An Apple a student has helped make Benilde-St. Margaret’s an award-winner.
The St. Louis Park Catholic school’s integration of technology in instruction through the use of one MacBook per student has prompted Apple to name Benilde-St. Margaret’s an Apple Distinguished School Award winner.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s is one of three winners of the award this year in Minnesota, said Steve Pohlen, director of technology and learning at Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
The school stood out compared to many other schools that offer each student an Apple computer, said Brad Anderson, an account manager with Apple who is based out of Savage.
“What separated Benilde-St. Margaret’s from other schools we visited was the innovative approach in the classroom,” Anderson said during a Feb. 14 award presentation at the school. “Trust me, you guys are doing incredible things.”
This is the third year high school students at Benilde-St. Margaret’s have all received laptop computers. The school’s junior high has had a similar program for six years.
“Every student gets a MacBook at the beginning of the year, and they have it 24/7 through the school year,” Pohlen said.
The computers are used in ways that vary from reading music on computer screens to creating movies and podcasts for class assignments.
Teachers drive the concepts, said Carol McNamara, principal of the Benilde-St. Margaret’s junior high.
“Teachers share ideas, enthusiasm and support for one another in the implementation of new avenues to learning,” she said.
“Our faculty has a track record of creating an environment that is student focused, in which all students can achieve,” said Dr. Skinner, principal of the senior high.
The music software provides immediate feedback for students on whether they hit the right tempo and pitch, allowing students to perfect their playing for songs when practicing outside of class.
In science classes, the computers are used to provide readings for probes used in experiments. The use of computers allows students to spend time analyzing the computerized charts instead of plotting points on a graph. Simulations on the computer screens can provide illustrations at the atomic level that are difficult to represent on a blackboard.
Language teachers can record themselves asking questions in a foreign language. The system will monitor accuracy in student responses, essentially allowing oral exams by computer.
“We’re not just going to read the textbook on the screen in our class,” Pohlen said. “It’s using technology to do things you couldn’t do otherwise.”
The school’s journalism program in particular makes prolific use of the laptops. Students use Google Docs for editing, allowing reporters and editors to collaborate remotely. The laptops contain Photoshop for editing photos and InDesign for laying out the Knight Errant,” the school newspaper. Reporters can post updates using WordPress on their MacBooks wherever they happen to be.
Senior Marielle Arostegui, a Knight Errant editor from Plymouth, said the Google Docs process allows her to communicate easily with writers about what they’re writing.
The laptop program ensures all students have constant access to the same programs, allowing students to work with each other more easily, said senior Rachel Frenz, a fellow editor from Minneapolis.
“There’s a lot of collaboration that wouldn’t happen without the one-to-one program,” journalism advisor and English teacher Jason Wallestad said.
Without laptops for all the Knight Errant staff members, the process of putting the paper together would take significantly longer, said English teacher Kari Koshiol, who assists in advising students working on the Knight Errant.
“Every student can be working on computers all at the same time,” Koshiol said.
If the paper only had a handful of computers able to run InDesign, for example, students would all have to take turns, slowing down the process, Koshiol said.
The dependence on the computers can have downsides as well, though.
“If technology goes down, we go down,” Wallestad.
“Computers can be glitchy,” said Katie Sisk, a senior from Eden Prairie, who nonetheless said the system of communicating online and having access to the same programs can prevent issues with printers not working or home computers not functioning well with school computers.
The constant access to the Internet can lead to distractions as well, though, students said.
“I find them distracting because I’ll get here and tell myself I’ll start on our paper, but 45 minutes later, I’ll find myself on Facebook and Twitter,” acknowledged senior Kellen Gill, of Plymouth.
“All of a sudden three hours later, I didn’t do anything,” agreed senior Chloe Kennedy, of Eden Prairie.
Wallestad said social media has advantages, too. For example, a Knight Errant Facebook wall allows staff to provide frequent input about the paper and ideas as part of the planning process.
The approximately 40 writers for the Knight Errant also post updates on the school’s website, bsmknighterrant.org, which has won Online Pacemaker awards from the National Scholastic Press Association for the last four years.
More generally, students working for the paper said the laptop program has helped in classes because many homework assignments are posted online. While physical folders can be easy to lose, providing such information online provides access anywhere, Kennedy said.
Students can write essays and turn them in online instead of having to print out copies at home, noted Plymouth resident Peter Best, also a senior.
“It cuts out the middle man,” Best said. “You can type out answers. You don’t have to wait until you get home.”
While some teachers did not want to adapt when the senior high began the laptop program, “a lot of teachers worked really hard to change their curriculum,” Kennedy said.
Laptop programs a trend
Laptop programs have become increasingly popular in particular at schools like Benilde-St. Margaret’s, according to Pohlen, the school director of technology and learning.
“In private schools, it’s kind of become the price of admission,” Pohlen said. “If you don’t have a program, you’re seen as the lesser choice often.”
Some public schools districts, like Edina and Minnetonka have piloted portable computer programs for students, Pohlen said. St. Louis Park High School has rolled out a Bring Your Own Device program, in which school staff works to accommodate students who bring laptops, tablets or smartphones to class.
Anderson, the Apple representative, indicated he believes the program Benilde-St. Margaret’s is a model system for other schools. He said he has showed other school staffs an iBook the school turned in as part of an extensive award application process.
“We shared it with other schools because it’s so powerful,” Anderson said. “It’s really a great testament to what your group is doing.”
He indicated he believes Benilde-St. Margaret’s will continue to be a leader in technology.
“Last year, you were ahead of everybody,” Anderson said. “This year, you’re going to stay ahead of everybody.”
To view videos relating to student use of laptops and to learn more, visit BSMschool.org/Technology.
Contact Seth Rowe at email@example.com