By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 10, 2012
IPads will become a familiar sight as some Catholic schools in the Atlanta Archdiocese expand the year-old program to replace textbooks with the tablets.
Nearly 100 students at Notre Dame Academy, Duluth, will be getting tablet computers instead of textbooks. Starting in the fall, students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades are to get the handheld tablets.
And at St. Thomas More School, seventh graders will be part of the iPad program.
“I cannot see myself going back to a textbook,” said Natalie Brett, a middle school science teacher at the Decatur school, who was admittedly skeptical about the program.
The tablets, which cost between $500 and $800, allow students to hear political speeches from the Civil War, figure out chemical interactions, design presentations and take notes using the touch screens.
A workshop hosted by Net Tex, an educational technology developer, drew close to 50 educators interested in learning about the using the iPads as an educational tool.
The company donated iPads to 300 eighth-grade students in six Atlanta Catholic schools.
Students and teachers swapped traditional textbooks for Net Texts application for the school year.
The technology allows teachers to build their material from the ground up, customizing it to meet required educational standards. Teachers use audio files, slideshows and other interactive programs in the classwork and homework. The lesson plans draw on free educational materials available, from places like the Khan Academy, Project Gutenberg and open source material from universities.
For its participation, St. Jude the Apostle School, Dunwoody, was recognized by Today’s Catholic Teacher magazine with its Catholic Schools for Tomorrow Award for innovations in education.
Assessment and understanding the technology’s impact on learning is in its early stages. Overall, grades and performances have stayed about the same in the year’s time, but teachers talked about a better learning environment.
Brett said her students are more enthusiastic and excited in the classroom. And students who learn in different ways can tailor the iPad instruction to take advantage of it, she said.
Terry Collis, the principal at St. Thomas More, said the program worked so well the school is planning on participating in a matching grant program to pay for the tablets.
Collis said nearly 120 students at the school would replace textbooks with the program.
“It’s pretty intuitive for them. There is a paradigm shift for how students learn and what they do with the information,” she said.
The school will need to raise between $15,000 and $20,000 to pay for the expansion, she said.
Ken Lemon, the technology director at Notre Dame Academy, said the students and faculty at the Duluth school are “extremely happy” with the first year.
Nearly two dozen students at the Lilburn school participated in the first-year program and the new program will be five times that size, he said.
In 2011, the program for teachers started with training sessions on the tablets and the different tools. They received instruction on how to set up their lessons plans and how the students would interact with them, he said.
Students and parents signed an agreement to use the iPad appropriately. A course called digital citizenship was implemented for all grades, covering safety and plagiarism to cyberbullying.
“The program has started to take care of itself,” he said.
Brett said students benefit by having easy access to the day’s lessons. “They literally have in their fingertips what they went over that day. It’s fabulous,” she said.
The technology gives students more time for labs and hands-on learning, and teachers can tweak the information easily and quickly to supplement classroom work, she said.