Students at St. Christopher School are riding the current wave of educational technology. The Tonawanda school initiated an iPad program for its seventh-graders to prepare them for the future.
"Part of our job here is to prepare our students for the next grade level and high school," explained Principal Jenny Bainbridge. "All of our area high schools, Catholic schools and public schools, are using some type of individual device for their students. When they walk out of our building, they're going to walk into Sweet Home down the road or Canisius or St. Joe's, the Mount, and they're going to have an iPad, a Chromebook or something of that nature. So we decided this is something we need to prepare our students for, so when they walk into high school, they are as prepared as possible."
The students use the portable tablet computers in all of their classes. Teachers use Schoology, a learning management system that allows users to create, manage and share content and resources. Assignments are posted through the system. Students can complete tests, quizzes and papers through their devices and send them back to the teacher for correction. The assignments can even be sent back to students for revision.
"They are able to post, discuss, submit assignments. We grade them and the turnover is very quick, within minutes. We watch everything, and they are able to complete and be on task," explained Gloria Fox, multimedia specialist for St. Christopher's.
Through TabPilot, teachers can manage each device. They can view all the iPads in class, lock out all but one needed app, and push out apps they want students to use, keeping students on task and engaged. Students have also been given gmail accounts to create open communication with teachers.
Schoology also has a way for students and teachers to keep track what assignments have been handed in.
"I always say, as parents and teachers, we always take the child's word if they said, 'Yes, I did that assignment,' or 'Why did that teacher give me a zero?'" Fox said. "We have a submissions tab so the student knows (they've) submitted the work, they go back and make sure it is on the submissions page and teachers can keep track of it."
The iPads also offer a plethora of resources.
"They go to a resource and they have that information in front of them," Fox said. "I feel like everything is in one. They have their textbooks, their e-readers, their assignments. They no longer have to walk around with a binder with 14 subjects. We all know how we have that paper trail that gets lost. Well, nothing is lost. They're accountable for their own task being completed. If they don't submit and assignment, and we haven't had that yet, but if they don't, they know why. It's because they didn't import it correctly. We go back and we show them how to do those steps to import and export. And they have resources online to help them. So, instead of fumbling with the textbook, they have the app where they can go in. The chapter is already set for them, highlighted and the content is pulled."
The popularity of the iPad and other Apple iOS devices makes the students already familiar with how to use the devices. They still had to learn to use the devices as a tool - how to import and export files, scan paper, and use of Gmail accounts.
"That was probably the most difficult, to let them understand that if they need help email someone instead of 'I have to wait all weekend to communicate with my teacher.' Email is instant. Schoology is instant. They were ready to learn. They were ready to take on this big undertaking. If they didn't know something they would ask. They were willing to put the time and effort in, which most seventh-graders don't. I've been here 13 years. This has got to be the best seventh-grade class," Fox said.
In their down time, kids are offered learning apps like Brain Pop or Duo Lingo, as incentives.
Fox said using the new computers has improved "everything." Grades are up, which she attributes this to the use of iPads. "I feel they are keeping track of their papers. Teachers are capable of grading a test, a quiz, a paper, pushing it to the student. The student looks at it, and they are offered revisions. So we talk about keeping that open to the student to revise, learn and up their grade by submitting it again."
She admits all this technology adds to the workload of the tech teachers.
"It is a lot of work, but its such a great experience. I love it. I embrace it. When I get questions at 9 o'clock at night, I answer them. I am so ready for the next phase for us. The workload? I just say bring it, because I am learning so much as I go," Fox said.
At a parent night launch held in January, the school developed and shared it use policy with the parents. Parents signed an agreement and learned how take care of the new tools along with their kids. Students had been using the iPads since the fall, but were not allowed to take them home at that time.
Funding for the devices, which includes 36 iPads for seventh-graders, plus six for teachers and one per classroom for other grades, came directly from the parish.
"Our pastor (Father Steven Jekielek) has been very committed to evolving technology in our school, so we have committed some money for the duration of the project to continue to supply the iPads for our students," said Bainbridge.
The program will expand to include eighth grade next year, and sixth, seventh and eighth the year after that.