Originally this post identified Wallace High School as being in "Ireland," when it's actually in Northern Ireland. We regret the error. -Ed.
After collaborating with Apple for a year, Northern Ireland's Wallace High School has launched the country's largest 1:1 iPad initiative. The school's principal, Deborah O'Hare, said in a press release that she and her staff had been letting students bring portable devices into the classroom.
In time, the faculty and administration realized that if they could identify a single device that would be appealing to students, useful to the teachers and understandable by the parents, they'd be onto something.
The iPad 2 is that device.
"In-depth research into the range and quality of educational, productive and creative apps has led us to the conclusion that the iPad allows for greater independent learning on a cost effective, resource rich platform," Principal O'Hare said.
Today, the school has equipped 530 students at Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) with an iPad 2. Noting that both students and teachers have "an appetite for technology," the school's administration will review the program's effectiveness when considering future planning.
Meanwhile, the school's Vice Principal David Cleland has been named an Apple Distinguished Educator and often posts Apple-themed tutorials with an educational bent at DigMo.
We've seen other schools adopt iPads on a large scale. Most recently, another Irish school, St. Coleman's College, let students choose between traditional textbooks or iPads. Similarly, a Tennessee school has begun using iPads with its 4th-12th grade students and a Maine kindergarten has purchased iPads for all of its tiny learners (though not without controversy). Fraser Speirs has been documenting his school's 1-to-1 deployment on his blog.
The Wallace High School has embraced the use of technology in learning and teaching in progressive and creative ways for example the school's virtual learning environment is well established and integrated into every day teaching. Significant planning and preparation has taken place in relation to infrastructure, staff development and school development planning.
The formation of staff working groups led by David Cleland, newly appointed Vice – Principal, to help shape and influence our ICT policy has been pivotal in reaching this decision. Interestingly the single most influential factor, however, has been the student voice.
The Student Voice
Wallace has a very innovative ICT team made up of teaching and support staff who regularly field parental and student enquiries about which laptop, portable device to purchase, how to access internet at home, how to fix problems with devices, etc. However, the nature and frequency of student requests about the use of portable devices in home and in school has grown significantly. It was becoming clear that students, in increasing numbers, were asking the following question of the school:
"What can you, as a school, do to streamline our use of technology to support and extend student learning?"
When we thought about it as a school it seemed that we were putting up barriers rather than supporting the use of technology. So progressively more and more students were supported in bringing their own portable devices in the classroom...
It became evident that the use of a single device, used by teachers, understood by parents and students would allow all learners to make progress supported by portable, digital technology. Sharing resources, interacting, the creation of a seamless transition between the school day and work at home suddenly seemed possible.
Why Key Stage 3 in the Grammar School?
Given the changes in the approach to learning and teaching at Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) with an increased emphasis on thinking skills, independent research, interactivity and cross curricular projects the iPad provides a useful platform from which to stretch, challenge, support the learning of individual pupils further and support self assessment.
Indepth research into the range and quality of educational, productive and creative apps has led us to the conclusion that the iPad allows for greater independent learning on a cost effective, resource rich platform.
Our young people arrive in Year 8 increasingly, although not equally, well equipped with basic ICT skills but have an appetite to use this medium to enhance the core and invaluable work a teacher does. The iPad, whilst promoting independent learning, can be used to build relationships in collaborative approaches to and measuring achievement.
With the increasing use of interactive and computer based assessments, including GCSEs and A'Levels, equipping 530 young people in these 3 year groups prepares them for a ever changing, advancing technological world.
"The Preparatory Department": The iPad2 and Montessori Principles
Maria Montessori famously said "Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed."
Our small Prep Department family, led by Mrs Corinne Latham, works on this premise; each child's learning is tracked individually, given the level of support he/she needs and set clear, achievable but stretching targets.
From September 2011 the iPad2 is one ingredient in our "Montessori Prepared Environment" for our Pre-Prep. Our Pre-Prep leader, Mrs Anne Mulholland, a degree qualified specialist in Early Years Education demonstrates in our Pre-Prep provision respect and understanding of the "absorbent mind" so valued in Montessori education. The iPad2 allows for fluid, individualised learning, exploration based on the interests of the child and the Montessori Apps are one of a myriad of resources available.
Lowering the Barriers Between Parents and Children/Teenagers: A Family Approach
A school in which the ages of our young people range from 2 years and 10 months to 18 years we are aware of the fear among parents of what technology is doing to the mental health, social development and physical wellbeing of this generation bombards us from the media.
If you type the word "Dangers..." into Google UK the list offered includes the following : smoking, alcohol, electricity, static electricity, the internet, Facebook. Add the word 'children' to the search "dangers children" the first category is "dangers children face online".
Some parents may not fully appreciate the wonderful opportunities for learning afforded by technology. It is our wish that none of our parents, willing to learn more, should be left behind, fearful of the dangers of the online environment yet pressurised into buying the latest portable device. On our recent Parents' Evenings at which our iPad2 project was explained, outlined how the school will support parents.
Questions like "what if some learners don't like the iPad2, they can't learn on it" may resonate for some time. However, it is our contention as a school that one to one digital technology affords a multiplicity of styles of learning in a single classroom environment. Technology can be interactive, visual learners can exploit the devices as can kinaesthetic, auditory learners, all the time encouraging originality and creativity.
The school will facilitate a research project to measure improvement, flexibility in learning, and the impact of a one to one deployment.
The focus on a centralised, uniform ICT structure has served our education system well. Teachers now have core skills, an appetite for using technology in the classroom we as a school community are ready to take this next step to individualise the technology provision for our pupils. If we as a school are able to be creative, to plan, prioritise based on the needs of our pupils, our parents, our communities might the education we offer promote more entrepreneurship and creativity such as Sir Ken Robinson defines it?
"The process of having original ideas that have value."