Project-Based Learning & iPads at St. Stephen's

Read the short article that appears in St. Stephen's Today, a publication of St. Stephen's Episcopal Day School in Coconut Grove, Florida. The school is focusing on project-based learning and provides an iPad 2 for each of their students in grades one through five. You can access the original article here.

Preparing Our Students for Their Future
by The Technology Team at St. Stephen's Episcopal Day School  (Jenny Diaz, Hilary Haber, Felix Jacomino, Joy McIntosh, Liz Scholer, and Inge Wassmann)

St. Stephen’s has embarked on an exciting new initiative this year in keeping with our Vision Statement to prepare our students for the 21st Century. A focus on Project Based Learning has begun in a yearlong series of on-campus professional development workshops.  A one-to-one iPad program for Grades 1 to 5 lends itself well to meeting these goals.

What is Project Based Learning? Project Based Learning is a teaching method where students are given a driving question or challenge, and after research, analysis, teamwork, and problem-solving, present solutions to their classmates. The projects help students learn key academic subject matter and practice 21st Century skills such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking.  Unlike an activity that can be completed in a short class period, projects may take days, weeks, or months to complete. Instead of just covering material, the teacher develops projects that allow for students to uncover the topic themselves.

During the 2010-2011 school year, Felix Jacomino, Director of Technology,  and Inge Wassmann and Hilary Haber, Technology Teachers, attended numerous workshops and conferences including Mobile Learning Experience the Florida Educational Technology Conference, and the International Society for Technology  in Education Conference, as well as various workshops through Independent Schools of South Florida and the Dade County One-to-One Technology Forum, to research the best ways for us to reach our goals in technology – anywhere, anytime learning using mobile devices. They met several consultants on their trips, but were most intrigued by Tony Vincent’s background and experience and felt he was the best fit to help guide St. Stephen’s. 


Tony Vincent is a Learning and Technology Consultant who began his career as a fifth grade teacher.  He began using mobile learning in his classroom in 2001 when each of his students received a Palm handheld. He became a consultant in 2006 and has become a highly sought-after, hands-on educator who has worked with teachers and students all over the world.  He is personable and practical and makes teaching and learning fresh and fun.

Tony first visited St. Stephen’s prior to the start of school.  He worked in large and small groups to demonstrate the use of iPads on many levels. On his most recent visit, Tony taught lessons in both Grade 4 and 5 in Language Arts, Math, and Social Studies.  In Grade 4 Math, student practiced estimating skills through Google maps and a discussion of travel. As part of their Imagine It unit on Risks and Consequences, Grade 4 students watched a show video on the moon landing which prompted a discussion on the risks and consequences that astronauts experience. They used the Eagle app to "land" on the moon using the correct velocity and proximity for touch down. They completed the activity by creating a web on the Idea Sketch app. Grade 5 learned note taking skills using Noterize as it pertained to their current Native American unit, and they used it later in the day in their Sacred Studies class.

In addition, he held a workshop for the entire faculty on Project Based Learning.  He is scheduled to return three times during the school year, for 3 or 4-day sessions. He is customizing his expertise to meet our needs.

The introduction of iPads in Grades 1 through 5 gives these students the tool to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create throughout the school day. Mobile devices can play a great role in Project Based Learning giving students the access to learning when and where it is needed. The use of exciting handheld technology motivates students, and projects can lend themselves to student voice and choice. 

"The iPads have brought a whole new dimension of learning to the classroom, authentic engagement and motivation.  Active learning is taking place!" said Silvia Larrauri.

Beginning in Grade 1, students will create electronic portfolios of their work.  Electronic portfolios are a creative means of organizing, summarizing, and sharing information, ideas, projects and artwork for other students and families to see.  Each year, the students will  add to their portfolios, having a collection of work they can take with them.

“When a student publishes his work, it’s no longer just the teacher viewing his work.  There is a broader audience base. Now, classmates, parents, extended family, regardless of location, and other students from around the world can read, comment on, and collaborate with ideas that were previously limited to the classroom.”  said Felix Jacomino.   

An iPad is a toolbox that gets filled with tools such as apps, is a portal to communication and collaboration with others, and when guided by teachers who have been appropriately trained, students become truly engaged and motivated critical thinkers. Working with Tony Vincent and our Technology Team, our teachers will receive the professional development and support to successfully carry out our goals.

Apps for Project-Based Learning

I presented Project-Based Learning in Hand at the International Society for Technology in Education conference in Philadelphia. Here are my notes for the session. My favorite part was that I asked educators in the room and on Twitter to submit favorite iOS apps for project-based learning. The resulting spreadsheet has 133 submissions. I removed spaces from app names so that I could use to generate the word cloud below.  

The suggested apps are ones that could be used for questioning, investigating, and/or sharing. As you can see, SonicPics was submitted the most times. It's a certainly a favorite of mine. iMovie, Evernote, ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard, PuppetPals, Storyrobe, and Comic Life were also popular.