This year, Salesian High School students traded in their textbooks for iPads, in a move designed to enhance the learning environment.
Mary Lou Flannery, the assistant principal for academic affairs at Salesian, said the iPad education program has been in the works for over a year. The school was previously using technology in the classroom but integrating personal mobile devices into the curriculum was the next step.
“We began with research,” Flannery said. “We went out to various schools and kind of fell in love with the iPads. The apps that are out there, the ones that continue to be developed, they have the flexibility to be used across a variety of departments.”
Administrators at Salesian agreed that iPads were an innovative way to improve the classroom environment, Flannery said.
“The consensus was, ‘wow, this is a wonderful product. It will enhance more learning and engage more students,’ so we decided to go with that.”
While Flannery speaks optimistically about the new program, many remain skeptical of its effectiveness.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education conducted a study of math and reading software for first, fourth, and sixth grade students, based on testing in hundreds of classrooms. The study found that the difference in test scores between the software-using classes and the control group was negligible. Furthermore, in sixth-grade math, the study revealed students who used software got lower test scores and continued to do so after the second year of use.
Nonetheless, Flannery looks forward to seeing the improvements—if any—iPad education brings her school.
Salesian is leasing the iPads for two years in a program set up by Apple. In June, the Los Angeles Unified School District approved a $30 million contract from Apple to put an iPad in the hand of every student in its district.
“Some schools were moving towards [telling kids to] bring your own device, but we didn’t think that would work here. A lot of kids don’t have laptops and don’t have funds to purchase iPads on their own, so we had to find a way around that,” Flannery said.
Locally, Vacaville Christian Schools in Vacaville, Calif., has been using iPads in lieu of textbooks since 2011. Middle school principal Maylene Ripley attributes an improvement in the students’ standardized test scores to the iPads.
“Across the board, test scores were probably about half a year better than the year before,” Ripley said.
When Vacaville Christian Schools started using iPads, no one had made e-books or apps for high schools. Just three years later, the marketplace as a whole is moving in the direction of electronic education, and the amount of school-related resources for the iPads is expected to double over this school year.
“Fifty to 60 percent of textbooks are on iPads, which is a wonderful thing because the kids aren’t carrying around the big, heavy textbooks anymore,” Ripley said. “They’re not carrying around a calculator, a Bible and all the books, things that can make a 30 to 40 pound backpack.”
Ripley also noted that now with the e-books, schools could pick and choose elements from different texts to create their own book for their needs, which is the next direction that Vacaville Christian Schools is going with their iPad education.
IPads also come with the obvious drawback of being a major distraction for high school students.
Kids can send instant messages to their friends with the devices, as well as use the iPad to play with apps and surf the web. Salesian has put firewalls in place to block sites like Facebook while on school grounds, but Flannery does not believe that shutting down content is the solution.
“The goal is to try to work with some sites that students are already using, but in a classroom manner. [It’s] to try and educate the students on responsible use. You can close everything and cut them off but that’s not teaching them responsible tech use,” she said.
Salesian has been using iPads for just three weeks, but Flannery and other faculty members anticipate seeing improved test schools and classroom performance as a result of their presence. The transition will surely come with hiccups along the way, but based on the experience Vacaville Christian Schools has had with them, Ripley believes that iPad education is the way to go.
“Absolutely, no question in my mind. This is the direction that education is moving. It’s going to be more and more tech driven, and this is where all of the curriculum companies are pooling their resource,” she said. “This is the wave of the future.”
In six months, Salesian High will evaluate the effectiveness of this new program, as well as look for more ways to use technology to reach their students.