Giving a shiny, somewhat fragile, expensive piece of technology to every student in your school may seem like ill-advised to some, but according to Matt Maguire — a science teacher and one of two "educational technologists" at Saint Francis — it is "the future of education."
"As the classrooms go more digital, having an iPad in every student's hand was a top priority," Maguire said of the program, which was introduced this year.
Knowing that every student has the means to create video, slide shows and access the web in the same way it allows teachers at the private school to assign more project-based lessons, Maguire said. And project-based learning better prepares students for the real world, where they will need to collaborate with colleagues over email and use many of the same tools they are now using in the classroom.
The transition has been smooth for the students, Maguire said, as many of them are already intimately familiar with mobile devices. "It's an environment that they're very comfortable in," he said, noting that before the introduction of the tablet computers, one of the only times the students weren't interacting with their screens was when they were in class.
Maguire said he has been working on quantifying the amount of paper that has been saved since the iPads have been introduced. Though he has yet been unable to put a rough figure on the amount, he personally attested that he has not made a single copy for any of his five classes so far this year, and added that there are other teachers for whom that is also the case.
If he makes one to two worksheets a day for 30 students in all five of his classes, he could be saving as many as 600 sheets every day. A standard ream of copier paper is 500 pages.
Not everyone is ready to give up paper, of course, he said. And some who prefer real books, pen and pad are the students themselves. For those who want to do things the old-fashioned way, the school does not force them to use the iPads, and hard copies of text books and novels are kept on hand. "But a lot of the students have adjusted," he said.
The new program was paid for mostly with an endowment and with a "nominal" jump in the technology fees charged to parents.
Many of the concerns initially raised — that the machines would be lost, stolen or broken — have yet to present a real problem, he said. And there have been no student complaints about discomfort from reading on backlit screens.
However, Maguire acknowledged that the program is still new. Fatigue may still set in and the novelty of having the devices will certainly fade as time goes on. Ultimately, he said, teachers still have to find new and interesting ways to have their students use the iPads — just as they have always had to do with conventional lessons.