When Parker School announced that it would be moving away from traditional textbooks and would exclusively be using iPads for all seventh to 12th graders this year, some parents had questions about the new policy. They asked about usage, ethics, traditional versus digital learning, and filtering inappropriate content. To prepare, the school informed the parents about a year in advance, and teachers were given iPads for training.
“I was skeptical at first,” said one parent. “But as a mother, I see how beneficial it has been for my sixth grade son’s learning style.”
In 2011, Parker School began investigating various options in going digital. It was a school committee that finally chose iPads for practical reasons; relatively low cost, portability, accessibility, ubiquity (many of the students already owned iPads) and the growing list of associated educational applications, high-quality textbooks and resources.
“We consider this to be a one-to-one initiative; it is all about moving to a mobile device (and associated connectivity and largely unfettered access to information) in every hand, which opens new doors to learning and experience,” said assistant headmaster, Shellie Note-Gressard.
In the fall of 2012, two teams of Parker’s teachers attended a professional development opportunity at Mid-Pacific Institute on Oahu, Note-Gressard said. Mid-Pac, a K-12 school, implemented the one-to-one initiative three years ago, and is a forerunner in Hawaii schools by using this technology. When the teachers returned, they were excited and ready to move forward with the one-to-one initiative program.
Tina Doherty, Parker Middle School coordinator, is also a math and science teacher. She was on the second team of eight Parker’s teachers and administrators who visited Mid-Pac to see how the one-to-one technology worked within the school. Doherty said it was inspiring to see the kids there, engaged in their studies.
“What I loved the most was that the students could share what they were doing with each other,” said Doherty, of the instant messaging aspect of the iPads. “In the elementary school, I witnessed them reading a book for homework, then they blogged about it in silent communication.”
The cost of an iPad runs anywhere from $299 to $599 depending on the model, storage capacity options, Apple Care options and accessory (keyboard, case, stylus) options. All students from the sixth grade and up must purchase their own iPad. There have been cost savings for Parker School, Note-Gressard said, though the exact amounts will not be known until the end of this fiscal year. There has been a decrease in printing, and therefore a savings in paper and toner usage, and only one computer lab is needed rather than three labs in previous years.
“The cost savings for parents will show up in year two as well,” said Note-Gressard. “Our average digital textbook costs approximately $15, which is less than half the cost of our traditional textbooks. As our parents purchase all texts for their student, they will begin to see the cost savings in their second year.”
One of the worries for parents and teachers was that students would be on their computers for the entire school day. In actuality, during breaks and lunch, Parker teachers witness the students taking a ball out to the playground and organizing their own games. At any time throughout the school day, teachers may check the students iPads to make sure games are not being played.
“They look forward to doing other things rather than being on their iPads,” Doherty said.
Overall, it was a smooth transition at the beginning of the school year, according to the staff. Ruth Sturges, English and history teacher for Parker juniors and seniors, said the new initiative has introduced a more personalized learning format for students.
“There are more opportunities for different types of learners,” Sturges said. “I can find an online lecture that may present a more in-depth view than what I might be able to present. The ease of access to information is marvelous.”
Textbooks that were once printed are now available in an online interactive format, and may be easily updated to change and flow with the times. Rather than purchase a $120 printed textbook, chapters may be purchased and downloaded for a fraction of the cost. Parker’s teachers are enthusiastic about the diverse ways students can access information. If they need extra help, they can search multiple definitions and explanations for more understanding.
“If students don’t get it (a concept) there are videos, demonstrations, and self quizzes they can look up online,” said Holly Weigle, a math and chemistry teacher. “There are interesting and fun apps just for chemistry. There is an app where students can practice their chemistry knowledge with mahjong tiles.”
Sturges added, “Students are more visual learners now than they used to be. There are three dimensional molecule models that can be turned and seen from any side. A dissection may be looked at from all angles.”
Seventh grader Lucy Callender said she finds that using her iPad is a lot easier and faster than turning pages in a textbook.
“I can YouTube a subject and understand it better,” Callender said.
In this time of instant technology, millions of pages of information may be accessed by a single keystroke. Teachers instruct the students on discretion and proper citation, Sturges said, and they must take an extra step to examine the website, to “make sure the information is not from some guy sitting in his basement in Chicago.”
Sturges said not only are all students taught to cite sources correctly, but they are also taught about plagiarism and how to avoid it.
Grant Nair, a senior, said learning about reliable Internet websites was an important issue addressed at the beginning of the school year.
“The teachers gave us tips to help us find credible sources,” Nair said. “We know the parameters on what sites to use and we’ve been taught to cite the information we use.”
Nair said he believes the one-to-one program has forced the students to be more mature.
“We have to make conscious decisions,” said Nair. “We’ve learned to try and avoid distractions and be more focused.”
Doherty said Parker’s technology department has done a “great job of filtering inappropriate sites.” The school’s no gaming policy is in place from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Sturges said there have been only a handful of infractions since the beginning of the school year.
“We are always vigilant,” Doherty said. “Our expectation is that when the student is in school, the iPad is used for educational purposes only.”
Parker’s teachers have found that the learning time for students while in school is maximized with the iPads. Weigle explained the concept of “flip school,” or a flipped classroom, where students study or learn a topic by themselves at home, and then bring their questions back to their teachers during the school day. Sturges said this has allowed time for more one-on-one discussions with each student and helps each child progress at their individual levels.
Each classroom at the Middle School is outfitted with a “Smart Board,” a replacement of the traditional chalkboard. Teachers and students alike may share their PowerPoint presentations, videos or websites with each other. Weigle said they are finding that students are more engaged, more interested and are showing a higher level of understanding in each subject.
“Overall it (using the iPad) has been easier. We have been able to absorb information faster,” said Nair. “I find that I can organize my notes better, and use colors, take photos, and add them to my class notes. Everything we do is backed up on iCloud (a virtual hard drive) and we can access our information at any time.”
Jude McAnesby, parent of an eight grader, said the iPad initiative has improved her son’s education.
“Everything is one place – his homework, the calendar, and due dates,” McAnesby said. “As parents, it is harder to tell whether they are doing homework, or chatting with their friends, but this is something they have to learn. And it will show up in their schoolwork. When he’s been sick, it’s easier for him to catch up on his work and still get up to speed pretty quickly.”
Forgetting one’s iPad at home is akin to forgetting to bring homework and books to school. However, Nair said he could borrow a fellow student’s iPad, type in his password, and retrieve all of his information needed for the day.
All homework instruction and due dates are input by teachers and sent to each student in their class. Links or videos may be attached to the assignment for more in-depth learning, and students may access the information on their own time. This direct communication has allowed for less misunderstanding on the students’ part, as well as increased productivity in the classroom.
Both Callender and Nair said the electronic textbooks make learning more interesting and they enjoy all of the options accessible to them.
“The biggest thing is that there is a wider range of ways to learn in a class setting,” said Nair. “We still stick with paper and pencil when doing tests, but our learning is more personalized.”
“I haven’t found any cons with this program,” Weigle said. “And I was skeptical at first. Now I have friends sharing cool, nerdy videos with me who tell me I need to share these with my students. It’s been really great!”
Callender named one more benefit echoed by most of the kids in the one-to-one program. “We don’t break our backs anymore with heavy textbooks in our backpacks,” she said.
For more information, visit parkerschool.net.