Ahead of the Curve
Christopher Dock Mennonite High School will put an iPad in every student’s hands this fall
by Bill Donahue

With every student, Christopher Dock Mennonite High School’s overarching mission is to ignite a passion for learning, faith and life. Although these attributes alone make Christopher Dock stand apart from the crowd, the Lansdale-based school will gain even more points of distinction this year as it embraces a pioneering 1:1 technology initiative.

Later this month, at the start of the 2013-2014 school year, each of the school’s nearly 350 students will be given equitable access to a fourth-generation, Wi-Fi-enabled iPad for use as part of the curriculum. The technology-specific aspects of the curriculum will be concentrated in areas such as creativity and innovation; communication and collaboration; research and information fluency; and critical thinking, problem solving and good decision making.

“We’re excited about the possibilities,” says Bronwyn Histand, director of curriculum for Christopher Dock, which draws students from school districts as far away as Philadelphia. “There’s the potential for tremendous creativity, interaction and collaboration. We know that students are very much into technology, but this will help them learn how to use it more effectively.

“I like to emphasize with teachers and students that the foundation comes back to effective teaching, and that good learning practices still matter,” she continues. “I’m excited about having students engage the material in new ways.”

There are also opportunities to teach essential lessons about responsibility and maturity, as each student must sign a pledge that he or she will return the loaned iPad in working order, as well as follow school guidelines, best practices and procedures for using the technology appropriately. In this sense, the initiative should help students practice being good digital citizens, according to Jay B. Gordon Jr., a father of three, including one current Dock student and one alumnus.  

“This is an opportunity for students to make good decisions,” he says. “There’s a learning curve, but I believe students need to have proper information and guidance to help them make good decisions regarding the media they consume. Hopefully, it’s already happening at home, and the school can reinforce what students learn from their parents.”

The school has long been known as a leader on the technology front. For example, many faculty members have already embraced Edmodo, an online tool teachers use to connect and collaborate with students. Also, last year at least one science teacher switched to an online textbook for ninth-grade biology, and one of its social-studies teachers partnered with a teacher at a school in Hefei, China, taking turns teaching their combined classes—despite some initial nervousness and a 12-hour time difference—by way of a Skype connection.

The technology initiative should further enhance Christopher Dock’s goal to honor and develop the uniqueness of each student and his or her role within a community where their God-given gifts and talents—academically, spiritually and in the lifestyle they lead—are nurtured.

“Students here are encouraged to explore their gifts and abilities, and to contribute to the community in new ways,” says Gordon. “Students come here from other schools and sometimes don’t know what to make of it, because there’s a lot of freedom and a lot of trust for the student body. It’s small enough so that everybody knows everybody, and that helps create an environment where all students respect each other and respect the faculty.”

Fostering Relationships
A project as bold and ambitious as Christopher Dock’s 1:1 technology initiative requires significant planning. To prepare for the technology initiative, the school gave teachers a one-year “head start” by sending them home with iPads in May 2012 so they could get comfortable with the technology and investigate which apps would be most useful for the classroom. Also, in early August the school hosted its first Parent iPad Training Session, where parents learned iPad basics, how they can enhance educational programs, and ideas for helping students manage the iPad safely and effectively. In addition, the school is using a mobile device management system for the delivery of school-required apps and content.

“An iPad does not take the place of the student/teacher relationship,” says Martin Wiens, assistant principal for Christopher Dock. “It’s not a terminus, an ending point; it’s another tool that students and teachers have at their disposal. It’s our responsibility as educators to prepare students for success in college and beyond, and that includes the integration of technology. We’ve always worked hard at fostering a mentor relationship between adults and teenagers, and I still believe that is one of our greatest strengths. This will be one more tool to make those relationships stronger.”

Although the 1:1 technology initiative will make the coming school year something of a learning experience, all members of the Christopher Dock family—students, faculty and parents—are excited for the opportunity that lies ahead. Using technology to enhance the learning experience should better prepare students for the next phase of their lives.

“I can envision opportunities to create a virtual classroom where you will have a whole class of students connected via iPad,” Gordon says. “Teachers may even be able to transport a class to an entirely different location without leaving the classroom. There are a lot of new ways in which students and teachers will interact. I’m proud of the school for stepping out with such a forward-thinking approach. It should open up new vistas for everyone involved.”

Christopher Dock Mennonite High School
1000 Forty Foot Road, Lansdale, PA 19446
215-362-2675 | www.dockhs.org

Visit Dock's Fall Open House on Saturday, October 19, from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., or call to arrange a student visit and tour.

Photography by Jody Robinson