Case Study: Shifting to Smarter Classrooms
There's a sea change happening -- classroom are using mobile devices and apps to bring schools into the digital age -- but the transition isn't as easy as buying a bunch of iPads.
The nine different schools -- in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the Greater Philadelphia area -- handed out 1,200 iPads to 5th to 12th graders this fall. As part of the curriculum, they'll use them as interactive learning tools to study Judaic texts, learn about World War 2, and even dissect a frog in a group. And teachers can tailor programs to each student with different learning styles.
"We are open to innovative resources to help schools provide the things they think they need to be the best schools and provide an excellent education," said Holly Cohen, the Kohelet Foundation's executive director.
IPads are generating a lot of excitement in classrooms. Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, head of Kellman Brown Academy, is still amazed weeks after they were given to his 5th to 8th grade students. Rabbi Moshe, as students call him, said teachers didn't have trouble finding Judaic materials for the devices. Some books are only in hard copies, but rabbinic texts are being digitized, thanks to Jewish scholars.
At Kellman Brown, math and science is taught on iPads using, for example, algebra graphing calculator and geometry sketch apps. Those programs let students calculate real-time equations with graphs on touch screens. Meanwhile, teachers are doing the same on a smart board. It's more cost-effective too, Rabbi Moshe said, since apps replace the cost of textbooks and teaching materials.
For science, the school uses Apple TV to lead a virtual frog dissection. Colored annotation tools help students follow the experiment, complete with labeled organs. Technology also balances parental concerns on using live animals for ethical reasons and safety from chemicals like formaldehyde.
"All the things we are purchasing as apps are aligned with state curriculum and the school," he said. One thing the technology has deepened, he added, is the intellectual discussion over subjects and instruction. "We tend to get bogged down, but this program has raised the conversation to the highest level -- academics."
How Tablets Help Student Learn
"Some of this material can be dry and repetitious, but the technology makes it come alive," Rabbi Moshe said. "Students need to be able to test and fail."
IPads are motivating students to continue lessons at home, and digital tools -- like a glossary of terms or find content to support a book report -- helps streamline that trial-and-error process, giving students more confidence, not to mention a lighter backpack load. He said they can also keep a better eye on cyber-bullying too. So far iPads have decreased that problem, since tablets are monitored.
As the program takes off, Rabbi Moshe is looking to art. He's a firm believer is stimulating both the left and right sides of the brains, and believes music and art apps that can help spark learning.
"Before, my ideas and those of my colleagues were in a bubble," Rabbi Moshe said. "That's the gift of the Kohelet foundation and as the keeper, and I want to show them we are good stewards, taking it to the next level."
The IT Component
Apple gave the schools an educational discount, so the investment cost about $850,000. Apple professional train the faculty and future upgrades could cost up to $2 million in total, Cohen said. But an in-school consultant is a big advantage since it gives a unified approach across the schools, grades and religious education.
"Every school has own philosophy or flavor," Cohen said. "The training is so consistent; it is really elevating." As a result, she said the faculty enthusiastically embraced the changes in their classrooms.
The Collaborative scheduled open house meetings to keep parents in the loop. Apple demonstrated the iPads, and answered questions related to the devices and apps, and how they benefit education. Parents had legitimate concerns on security and keeping the spirit of the religious curriculum, Cohen said, but overall, they understood how iPads enhance the classroom experience.
Omnicomp CEO Harvey Mindel made the devices educational-ready by stripping unsafe or inappropriate activity. They removed the Safari browser, for example, and added a student-safe browser with alerts when students try to view blocked sites.
"For the first time ever, we had an opportunity to raise infrastructure and commitment with a legitimate budget," Mindel said. "We surveyed all nine schools to get a complete picture and devise a specific formula for each. This wasn't a 'just add water' solution."
His team also added a special high-density network that won't disconnect devices, offering continuity in the classroom. But the cornerstone is application control, which watches what programs are run on the devices.
"One of the biggest challenges across nine schools is the different philosophy and different levels of religious observance," she said. "The goal is to keep children protected," and when it comes to making a content or access decision, "we are all aware of what is good and bad."
What's next? Kellman Brown sees a day when technology is integrated with office functions like grading and report cards, lunch ordering and back-office operations. ♦