By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
INDEPENDENCE — It happens everywhere — some students have the latest technological devices and others don’t. Teachers at Archbishop O’Hara and St. Mary high schools, which are in the early stages of blending into one faculty for the new high school planned for 2105, want to see all their students and teachers equipped with I-Pads. As a start, on May 4, faculty and staff from the two schools gathered at St. Mary’s to learn more about each other and how to use I-Pad technology.
O’Hara principal John O’Connor has also taken charge of St. Mary’s, and will divide his time equally between the two high schools in the upcoming school year. O’Connor said that he and Christian Brother Chuck Gregor, who teaches art, publication and presentation and Hardware Programming courses at O’Hara, visited De LaSalle High School in Minneapolis last year to see their I-Pad technology usage.
“Their excitement was contagious,” O’Connor recalled. “We then met with Apple representatives and explored different options. We’ve been planning to get I-Pads for all the kids since August.”
Thanks to some generous donors and the Fund-A-Need part of the annual Evening of Celtic Pride auction, O’Hara was able to upgrade their existing wifi system to hold more devices, and equip students and faculty with I-Pad devices in January of this year. Due to some wiring issues that needed resolving, it took a while longer for St. Mary’s faculty to receive their I-Pads, but by the end of April, they were also equipped with the devices. O’Connor plans to meet with parents from both schools in July and August to familiarize them with the initiative and get their feedback.
O’Connor also realized that most of the teachers at O’Hara knew little about their counterparts at St. Mary’s and less about the high school, and vice versa. He called a meeting of the staffs of both schools at St. Mary’s.
A Mass at St. Mary Church, celebrated by visiting Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, was attended by the faculties and staff members. In his homily, Father Pacwa related the blending of the high school communities to the Gospel reading.
After Mass, Dr. Dan Peters, diocesan Superintendent of Schools, and O’Connor welcomed teachers and staff members. Dr. Peters spoke briefly about I-Pad technology, and O’Connor talked about the blending of the communities and how the I-Pads would engage everyone — faculty, staff and students — in both learning and fellowship.
Over lasagna and salad, teachers and staff members got to know each other and chatted about I-Pad technology. Faculty members from both schools who were more experienced with the technology were able to answer questions and point out features of the devices to teachers who had never used an I-Pad before.
Laura Eagle, who teaches Scripture I and II, economics and AP micro-economics at O’Hara, said that equipping all the students at both schools will give them a tool that will bring them information and enhance their education. “It’s a way of reinforcing instruction that is imparted in class,” she said. “It’s something to help the students. Take for example microeconomics. There’s an app on the I-Pad to help them study for exams.”
The devices remain the property of the school, Eagle added. Students will have the option to purchase the I-Pads at the end of the year, but if they don’t, they are to be returned to the school.
There are all sorts of apps for all sorts of things, she said, but the students will have to download and upgrade apps on their own. And personal downloads will overload the wifi system, so these will just be for school use.
Christian Brother Chuck Gregor said that since O’Hara High School already used computer and Internet technology in all classes, adding one-on-one technology, I-Pads, was a no-brainer. “It’s a great research tool,” he said, “bringing research to your fingertips; they’re instant on and have about a 10-hour battery life. They can go anywhere wifi is, so they’re for Internet uses almost anywhere. It’s a matter of efficiency.”
Brother Gregor added that in this day and age, it makes sense to do things digitally. “Technology is the great equalizer,” he said. “It gives all kids a fighting chance to succeed in school and eventually in their careers.”
After lunch, teachers from several departments at both schools met in classrooms to discuss favorite apps and ways to use the technology. Others toured St. Mary’s High School and got better acquainted with their fellow teachers.
O’Connor said he thought the day was a success, and that teachers from both schools were beginning to form friendships. The day was so successful in fact, that May 29-31, about 50 teachers from Archbishop O’Hara, St. Mary’s, Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City, Our Lady of the Presentation School in Lee’s Summit and Columbia Catholic School in Columbia, gathered at O’Hara for three days of training to use the I-Pads, learn new tools and tricks.
Some of the tools the teachers learned to use included R.A.T., a technology ladder where the lowest rung is the use of technology merely as a replacement for something not related to technology. The next rung is amplification — the use of technology speeds up the process of learning. The top rung is transformation — learning would not be possible without the use of technology.
TodaysMeet helps a teacher or speaker connect with their audience in real time. I-Pad users can use live streaming to make comments, ask questions and use feedback to tailor a presentation, sharpen points and address audience needs.
They also learned more about software services that are available to I-Pad users: Evernote, designed for note taking and archiving; and Schoology, designed to improve learning through better communication between teachers and students. It also enhances networking, digital assignments and quizzes.
The teachers had an opportunity to learn about a Christian Brothers school in Ethiopia; through internet-based Skype, they were able to meet and listen to Brother Getochew, the school’s principal, ask him questions and even hear children playing in the background.
Over the three-day training session, the teachers learned about Flipped Classrooms, how connecting an I-Pad to a Smart Board gives students more of a say about how they are learning. Eagle said that the Flipped Classroom transfers the ownership and responsibility of learning from the teacher to the students, which makes them more active learners.
They also discussed blogging, Twitter and how to create a Personal Learning Network to connect with educators around the country and the world.
The training session concluded with a one-minute application “Shout Out,” in which teachers were given one minute to demonstrate their favorite educational or web app or web site and explain how they planned to use it with the I-Pad.