Annual Mayfair fundraising boosts technology in Billings Catholic Schools

Story by Jaci Webb; Photos by Casey Page: jwebb@billingsgazette.com April 24, 2015 At this time next year, every student in Billings Catholic Schools will have an iPad to work on a math problem or to read Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s been a big effort, raising the money to purchase iPads for 1,000 students, and it took three years to get there. Most of the money has been raised during the annual Mayfair carnival and dinner/auction. The last big push to buy iPads is coming via Mayfair May 1 and 2 at the Holiday Inn Grand Hotel. Personalized instruction and flexibility are the two biggest boosts from the use of iPads, teachers and administrators say. At St. Francis Intermediate, students created travel guides to Billings using their iPads and at Central Catholic High School, students researched careers, salaries, even budgeted for an apartment, all using their iPads. Third-graders were able to work at their own level in reading, language, vocabulary and math. “IPads open the world to our students,” said Elizabeth Glumbik, third-grade teacher. Using apps and linking to educators’ online lessons plans and reading assignments saves the district paper and the saves the time of educators and students. And the iPads don’t seem to crash like PCs, said Billings Catholic Schools education director Tim Lowe. “At some point, it’s possible that everything could live on a device,” Lowe said. “We don’t have to buy replacement Shakespeare books, for example, because they are in the public domain.” Money raised at the annual Mayfair auctions has allowed Billings Catholic Schools to purchase about 800 iPads so far, providing one for each student in nine different grades. Funding to outfit students in kindergarten, and fifth, eighth and twelth grades, will come from the proceeds of next weekend’s fundraisers. It’s not technology for the sake of technology, but the introduction of iPads has allowed students’ educational needs to be more closely monitored. “The classroom is constantly connected for every kid,” Lowe said. “A teacher could say, ‘Give me an example of an endangered species.’ Every kid in the classroom can do a search to come up with an animal. It creates the kind of environment that gives the teacher more flexibility.” Central High algebra and pre-calculus teacher Marci Hecker said iPads have allowed her to determine how well students grasp the material she is covering. “I know instantly whether or not the material is understood and where I might need to clarify before having the students try on their own,” Hecker said. Hecker personalizes the students’ learning through online videos and practice problems. “They study before a test in this manner and can zero in on their specific area of need, which I believe helps them to be successful on the test.” Glumbik said research is much simpler now because of the iPads. When she assigned students to design a travel guide to Billings as part of a social studies project, the students were amazed at the ease of finding information. “Many of the students were shocked how much they learned about Billings even though they live here,” Glumbik said. Kyla Steppler, who teaches at St. Francis Upper, said students take more ownership of their studies and are engaged with different learning styles. “The students are able to incorporate their creativity and integrate their artistic abilities when making videos, websites, and animations,” Steppler said. Getting personal technology into the hands of every student in the district has presented issues unique to the iPads, but Lowe said careful planning that includes restricting content, informing parents, and training teachers has made the transition go smoothly.

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