RACINE – Seated at his school desk Thursday, sixth-grader Nicholas Rodriguez placed his fingers on an Apple iPad touch-screen and began typing the findings of a group science experiment onto a slide for a class presentation.
At a desk across from Nicholas, fellow sixth-grader Sam Letsch used another iPad to search the Internet for photos to be included in the presentation. Upon finding them, he quickly e-mailed them to Nicholas who placed them in the presentation file.
Around Nicholas and Sam, 25 other sixth-graders in the Middle School Program at St. Catherine’s High School did similar work on iPads, which are very thin, light and portable single-panel touch-screen computers.
Students in St. Catherine’s Middle School Program, which started this fall with 54 sixth- and seventh-graders, have been using iPads all school year in place of textbooks, spirals and standard computers. Students and staff said after some adjustment at the start of school the iPads are now working well and they’d never go back to classes that use regular textbooks, paper and pencils.
“All our books are on (the iPads). We don’t have to carry around our big books anymore. Instead of writing everything down you can type in notes, e-mail them to our teacher and they can grade it right at their computer,” said Nicholas, 11, adding that means assignments are returned quicker so students know sooner if answers are right or wrong and if they need help. “The old way is slower.”
The old way is also less engaging, said Diane Putra, middle school science and math teacher at St. Catherine’s, 1200 Park Ave. Petra said the iPads keep her class lessons moving faster and keep students attentive because they allow for so many interactive activities that can involve each and every student.
“I couldn’t go back to the other method,” Petra said of teaching with regular books, paper and pencils. “This has so much to offer.”
Using the iPads, students can access electronic versions of their textbooks that include online activities and video tutorials. The iPads also have a word-processor program, an electronic dictionary, a drawing program, school-appropriate Internet access, interactive learning games and a calendar for recording homework assignments, explained Sam, 11, clicking through the programs on the iPad Thursday.
St. Catherine’s is the only school in Racine County and in much of the country to provide iPads for individual students, a decision made to expose students to the latest technology – for a per student technology fee of $400, which replaces a textbook fee.
St. Catherine’s plans to increase iPad use among students to include eighth-graders next school year and high schoolers the following year.
So far no iPads have been stolen, damaged or lost and the new machines have caused only a few problems, including occasional screen glares and students sometimes getting distracted during lessons by all the iPad features. Petra said those problems have been largely fixed by closing blinds in classrooms, the wearing off of the iPads’ novelty and rearranging student desks so teachers can see their screens.
Petra also said her students picked up the new technology fast. Watching them in class Thursday the students typed with ease on the iPads and quickly switched from program to program with no difficulty or confusion.
“It was hard at first,” Sam said. But the iPads include a typing program that taught students to use the iPad keyboard and frequent iPad use has accustomed students to the machines. “It really does get a lot easier as the year goes.”