Everyone Can Create program that launches Monday.

With Everyone Can Code in 2016, Apple called out coding as an "essential skill." It started delivering learning guides and tools to help students from kindergarten to college succeed in a tech-driven world that prizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

Apple is now pushing creativity with Everyone Can Create, an initiative designed to help teachers and students incorporate drawing, video, photo and music projects -- the "art" in STEAM-based curricula -- into subjects already being taught as part of elementary and secondary curricula.

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Apple introduced Everyone Can Create in March at an education-focused iPad event where it also updated its cheapest iPad and added support for its $99 Pencil. The program will feature 300 lesson ideas in four project guides for free in Apple Books, as well as a teacher resource guide. These first lessons are targeted at middle school students (grades 5-9) and are available in English. Ideas for younger and older kids in K-12 classes, and more languages, will be added over time.  

"We think it's going to make education fun for a lot of students in new ways," Phil Schiller, Apple's worldwide marketing chief, said in an interview. "We think there's a lot of budding artists, videographers and musicians and directors and writers that are going to get more of an opportunity to express themselves and find their passions with these tools."

Both initiatives, Apple says, are intended to help students and teachers solve problems and work in creative ways. But they're also about helping the company retake share in the education market. Elementary and secondary schools, particularly in the US, keep scooping up new mobile PCs and tablets while consumer and business sales are "stagnating," according to research firm Futuresource Consulting.

Cheaper tablets

The problem for Apple is that over the past five years, those schools have been increasingly turning to alternatives that sell below the $299 education starting price for the 9.7-inch iPad. Demand for Apple's computers and iPads has slipped as schools opt for Chromebooks that run on Google's Chrome operating system, as well as Microsoft Windows-based PCs and tablets.

iPad sales fell for 13 quarters in a row before edging up again in mid-2017.

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Apple's Everyone Can Create includes lessons on photography.

Apple

Apple's Schiller believes the trend favoring "Chromebooks and cheap PCs" has peaked and the situation may be "starting to turn around" for the iPad in K-12, thanks to initiatives such as Everyone Can Code, now adopted in over 5,000 schools. Apple's financial services group is working more aggressively on financing options for school districts, and teachers and administrators are  recognizing that lower-cost rivals don't deliver as much value, usability and utility as iPads, he adds.

"More and more schools are saying, 'Yeah we may have saved money, but we've spent money on these devices that don't have the longer term [return on investment] of an iPad or a Mac and they don't last as long, they don't provide enough use throughout the classroom,'" Schiller says.

While she agrees with Apple's approach, Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi thinks the higher device pricing will continue to test Apple's best evangelists -- even with new tools such as Apple School Manager that aim to reduce the iPad's total cost of ownership and maintenance. And not every teacher is eager to embrace new teaching methods because many don't have the time or incentive to try new things, she adds.

"At the end of the day from a principal perspective or school district perspective, it's cost first,"  Milanesi says. "There's a lower need for teachers to learn. You don't want them to spend a lot of time learning something new."

Bite-size lessons

Since releasing a preview version of the Everyone Can Create curriculum in March, teachers at about 350 schools around the world have already been working through lessons, says Susan Prescott, Apple's vice president of markets, apps and services. The goal wasn't to reinvent the K-12 curriculum but to figure out ways to offer projects that augment learning plans for math, science, social studies and other subjects already set by teachers.

"It was developed with teachers in house [at Apple] as well as teachers who are still currently in the classroom to make sure we hit the sweet spot for how to meaningfully construct the content, make it engaging for students but make it make sense for teachers," Prescott says.

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In one Everyone Can Create lesson, students are instructed to make short videos of themselves. 

Apple

Each activity is designed to build up skills toward completing more complex projects, teach kids vocabulary for each discipline and show them how to use iPad and iPhone features along with a variety of apps, mostly Apple ones. For video, kids work with Clips and iMovie. For photography, it's Camera, Photos and Keynote, while music activities rely on GarageBand. For drawing, it's Pages and a free third-party app, Tayasui Sketches School.

With photography, kids learn skills including perspective, lighting and how to use the burst mode in the iPad or iPhone camera to capture action. In drawing, students start by creating their own emoji to get the basics of sketching, using lines, patterns, block lettering and getting comfortable with the Apple Pencil or Logitech's $49 Crayon, which also works with the iPad.

The biggest takeaway from teachers was to keep the projects short, so students could complete them in one class that's anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, Prescott says.

Making learning fun

Count Jodie Deinhammer, a seventh grade science teacher at Coppell Middle School East in Texas, as a fan of Everyone Can Create. A science teacher for the past 22 years, Deinhammer currently oversees 130 kids in four classes.

Because she likes to change her lesson plans each year and try new approaches, Deinhammer, an Apple Distinguished Educator, says she's on the lookout for creative ways to engage students and make the process fun for them -- and for herself. Once she realized Apple's projects were developed by teachers who understand kids' short attention spans, she started brainstorming ways to use them in her life sciences classes.

Her students have already created a presentation about how much sugar they consume every day. It started with giving them 10 minutes to do a photo shoot about the drinks they were testing in their experiments.

"It got them really into the lesson," Deinhammer says. "They were learning just a few little skills, but they'll be able to use them in future projects -- like, 'Remember the time you had to take a picture of a Coke bottle and now think about that when you're getting ready to interview somebody for that documentary.'"

Benjamin Mountz, who teaches physics and robotics at Halanani Schools in Hawaii, was one of the teacher reviewers for Everyone Can Code. He's using the projects as the basis for a digital storytelling class with 15 high school students, who'll share 10 iPads and Logitech Crayons. His goal is to get them to produce video that will be shown on a local TV station by the end of the year.

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One of Apple's Everyone Can Create lessons focuses on drawing. 

Apple

"Tools like this make things more interesting," says Mountz, who's been teaching for 15 years and wrote an animated message and posted it on Twitter to show off the capabilities of Everyone Can Create.  He wants students to tell their own stories and says that "Apple has put that potential in everyone's hands with this curriculum. … You can have a great idea, but if you can't create it creatively, the world isn't going to stand up and take notice."

Still, Apple knows it needs to start by convincing schools that "creativity" is worth the investment. Schiller says lowering the price of the iPad to under $300 was a first big step, but he acknowledges "there's more to do." Everyone Can Create is part of that.

"What Apple has been saying all along is that we can actually help in student engagement, in creativity," he says. "It does matter."

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