Technology as a Personal Tool in the Classroom

RSS launches a 1-to-1 iPad program for 7th and 8th Grade Students.
Just before February break, students in Grades 7 and 8 eagerly received their own iPads during the launch of Rodeph Sholom School’s 1-to-1 iPad program. While iPads have been a part of the curriculum at RSS since 2011, they have been primarily used in class as devices for collaborative projects. This 1-to-1 program will allow our seventh and eighth graders to use the iPads as personal educational devices to enhance their learning both inside and outside of school.

RSS developed our 1-to-1 program with clear intention. After consideration and consultation with peer independent schools, RSS concluded that a 1-to-1 iPad program would strengthen our already deep curriculum while providing students with the skills necessary to take part in the ever-changing landscape of today’s technological world. Teachers spent the beginning of the year planning the details of this initiative, including the use of universal apps such as Google Drive that allow students flexibility in storing, accessing, and sharing their work.

The initial reaction to the launch has been extremely positive. Students are excited to be able to use their iPads more organically and flexibly than they could when they were sharing devices. In Digital Arts classes, students creating stop-motion movies have been thrilled to discover that they can now use the “onion skin” function to display the last photo they took for a given project. Previously, students had to find the specific device they had used the period before and figure out where they had left off. “Now they just walk into class and start working,” says Vanessa Miller, Middle School Digital Arts teacher. “Some of the students have also been excited to share work that they did at home on their own.” Since the devices are portable, students are now able to share their work easily, not only with their classroom teacher, but also with their advisors, other teachers and peers.  

In history class, the iPads have already made a huge difference. Through the combination of Google Drive and the notebook app Notability, students have access to all of the documents they need for the course. They can import documents into Notability where they can annotate them during class group work and on their own at home. Though teachers explicitly teach skills specific to these apps, by and large, students picked up these skills intuitively. History teacher and Department Chair Ira Glasser remarked that students have adjusted very quickly to using the devices and are excited about finding new ways to use them. “The iPads have allowed students to better analyze historical cartoons,” said Mr. Glasser. “Whereas in the past, I would have handed students copies of a political cartoon and asked them to annotate it by hand, now students can annotate them digitally. They can zoom in on the image and are able to read text that was virtually unreadable on the physical photocopies.”

Science and Mathematics Department Chair John Parente explained how iPads are facilitating students’ work on their STEM Expo projects. Mr. Parente allowed students to choose between using laptops or iPads to begin online research of their topics. About half of the students opted to use their iPads. They were able to access the Internet and online scientific journals easily, and could also save relevant articles to their devices by bookmarking them, converting them to iBooks format, or importing them to Notability.

Students in Romance language classes have been able to read text aloud in the target language, record themselves, and share their recordings with their teachers. Department Chair Amanda Cruz-Fernandez spoke of the huge potential of being able to access audio files from anywhere and hear students’ pronunciation. This allows her to give targeted feedback to more students than would normally be able to speak during a given class period.

English teachers plan to use an app called Subtext to teach students skills that are specific to reading electronic texts. These skills include learning how to highlight, how to add notes, and how to share comments with their teacher and classmates. Electronic texts will by no means replace physical books, but it is important that students know that reading texts in different formats necessitates their reading differently.

Students in Hebrew classes will be creating projects and presentations that combine learning Hebrew language with interactive formats. In Jewish Studies, students have access to texts as well as Biblical maps. There, too, students will be creating projects that require them to apply the knowledge and technical skills they have learned.  

Shared iPads will still be used by students in Grades K-6, since teachers have already integrated these devices into their curricula. Students in those grades are already becoming fluent users. Grade 6 students recently wrote scripts based on the text they are reading in English class and are working in groups to create short movies of their scripts.

In history class, fifth graders capped their learning about the pyramids of Giza by exploring the Pyramids app which offers a 3D interactive tour that allows students to “travel” inside all of the pyramids. Students can click on the walls to view decorations and hieroglyphic,s and also on the various objects found in these tombs. Through one aspect of the app, students can see what the pyramids look like today and, through another, they can view what the interior probably looked like after the structures were first built, with vibrant colors and intact artwork. An extremely rewarding part of using the iPads was that students explored at their own pace and were eager to share discoveries that they found interesting. The buzz of “that’s so cool” quickly turned into “how did you do that?” and “show me” and the learning became a group experience.

These are only a handful of the current and potential uses of iPads in the RSS curriculum. As teachers and students continue to experiment and learn, they will undoubtedly develop more innovative and enriching ways to use them. RSS is confident that we can leverage these devices to deepen students’ understanding of content they are already learning while also helping students to acquire important 21st century skills.  
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