Project brings iPads into classrooms

Peggy Revell

Grade 8 students at St. Francis School here will start integrating iPads into their classroom routine as part of a pilot project launched last week by the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
The initiative follows up on the board’s push to have a “SmartBoard” in every classroom, which it completed this year, noted Mike Belluz, MISA data co-ordinator with the NCDSB’s technology department.
“The next step now is looking at integrating the ‘SmartBoards’ into the curriculum, and one of the things that came up was using iPads,” Belluz said about bringing in the smaller tablet-style computers.
So for this pilot, the board has invested in a cart that contains 30 iPads, which will be used in two Grade 8 classes at St. Francis.
“We’re going to evaluate it through the whole year—we’re doing a research project on it right now,” remarked Belluz.
“We’re going to see if it leads to increased student achievement and engagement.”
From there, the board also will look at how feasible it is to bring the iPads into its other schools and classrooms, he added.
As part of the pilot, the two teachers were given two iPads a couple of months ago and worked to pick out “apps” (computer programs for the iPads) which they felt were relevant to what they’re teaching in the curriculum, Belluz explained.
“So for example, they could be using generic ones like GoogleEarth when they’re studying and looking at climate change,” he said, or “Dragon Dictation,” which allows students to speak into the iPad and to create stories.
“There’s tons of apps out there. With this pilot, we hope to see what apps they’ll really use,” added Belluz.
And from this, they can see which apps would be useful for when the iPads are used in other schools.
Participating St. Francis teacher Lisa George said she expects the iPads will be used a lot for things, such as journaling, mathematics, or even for talking about books and a literature circle.
“Kids like to talk to each other on a computer rather than to each other,” she observed.
“So after they’ve had that discussion, they can make comments and opinions on [the iPads], where they can read each other’s comments and opinions.
“It’s further sharing,” she reasoned.
But one of the biggest aspects will be teaching the curriculum on media, which is a “big thing” for the Grade 8 level, noted George.
“Now that we have [the iPads], we can actually have them all able to take pictures and video and manipulate the pictures and video, and use that for presentations,” she explained.
She added part of the lessons also will be on understanding the power of the media—what’s appropriate, what’s inappropriate, what’s effective, what is ineffective, and “comparing that to what they see on the web every day.”
The technology also is one that the students are familiar with, said George.
“When I asked who has an iPad, six of them [students] put their hands up,” she recalled.
“But when we asked how many of you know how to use an iPad, they all do because it’s like a big iPod with extra bells and whistles, so it’s even more exciting.”
“They’re probably going to be showing us stuff by the end of the day, I’m sure,” Colin Drumbolis, manager of Information Systems for the NCDSB, said about how adept students are with this sort of new technology.
“It’s a great interactive learning tool, for sure,” he added.
“It’s really cool,” remarked Rachel Jean, one of the students in the classes involved with the pilot project.
Jean said that she so far likes the photo editing program on the iPads, as well as the other different apps which are available.
“Or if you’re doing something on your work, and you need to look up something quick on the Internet, you can just go on Google,” she reasoned, referring to how the technology will help with school work.
“It’s a lot faster than using the laptops,” noted fellow student Claire Hyatt, saying she likes the iPads because they’re new and different.
“When I’m doing homework, I use my iPad to concentrate so I think it will help me with my schoolwork,” she said.
“We’re really excited. I’m happy that we get to pilot it,” George enthused.
“I expect that it will be successful, but I still feel a great sense of responsibility that we can make sure that we can use them to the best of our ability.”