Toss the Textbooks?


By Jonathan Candelaria

The Bronx Journal Staff

At St. Margaret of Cortona, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, textbooks are being replaced with iPads in every classroom. Does this mark the beginning of a new era in our schools? Are we watching books become irrelevant before our eyes? Much remains to be seen but it seems that tablets may be the future of education.

The campaign titled “Toss the Textbooks” began last April with 95 first generation iPads being distributed between kindergarten, first, fourth and eighth graders as well as teachers for a trial through the rest of the school year. The effort is the first of its kind in the Archdiocese. The trial has since been extended so that every child in the 2nd and 4th grade is fully equipped with an iPad. Also, kindergarten and 1st graders have about 10 iPads for learning centers and an advanced math 8th grade class has them as well. By the first or second week of January, every grade will have the iPads in the classroom.

Teachers are also given iPads. “They use them on a daily basis for attendance, communicating with their families, they use them for email now to send weekly emails to parents,” said Principal of St. Margaret of Crotona Hugh Keenan. “They can connect them to their projectors so that the images they see on the iPad can be broadcast to the classroom. Every teacher has it on their desk ready for use every minute of every day. They can not get over what can be done with the iPad and cannot wait for their students to have them.”

St. Margaret of Cortona

St. Margaret of Cortona web site

The iPad allows students to leave their textbooks at home and use the tablets during school, which eases the load off their back. In addition, the students have access to the same programs at home on the Internet. In one case, a student didn’t have a home computer and was given an iPad to take home with him. The iPads were purchased with a private donation to the parish, a school fundraiser and a budget line strictly for technology.

The tablets help kids become active members of their learning experience, following along with apps in class. “The children’s attention is kept so much longer because they are actively engaged in their learning,”said Keenan. “They are participating in an activity that gives them instantaneous feedback, whereas if a teacher is giving instruction, they’re not engaged.”

“Here they are active learners. They are constantly learning, they’re constantly doing something. They’re not just sitting back waiting for somebody to tell them information,” Keenan said enthusiastically.

St. Margaret of Cortona is part of an emerging national trend of shifting to technology friendly classrooms. According to Yahoo! Finance, Apple officials say they know of over 600 districts that have began “one-to-one” programs. This entails at least one class of students in the school using the iPads throughout the day. The tablets have made their way to schools in Conneticutt, Kentucky, Boston, Chicago and of course, New York City.

Although it sounds like progress, there are problems that could arise connecting students to the Internet, instead of a textbook.

In order to stop the kids from wandering on the Internet during class, the school has incorporated firewalls to limit what can be done. “The greatest motivator is, if you use it inappropriately, we take it away from you. So the children that lose it for a day or two learn very quickly that I better use this properly or else I’m not gonna have it for a very long time,” said Principal Keenan.

Another problem concerning the tech wave is that it won’t be available for everyone. For all the schools that are able to afford the tablets, there are schools that won’t be able to afford them. Some Bronx residents think this might leave some less fortunate schools behind. “This will create an ever bigger gap in learning for inner city kids,” said Andre Goddard, 22-year-old student from the Bronx. “They can’t afford to keep half of our schools open so what will happen is White Plains High gets iPads (while) Evander gets a program cut.”

Of course, just because everyone can’t keep up with the ever-changing technology doesn’t mean people will stop trying to be cutting edge. Many see these technological advances as the future of education, Keenan is no different.

“Putting the content and devices in the hands of the students is the future of education because there’s too much information out there for teachers to be the sole provider of that knowledge and content. We have to be able to give this information to the students and teach them what to do with it.”

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