When Bishop Guilfoyle High School student Brendan Sweeney downloaded a digital version of his bulky Advanced Placement Biology book to his iPad, he began to feel the difference that his school's one-to-one iPad initiative would make on his education. But that was just the beginning.
"You can feel the excitement in the air," Sweeney said.
The senior class at Bishop Guilfoyle High School has been piloting a one-to-one iPad initiative since March 1, and the technology has rapidly increased productivity of teachers and students.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic students Emily Frederick (left), 18, and Addie Ruston, 17, were among a group of students participating in an orientation on their new iPads on Friday.
By the end of the 2013-14 year, each of Bishop Guilfoyle High School's 400 students will be equipped with their own iPad.
Students who prefer audio learning can use their iPads to audio record teachers' lectures with their teacher's permission; visual learners can use their iPads to take photos of a teacher's diagram display; students may choose to perform math calculations by using the iPad's traditional calculator buttons or they could use an app to write numbers and signs on the screen with their finger. The latter is an option that seems to be preferred by the school's Chinese students, teachers say.
iPads make university lectures, cutting edge science labs and demonstrations and historical footage accessible to students during and after class.
"This one-to-one initiative is a great advancement because the students have ownership of their iPads at school and at home," IT coordinator Cathy Schimminger said.
The school's board of trustees approved a technology plan last spring to incorporate the devices in students' education and have donated money to begin the initiative.
Teachers have nearly completed a yearlong iPad training. They analyzed apps and chose 55 of them to be available on students' iPads in addition to curriculum texts, which are updated online at more affordable prices than buying the total cost of of a new paper text book edition, Schimminger said.
The school's new criteria for buying classroom texts requires an interactive, multimedia component and a traditional text component that is compatible for online devices.
As Bishop Guilfoyle phases out its use of paper text books, iPads also allow teachers to choose not to use a shred of paper for handouts, worksheets or tests.
The new technology has also led to the school's first newspaper, "The Marauder Mirror," which is planned to be a regular, online publication that students can access on their iPads connected to the school's wireless internet system.
"The amount of work and what we've done in two months is unbelievable," said senior student Michael Pleva, who has used his iPad and a projector screen for public speaking presentations. He also types and stores all of his notes for each subject on the device.
"It's amazing how much of a help they've been in the classroom."
Math teacher Suzanne Thoma, who didn't have computers in high school, has embraced the new technology.
"It is necessary for student success in higher learning," she said. "We are preparing students. You can't escape technology," she said.
Bailey DeLeo, a junior, is eager to begin using an iPad for her studies because she believes it will help her transition to college.
"I'm excited. I think it's going to be something totally different," she said.
"Colleges use iPads or Macbooks, so even having knowledge about iPads in high school will help us in college."
Thoma's calculus students are having trouble understanding parabolas, but with their iPad apps, students are not limited to textbook problems for practice. They have access to problems with explanations including video tutorials, she said.
Teachers enjoy freedom to walk up and down the rows of their students' desks while using an iPad to construct an equation on a screen at the front of her classroom. Students, using their own iPads to work out the problem, can push a button and display their work on a screen for the entire class to view.
Another Catholic High School in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, Bishop Carroll High School in Ebensburg, has taken note of Bishop Guilfoyle's iPad rollout.
"We are going to see how Bishop Guilfoyle gets things going first before we go in that direction," Bishop Carroll teacher and public relations director Joe Skura said.
Extended library hours are planned to serve the 8 percent of Bishop Guilfoyle's students who don't have wireless internet access at home, Schimminger said. In addition, the school plans to strengthen its entire wireless infrastructure. Regarding safety, Bishop Guilfoyle enables social media access and blocks sites to comply with the The Children's Internet Protection Act.
The pilot phase of the initiative, placing an iPad in the hands of all seniors for the last quarter of the current school year, was made possible through a donation by the school's chairman of the Board of Trustees Michael Fiore as well as gifts from other donors.
The school's development office has a strategic fundraising plan to continue and fully support the initiative. None of the initiative's funding is from student tuition, Principal Joan Donnelly said.
The approximate cost for iPad implementation and maintenance over the next three years is $350,000.
The plan involves efforts through state and federal grants, restricted dollars from donor's gifts and direct mail solicitations.
"Whatever it takes, we will sustain it," Donnelly said.
"Implementing iPads remains true to the school's mission statement made years ago - to prepare young men and women for rewarding and productive lives in a global society," she said. "Technology is part of what's going to be their future."
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.