Saturday, December 16, 2017
Education

Academy of Holy Names makes another smart investment

TAMPA — Patricia Sandoval, a 10th-grader at Academy of the Holy Names, slid her finger down a screen projected on a classroom wall and touched a photo of the Soviet Union satellite Sputnik to make it bigger.

Sputnik's launch in 1957 pushed the United States to develop similar technology, Patricia and classmate Clarisse Ramos explained. The space race was on.

Across the room, Olivia Kirkpatrick used a green dry erase marker to write notes from Patricia and Clarisse's presentation on a whiteboard table she shared with three other students. When she was done, she took a picture of the notes with an iPad and sent them to the rest of the group. Then she wiped the table clean with an eraser.

Welcome to Art Raimo's contemporary history class, where students recently used the school's new Collaborative Learning Lab to present projects they've worked on together.

The lab is a classroom 2.0 of sorts, equipped with five SMART projectors connected to their own multimedia computer, five whiteboard tables and 25 ergonomic SteelcaseNode chairs.

"This is one classroom where (students are) allowed to write on the desks and the walls," said Raimo, who is also the school's president.

Each SMART projector casts a 4- by 6-foot image from the computer on the wall, which students can write over with their fingers or special pens. As of last year, students in grades 5-12 had their own iPads, and an AirServer allows up to six of these tablets to stream content on the wall.

The whiteboard tables, custom-designed for the school, are giant dry erase boards that can be combined for larger collaboration. The chairs are ergonomic and have castors that allow them to be moved easily.

The $25,000 lab, which the school paid for out of its operating budget, was completed at the beginning of the school year. It's based on the Technology Enabled Active Learning classroom at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is meant to foster collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking.

Raimo calls the lab an investment in students.

Studies have shown that students score higher and retain what they learn better in these types of environments, said Erica Oakhill, instructional technology specialist for Academy of the Holy Names' elementary school.

"Having that collaboration is what is key," she said.

Technology is a big part of learning at Academy of the Holy Names, and like the Soviet Union's Sputnik at the time, the school's fully wireless campus is cutting edge. In addition to putting iPads in the hands of middle and high school students, the school has provided them to first- through fourth-grade classrooms. Prekindergarten and kindergarten classrooms use SMART tables, and all classrooms have SMART boards.

"It's not just window dressing," Raimo said. "It really is becoming more and more ingrained in the culture here. It's going to assist these students in their learning. That's what it's all about."

Teachers are encouraged to use the technology that's available to them in their classrooms in addition to their lectures. They can supplement learning by having their students complete projects in the Collaborative Learning Lab.

The lab is available to middle and high school classes, and it's typically used every day, said Deborah Collins, instructional technology specialist for Academy of the Holy Names' high school. A sixth-grade class participated in the Sally Ride Science EarthKAM program, which allows students to request images from the International Space Station. A 10th-grade history class used the Flowboard app to create digital magazines. A seventh-grade social studies class used Minecraft to create a Jamestown colony.

In each project, the teachers were able to serve as mentors and encourage students to think critically.

"It engages the students on a deeper level," Collins said.

Raimo said the school might create a second lab next year if there's a demand for it.

This month, Raimo's class divided into five groups to collaborate on their history projects. Each group chose a topic from a list Raimo provided and used their textbooks to gather information. Then they created presentations with various Internet and computer platforms. Monday was presentation day.

Patricia, Clarisse and another student in their group who was absent Monday used Pinterest to illustrate industrialization during the Cold War. They showed pictures of space exploration, old computers and biological advancements.

Natalie Cevallos, Remi Storch and Isabella Alfonso's topic was Africa. They moved seamlessly in their presentation from a PowerPoint list of the 10 most endangered African animals to a YouTube video chronicling 90 days in the life of an African woman with AIDS.

"Why is AIDS still an issue in Africa when everywhere else it seems to be under control?" Raimo asked, pushing the group to think critically.

The students decided that other areas of the world are better educated and practice safer sex.

But as most Catholics are opposed to contraception, Raimo pointed out, Catholic missionaries have a dilemma.

"For us Catholics, there's a real issue there, isn't there?" he pondered. "This is an ethical question that we as Catholics have to answer."

Another group whose topic was social and economic challenges used the iMovie app to create a video in which they acted out natural disasters and abuses of human rights, such as apartheid.

Still another group used maps to show weapons programs in various countries. Jayne McLaughlin, Olivia Kirkpatrick, Sara Chowdhari and Caroline Yount had finalized their project together on their iPads from their respective homes. They agreed that they've been impressed by the technology in the lab.

"It's really easy to use," Sara said. "It gives you more opportunities to collaborate with your group."

It has also changed the way students work in groups.

"Instead of one person working on it the night before like it usually is, we can collaborate," Patricia said.

She and Clarisse agreed they like using the new lab overall.

"It's a lot more interactive," Patricia said. "It just has this vibe. You want to do more in here."

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