Mac in the Classroom: How a School got into App Development

Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, a private school with classes from pre-K through eighth grade, is making big use of the iPad in the classroom. The institution even partnered with an app developer to find a way to meet the writing needs of its students.

Technology in the Classroom

The 13-year-old school has a very forward-thinking headmaster, Olen Kalkus. Rather than establishing dedicated computer labs within the school, Kalkus envisioned mobile computer labs, and decided to invest in mobile laptop carts with 17 MacBook Pros on each cart. Students download handouts, required reading materials, and assignments from Dropbox or the school’s Google Apps for Education website, so the laptop carts are shared among all the classes and are used everyday.

Last year, the school implemented a one-to-one iPad 2 program, assigning an iPad 2 to each student in the seventh and eighth grade. In addition, the school has two iPad 2s per classroom for the lower grades plus iPad 2s assigned to all faculty members.

According to the school’s IT coordinator, Michael Taggart, the seventh- and eighth-grade students use their iPads in English, social studies, science and math. Assignments and handouts are uploaded to Dropbox, and the students download them onto their iPads to study and complete their homework assignments. All told, about 75% of the handouts assigned in classes throughout the school are available on Dropbox.

Adjusting to iPads

Princeton Academy’s seventh and eighth grade English teacher, Matt Trowbridge, described the way his classes utilize the iPads. Last year, all of his writing workshops were done through Google Docs. This year, he has all of the handouts for the class loaded into Dropbox, and students do all of their essay writing, note-taking, and other work on the iPads.

In the seventh-grade classroom, the students read books e-books and PDFs on their iPads. Both the seventh- and eighth-grade classes read Shakespeare on the iPads, using an app called Shakespeare in Bits. Gentle reader, note that the current app is not the same as what Princeton Academy is currently using.

When the school first launched its iPad program, the developer released individual apps for each of the plays Princeton Academy was studying. Now, on the other hand, the developer has built a free app, and users purchase Shakespeare’s plays via In-App Purchase.

Mr. Trowbridge is leading the way for Princeton Academy to help develop what iPad-based education will look like in the future, and he’s among the first to uncover some of the challenges that go along with using iPads in the classroom.

As he began grading the first batch of essays written on the iPad, Mr. Trowbridge discovered that the overall quality of his students’ work had actually declined. If students hand-wrote essays, the quality was fine, but when students wrote their essays completely on the iPad, quality suffered. Students would forget their conclusion paragraphs and leave out supporting quotes in their body paragraphs.

“The entire scope of an essay was sacrificed,” Mr. Trowbridge said, either because of the screen size, the absence of the visual cue of lined paper, or a combination of factors. 

Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart Students Use iPad 2s

Matt Trowbridge and His Students Using iPad 2s in Class

IT Launchpad

Through amazing coincidence, app developer IT Launchpad contacted Princeton Academy at the time Matt Trowbridge was discovering the problems his students experienced with essay-writing on the iPad.

IT Launchpad was looking for a school to partner with in developing educational apps for the iPad, and formed a relationship with Princeton Academy. The teacher took the lead, asking IT Launchpad to develop an app that would help students plan their essays, allowing them to quickly and easily develop their essay outlines. 

From this partnership was born an app, Outline Pro. The app is designed to help formulate the framework of an essay, providing boxes for the introduction, conclusion, and three body paragraphs in between. The app also prompts writers to develop their topic and concluding sentences, and allows writers to move their body paragraph outlines, aiding in essay organization.

The app is flexible, allowing writers to include more or fewer body paragraphs (while requiring introduction and conclusion paragraphs). When the outline is complete, writers can send the it directly to Pages on the iPad, export it as a PDF or text file, export to email or Dropbox, or print the outline using AirPrint. 

Within a month of meeting with the school, IT Launchpad released the first version of Outline Pro, and Matt Trowbridge began having his students use the app to plan their essays.

The Results

When Mr. Trowbridge and I spoke, his students had just begin using the app, but the quality of work had already shown improvements. He had the students develop an outline for an essay in Outline Pro overnight, and said the outlines were “better outlines than I’ve seen in my four years teaching [at Princeton Academy.]”

Since then, Outline Pro has found its way onto the iPads of students of all levels, including graduate students. According to Mr. Taggart, some graduate students were using Outline Pro to write entire papers from start to finish, and asked IT Launchpad to include word and character counts. 

What’s next for Princeton Academy? The school is planning to expand their iPad program to sixth-grade students next year, and is actively exploring digital textbooks instead of paper-based texts.

The school is also planning to begin using Moodle, an open-source Learning Management System, in the fall. Recent versions of Moodle have become more iOS friendly, and the LMS will allow more flexibility in assigning coursework and exams to students than using Dropbox and Google Apps for Education.

Apple products definitely hold important roles in Princeton Academy’s classroom, and those roles should continue to grow as more content and tools come to the iPad.