Apple in Education Profiles

Increasing student engagement at Punahou School with Mac.

Students at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawai’i, use Mac notebooks to research class assignments and show results in ways they never could before.

The inspiration

At Punahou School — an independent K–12 college preparatory day school founded in 1841 by Congregational missionaries — no tradition is more honoured than purposeful reinvention. Located in lower Mānoa Valley, a residential area in the city of Honolulu, Hawai’i, the school is famous for innovation and progressive educational thinking.

In 1998, that thinking led school administrators to recognise a need to adjust their curriculum to better prepare students for a working world that increasingly favoured the technologically fluent. After looking closely at how technology was being introduced in other schools, they ran a successful pilot program that gave each of their Year 5 students day-long classroom access to their own Mac notebooks. Teachers observed that students were more engaged when using the Mac, and they saw the effect as potentially transformative. With such promising results, school administrators decided to comprehensively integrate Mac as a learning tool throughout the curriculum for all grade levels.

The Mac has helped Punahou move away from structured learning and toward a more flexible, self-directed approach, where teachers encourage student interest and choices. Now teachers rarely lecture from the front of the classroom. Instead, they ask questions, then issue clear guidelines and expectations for students to meet. Either alone or in small groups, students research the topic on the Mac to come up with the information they need to answer each question.

But because learning at Punahou is always less about finding information than doing something interesting with it, students use the Mac, iLife and iWork to demonstrate results to their teachers, other students and even online. In addition to writing essays and taking tests, students deliver fully realised learning projects, complete with images, video and sound. These include songs and podcasts recorded and edited in GarageBand; digital presentations and portfolios created in Keynote; videos for Punavision — the campus news program — edited in iMovie and Final Cut Pro; and even iOS apps built using Xcode.

Because the Mac and its applications are so easy to use and so closely integrated into the curriculum, teachers and students can focus on the quality and creative expression of learning, rather than on how to use the tools.

“The Macs in my classroom are completely indispensable.”

— Sandy Chang, Reading, Writing and American History teacher, Punahou School

The implementation

Because of the success of the pilot program, the decision to use the Mac as a comprehensive learning tool at Punahou was an easy one. The faculty saw firsthand the clear benefits of using a Mac in their lessons. And parents who had worried about the isolating effects of technology quickly changed their minds during classroom visits that showed how the Mac encouraged student collaboration and interaction.

But because Punahou School is the largest private K–12 school in the US — currently with more than 3,800 students — school administrators needed to plan carefully for the school-wide transition to Mac. Working with faculty, parents, and Apple, they created a strategy for integrating Mac notebooks naturally and appropriately into the curriculum at all grade levels.

Today, the youngest students at Punahou, those in Years K–4, learn to use a Mac in the classroom and in a multimedia room, with structured supervision. Beginning in Year 5, each student receives a computer for use in school and at home as they become familiar with using iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand. In this way, even younger students quickly become proficient at working with the tools they need to do increasingly challenging classwork. And by the time students graduate from Punahou, they’re capable of creating truly engaging learning projects.

To achieve their own Mac proficiency, teachers participate in training sessions, including summer workshop sessions. Teachers also coach their colleagues in integrating Mac into the curriculum. And for skill development in more complex applications like Final Cut Pro, both teachers and upper-level students can take special tutorials offered by school-designated experts.

The small school technical support group reports that the Mac notebooks are remarkably free from viruses, and that they hold up well to the rigours of travelling from home to school and back again. And because the notebooks are so easy to use and maintain, most students and teachers can resolve problems on their own.

Since one of the goals of the technology integration initiative at Punahou is to put the right device in a student’s hand for any given learning opportunity, the school has also introduced iPod touch for student activities like making real-world measurements on excursions. And Punahou students at all levels are using iPad with selected apps to extend their learning: kindergarteners use iPad to practise letters and numbers; fifth graders to design and manage virtual cities; high schoolers to experiment with geo-location and video journaling; and senior students to create advanced music and art.

The results

Administrators, faculty and parents at Punahou believe that the Mac has transformed the curriculum, extending the school’s long history of innovative excellence. It has made teachers become even more efficient facilitators of learning. And it helps keep students more engaged and makes them more capable of expressing their learning than ever before.

“I’m no longer standing in front of a room, putting information on a blackboard and lecturing,” says Year 7 teacher Sandy Chang. “Instead, I'll put a question out there, and the students know how to look for the answer. They open up their Macs and get the information. And because the learning is interactive, it keeps them more focused, more interested and more motivated."

Products they use

MacBook Pro

This notebook computer is great for learning both inside and outside the classroom. Learn more about MacBook Pro


This revolutionary mobile device introduces a whole new way of teaching and learning. Learn more about iPad

iPod touch

This device — and the apps made for it — are perfect for on-the-go learning. Learn more about iPod touch

More education profiles.