St. Matt’s joins movement to put iPads in classrooms

Lawyers benefit with court e-filing; state Supreme Court adds service
August 7, 2012
State school superintendent receives mixed reception
August 7, 2012
Lawyers benefit with court e-filing; state Supreme Court adds service
August 7, 2012
State school superintendent receives mixed reception
August 7, 2012

In just a few days, children will flood into their new classrooms with backpacks filled with pencils, paper, folders, crayons, notebooks and other supplies. Teachers will hand out textbooks, occasionally sit students at computers, hand out workbook pages and use their interactive whiteboards to introduce new concepts.

At St. Matthew’s Episcopal School, a new tool is being added that will replace those worksheets and give students the opportunity to animate their stories, have their compositions read back to them and introduce a new level of technology and – yes – fun to their studies. That’s because students in kindergarten through seventh-grade will regularly be using iPads in their daily lessons.

Danny Lirette, vice president of St. Matthew’s Episcopal School Board, spearheaded fundraising efforts to purchase 30 iPads, dedicating some of them exclusively for seventh-graders to help prepare them to enter Vandebilt Catholic High School, where iPads are being issued to every student this year. St. Matthew’s remaining iPads will be circulated among first- through sixth-grade classes for planned lessons.

The idea, he said, came out of a brainstorming sessions with wife Carolyn about how to attract more students to St. Matthew’s; she mentioned Vandebilt’s initiative and discussed integrating iPads into St. Matthew’s classes to help students become familiar with the technology in an educational setting.

“I got on my iPad and started reading and found out Apple has a great education section,” Lirette said. “The general theme was that it tends to keep the pupils engaged in the class… I just got excited about it and started fundraising” for the devices and teacher training sessions.

“I think the more we can do for kids to create excitement in learning, whether it’s little kids or high-school, is positive,” said Melissa Adams, an assistant principal at Vandebilt, where some electronic textbooks will be used this year, as well as electronic resources such as note-taking and dictionary apps. “I think it’s so exciting for kids to open up the whole new world for them. What we are really looking for is to create learners for the 21st Century – be very tech savvy for when they go to college.”

So it’s wonderful, she said, that Vandebilt’s feeder schools are embracing the use of iPads in the classroom. “I expect all schools will be jumping on the technology when they can.”

Lirette’s enthusiasm and the potential educational opportunities inspired St. Matthew’s kindergarten teacher Elizabeth Newman to secure a sponsor, Pro-Mag Inspections LLC, on North Hollywood Road in Houma, to establish an iPad center in her class. She was aided by her husband, Michael, a Pro-Mag business development specialist, in obtaining the sponsorship.

“I feel the workforce is going toward technology, so kids have to have a basis in it,” said Jeremy Rougeau, Pro-Mag’s president. “I’m all for technology. … Being a local business owner, I’m glad to have the funding … (and) I think more businesses should get involved and support education. I’m glad to do it.”

“It’s great to have a group of kids working cooperatively with an iPad,” said Elizabeth Newman. It enhances group learning while building social skills, and students receive direct and immediate feedback on their work. Newman plans to use iPads in literacy and math lessons, and said she is excited to have the potential to email ongoing student assessments to the parents directly from iPads or scroll through screenshots of their work on an iPad in a parent-teacher conference.

The use of mobile devices is one of the top five trends in education, said Larke Leonard, St. Matthew’s curriculum coordinator. She and Newman, along with Cheryl Matherne, head of school, recently attended the Staff Development for Educators’ seminar on Differentiated Instruction in Las Vegas, where the use of technology took center stage. Not only were many of the seminars centered on effective use of mobile devices and other technology in the classroom, but all the presentations were on MacBooks, Leonard said.

Using technology, like iPads, effectively is a different approach, Leonard said. “It doesn’t replace traditional instruction; it’s a dynamic tool to be used. … Teachers must look at the productivity level of the apps and how they can assess students’ knowledge with them.”

“iPads don’t stop your planning,” Newman said. “You incorporate it into your classroom plans, not just download apps.” Students can use apps to animate a story with sock puppets or video a play they’ve written using their vocabulary words, listen to phonics lessons to improve their diction, or tap into other types of higher-order thinking.

“Using the iPad, teachers can customize their work centers according to what each student might need,” said Kelly Phillips, St. Matthew’s technology administrator and computer lab teacher. “They can reach students’ different levels.” Teachers will also be able to project images from the iPads for full-class instruction or to share students’ finished work, complementing the curriculum but balancing it with traditional classroom instruction.

“For the struggling student, it levels the playing field a bit,” Newman said. The user-friendly nature of iPads helps to create a connection, enhance their comprehension and boost students’ confidence level.

“It provides them the tools and resources they need,” said Phillips, who’s working on a federal grant application to obtain more iPads for pre-k and kindergarten use. “A lot of kids are plugged in, and it’s how they stay connected… This integrates what they know into the curriculum.”

“I think it’s a beginning of a new way to teach in the classroom,” said Lirette, who plans to stay engaged with teachers to be sure the new tools are being effectively employed.

“Education is changing. It’s time to get in on the trend,” Newman said. “It’s exciting to be at a school that’s doing some cutting-edge stuff. This is really where we’re headed.”

(From left) Kelly Phillips, St. Matthew’s Episcopal School technology administrator and computer lab teacher helps first-grader Karoline Phillips, 4th grader Emily Leonard and second-grader Katie Phillips explore educational apps on the school’s new iPads.