On Wednesday morning a class of Meriden Catholic school 8th graders got to follow directly in the footsteps of the Pope by saying a prayer...and then toggling the icons on their new iPads.
After two years of planning, fundraising and working on the building's internet infrastructure by Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Nancy Maier's class of 24 each received an iPad2 device to use for the year.
And yes, as Hartford Archdiocese Schools Superintendent Dale Hoyt told them, these tweens are following the lead of 84-year-old Pope Benedict XVI who sent his first tweet from an iPad to fanfare this past June.
Students will use the devices in every class but gym, music and art for now, and will not be allowed to bring them home. They will do everything from reading textbooks, taking notes using a sophisticated system called "Evernote" that easily allows students to plug in pictures and other items in their notes, testing, and using the picture and video functions for presentations on their iPads. But as the group explores applications, or "apps," new uses will likely be found.
It's part of a pilot program, said Carolyn Daniels, the school's technology coordinator and a teacher of multiple subjects in the school's higher grades, to see how to integrate this type of technology in the classroom. Daniels spearheaded the project. If the model works well, she said, the school will apply for grants to provide the devices to more students.
Mount Carmel purchased the 30 iPad 2 devices and applications using funds from the Silver City Brew Fest that the school hosted last year. Three of the iPads purchased for this year (the remaining few are being used by teachers who are instructing the class) will make rotations through other grades.
Having the students use iPads in the classroom will give students a leg up next year in high school, teachers said. "We're grateful we have the opportunity to teach our students 21st Century skills," said principal Norine McDermott. The technology also speaks to this generation, according to Daniels.
"It’s how they're wired," Daniels said when asked why using iPads is educationally important. "(Adults) may not be have learned that way, or not be wired that way, but it’s how (kids are) learning."
And the kids were bursting with excitement to use the iPads, for a number of reasons.
"I'm not a fan of my handwriting," said one girl when teachers asked the class why they wanted to use them after walking through rules and some of the basic functions of the device. Another was excited to use the system's graphing calculator.
One student said it might be aggravating sometimes to use the system.
"Nothing that's worthwhile is easy," said McDermott.
The sister of one student – Lily (Mount Carmel does not allow reporters to release last names of students) – is in a Platt AP History class that also recieved iPads this year through a separate program. Daniels said Mount Carmel is connecting with Platt to see if the schools can do a project together.
"This is going to be so cool," Lily said, having spent time on her sister's iPad.
Possession of the iPads comes with a number of rules to keep the equipment safe and the work on them relevant to school. "We're teaching responsibility too," Daniels said, before encouraging students to take photos and play around with the equipment a bit on Wednesday.
Students are asked to tell Daniels when there's something wrong with the device, and keep it in its case at all times.
"If you fall, you drop everything else but this," Daniels deadpanned to laughter.