St. Francis launches iPad program
First graders Everet Johnson and Rose Schafer enjoy the new iPads.
Twenty-four pairs of first-grade eyes glanced quickly up at the timer projected on the large screen. They bounced excitedly, realizing that there were a few more minutes with the iPads before choice time would be over.
Before the end of the school year, every student at St. Francis Solano School will have their own, dedicated, $500 iPad, issued by the school courtesy of a $100,000 grant.
Several years back, a handful of dads at St. Francis became interested in updating the technology available at the K-8 Catholic school.
The school’s Dad’s Club raises between $20,000 and $30,000 each year through two fundraisers, and it began by outfitting the entire campus with Wifi. This fall, the dads launched “Club 211” to raise money to slowly roll out an iPad program to put one in the hands each of the school’s 211 students.
School parent Tina Cox applied for a foundation grant in November to help them along, and surprised everyone when she learned in December that they had been awarded $100,000. The school will not disclose the foundation as it wishes to remain anonymous. The Dad’s Club will now use the funds it raises for training, iPad covers, maintenance, security and storage.
Before Christmas, Dad’s Club president Brian Perkins placed the order with Apple, which offered its 10-percent education discount and assigned the school a dedicated representative. A newly formed tech committee received training and visited other schools with iPad programs.
Every one of the school’s full and part-time teachers received the first iPads to arrive. The key to the program’s success, explained Principal Debbie Picard, has been professional development for teachers and their total buy-in. “They have been enthusiastic about the idea without exception,” said Picard. “That said, our new motto is: ‘Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.’ Teachers at St. Francis range in age from early 20s to mid-60s.”
Apple TV units project what is on screen to the front of the classroom so that students know what they should be looking at. The first-grade students said that their favorites apps are Chicktionary for spelling, Hungry Fish for math, Google Earth for fun and the Notepad for writing.
Much of the time, the first few days were spent on what the watch means (wait), turning it on and off, how to capitalize a letter and other routine actions. Since then, first-grade teacher Robin Perkins (wife of Brian) said that the apps have been a great way to differentiate instruction.
Still up in the air for the school are a series of important questions: should the students be able to take the iPads home; what happens if an iPad is broken or lost (there is insurance, but should there be consequences); what kind of covers are best; how and where should the iPads be locked and stored; and how to measure the effectiveness of the devices in the classroom.
While incorporating the iPads into lesson plans for grades kindergarten and up means extra work for the teachers.
They have found a great resource in Apple’s iTunes U, where they can find and search lesson plans from other K-12 schools. Go to apple.com/apps/itunes-u to see what is available.
“We are trying a lot of new ideas thanks to the iPads, and we are excited to see how each grade reacts and utilizes the devices as we roll the program out in the higher grades,” said Picard.