Updating technology is a top priority for St. Thomas Aquinas School Principal Duane Siepker, and as the new school year approaches, he and the staff are busy preparing for the implementation of new reading materials and 36 Apple iPad Minis.
The small tablet computers with a 7.9-inch screen will be used in grades four through six. The goal for 2014 is to also put the devices in the first, second and third grade classrooms, then eventually in kindergarten.
Purchased with funds from both the annual Friends of St. Thomas Ball and the St. Thomas Foundation, the devices will be another way in which students can learn new concepts.
“I’m convinced they’re a solid educational tool,” Siepker says, adding that national studies have shown an increase in student proficiency scores in classrooms that have used iPads.
Siepker calls the current generation of students, “technology natives,” because they have grown up with knowledge of various tools and gadgets. It’s important, he says, to keep up with technological advances, because it’s what the kids are accustomed to.
“If we don’t fall in line with what’s happening, we do a disservice to the students,” he says.
“The cool thing is that it’s part of their lifestyle, and they’ll be accessing educational information in an almost instantaneous format,” he says. Many of the students have already used the devices for playing games with different applications; in the classroom, they’ll be using educational applications.
One application he mentions, Dropbox, is a secure file hosting and sharing service that allows the user to easily share photos, documents and videos in one place. Using Dropbox, teachers can place homework and tests in the box for student access, and the teacher can later look over the work.
Siepker likes the fact that the iPad applications and programs will allow the student to access the material repeatedly.
“If they didn’t get it the first time, they can go back and look it over again,” he says.
Another advantage of the devices and applications is that it allows the school to be more “green.”
“More and more, we can go paperless,” Siepker says.
The principal is enthusiastic about the design of the new reading textbooks for grades K-4 and the fact that each lesson incorporates elements of the national Common Core academic standards that were integrated into the Iowa Core by the State Board of Education in 2010. The textbooks also feature Internet links that students can use to view videos on their iPads that accompany each chapter.