Catholic schools shelving textbooks for iPads

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Sure, Apple iPads weigh less than traditional textbooks.

And, yes, students seem less likely to leave such cool devices at home.

But the educational opportunities, coupled with a desire to teach students to use 21st-century technology, are driving some local Catholic high schools to add Apple iPads and other one-on-one computer tools.

John Fedko, president of Vincentian Academy in McCandless, thinks high-tech devices are so important that within 10 years, paper textbooks will disappear.

"We're already finding some of the textbook companies will not allow us to order textbooks too far into the future," he said.

While Vincentian still will order some new print texts for fall, Mr. Fedko said the school's technology plan assumes the school will stop using print textbooks within five years.

Since October, Vincentian has been testing the in-school use of 35 iPads and 35 laptops and has found advantages to each.

At Canevin Catholic High School in Oakwood, the 87 freshmen were given iPads to use throughout the school day and at home. Also using iPads are 23 students from feeder Catholic schools who are taking accelerated math and science at Canevin.

Keeping up with technology is a challenge in Catholic schools, where keeping tuition down and fundraising up is a constant concern.

The effort to meet student educational needs fits the theme of Catholic Schools Week, celebrated nationwide this week: Faith. Academics. Service.

Canevin principal Kenneth Sinagra said the school's initial iPad effort cost about $70,000, including some money from a federal technology grant, state textbook money and an anonymous gift.

The school is seeking a grant of nearly $150,000 to expand the use of iPads schoolwide next fall. Currently, 394 students are enrolled.

"The pilot has gone so well, and our other students are a little bit envious," he said.

Mr. Fedko said Vincentian also is seeking grants, both to finish installing a wireless network and to purchase devices. The school of 230 students hasn't decided which device to go with and may continue using both iPads and laptops for a while.

"We have every intention of getting iPads and/or [notebook computers] into all of our students' hands as early as next year," he said.

He estimates Vincentian's technology plan will cost $150,000 to $250,000.

At Canevin, ninth-graders use an algebra text on the iPad rather than a print copy. The algebra license cost $50 per student and is good for six years. A printed book costs around $70, Mr. Sinagra said.

Options may increase soon. Mr. Sinagra noted Apple's recent announcement about iBooks 2 interactive textbooks for iPads being developed with three major publishers, with most priced at $14.99 or less. Apple also announced a new iTunes app to help teachers create and manage courses on iPads, iPhones and iPods.

While wireless networks and laptops have been making their way into schools for more than a decade, iPads -- released about two years ago -- are a newer contender among wireless devices.

According to Apple, nearly 1,000 K-12 schools have a one-to-one program that provides at least one classroom of students their own iPads for in-school use.

At the collegiate level, Seton Hill University in Greensburg is in its second year of providing iPads for all full-time students.

"The first year, the results actually exceeded our expectations," said Mary Spataro, director of Seton Hill's Center for Innovative Teaching.

"We're seeing a lot of collaboration and more of the integration of technology in the classroom. More interactive and engaging activities are being created. There's more collaboration between the students and their peers, and the faculty and the students," she said.

At the high school level, Canevin anecdotally is seeing results.

Canevin ninth-grader Susie George of Crafton said the iPad helps to make subjects easier to understand. The algebra material, for example, includes videos of a teacher explaining the problems.

She does some of her English reading on the iPad. She also has a Bible on her iPad and can highlight passages needed for her religion class. She takes class notes on it.

Michael Lesifko, a biology teacher, said students can see images of cells moving on their iPads, which enhances their understanding.

"In the past, you'd have to go look at static pictures on a flat page," he said.

Teacher Dale Checketts, who teaches ninth-grade world cultures, said his students can get the latest news feeds on their iPads.

"It really brings things to life for them," he said.

Brian Molinero, an algebra teacher, said, "I think they're learning differently. They can really get involved in the material a little more. I find myself getting through more material and more in-depth topics than we had previously."

Susie reviewed her iPad this way: "I love it."


Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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