Saint Stephen’s teachers feel impact of iPads
May 15, 2012
It all started with an anonymous donation.
Last winter, thanks to the generosity of an unnamed member of the Saint Stephen’s community, every teacher in the school received an iPad to help foster learning in the classroom and engage students in a new and exciting way.
The iPad, Apple’s latest piece of technological wizardry, is a cutting-edge tablet with a touch screen format and user-friendly design. Saint Stephen’s teachers each received their own iPads just before winter break last year.
“I was really excited that the school gave them to us to use because I not only use it at school, but I use it a lot at home,” said art teacher Mrs. Brittany Gerren.
Mr. Patrick Whelan, History Department Chair, shared Gerren’s enthusiasm.
“It was kind of like I was a kid with a new toy for my birthday, and so I spent time just kind of figuring out what it could do,” Whelan said.
“I was known in the Upper School, for a while, as being the one who was most giddy with it because I had never had an iPhone or a smart phone, or a tablet or anything much like that,” he said.
However, some teachers were a little more apprehensive about the new technology, such as English teacher Mr. James Flanigan.
“We didn’t really know what the heck we were going to do with [the iPads],” he said.
“It’s been tricky [to integrate the iPads] into an English class, and one of the difficulties has been with eTexts,” Flanigan said, “I have never read a book off of a tablet before, so I downloaded a few of them, and I’m going to read them over the summer.”
Language Department Co-Chair Mr. JB Wolcott also expressed some concern upon receiving his iPad.
“My initial impression was ‘Oh gosh, I’m going to lose this thing,’” Wolcott said.
“My wife had one, so I always thought it was kind of cool. I’ve never had an iPod or anything like that. I’ve always been like, ‘I’ll get the $10 mp3 player’ because I’m going to lose it,” he said.
However, Wolcott also expressed excitement over the iPad’s potential.
“If we could get rid of everybody’s backpack and have you just carry [iPads]…life would be so much easier,” he said.
Wolcott also expressed excitement over the possibility of students using the iPads to collaborate on projects.
“Creating a document, as a class, on the fly,” Wolcott listed, “[Being able to] say ‘You research this,’ ‘You research that,’ and ‘Get back to me with two details about that year or those three months in Johnson’s Presidency.’ And then, Bam! We have Johnson’s presidency in a nutshell, in ten minutes of research.”
While Wolcott admitted he is not sure when this kind of instant research is going to become a reality, teachers are already working hard on figuring out how to best integrate the iPads into their classrooms.
“One of the things that teachers have been working on this year and are going to be continuing to work on during the summer and into the fall is what ways we best use [the iPads] within each of our own disciplines,” English department chair Mr. Jamie Moore said.
Many high schools across the country have gone paper-free and have swapped out their textbooks for this new technology.
As technology continues to advance, many seemingly essential aspects of the classroom, such as textbooks, have found themselves replaced by iPads and eReaders.
However, Moore sees some obstacles ahead if Saint Stephen’s plans on taking this route.
“In English, there are some challenges; eTexts are wonderful, and they’re getting better and better as far as being able to highlight and being able to notate on them,” he said.”
“It is difficult when you’re trying to have a class discussion and people are using eTexts versus the print text and trying to find their place within it because they’re not paginated the same way,” Moore said.
Wolcott also acknowledged that the iPad could prove to be disruptive in class.
“Inevitably, there are going to be people who are going to be playing on their iPads when they’re supposed to be [working in class],” he said.
However, Wolcott believes it is possible to turn the distraction into a chance to teach students something about Spanish in their own world.
“If somebody’s playing a game in class, call them out on it, but use it as a learning opportunity to say ‘OK, well let’s describe what’s going on in this game in the language.” It can be Temple Run or any of these games that are just the ‘game of the moment,’” Wolcott said.
“They become an interesting teaching tool in class because that’s the whole point of what we’re trying to do. We want to be able to make the language useful,” he said.
Science teacher Mrs. Allison Misiewicz has also had success using her iPad to teach during class.
“I’ve found a couple of really good apps that I like especially for environmental science that have really helped,” Misiewicz said.
“They have little short video segments or pictures or diagrams of something that we are talking about in class. It’s a great thing to pull up and be able to show the kids,” she said.
Misiewicz is not the only Saint Stephen’s teacher to discover fun and exciting apps on the iPad.
“I have a Photoshop app on here,” Gerren said.
“I can show my students how to do stuff on my iPad, and they can be on their computers doing it,” she said.
Gerren said she has capitalized on the functionality of the iPad during class.
“For example, when we were doing skin retouching, if I was one-on-one with a student, I could walk around and say, ‘Look, you can just do something like this,’” she said.
Math teacher Mrs. Lori Springstead said she is hoping that an app will be developed that allows her to better integrate the iPads into her math classes.
“They are in the process of developing an app for the software that we are implementing next year (Fathom Software), so I’m hoping that maybe not next year, but the year after, the students will be able to download an app which will be able to do everything they’re doing right now but on their iPads. That’s in the process of being developed,” she said.
Sophomore Jason Wu envisioned an app that would allow students to do even more with their iPads, especially in math.
“They should make an app for the iPad to go along with the [textbook], teaching you every step and example to help you solve the problem,” Wu said.
Head of School Mrs. Jan Pullen said she imagines a future similar to Wu’s, where iPads are an essential aspect of the school’s curriculum.
“Our ultimate goal for the school is to eventually figure out a plan…where we would have iPads available to all students from 4th grade on up,” Pullen said.
iPads have already been introduced to Saint Stephen’s Newspaper Journalism class as a sort of trial run and as a way to help gauge the students’ response.
“It’s interesting where everybody is in the process because I do think there’s always excitement at the beginning, just the novelty of it and being able to have it as a part of your world,” Pullen said.
Pullen said she believes that technology will play a big role in helping Saint Stephen’s grow and move towards the future.
“When Dr. Watts, Mrs. Ivin and I were out in Seattle, we listened to Bill Gates speak, and he spoke about the fact that in the next ten years education itself is going to change drastically–more than it’s ever changed in any other period of time–and he just believes that its because of all this technology,” she said.
Though change may be inevitable, Whelan is grateful that ultimately, how much iPads are integrated at Saint Stephen’s will be a decision made by teachers.
“I think one of the things that impresses me most about the way that it’s being implemented here,” Whelan said, “is that it’s being left up to teacher choice. The creative aspect is coming from the teaching community and it’s not going to be something in which we’re going to be mandated [to use the iPads].”
“Instead it’s something we are going to explore and find ways of using in our classrooms,” he said.