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Schools eager to launch iPad era of learning

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / February 23, 2012
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Students at Catholic high schools in Brockton and Braintree, and others in grades 7 through 12 in Kingston, will start the next school year with iPads instead of papers and books in their backpacks, part of a growing number of schools looking to trade traditional learning tools for the latest technology.

Not far behind Cardinal Spellman in Brockton, Archbishop Williams in Braintree, and Sacred Heart in Kingston are public school counterparts in Brockton as well as Cohasset and Sharon that are test-driving Apple tablets and their Windows competitors, or are leaning toward doing so.

For Cardinal Spellman junior Brian Barry, 16, the change is a welcome one, just in time for his college search and his dream of studying criminal justice.

“I think it’s a great idea,’’ said Barry, of Brockton. “Our society is becoming more electronic. No more folders with papers flying everywhere.’’

He and almost 700 other Spellman students will each be charged a $125 annual technology fee for their iPads as part of a lease/purchase program to keep it affordable, said Spellman president John McEwan. Parents will pick up the cost of e-books as they become available, he said.

Similarly, students and teachers at Archbishop Williams will be able to buy or lease iPads through a cost-effective deal with Apple Inc., or even bring in their own, said school president Carmen Mariano. Students will use the touch-screen devices for research, homework, and interactive learning both in and out of the classroom, officials said.

And 360 students in grades 7 through 12 at Sacred Heart School will be given iPads as part of a two-year rental agreement that allows the school to eventually purchase them, said Suzanne R. Giovanetti, director of the school’s office of advancement. The program follows a yearlong pilot initiative proposed and led by junior Tom Griffin of Kingston, she said.

Training is already underway for Spellman faculty and staff, and students and parents will have their turn this summer, McEwan said. With new wireless access, the 54-year-old school on Court Street is ready to launch into a new age, he said.

According to recent information from Apple, about 1.5 million iPads already are in use in school settings using more than 20,000 education applications.

With relatively few schools using the devices in area districts, McEwan said Spellman wants to be out in front of the technology wave.

“Leadership is a verb; it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. We looked at it two years ago and said, ‘what’s next?’ ’’ he said.

Spellman will host a workshop March 16 to share details of its program with other Catholic schools in the region, McEwan said. “We hope as many kids as possible have the opportunity to learn differently and take advantage of this new technology.’’

Burlington High School has been a trailblazer with the new learning devices, handing out 1,200 iPads in September to its students. School officials said recently the iPads are already yielding benefits as students become more engaged in their daily use.

The goal for the Catholic schools is for students to be able to work electronically in school or at home and take online courses for high school and college credit, officials said.

In Cohasset, schools Superintendent Barbara Cataldo said she hopes to launch a similar initiative in grades 9 through 12 this fall, now that the district’s schools have gone wireless.

“This is the way to learn,’’ said Cataldo, who introduced iPads in her former district in Milford. “We can find ways to connect with the world in an immediate fashion.’’

Currently, 50 iPads are in use in Cohasset in grades 3 through 8, Cataldo said; she said she hopes to give between 360 and 400 high school students the devices in September if the district’s capital expenditure committee agrees.

“Textbooks will always have their place,’’ she said. “But this allows students to be process learners, not just fact learners,’’ because the iPads are interactive.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does not insist on specific equipment for learning, but it requires school districts to have an average ratio of one high-capacity, Internet-connected computer for each student by the 2014-2015 school year, said agency spokesman Jonathan Considine.

“Obviously, these are local decisions,’’ Considine said. “But we do provide a set of planning guidelines for long-range technology plans and how to integrate them into the classroom.’’

The public schools in Brockton are test-driving the iPad as well as several of its competitors, said Dan Vigeant, director of technology services for the 15,000-plus student district. Brockton has also completed a $1 million wireless installation project for all its 23 schools.

“The iPad hit a home run,’’ Vigeant said of the approximately 200 devices in use in a range of classrooms. “Everyone loved it.’’

But the district will probably adopt both the iPad and a Windows-based device, he said, to manage costs.

“Will the district be in the position to buy 15,000 devices?’’ Vigeant said. “Probably not. But you can see the future is in a tablet-based device. This isn’t sci-fi; it’s right around the corner.’’

As in some school districts, Brockton may go with a bring-your-own-device program where students can use their own laptops or tablets if they have them. If not, arrangements would be made to provide them, Vigeant said.

“We don’t want to create a have and have-not environment,’’ he said.

In Sharon, the public schools currently have 30 iPads in use, but are pushing ahead. The district recently cohosted a forum with Apple that drew 30 area districts, said school technology director John Marcus.

“We aren’t as far along as others, but there is no question that Sharon is making the move to become fully digital,’’ he said.

Marcus said Sharon needs to update its infrastructure to be able to connect so many devices to a network.

“We’ll decide if we go down the road of getting one for everybody, or do we go with bringing your own,’’ Marcus said. “There will be a minimum standard.’’

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.

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