Jesuit high school turns to iPads in the classroom

Feb 17, 2012

Canisius High School in Buffalo says it's the natural evolution of education.  The private Jesuit high school for boys has become one of the first school in Western New York to invest in strategic one-to-one computing. 

This means both teachers and students are using iPads as an integral part of the daily learning experience. 

WBFO's Marian Hetherly talked with representatives at the school, who say the iPad is stimulating engagement, creativity and efficiency. 

"This is a powerful educational tool. I think it will change the way we deliver material.  It certainly is a supplement or enhancement to what we already do.  It's curriculum driven, said Canisius High School Principal Tim Fitzgerald. 

Fitzgerald said Canisius High School had been studying various computing programs over the past five years and the iPad came along just at the right time.

"We believe it's the right combination of accessibility to information, accessibility to all students.  And we think our timing has become ideal based on some of the announcements Apple has done in the last few months," said Fitzgerald.

This year, iPads are being integrated into the junior class.  Next year, all freshman, sophomores and juniors will be required to have an iPad and seniors will be highly encouraged to have one.  Canisius CFO Robert Cavallari said the school has partnered with manufacturer Apple to buy some 900 iPads and will then make them available for purchase and financing by families.

"The total that we're going to be out-of-pocket is going to be about $600-to-700,000.  We'll recover some of that from the families and some of it is just a Canisius High School investment in making this a better educational experience.  This is something we need to do to stay ahead of the curve and give our students the best educational opportunity and advantages that we can," said Cavallari.

The school has created a support system for the iPads that includes staffing a help desk and making sure the campus' WiFi is always dependable.  Technology Director Andy Foti leads that effort.

"This is about four times the number of devices we're used to seeing.  The biggest thing that's come up is too many places where a single piece of equipment would fail and could take down a large section of the network.  Once kids and teachers start depending on this--to be able to access their work, to deliver the curriculum--it can't ever go down, and if it does go down, it has to be something that comes back in 60 seconds, two minutes tops," noted Foti.

Foti said adequate capitalization--in hardware, software, support people--is essential for success. 

With that in mind, Canisius promoted math teacher Eric Amodeo to the new position of Academic Technology Director to oversee the program and be a continuous resource for teachers, students and parents.  For example, he'll research new education apps and tweet them to teachers for possible use in the classroom and feedback.  Amodeo says Canisius already allows personal computers in the classroom.  Now devices will be uniform across the board.

"One thing I'm going to show you here is iBooks.  As you 're going to see here, there's a number of things that we can do with this digital book that we couldn't do with a normal book--and this is where it's going to change what we do in the classroom.  Now we can teach our students how to study, how to be better note takers, and I think that's key in the big picture because a lot of students come in without those skills," said Amoedeo.

Because iBooks are digital, students can highlight, add notes, create study cards, take quizzes and share with other students, among other things. 

Canisius senior Anthony Tomasello likes that he doesn't have to carry around pounds of textbooks anymore and that theory now comes to life.

"It keeps the student engaged. It takes the static images you have in a textbook and makes them dynamic. For example, a cell membrane in a biology textbook is moving constantly.  There's always osmosis going on.  You can see that now with the iBooks," said Tomasello.

And gone are the days of teachers photocopying multiple paper handouts.  Their method of presentation has changed.  Teachers can now create their own iBooks and podcasts--and they can sell their products to Apple.  Tom Coppola is a history teacher who serves as Director of Student Activities and coaches football.  He said his workload hasn't changed, but efficiency and available learning tools certainly have increased.  

"I use my iPad every day for my own notes. So when I'm in front of the students, I have it with me.  It's more portable than a laptop, so I find it very useful that way.  So on The Nightly News, I saw something great that Brian Williams did.  We can immediately go to it in the classroom.  It's right in front of them.  They can watch it in front of them.  I can put it on Moodle, which is our online course manager.  This is where all the homework assignments are.  This is where all my presentations and notes are.  So when we say, 'Open up Chapter One notes," they'll be sitting there with their Moodle account open, ready to go," said Coppola.

Coppola also likes that the battery life on his iPad lasts all day--unlike his old laptop--which increases his productivity. 

Cavallari said going digital will save money long-term on textbooks, photocopying and other paper-related costs. 

Amodeo advises other schools looking to integrate technology into the classroom to first do their homework.

"I think it's important for any school to make sure that the proper planning is done.  Don't make this a reactionary type of event that you're going to do just because other schools happen to do it, because without any support structure or plan, it's doomed for failure.  We've done the legwork over the last four-to-five years to make sure that that wasn't going to happen," said Amodeo

And don't expect magic results, he warns.  Fitzgerald said Canisius is using pre- and post-surveys plus standardized academic tests to measure how well the program impacts teaching and learning.  He said the school also is helping teachers and students achieve a balance between their academic and personal use of the iPad.

"Recognize the power of the tool but also the changing cyberspace that they're embarking on.  Some
of the school's responsibility is to educate them on appropriateness in that arena.  I think that that balance is part of that education, just like it is for teachers.  Yes, this extends and makes available so many more things, but it doesn't mean the teacher's on call," said Fitzgerald.