‘Collaborative Learning Takes on a Whole New Meaning’ - The Missourian: Features People

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‘Collaborative Learning Takes on a Whole New Meaning’

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Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 12:30 am | Updated: 1:12 pm, Fri Dec 27, 2013.

Several weeks ago, a couple of St. Francis Borgia Regional High School theater students were out of town as their classmates were gathering for play practice, but that didn’t stop them from attending and running their lines with the rest of the cast.

“They used FaceTime,” said George Wingbermuehle, SFBRHS president, referring to the video calling software available on newer Apple products, like the iPad 2, a tablet computer that became a mandatory school supply for all Borgia students this year — replacing all hard cover textbooks, paper assignments and, for most students, even their old spiral notebooks.

Students did the same thing when another classmate was out sick one day. Rather than have him miss the school pep rally, friends brought him in through FaceTime.

“You could look around and see all the kids, and there was Dean — smaller than everyone else because he was on the iPad — but there he was, waving with the rest of them,” said Wingbermuehle, with a laugh.

Another student who was sick one day and worried about missing a class was able to attend through FaceTime.

“These are scenarios we never thought of happening,” Wingbermuehle remarked.

And that’s just the beginning.

In Tim Buchheit’s speech classes, students are using their iPads to video themselves as they practice their on-stage delivery.

In Judy Kandlbinder’s social studies class, students use news apps to learn about and discuss current events as they are unfolding.

The day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, Kandlbinder’s students watched a video of it through a CNN app on their iPads.

“We discussed it, then they went to their journal app to write about it and turn it in so I could read it,” said Kandlbinder, noting by “turn it in” she means electronically through the “ebackpack” app on their iPads.

On Dec. 14, as news about the elementary school shooting that happened in Newtown, Conn., was first being reported, Kandlbinder’s class was following right along.

“It’s constantly feeding us new information,” she said.

In Andrew Eggert’s American literature classes, students are able to download all of the classics they are required to read, often for free, but they can also do so much more.

“My freshman class was reading ‘The Odyssey’ and they made a movie trailer about what it would be like in present day based on what we read,” said Eggert.

Making movies are a big way Borgia students are using their iPads.

Kellie Iliff, a freshman, who actually began using an iPad for her schoolwork last year when she was an eighth-grader at St. Bridget’s in Pacific, said one of her classes that was communicating with a group of girls in Afghanistan made a movie about their lives in America and sent it electronically to them; and then watched a movie on their iPads that the Afghan girls had made for them.

Wingbermuehle said the movie capability of the iPad (iMovie app) and the programs for making brochures and magazines are what have impressed him the most because these projects are getting kids excited about learning and engaging them like never before.

“Collaborative learning takes on a whole new meaning with the iPad,” he remarked.

Leading the Way

Borgia is the first school in the St. Louis Archdiocese to convert to an “all iPad campus,” although many more are considering it and closely monitoring the school’s progress. So far representatives from more than a dozen schools — in the St. Louis area and beyond — have visited Borgia to see how it’s working and the school has fielded even more phone calls, said Wingbermuehle.

Just recently, Wingbermuehle took two Borgia students to visit Trinity High School in Hazelwood.

“They showed them the apps that they use and gave a one-hour demonstration,” he said.

There were several apps that were mandatory for the students to have:

Pages, for word processing; Keynote, for making presentations; Notability, for taking notes; Ebackpack, the online portal for students to access and submit their assignments; iStudiesPro, which works as a personal agenda to help students keep track of when assignments are due and when tests are scheduled.

Although the transition from traditional textbooks to iPads hasn’t been perfect, it’s been smoother than expected, said Wingbermuehle.

What Everyone Likes

The first two things students say they love about using iPads over textbooks are the lightness of their backpacks and ease of organization.

No longer do they have so many heavy textbooks that they need to keep two backpacks. All of their textbooks are downloaded to the slim, lightweight iPad.

And no longer do they need folders to help keep track of paper assignments or multiple spiral notebooks for separate classes. They access and submit their assignments through the ebackpack app, and they use apps like Notability to take notes for classes.

Nothing can ever be lost either (even if accidentally deleted), because all of the information can be retrieved through the Apple iCloud, which stores content and makes it available on more than one device.

Borgia senior Kyle LaBeau said he most likes having all of his schoolbooks and assignments in one place at the touch of his fingers. He’d even go so far as saying it has helped him improve his schoolwork.

“It just keeps me so organized. Before I had all these papers and folders . . . it was all a mess,” said LaBeau.

He thinks it must be helping other students with their work as well.

“The honor roll list this year is the longest I’ve ever seen it in my four years here,” he said.

Nick Grimm, a sophomore, said his grades are the same so far this year, but it has been less of a struggle for him to keep them up because of the organization help he gets from his iPad.

Iliff, who has dyslexia, said the iPad allows her to turn on the device’s speaker and have the text read to her (using ear buds), providing her better comprehension.

Of course, not all students have been as eager to transition to the iPads.

“The first semester it was a struggle for many of them,” admits LaBeau. “But now that we’re into second semester, more are acclimated to it.”

The biggest problem, he felt, was students adjusting from using a Microsoft Windows system to the Apple operating system.

Some students still chose to use paper notebooks rather than taking notes on their iPad, and so far, most teachers are not using the iPads for tests — too much potential for cheating.

Although that will likely change over time, said Wingbermuehle.

One of the things Kayla Kimminau, a first-year math teacher at Borgia, likes about the iPad is that she can upload an outline of her class notes for students to access.

“They can open it up and follow along,” she said.

“They fill in the blanks, and I walk around to see how they’re doing.”

And if a student has to miss a class, the notes are available through ebackpack.

Parents’ Perspective

Many, if not most, Borgia parents have been excited to have the school using iPads. Despite the expense, which is considerable, parents are seeing the advantages, for now and down the road.

Judy Dorpinghaus, who currently has a sophomore, Jacob, at Borgia and twin daughters who will be enrolled as freshmen next year, said she and her husband went ahead and bought the girls iPads for Christmas this year.

“We decided it would be a good investment, and they can use them now in eighth grade to get familiar with it,” she said.

The Dorpinghauses were not alone. She said of the 27 students in her daughters’ eighth-grade class, about 20 of the students have iPads and are using them in the classroom already.

“They are all so techno-savvy these days . . . they get right in there and figure it out,” she commented.

Like many of the students, Dorpinghaus greatly appreciates the organization capabilities of the iPad.

“Especially for those students who are not normally organized, it really can help,” she said. “It’s hard not to be organized with an iPad.

“It’s just amazing how it has everything in one place — textbooks, assignments, calendar . . . If I ask Jacob anything about school, he grabs his iPad because it’s all right there.”

Although she hasn’t heard from any other parents who aren’t happy about the change from textbooks to the iPad, there are some who aren’t as overly excited about it as others.

Some Concerns

Distraction is the obvious concern that comes with students using iPads in the classroom, and it’s not unfounded. Some students are getting distracted using them, but the teachers say if it wasn’t the iPad, it could just as easily be something else distracting them.

Dr. Kevin Broom, who is on the faculty at St. Louis University and joined the Borgia school board about six months ago and whose son Alex Broom-Morse is a junior at Borgia, agrees. He said learning how to overcome distraction is something all students will have to learn if they want to be successful in college or a career.

“iPads are not all perfect,” said Broom. “There is a different set of challenges, but educators have to learn how to use it to their advantage.”

Damage to the iPads is a very real concern, and one that many students have already faced. If the tablet has to be fixed or replaced, the students can borrow one of several iPads that the school owns until theirs is fixed, Wingbermuehle noted.

There are some accessories that can be purchased to help protect the iPads, which have a glass screen that can be cracked if it’s dropped. Dorpinghaus said she has seen the “Otter Box” protective cases that some students have for their iPads save many of them from being cracked or damaged in a fall.

Another concern Dr. Broom imagined was that Borgia students, now known to be carrying iPads around in the backpacks, could become a target for thieves looking to steal electronics.

Still, he stressed that to him, all of the benefits that come from using iPads in the classroom far outweigh the costs and concerns.

“It’s beneficial, especially in the long run,” Dr. Broom remarked, noting it can truly enhance students’ comprehension of a subject.

“They can be looking it (a subject) up on the Internet, finding examples of what they’re talking about in class and asking better questions.”

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