iPad infusion: Cretin-Derham Hall joins exciting classroom technology wave

Cretin-Derham Hall, a Catholic high school in St. Paul, is in the second year of its 1:1 iPad program, which provides students with the tablet for educational purposes.
Photo By: Elena Renken
“It changed my high school experience with the ability for me to do everything for school on a small device that I can carry with me almost everywhere.”

Virtually accessing the world at one’s fingertips has been feasible for high schoolers since the dawn of the Internet.

But how about watching food author Michael Pollen’s YouTube videos for AP Environmental Science homework on an iPad while sitting in the comfort of your school’s band room?

It was a bold possibility for Cretin-Derham Hall senior Adam Klein thanks to his lightweight, energy efficient, crystal clear iPad. For Klein, easily switching over from the YouTube app to Safari so he could look at questions posted online for reflection—and then to Pages to respond and upload his answers—was not only doable, but far more convenient.

He’s not alone in his enthusiasm.

“I can no longer imagine high school without the iPad. Teachers have changed their teaching style to incorporate the iPads. We can work on presentations, do our homework and study on (them),” said fellow Cretin-Derham senior Alisha Engelbrekt.

“It changed my high school experience with the ability for me to do everything for school on a small device that I can carry with me almost everywhere.”

ROLLING OUT A PLAN

Cretin-Derham Hall, a high school in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, is in the second year of its 1:1 (one-to-one) iPad program. The 1:1 system allows each student to use the device during the school year for academic purposes.

The idea of the plan had been floated by the school’s Technology Committee for a number of years, and “the iPad presented itself to be a good entry,” said Sharon O’Connor, the tech integration coordinator at CDH.

New technology was in their midst and they wanted to do what was best for their students moving into the future, she said. The primary questions left to answer: “How would it be paid for?” and “How would it work with the faculty’s teaching methods?”

At CDH, the fee for a school-issued iPad is $150. This covers the use of the gadget, a device cover and required apps, along with troubleshooting and minimal repairs. A student that brings his or her own iPad is charged $50 for apps and other program expenses.

“iPads were chosen because of cost. They were much more affordable and easy to use for teachers and students,” said CDH principal Mona Passman Schmitz.

As for implementation, CDH did not jump into the program without a safety net in mind. During the 2011-12 school year, a third of the ninth graders and a third of the teachers got iPads for a trimester at a time. It was an experiment to gain perspective, O’Connor said.

“We tweaked the program as we went along,” she said, “but most of the feedback (during those early stages) was positive from the nine teachers involved and (their) students.”

CDH received iPad support and advice from numerous places, including DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, which had the 1:1 program a year prior to the fellow private school. TIES, a joint powers cooperative owned by 48 Minnesota school districts, also provides schools with training and resources in the world of technology. They assist school partners during big transitions by offering a variety of workshops and expertise on everything from word processing and multimedia production to, of course, iPads.

Training is broken down into specific lessons on how to operate an iPad and how to use various programs that are available. Cara Hagen, an education technology consultant at TIES, was amazed at the school-related “buzz” that surrounded the iPad when it first was introduced on the market.

“I’ve never seen anything implemented this fast,” Hagen said. The excitement was particularly off the charts because the iPad could be used as not just an educational tool, she said, but an interactive one.

CHANGING MODELS

Although there is no “correct way” to introduce an iPad into the classroom, a major part of Hagen’s job is to educate teachers on how to approach the game-changing piece of technology.

This requires flexibility, adaptability and open-mindedness on the part of teachers, Hagen said. They have to be willing to grant students the opportunity to explore new ways of learning—for example, a teenager could opt to use iMovie for a project instead of doing a more conventional book report.

This helps “level the playing field,” O’Connor said.

Furthermore, some teachers at CDH have used the ShowMe app so they can problem solve online with a student who needs extra assistance. ShowMe has greatly “improved teacher-student communication,” Passman Schmitz said. O’Connor added that it is a “shared learning experience” between students and their educators.

“If a teacher does not understand something, a student steps right in and shows him or her,” she said.

A prime example, O’Connor said, is the student tech help area that was located in the CDH media center. It was run by students to assist fellow schoolmates who were experiencing difficulties with the iPad.

“We wouldn’t have made it without it,” O’Connor said, “and by mid year teachers were even going there.”

MINIMIZING DISTRACTIONS

A majority of CDH students asked about the program agreed that having an iPad at school was worthwhile. Turning in assignments became more fluid. Applications like Notability eliminated the use of paper in certain classes because it enabled the high schoolers to receive, edit and turn in virtual worksheets.

Students were permitted to take the iPad home for one primary reason: to complete homework. Yet, they weren’t limited to only that. Essentially any app could be downloaded, ranging from disparate gaming hotspots to various social networking sites.

Klein used the device to listen to music on his 35-minute drive to school, as well as to study or play games in the morning before classes commenced. Engelbrekt pointed out that the iPad was only a distraction if you let it become one.

That proved true for some.

Eve Crabbe, a CDH senior, said that she didn’t think the iPad changed her ability to learn. Instead, it made her procrastinate more because of all the distractions that came with it. Whether someone was itching to level up on Candy Crush, check a notification atop the screen from Twitter, or send an hourly Snapchat—it was a disturbance at some level.

“I think it was really hard for people not to play games, me included, and that led to me having to learn self discipline,” Crabbe said. “I think that for the most part people used the iPads appropriately and it allowed us to see what it would be like in college with laptops or any other distraction.”

The biggest criticism from parents and faculty remains a student’s ability to access almost any game or potentially counterproductive app. While the school is looking for ways to improve on that distraction in year two, CDH will not be backing away from technological advancements because of it, O’Connor said.

For a first run in the ever-growing race to adapt and stay competitive, it was an overall success, Passman Schmitz said. Moreover, what the future holds could be just another swipe of a finger away.

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