Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Catholic Schools Debut iPad Program As School Begins

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 18, 2011

Textbooks will be staying on the shelves as some students return to the classroom carrying only lightweight iPads.

Six schools in the Atlanta Archdiocese are embracing the touch-screen iPads as the newest classroom tool to recreate Civil War battles in social studies, reinforce math lessons with instructional videos or write a classroom blog to improve writing skills.

All the eighth-grade students in the participating schools get their own iPad 2 as part of a pilot program to test a new educational application, Net Texts.

Students in Barbara Findley’s algebra class at Notre Dame Academy, Duluth, will have step-by-step videos of math problems with them at all times.

“It’s as if I could go home with them,” said Findley, a veteran teacher of 41 years.

The price tag for the new technology is being picked up by two private foundations, one founded by an alumnus of Immaculate Heart of Mary School. The grant, valued at approximately $250,000, paid for all the hardware, including 300 touch-screen tablet computers and other accessories. Teachers also trained with educational researchers and consultants on the device and the software.

The Speedwell Foundation and the Shelter Hill Foundation are funding the project. The program tests a new program called Net Texts, which allows teachers to draw from free educational resources on the Internet and combine them with their own materials to create courses. Teachers and students will rely on the customized courses, replacing textbooks for the eighth-graders this year.

More schools are experimenting with iPads, bringing the latest technology into the classroom. Some educational experts have questioned the wisdom of introducing the iPads in the classroom without knowing whether the technology helps students learn.

However, a study of iPad uses in the classroom conducted by textbook publishers Houghton Mifflin showed more student self-guided instruction and engagement versus traditional learning. Houghton Mifflin released an algebra application with 400 videos in the spring that sells for the cost of a textbook, nearly $60.

The Catholic schools involved in the pilot program are St. John the Evangelist, Hapeville; St. Thomas More, Decatur; Immaculate Heart of Mary, Atlanta; Our Lady of the Assumption, Atlanta; St. Jude, Sandy Springs; and Notre Dame Academy, Duluth. All are archdiocesan schools except Notre Dame, which is an independent Catholic school sponsored by the Marists.

‘Students Are Living In A Digital World’

Diane Starkovich, the superintendent of archdiocesan schools, said students interact in a digital world outside the classroom, so it makes sense to bring it into the classroom.

“Any tool which can be added to enhance instruction should be considered. Students are living in a digital world, and they are learning digitally outside of school. Why not incorporate more digital learning in our schools?” she wrote in an email.

Students must develop skills important for the 21st century, including problem solving, critical thinking and media literacy, Starkovich said, and teachers can help students strengthen those skills by using digital media.

“Technology is one very important tool in providing academic experiences for our students,” she said.

Bob Baldonado, Immaculate Heart of Mary assistant principal, said the iPads add another tool in the toolbox for teachers.

“They are all about technology. Kids are comfortable with it. There’s more learning curve for teachers than kids,” he joked.

Immaculate Heart of Mary was the first school approached about the idea. Baldonado said the school received about 75 iPads, with 60 going to students and the rest to teachers.

John Steinbeck’s classic novel “The Pearl” is a staple of English classrooms across the country.

In addition to reading it, the students at Notre Dame Academy will watch a “Nova” science TV show about diving for the gems and how they are valued in different cultures. In addition, they’ll discuss a news article about the youngest winner of a lottery in Britain and what it meant for her life. And the students will write an essay on how a valuable possession may change their life.

That’s what the classroom in Cheryl Brown’s eighth-grade language arts is going to be diving into with the help of the tablet computers.

Brown, who has taught for 17 years, is enthusiastic about the new opportunity. She created lesson plans that take advantage of the tablet’s versatility.

“There’s so much that students are going to be able to do,” she said. “It allows for multimedia learning.”

In addition to the classroom, students will have access to the 300 e-book reference library when they need to do research for her class. And she’s trying to figure out how the students can use the iPads to have a conversation with a class in Italy the students will meet later this school year.

Ken Lemons, the technology education coordinator at the Duluth school, said students already had technology at their fingertips, but this program takes it to a different level.

“It’s going to be able to influence everything they do in school, not just special events,” he said.

When the 21 students get their iPads, Lemons will be teaching them a new class focused on privacy, copyright and cyber bullying, with the idea “to teach them both the good things and the bad things that are waiting for them.”

 ‘They Will Be Drawn To It’

Teachers at the participating schools received their devices in January. The extra time let the educators become comfortable with the devices and imagine how their students could use them.

For Notre Dame Academy social studies teacher John Findley, the husband of Barbara, the touchpad tablets will immerse students in the learning.

“Kids will get a deeper understanding of the subject. In a two-dimensional textbook, it’s cold, hard facts for social studies. The students are really put off. Now, with these things, they will be drawn to it. They can watch the video, the pictures, to put together a deeper story. It makes it alive.”

By September, students will have received their iPads. The students get the new configuration that comes with a built-in camera. Schools organized meetings with parents and students to establish ground rules on using the gadgets. Some of the applications have been disabled, but otherwise the students are free to use them. Baldonado said most schools are leaving it to teachers to design their courses, as long as they cover the Atlanta Archdiocese required curriculum.

Apple has sold more than 9 million iPads between April and June, according to the company, although there are no details about school sales.

The Speedwell Foundation was started by Mike Messner, a financial manager in New York City. In Atlanta, George Messner is organizing the project with the schools. Both Messners, plus their four other siblings, are alumni of Immaculate Heart of Mary School and St. Pius X High School.

Messner said textbooks force teachers into a by-the-book teaching style, but with the technology, the material can be tweaked to match the needs of a classroom.

“In school (years ago), your knowledge came from a book. Today, it’s everywhere,” he said.

The pilot program will be a test of the tablet’s educational value, as well as cost saving. Schools may not need to invest in purchasing new textbooks if the students don’t use them. And Messner said schools could see savings as teachers copy material less, saving paper and toner costs.

How to measure the educational impact of the iPads is undecided. Messner said school staff and Net Texts will be working together to test the program.

Starkovich said curriculum committees would be asking teachers, administrators, students and their parents for feedback to judge the program. In addition, administrators can look at test results and other measures to see the program’s educational value.

For teachers, a simple measure will be seeing how engaged students are in the classroom and in learning.

Findley said success will be noticeable very quickly if students “lack that glazed-over look.”

Some of the material Findley assembled for her class includes a Jeopardy-like math test, which should help keep students interested.

Giving them a worksheet “would never have been as exciting,” she said.