Philadelphia Performing Arts reimagines the curriculum.
Teachers create custom learning materials to foster a new way of teaching and learning.
In chemistry lessons, students assemble paper cubes with the names of elements on each face. When they view the cubes through the iPad camera, the Elements 4D app on iPad transforms the cubes into interactive 3D models of each element. The app uses augmented reality to bring the flat periodic table dramatically to life. By placing cubes together, students create chemical reactions in real time, enabling both understanding and a sense of wonder. This unique lesson is part of a curriculum designed by its teacher to make science fun and engaging.
Eye-opening lessons like this are the norm at Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory Charter School. As the city’s largest state school, it offers a STEAM curriculum — science, technology, engineering, arts and maths — that emphasises academic and artistic excellence equally. And with Apple technology at the core of teaching and learning, teachers design their own curriculum, and students create multimedia projects that reflect their individual creativity and knowledge. It’s how Philadelphia Performing Arts is producing a generation of creative problem solvers.
Lesson plans as unique as each teacher.
In thinking about new ways to develop and deliver the curriculum, Philadelphia Performing Arts decided to abandon traditional textbooks in upper-middle school and high school (ages 12–18). Instead, teachers deliver coursework and learning materials directly to each student’s iPad through iTunes U. Teachers are free to develop their own customised curriculum the way they want to teach and the way students will learn best. On iPad and Mac, teaching staff use iBooks Author, Pages, Keynote and other Apple content-creation apps to build lesson plans and materials that follow Common Core standards and state guidelines.
iPad also offers teachers responsiveness and flexibility. When they’re inspired by current events or new ideas, they update their iTunes U courses or materials on the fly and alert students to changes via push notifications. Students learn from today’s news, teachers keep their lesson plans up to date and everybody is on the same page. “With iPad and iTunes U, we’re allowing the teachers to be creators and to constantly refine their art form, which is teaching and creating meaningful content for kids and projects,” explains Jason Corosanite, Chief Innovation Officer and Co-Founder, String Theory Schools.
Teachers at the school learn from one another, developing coursework by teaming up to facilitate a lively exchange of ideas. They evaluate apps together and share best practices. “[Some teachers have] come from very siloed institutions and siloed classrooms [to] this high level of collaboration,” says Christine DiPaulo, Director of Innovation and Instructional Technology. “You can watch them think about things from points of view that they never thought about before. I’ve had [teachers] say they’ve never experienced professional development at this level.”
Learning that’s geared to every student.
Having students at Philadelphia Performing Arts use iPad is “really about giving kids an opportunity to figure out what types of learners they are,” explains Corosanite. Teachers are able to provide multiple assignment options through iTunes U courses, letting students choose between shooting a video, writing a song, drawing a sketch or creating a Keynote presentation. Students complete assignments using their preferred apps, films and books. In algebra lessons, they create a rap song in GarageBand, using their own words and rhymes to understand quadratic equations. In a French class, they develop dialogue and stories for an iMovie film to help them better understand French language and culture. By allowing students to express their newfound knowledge however they choose, iPad helps them become more self-reliant.
For students, the content creation apps on iPad provide the mobility they need for learning both inside and outside the classroom. For example, they bring iPad outside and use it to take pictures of memorials in central Philadelphia. For this joint English and social studies project, students use what they’ve learnt to create their own memorials based around subjects they choose. They use a 3D modelling app on iPad to design new monuments, then sculpt them in the real world. This helps students understand what’s involved in creating these works of art and the narrative each one tells. “The creative process [helps] make learning much more engaging,” says DiPaulo.
Results that empower students and inspire teachers.
Not only has iPad given Philadelphia Performing Arts the flexibility to create its own curriculum, it has allowed the school to save over $100,000 annually in textbook costs. It’s an impressive figure, especially considering that the books would have to be discarded after a few terms. As student Gia Angelo observes, “Textbooks get old eventually because things change.” With iTunes U, iPad becomes a learning resource that never goes out of date.
It’s clear to the school’s teaching staff that iPad has contributed to students’ eagerness to learn. “Kids just light up and their learning comes to life when they’re allowed to do a project that interests them. Their engagement is through the roof,” says Corosanite. “We’ve seen huge improvements in our test scores, double-digit gains on benchmarks from students who have come from [local] schools,” he adds.
Corosanite credits iPad with enabling his students’ personal growth, too. “The confidence that they exude and their ability to creatively solve problems is just remarkable,” he says. Gia agrees: “Using the iPad in high school sets me up to be a better learner. It really does set you up for success in the world.”