Creating Your Own Mobile iPad Cart / Lab / Charging Station

Our school has around 600 students. The middle school kids (grades 5 – 8) have individual iPads, but students in 4K, 5K, and 1st through 4th grades have to share a mobile iPad cart. The first cart we purchased was the “official” one provided by Apple, but it was not enough to provide access for 18+ lower school teachers.

We needed a second cart, but we didn’t want to pay a large sum of money for another official machine from Apple. So we made our own. Here is how we did it.

First, you need the iPads. We wanted our carts to have enough iPads for any class to utilize, so that meant we needed as many iPads as the classroom with the highest number of students. For us, that was 25. We put an inexpensive rubber cover on all the iPads (for protection and to identify them as members of the cart collection) and we also put a labeling sticker on each iPad to identify them. This was important as many educational apps and games used by younger kids will save profiles and progress, so we wanted to ensure that the same kids used the same iPads each time. We created a separate profile with the necessary restriction settings in Meraki for the cart iPads.

Next, we needed the following supplies for the actual construction:

  1. A cart with wheels. We had an old one that used to carry a projector and a laptop to presentations and assemblies before we had ceiling-mounted projectors installed.
  2. An old DVD rack with more than 25 spaces
  3. 25 iPad chargers. You can buy these in bulk by talking to Apple or looking around on Ebay or Amazon.
  4. Several long and thin power stripes with a combined total number of outlets to accomodate 25 chargers.
  5. Lots of zip ties.
  6. Optional: a laptop computer with some/any/all of the following: iTunes, Apple Configurator, a USB hub with lots of outlets so it can connect to lots of iPads at once, and/or an internet connection for volume purchasing apps on Apple’s VPP website. However, if using this cart simply for storage, charging, and mobility, then the laptop management is not really necessary after the iPads have gone through their initial setups.

I could walk you through the construction, but it is pretty straightforward and easy. Instead, here are some pics with captions explaining what you are looking at:

The iPads are placed upside-down into the horizontal DVD rack, which is secured to the cart to prevent it slipping or falling off.

The power strips and the chargers are attached underneath and the wires are grouped together with zip ties up top. Be sure to leave a lot of extra wire so it can reach almost any iPad.

The power strips all feed into another strip to ensure there is one master plug for the whole cart. Consider using a surge protector strip to guard the iPads from damage.

The final product. The laptop is used for purchasing apps on the VPP and emergency management issues.

The end result is a small, agile cart that teachers can check out. They wheel it down to their classroom, pass out the iPads (using the labels to ensure students use the same device every time), and then when class is over they simply return the iPads, plug them back in, and return the cart to the locked storage room (being sure to plug it into the wall to charge the iPads). Very easy and it cost less than $100 (not including the iPads, cases, and chargers, obviously).

When we want to install new apps onto the iPads, we do it manually. This is a bit slow, but it allows us to avoid messing around with configurator and needing too many USB hubs and extra wires. We buy the apps via the laptop and then manually install them using redemption codes on the app store on the iPads. We have trained a group of middle school students in our school’s Tech Club to be able to help us with stuff like this.

Feel free to leave any comments, questions, or suggestions below. Hope this helps your school as much as it did ours.


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