Phones out, but iPads in at Catholic schools nationwide

A Brophy freshman uses his iPad during English class. Ninth-graders are the school's first to use iPads throughout the day. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
A Brophy freshman uses his iPad during English class. Ninth-graders are the school’s first to use iPads throughout the day. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Growing number of junior high students using them too

Cell phones: not allowed. Personal computing devices with apps, instant messaging and Internet browsing: a finger tap away.

That’s what students nationwide are finding as iPads are making their way onto the educational scene. Some students physically hand over their cell phone at the beginning of the school day, yet, funds permitting, they can use their iPad or similar device all day.

Some Catholic high schools, like Brophy College Preparatory, have provided every student with some type of personal computing device for years. The all boys Jesuit school debuted Tablet PCs starting in 2006. Every freshman after that received something — administration understandably upgrades the models and systems.

All but a handful of classes now use digital textbooks or teacher-generated resources, according to Jim Bopp, assistant principal for technology. He said being a 1:1 computing school increases organization and efficiency and allows teachers and students to focus more on problem solving, creative and critical thinking and fluency in artistic presentation than on memorization.

This year’s freshmen class was the first Brophy students to receive iPads. Junior high students from at least three other Catholic campuses in the Phoenix Diocese use them too, which means “iGrad” generations are coming as early as May.

The devices have their advantages and drawbacks, according to administration, students and parents. Some issues, like licensing and wireless access, were hit head on. Others, like web versions of programs that are PC-specific, had to be worked around.

“At first I was a little skeptical because I like regular computers,” said Valentine Hernandez, a freshman at Brophy.

But when he learned what came with the iPad — a Bluetooth keyboard, stylus and all of the apps and digital books they will need while a Bronco — and familiarized himself with the applications, he found them to be straightforward.

Hernandez said the device is interactive, eases the note taking process and allows him to quickly learn from his mistakes, especially in Spanish class.

Students access lecture presentations, assignments, quizzes, announcements and grades through Blackboard, an online learning environment. They upload homework to where teachers can better check for plagiarism.

Steve Smith, a freshman English teacher, said his students are far better off than he was during his first year as a Bronco in the early ‘90s. He relied on the typewriter for papers and his teachers constantly in the front of the room. When Smith returned to teach, he too found himself chained to the computer in the corner of the classroom.

Not this year.

“I’m so mobile now I can walk around the whole class period,” Smith said. “I’m a part of the class with them.”

Junior high students explore new learning methods on the iPad. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)
Junior high students explore new learning methods on the iPad. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)

That has its benefits not only for interaction and enhanced classroom discussions, but for monitoring student usage. Anyone caught playing games or accessing other unrelated content online or other iPad applications can get fined an ICU, an Inappropriate Computer Usage, punishable by detention.

Hernandez plans to avoid getting an ICU. If he clicks on something like Facebook at school, he set up a popup message to remind him: “Entertainment. No school access.”

That’s the potential downside that Bopp, Brophy’s assistant principal for technology, sees to the classroom upgrade.

“It requires students to use the devices in a mature way in order to avoid distraction,” Bopp said. “We look at this as an opportunity for character formation, something that is part of our mission and so we take on the challenge of helping students use the technology correctly with that part of our mission in mind.”

An ‘iWork’ place

Smith, who graduated from Brophy in 1996, said bringing iPads into the classroom is all benefits.

“Our distractions are there. We have to find a way to work around it,” Smith said. “The future is, we’re all going to be working in front of computers. We could play games and watch movies or we can get work done.”

Brophy isn’t alone in teaching its students to be responsible “digital citizens.” Catholic schools in the Diocese of Syracuse, New York is in its second year using curriculum from Common Sense Media in its elementary schools. Grade-specific lessons cover safety and security, digital citizenship and research and information literacy.

New technology has upgraded class assignments in recent years. Bopp said the standard paper or poster presentation has given way to multimedia presentations incorporating recorded interviews, illustrations and animations. Students engage in game-like quizzing or “poll” students.

“We’ve even had students use FaceTime to teleconference with students who are at home due to illness so that they can continue to participate in class discussions and projects,” Bopp said.

Some are even becoming amateur producers. Instead of delivering the typical “Hi. My name is….” speech to introduce themselves to their new classmates, Smith’s freshmen used their iPads during the second week of class to create a short theatrical-like trailer about themselves through iMovie.

A junior high student at Blessed Pope John XXIII in Scottsdale works on her school-issued iPad. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)
A junior high student at Blessed Pope John XXIII in Scottsdale works on her school-issued iPad. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)

Eighth-graders at Blessed Pope John XXIII School in Scottsdale created their own android and iPad apps. At least one, for a parent’s business, had a real-world audience.

The school’s junior high students went paperless this year and work exclusively on iPads. A Feb. 8 in-service at the school highlighted Blessed Pope John’s success and challenges with the iPad program.

Students like the lighter load in their backpack, but quickly realized the iPad only deepened the pool of research available and lengthened writing assignments, explained Karl Oschner, technology teacher.

“The fascinating things I have seen in the classrooms are QR code web requests where students scan a special code that links to websites, quotes, self made tests and clues to learn more about Social Studies and science,” Oschner said.

Student-created material such as puppet shows depicting scenes from books, math tutorials with voiceovers and vocal flashcards have impressed Kevin Tinnin, technology director.

Teachers at Loyola Academy, a growing Jesuit middle school on Brophy’s campus, have been equally impressed with student usage. Every student — currently sixth- and seventh-graders — got iPads this year. Both Loyola and Brophy charge a one-time fee that covers the device plus related parts and apps.

“They’re finding stuff I didn’t know,” said Forrest Ashby, language arts teacher at Loyola. “It makes the discovery process more personal.”

Kendra Krause, director, praised the iPad on both the student and teacher end. Its long battery life only required nightly charging. The students still have laptops to write on as a backup.

She also praised applications like EverNote, which she described as a virtual binder. Students can tag and share their work with their teacher — Krause teaches religion — and get rapid feedback on their note-taking and written responses.

Seventh-graders at Loyola Academy share contextual research they found on their iPad to enhance the historical novel they are reading. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Seventh-graders at Loyola Academy share contextual research they found on their iPad to enhance the historical novel they are reading. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

“It’s hard to know who’s getting it, who’s not on a daily basis,” Krause said. “Now it’s all housed on this share folder that I can see anytime I want to.”

iPad grads

Preston Colao, principal at Pope John, credited the teachers for the rapid success of the iPad rollout.

“They have embraced the model and see exactly how imperative it is for students to master this in preparation for high school and especially life in higher education,” Colao said.

The school consulted with Loyola and Brophy for the program. Parent workshops brought moms and dads up to speed on its use and benefits. Students in kindergarten through fifth-grade will begin exploring the iPad on a limited basis in March.

St. Timothy School in Mesa, raised enough dough through its annual “Fund A Wish” program to purchase 20 iPads for a traveling lab. The first lessons were geared toward small group instruction in reading and math plus general classroom learning.

The so-called “Year of Discovery” using iPads in the classroom isn’t limited to local schools. Freshmen at St. Patrick High School in Chicago, the city’s oldest all-boy school, are the first in its archdiocese to use them. An aggressive technology plan will replace textbooks with iPads for every student by next school year.


  1. IPads and our new technologies are a wonderful thing. I work in the public school system and because of theft, lack of care, and dishonest students, it will be a while before junior high and high school student’s curricula will be digital instead of expensive books and paper.


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