NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 2, 2012

Bye-bye textbooks

Sparhawk High School makes high-tech leap to iPads

By Mac Cerullo Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News

---- — AMESBURY — In an effort to modernize and streamline their education, Sparhawk High School students have a new tool at their disposal.

Every student at Sparhawk High has been issued a personal iPad, which they can bring home with them after school and even keep after graduation.

Kaitlyn MacDonald, director of Sparhawk High School, said the school decided to invest in the iPads so that both students and teachers could have better access to resources available online.

She said the iPads have gone over extremely well in the classrooms so far.

“Our students are using their iPads in every class, every day,” MacDonald said.

Sparhawk students use the iPads for everything from taking notes to recording entire classes for future reference. History teacher Luis Moreno said that the tablets have virtually eliminated the need for textbooks, saying anything that needs to be explained can be quickly looked up.

“If we’re explaining how flint was one of the things used by early settlers and I have a student who’s never seen flint before, we can pull it up on Google Images and the students can see it for themselves as a visual reference,” Moreno said. “When it comes to visual support, there’s nothing more practical than an iPad.”

Students agree, saying the iPads allow for a much more dynamic learning experience than a textbook.

“If you’re not understanding something, you can look it up and see it in a picture or some other form,” Katie Flynn said. “The multimedia aspect helps you understand quicker if you’re having trouble.”

In addition to being a peerless reference tool, the iPads also allow teachers to post assignments on the school’s Edline website, which students can then download and access through their tablet.

“We don’t need to photocopy sheets of paper anymore,” Moreno said. “And the students don’t need to worry about misplacing assignments, because they can all be accessed online.”

The school has a list of required apps that all students must have, but it doesn’t restrict students from downloading others. Sparhawk students Morgan Escalara and Steven Branan said their classmates all use their iPads a little differently, with some turning to it exclusively for academics while others might take it home after school and play games on it.

The iPads have also proven to be invaluable tools for the Chinese students who have come to Sparhawk for their high school education. The visiting students are able to utilize English-to-Chinese translators on the iPad when they hear a word they aren’t familiar with, and the Voice Memo app allows them to record entire lectures to go over later in case they miss something the first time.

MacDonald, who also teaches a poetry class, said she has been able to see the positive effect the iPads bring to the classroom firsthand.

“For me, as a teacher, I’ve been teaching creative writing for 13 years, and this is the first year where I feel like it’s coming alive for my students in a new way,” MacDonald said.

Rather than simply sit around in a circle and read poetry all class, MacDonald and her students can now browse the iTunes University library and listen to lectures, classes and readings going on at places like the New York Public Library and Yale University.

“It’s giving us access to thinkers and allowing us to hear the poets themselves,” MacDonald said.

By all accounts, the program has been a resounding success, but it’s unlikely iPads will be spreading to the public schools or other learning institutions any time soon. The cost is one factor. But officials at Sparhawk High say because of their size, they are uniquely able to provide their students with iPads and allow them to fully utilize them without causing classroom disruptions or bankrupting the school.

Sparhawk High has a student body of only 76 students, annual tuition of $20,500 and a student-to-teacher ratio of nine to one. Those small class sizes mean each student is more engaged, and thus less likely to hide in the back playing the game Angry Birds all class, school leaders said.

Given the success of the iPad program at its high school, Sparhawk School officials said they are already looking into expanding the program to all grade levels in the future. That would encompass every student from the high school all the way to the pre-kindergarten level.