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iPad Classes Sint-Ursula


Mark van de Mortel works at the Sint Ursula school. Sint Ursula is a rural school for secondary education in the Netherlands, located in Horn, a small village situated between the “cities” Roermond and Weert. The culture at the school is very relaxed. A lot of the teacher staff is from the local region, some have gone to school here themselves. Students often know the teachers from the local village, social gatherings, sport clubs etc.

Crime etc. is not really an issue at school.

Students are also mainly from the local villages, there are hardly minorities or immigrants at the school. That is not by choice or design, it simply it the result of the location.

Due to the Synthesis group (see below) ever more students from outside the region attend the school.

Traditionally, our vision was defined by three words: Care, Prepare, Appeal. Although the words are no longer a part of the vision statement, it is still the basis of our pedagogical vision. There is an extensive care structure, for example via the Synthesis group, the school is open for children that are in need for some extra care. We strive to prepare students as good as possible for their future. We spent extensive time on career coaching, deanship etc.

And we try to make school as appealing as possible by providing modern, up-to-date education to our students.

When students enter the school, the first get assigned to groups for their first year (the “brugklas”) based on the advice provided by the primary school. By law the secondary school has to follow that advice. There are five different group types during that first year:

  1. VMBO-T (lower general secondary education)
  2. VMBO-T / HAVO (higher general secondary education) 
  3. HAVO / VWO (pre-university education)
  4. VWO+ (pre-university education plus)
  5. The Synthesis group

After that first year, they are split into:

  1. VMBO-T (lower general secondary education)
  2. HAVO (higher general secondary education) 
  3. VWO (pre-university education)
  4. VWO+ (pre-university education plus)

The Synthesis group is a special needs group of 10 to 12 students in year 1 and year 2 (in the future possibly also in year 3) mainly for pupils with an autism spectrum disorder (but not exclusively, also for other special educational needs). The goal of the group is to have the students integrate in the regular groups within those first two years.

All students (at all levels) can choose to be assigned to either an “iPad class” or a “paper book class” depending on their own preferences.

Teachers can choose the teach in an iPad class or a paper book based class. This also means that the teachers for the iPad classes are there by choice and interested in the pedagogical use.

All this accounts for a lot of organizational challenges, but the school manages. It has become business as usual, it is maintainable and we’re still expanding with steady pace (no big bang).

The school was built in 1974 and that is noticeable in the design (small classrooms). In some areas, like the Studyzone, there has been redesign to cater for the new pedagogical vision. Another example is combining two classrooms into one bigger, different use of color and furniture in existing rooms.

The ict infrastructure in the school is modern. Currently there are 12 groups that use the iPad for 1-on-1 education. The other 45 groups still use paper books. As of June 2017 the school is officially an Apple Distinguished School. There are only two other schools like that in the Netherlands.

There are about 300 iPads in use, the Studyzone (library) has an additional 60 iPads for lending by students and 15 Windows laptops. Teachers also use Macbooks. But the school has no intention of becoming an exclusively Apple oriented school. Almost every classroom has got a fixed (Windows) pc, a data projector and/or smartboard. In those rooms, Airserver is used to enable streaming of iPad screens to the data projector. The school is looking at experimenting using Chromebooks in the Studyzone since they expect the maintenance costs to be lower than the Windows laptops.

The school renewed and improved the school wide Wifi network two years ago to support the increased use.

Our differentiation practice is firmly grounded. Stakeholders involved in our differentiation practice are:

  • The board
  • Parent/teacher board etc.
  • Parents
  • Organizations, sports clubs, companies in the local areas
  • City hall

To understand our use of tablets, you need to distinguish between the regular iPad classes and the Synthesis group:

Regular iPad classes

In the regular iPad classes we try to cater for differences in students as much as possible right from the start by providing motivational education and new technology. Passiveness by students was one of the main criticisms by teachers before.

Using the tablet, we’re able to get the outside world into the school. Teachers create own material (videos, interactive books), use existing apps, and can provide students with more tailormade education. Students use the iPad as one of the tools to create reports and other class reports (although they usually can choose to use other means than the iPad).
In the regular iPad classes, the students are always together in the same group. They move from classroom to classroom between courses.

Synthesis group

The students in the Synthesis class use the iPad in a different way. There, the teacher provides them with a set of apps and a set of learning material at their own level. There activating the students isn’t the main purpose, but differentiation on level is. Structure, working according to plan is important there. This would have been much more difficult without the iPads.

In the Synthesis class, the students have a fixed classroom and a single teacher (except when needed for specific courses).

An exception is made when a student takes part in a regular class for one of more courses, then that students goes to the classroom where the other students also are. This makes it very visible for all students how a student from the Synthesis class step by step works on full integration in the regular classes. The other students know that and in general these students are easily accepted in the group.

Teachers use a diverse set of pedagogical teaching methods. To support those methods, they use both material created by publishers and material that the create themselves.

The also use apps on the ipad, but the focus is on the pedagogy of the teacher, not the apps.

When there is teacher centered instruction, they all use the same material. Often, when doing project, assignments or reports students can choose the way they do that (on the iPad, using tools that the choose or using paper or other materials).

A teacher can also use the “app dice” where a student throws a dice which then determines the tool he/she needs to use.

In the Synthesis class, the amount of choice is purposely kept low (distraction) and is teacher structured.

We use iCoaches (students from higher years that support the juniors) during the mentor hours with regards to technical problems / use of the iPad.

For homework planning, overview of class roster, study planner, we use “Magister” a system used by a majority of Dutch schools for secondary education. This system isn’t optimized for use on the iPad.
Students also use the “1-view calendar”. It is available in paper based version and an iPad version. This enables them to do scheduling.

The analysis and comparison of the iPad class and the paper book class shows differences, in concentration and focus on the task at hand. The students appear to be more enthusiastic (even when the end of the year approaches), but that is not clearly visible in the statistical results.

A pilot with formative assessment is planned for next year. This also involves training for teachers and reduction of the number of summative assessments.

There is also a plan to start to use digital portfolio’s, or in case of physical education: sportfolio’s. However, besides these initiatives, formative assessment hasn’t been a main focus point yet so the formative assessment does not influence the choice of the teaching technique yet.

Working with learning objectives is also an area where we want to improve. At the moment the content for a course is leading. We haven’t noticed btw that new teachers, even the ones fresh out of school, are used to learning objectives. So even there, training is needed.

The evaluation method is the same for all students. There has been a pilot where students could choose the method used for a test (MC or open ended questions), that wasn’t large scale yet, but is something we want to follow up on.

A challenge is the needed time (money) to do that. The school is located in an area with a decreasing number of potential students (up to -30% by 2020). Budget is linked to number of students which leads to new challenges.

Use of IT for remote teaching is still in its early stages, although it is used for individual students that cannot attend school for a period of time using a system called “Klassemaatje” provided by “KlasseContact”, an initiative of a big Dutch telecomprovider. But this is also an area where we see possibilities.