By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
A partnership between Nativity Academy at St. Boniface and Bellarmine University has placed new Apple iPad Air tablet computers in the hands of each student at the independent Catholic middle school.
“This has been in our strategic plan for three years — the ultimate goal of one to one technology (one device per student). It would have taken us a long time to get there,” said Carol Nord, Nativity’s executive director, during an interview at the school last week.
The school’s plan was accelerated by a grant from an anonymous donor interested in research related to the use of technology in schools. To that end, members of Bellarmine’s education faculty are studying the use of the iPads at Nativity. And Nord, who is working on a doctoral degree at Bellarmine, is also working on the project as part of her studies.
Nord said she and principal Meghan Weyland didn’t want to “jump on the latest trend” of providing tablets haphazardly.
“We wanted to develop it intentionally with a real plan and goal in mind,” Nord said. The grant provides that structure, she said. And because of the research Bellarmine is conducting, the school will be able to monitor the technology’s effectiveness.
Bellarmine professor Dr. Kevin Thomas, who teaches education students how to use technology in the classroom, prepared
Nativity teachers to use the devices last spring. As a part of the grant, his students at Bellarmine now have access to iPads classrooms there.
He said the partnership with Nativity is rooted in Bellarmine’s sense of social justice as well as in its dedication to research.
Nativity educates students who are from low-income households and who show academic promise.
“The students at Nativity are on the wrong side of the digital divide,” Thomas noted. “You need technology skills just to fill out a job application. A big part of (the new project) is moving them to the right side of the divide so they can be successful.”
Right now, two professors are visiting Nativity regularly to observe the use of tablets. Dr. Grant Smith is evaluating the program to determine its impact on learning. Dr. Elizabeth Dinkins is studying the technology’s effect on student writing.
Thomas said that tablets are expected to offer a learning boost to all types of students.
“In a book you can’t click on a picture and pull a video up,” he said. Tablets “appeal to visual learners, audio learners. It’s an enrichment you don’t get from other tools that don’t involve technology.”
Students began using the iPads in October and eighth-grader Michael Robinson said his device helps him work faster.
“Taking notes on paper takes longer; I can type on the iPad faster,” said Michael, who learned to type in the sixth grade. Michael said he especially enjoys science classes with the iPad. “We use it during lab time and we get to look at different experiments.”
For fellow eighth-grader Jalyn Shorter, the iPad is an organizational godsend.
“I’m really unorganized,” she said. “But now I have tabs for each of my classes. I like to color code my notes and now I don’t have to stop to get out a new marker. I also don’t have to take 10 minutes finding my notes.”
Principal Meghan Weyland said Jalyn’s observation about time savings is borne out in every class.
“Less instructional time is lost,” Weyland noted. “You’re not taking time passing out papers and getting materials out. Kids are turning things in by hitting the ‘turn in’ button.”
That’s a real thing, by the way. Jalyn smiled and added, “Yes, it’s a button you hit that says ‘turn in.’ ”
Weyland noted, “We have seen the impact on student learning is inevitable. We’re just at the beginning.”
So far, she said, students seem to be whole-heartedly engaged in learning on the iPads.
During her latest round of classroom observations, Weyland said, teachers didn’t have to remind students to stay on task — not once.
“They were so much more engaged, there’s bound to be an impact with that kind of engagement,” she said.