High-tech gadgets in classes get Holy Family’s blessing
Chase Ferrone doesn’t get in trouble when he whips out his iPad during class.
At Holy Family Catholic School, where Ferrone is an eighth-grader, bringing a tablet to school is encouraged. The private school introduced a “Bring Your Own Technology” program this year. Netbooks, laptops and tablets are allowed for fifth- through eighth-graders and students from all grades can bring e-readers to class.
The idea to allow students to bring gadgets from home struck Holy Family Principal Jake Aubert last year when he helped his son download a 99-cent anatomy application on an iPad. At home, the application allowed Aubert’s son to study three-dimensional images of the body and work with digital flashcards programmed to appear more frequently if he misidentified them on the first try. At school, he was stuck using paper flashcards and two-dimensional charts. Letting students take their devices into the classroom could expand their learning opportunities, Aubert decided.
“It’s a great way to individualize learning,” he said. “It just enables us to have that many more students with a screen in front of them.”
Students who don’t have high-tech gadgets to slip in their backpacks can use school laptops. Those are a little older and can take awhile to start, according to 13-year-old Ferrone, and he isn’t as instantly familiar with the laptops as he is with the tablet he uses every day.
“This thing doesn’t freeze up at all,” Ferrone said, using his finger to zip through screens and applications on his iPad. “When I first got it, I was thinking how interesting it would be to bring this to school.”
Ferrone recently used his iPad to plan a trip to Italy as a class project. He was able to research Italian music on a Pandora music radio app, use a calendar app to plan each day and kept track of costs and activity ideas in Notes. He said he knows better than to venture into his game applications during class. The school has students discuss a technology agreement with Holy Family’s computer specialist, Kathy Pike, before they are allowed to bring technology to school and students are sent home with a more extensive technology-use agreement they must review with their parents.
Pike said she routinely speaks to classes about proper use of technology on their own devices or any computer. Units cover everything from proper spelling and professionalism in e-mails to the dangers of cyber-bullying, online predators and plagiarism.
“We have a responsibility as a school to educate our students about the virtues of technology as well as the dangers and pitfalls, and how if you put something out there (online), it’s out there forever,” Aubert said.
After the agreements are signed, Pike enters a code into each gadget so students can tap into the school’s wireless network. The school also got a Google Docs domain this year, which means any student who enters a user name and password in the domain can save, view and create spreadsheets, word documents and other items.
Teachers can view those items, make notes and have students make revisions without ever printing a page. Holy Family middle school literature teacher Paula Egebrecht said the system is an improvement from hand-written and printed assignments.
“I can read their papers so much faster,” she said.
Pike said changes in technology policy and programming at the school have helped students as well as teachers. Teachers can use and control a Facebook-like program called Edmodo to lead online class discussions, tap into professional development postings, or, as one class started doing this year, using the program to chat with pen pals in France. Pike said it’s all part of modern education.
“If we don’t teach students how to deal with technology where it is today, it’s a problem,” she said.