St. Mary's Academy photo
St. Mary's Academy seniors Elianna Beard, left, and Alison Bautista use the Aurasma app on their iPads to learn about the human skeletal system in an anatomy class scavenger hunt.
St. Mary's Academy photo
St. Mary's Academy seniors Elianna Beard, left, and Alison Bautista use the Aurasma app on their iPads to learn about the human skeletal system in an anatomy class scavenger hunt.
Every student at St. Mary's Academy has been given an iPad. That's changing teaching and learning in ways no one anticipated.

"It extends the boundaries of my classroom in ways nothing else could," said Ellie Gilbert, who teaches English and also provides one-on-one tutoring.

Whether they're using augmented reality apps to learn about the human skeletal system, graphing complex equations on interactive calculators or getting more immediate feedback from peers and instructors, students say they benefit from the iPads.

St. Mary's, Oregon's only all-girls' school and the oldest continuously operating secondary school, is at the forefront of integrating mobile devices into the classroom. It's the first Catholic high school in the state with what's known as a 1:1 program, giving each student a tablet. Jesuit High School will implement the program next year. Some Catholic grade schools have given iPads to their older students. The devices can replace heavy textbooks.   

St. Mary's had to invest a lot, not only buying iPads but upgrading technology infrastructure, including doubling Internet bandwidth and installing all-new network switches and better wireless access points. Teachers spent all of last year training and incorporating iPads into their instruction.

"I feel privileged to be part of a community that has embraced technology as a means for a more efficient, environmentally friendly and enriched education," said Sienna Li, a senior at St. Mary's. "I can now annotate primary sources, take political opinion surveys, receive daily announcements and read articles and handouts all on my iPad. The iPad program has put the Internet, word processing and note-taking programs, and other extremely helpful education apps at my fingertips 24/7."

Parents say the move is giving their daughters the opportunity to master technology they'll need to be successful in college and in the workplace.

"The 1:1 iPad program vaults St. Mary's graduates to a new level. This year's seniors will have a tremendous lead over their peers when entering college next year," said Brandon Zupancic, whose daughter, Tyler Chase, is a sophomore at St. Mary's.

With the iPad program, teachers are changing instruction. Class time is spent not on explaining content — which students explore on their own as homework — but on substantive discussions.

"Even by taking small steps in integrating technology into their curriculum, teachers have mined valuable time for more direct and individual instruction," says Alena Kelly, assistant principal of academics.

English teacher Alyssa Tormala has already seen a powerful difference.

"Homework becomes what you do to be prepared for the more interactive, hands-on learning activities in class," Tormala says. "Students are excited, and the teacher is more of a facilitator and coach instead of the gatekeeper of information."