This year marks the second year that iPads will be used in classrooms across Billings Catholic Schools as the school system continues to march toward its goal of a computer for every student.
Last year, the school system purchased about 100 tablets and tested them in some classrooms. There were iPads for third-, fourth-, fifth-, seventh- and eighth-grade science classes, as well as for second-graders and seniors taking European history.
This year, the school system will provide iPads for about one-third of its students.
The program is adding an additional 230 iPads, bringing the total to about 330 that will now reach all students in grades two, three, six, nine and 10.
The classrooms in which they were used last year — science classes in four grades — will keep their iPad Airs from last year. In the lower grades, students will use iPad minis.
Tim Lowe, the director for education at Billings Catholic Schools, said the computers have been implemented differently for different age groups.
He said in the elementary schools, where the devices’ effectiveness faced skepticism at first, the tablets are mainly used as additional support, or for idea and skill reinforcement.
For example, if a student is struggling, he said, there are apps that can help provide the support the student needs.
Yet at the higher levels, he said, they emphasize note-taking strategies and paperless classroom processes as well utilizing the computing ability of the iPads.
“Today’s children may be tech savvy as they grow up with these devices, but they aren’t born knowing how to organize their notes in an app or how to manage files between online services,” Lowe said.
And that’s where the teachers come in.
He said “as teachers are having to teach these new tasks along with everything else they have today, I’m continually impressed by their energy and desire to help children.”
“If you let them play games, they’ll play games. If you create opportunities to push their understanding and collaborate with others using the technology, they’ll rise to that bar too.”
The idea for the iPad program came about a year and a half ago at the Catholic schools’ annual Mayfair auction, where, Lowe said, “parents and involved community members” expressed interest in a one-to-one program. The program would give each student a computer.
“That desire led to the current special project that the Mayfair committee is working to complete,” Lowe said.
The funding for the iPads has come from parents and the community, Lowe said, and using an Apple education discount.
Lowe said that the program has largely been a success.
“Sure there are hurdles whenever you add something to the instructional process, but the staff has been very supportive and interested in how the iPads give them another tool to work with in the process of teaching.”
He said the iPad program will require continued feedback from teachers and students, as well as tweaking, in order to increase their effectiveness as tools.
“Like everything in education, we will continue to evaluate the impact iPads have on the learning process and make adjustments as needed,” he said.
“We will continue to have conversations with our students, parents and teachers as the year progresses and take that feedback into consideration as we look toward our next step.”