An Australian primary school that took its one-to-one iPad initiative to the next level and found ways to keep its students engaged during the COVID pandemic has been singled out by Apple as an example to school around the world.
St Therese Catholic Primary School in the Sydney southwestern suburb of Sadleir is a community of students representing 50 different cultures with 73 per cent from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Apple featured the school in a global press release published in the Newsroom on the company’s popular website.
St Therese Catholic Primary School has flourished after adopting the iPad to empower the students and give them the freedom to complete their studies and express themselves in their own way.
“All of our students have the right and the capacity to learn, no matter what challenges they may be facing,” says Michelle McKinnon, principal of St Therese Catholic Primary School in Sadleir Miller.
“iPad doesn’t just allow our students to think outside of the box — they can redesign the box on their own terms. It gives our students the freedom to explore and express their ideas in the way that makes the best sense to them.
“That could be in writing, as an audio report, via a video presentation, or even an animation that they create themselves.”
By the time the COVID pandemic forced a national lockdown, the school was able to easily pivot to remote learning thanks to St Therese’s established one-to-one iPad initiative.
“The creativity of our students really hit us — they were so clever at sharing what they’d learned,” says McKinnon.
“Students shared their own passions and interests more freely in the remote setting, revealing previously undiscovered talents and strengths.”
Students were able to follow a self-directed learning program which enabled them showcase their talents by selecting their own research topics while they studied at home.
They used apple like Keynote, iMovie, Pages, Text to Speech, and stop-motion animation, to complete assignments on wide-ranging subjects including the Great Barrier Reef, painter Vincent van Gogh, and disease prevention in horses.
While learning from home during the lockdown, the St Therese students used the Seesaw app to create digital schoolwork portfolios and share them with teachers.
These were so popular they are now standard practice at St Therese.
Interestingly, students who weren’t reaching their potential during the traditional school day actually flourished with the remote learning offered during lockdown.
Having greater flexibility of learning times proved effective at closing the gap, particularly for students who thrived with a later start.
The teachers used iMovie to record their lessons and deepened the learning experience by weaving virtual iPad activities into their lesson plans.
“This blended learning initiative is a good example of how we’re using technology to challenge dated education norms like the ‘factory-model classroom,’ where teachers lecture rows of students from 9 am to 3 pm within the confines of a brick-and-mortar building,” says McKinnon.
“Every child is different, so why should every classroom or lesson be the same?
“iPad allows us to personalise where and when learning happens, blending in-person and virtual lessons that empower each student to decide how they can best demonstrate their learning.”
The decision was made four years ago for the St Therese Catholic Primary School to use technology as the way to engage its students has paid huge dividends.
And It ended up giving the teachers and students the ability to face the challenges posed by COVID-19.
“We knew we had to shift the culture of our school,” McKinnon says.
“Many of our students weren’t engaged in their learning.
“We identified that technology could be an accelerator for the change that was needed to foster a learning community focused on excellence and ensuring access for all.
“I’ve been in classrooms for 30 years — a tool is only as good as the teacher using it, so professional development for our teachers was also critical to any change we sought.”
The school rolled out iPads to all students and staff (K-6), and also installed Apple TV in every classroom.
Each educator at the school also completed the free Apple Teacher professional learning program to develop the skills to effectively integrate iPad into classroom activities and create engaging experiences to unlock student achievement.
“Four years on, we’re seeing the success of our efforts: Our students and staff want to be here,” says McKinnon.
“Every educator at St Therese is an agent for equity. Ensuring our students have access to learning is our top priority. All of our students have a voice in creating and sharing their learning, and iPad is an essential tool that supports that.”
In 2019, St Therese Primary School was recognised as an Apple Distinguished School.