Seventh-grader Samuel Keenan, left, and sixth-grader Melany Rosas demonstrate how an iPad can be used in a Pacelli Middle School classroom Thursday at Pacelli. Students at the middle school level will all get iPads next year. -- Photos by Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com
Seventh-grader Samuel Keenan, left, and sixth-grader Melany Rosas demonstrate how an iPad can be used in a Pacelli Middle School classroom Thursday at Pacelli. Students at the middle school level will all get iPads next year. -- Photos by Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Archived Story

Pacelli embracing tech: School goes one-to-one with iPads for middle school students

Published 10:36am Friday, May 30, 2014

Sixth-grader Melany Rosas is excited she won’t have to borrow her brother’s laptop for homework next year.

That’s because Pacelli Catholic School will add a program for the 2014-15 school year called Mobile Middle to equip each middle school student with an iPad. The school started a similar one-on-one program four years ago with high school students and laptops.

Students like Rosas, who doesn’t have her own computer or tablet at home, are excited.

“I would probably use it more for homework assignments because I find it very hard to use my brother’s laptop,” she said.

Holtorf
Holtorf

Principal Mary Holtorf is also excited about the new devices and sees Mobile Middle as a way to expand learning.

“When [students] go into a job, they have to be tech savvy,” Holtorf said. “We were just missing out on this great opportunity to use [technology] as tools.”

Currently, the school has 10 iPads for every 60 students, which Holtorf admitted is not very good ratio and makes it hard for students to share and utilize the devices. With Mobile Middle, students will be allowed to take their iPads home and use them for homework assignments, along with other things.

“The learning goes beyond the four walls,” Holtorf said.

The school has received donations for the program and families pay a $50 technology fee, but Holtorf said tuition prices will not increase to fund the program. About 42 percent of Pacelli students are on free or reduced lunch and many receive scholarships to attend Pacelli, according to Holtorf. This means many families can’t afford expensive devices like laptops or iPads.

The school chose iPads over laptops for several reasons, but mainly because iPads feature many apps designed for middle schoolers. Educators also liked the mobility factor.

But iPad apps come with concerns. Parents and teachers worry students will use the iPads for games, which some fear would impede learning opportunities. But Assistant Principal Laura Marreel, who is also a middle school teacher, said that is not the case.

“We are working very hard to use it to enhance [the students’] learning,” Marreel said.

Emily Langr, a technology integration specialist, will be an integral part of getting teachers tech savvy to bring a better teaching experience to the classroom. -- EricJohnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com
Emily Langr, a technology integration specialist, will be an integral part of getting teachers tech savvy to bring a better teaching experience to the classroom. — EricJohnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Educators hope to help students to communicate more readily with teachers and other students, to go beyond what’s in the classroom, to collaborate with classmates even if they’re not physically together and to do more project based learning.

Marreel said the school promotes responsible ways to use social media and be good digital citizens. She said people often ignore things happening online, like bullying, and then they have to deal with the aftermath. Instead, Pacelli is trying teach the students how to use social media to benefit them.

“We’re not anti-social media,” She said. “[We’re] just helping them understand that their digital footprint will follow them always and that they should use it to promote themselves.”

But they are still working on developing classroom rules for the students, like a rule requiring students to show their screens to teachers at any time. Most of the rules will be at the teacher’s discretion.

Emily Langr, the technology integration specialist at Pacelli, will help prepare teachers for the change.

“My position here is to coach the teachers in using technology to engage the students,” Langr said.

Many students already understand how to use the technology better than a lot of the teachers, according to Langr, because they grew up with it.

Langr said there will be 40 hours of summer training for the teachers this summer to help them learn how to use the same technology the students are using. There will be workshops on how to use different Google apps and how to implement iPads into the classroom.

“A lot of times there’s a mentality among teachers of, ‘Well, I need to fit technology into my lesson,’ instead of saying, how can I use technology to make this lesson amazing and to redefine the way that we’re doing education,” Langr said.

The teachers are already looking into different ways to utilize the technology in coming years, such as implementing classroom times like “Appy hours,” among others.

“Teachers are getting really excited about the technology and really excited about the iPads in the fall,” Langr said.

While teachers and parents may still be getting used to the idea of introducing iPads to middle schoolers, students like Samuel Keenan are already excited. The seventh-grader plans to use the new iPad primarily for homework.

“I’ll probably use it for my math and language arts,” he said.

Both Rosas and Keenan are scheduled to return to the middle school in the fall.

Students will keep the same iPad throughout their middle school experience, similar to the high school with laptops. Pacelli currently gives high school students the option to purchase their laptops at the end of their senior year, and school leaders are looking into a similar option for middle schoolers.

A parent meeting will be scheduled at the end of this year to discuss options for the Mobile Middle program.


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