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9/24/2012 2:32:00 PM
St. Mary's Academy: 'Tablets for Learning'
St. Mary's Academy photo by Mindy Crouchley
St. Mary’s Academy teachers Alyssa Tormala, Kathy Mitchell and Cynthia Heller participated in a summer iPad training session with Apple in preparation for the launch of the school’s new Tablets for Learning Program.
St. Mary's Academy photo by Mindy Crouchley
St. Mary’s Academy teachers Alyssa Tormala, Kathy Mitchell and Cynthia Heller participated in a summer iPad training session with Apple in preparation for the launch of the school’s new Tablets for Learning Program.

From interactive maps and virtual visits to the Taj Mahal to 3-D molecular modeling at the swipe of a finger to paperless homework, electronic tablets support a new level of engagement in learning.

This year, St. Mary’s Academy is launching its Tablets for Learning Program, integrating iPads into classroom instruction.

Forty-four faculty members have an iPad for use in the classroom during the 2012-2013 academic year. A group of 12 teachers have volunteered to be Tablet Trainers; they receive ongoing instruction, then share what they learn with their colleagues.

Enthusiasm for the iPads is high, with teachers spending the summer familiarizing themselves with the mobile device and different software applications that might be useful to their subject areas as they rethink and redesign lessons.

“I love the versatility of the iPad,” said Alyssa Tormala, who teaches freshman English, speech and journalism at St. Mary’s and coordinates the Mock Trial program. “I think the possibilities are pretty much endless for how we can use them.”

Tormala envisions students using the device’s video conferencing abilities to collaborate on group projects. She sees teachers using ShowMe and other virtual whiteboard apps in the classroom, allowing students to record their reasoning while solving a problem.

“The teacher can not only see the student solve the problem but can hear her voice and follow her thought process. If she got it wrong, the teacher can pinpoint exactly where she went wrong, which is an awesome way to assess a student's skills,” Tormala said.

The tablets, teachers say, will benefit students long after they leave St. Mary’s and venture into the increasingly technology-driven world.

“Students, when they go to college and into the workforce, need skills framed by mobile devices,” said Alena Kelly, assistant principal for student life. “This is the future, and our students need to be prepared for it.”

In addition to giving St. Mary’s students an edge in college and in their careers, the Tablets for Learning Program aims to teach young women to be responsible digital citizens, said biology teacher Kirsten Thiel.

“We’re teaching them to have better, safer online experiences,” Thiel explained. She argues that the tablets allow students to both create and consume content, feeding their imagination and their analytical skills and teaching them to think critically about the information they’re taking in.

In order to launch the Tablets for Learning Program, St. Mary’s invested in upgrades to its technology infrastructure, including doubling Internet bandwidth and installing new network switches and wireless access points.

As St. Mary’s rolls out its iPads initiative, excitement builds for what the Tablets for Learning Program will grow to become.

“The program moves teaching and learning beyond traditional classroom boundaries and makes available resources that are so much bigger than a textbook and so much more interactive than a static page,” Kelly said.

New faculty and staff this year are Ellie Gilbert, learning center instructor and English teacher; Kara Girod Shuster, dance instructor; Cassady Kennebeck, admissions assistant; Alexis Lund, math and social studies teacher; Jenn Marron, director of special events; Meg O’Brien, religion teacher; and Ian Park, social studies teacher.





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