Sewanhaka embraces latest app

Early adoption allows students to thrive


Sewanhaka Central High School District Mathematics Coordinator Robert Pontecorvo said he saw his work to upgrade the district’s math program come to fruition on Oct. 1 when an H. Frank Carey High School student asked to use the school’s iPad rather than a traditional TI graphing calculator when taking a make-up exam. Pontecorvo, who would go on to be one of the keynote speakers at Jamf Nation — the largest conference of Apple-focused educators and administrators — explained that students were now beginning to be more comfortable with their tablet than with the old calculators.

“These devices are more intuitive and familiar to the devices the students are already used to using,” Pontecorvo said.

With every student at the high school now in possession of an iPad, administrators began to integrate new apps into the student’s devices, and at the heart of Sewanhaka’s latest tech revolution lies the new GeoGebra app, which allows students to graph equations and complete complex problems on their iPads. The app even allows teachers to use 3-D augmented-reality imaging to create a more immersive environment in their classrooms by displaying objects and their measurements through the tablets.

“The opportunity to utilize technology in my classroom on a daily basis has completely changed my ability to reach each of my students every day,” Elmont Memorial High School teacher Bridget Giammarino said.

GeoGerbra Chief Operating Officer Stephen Jull credits the app’s success in Sewanhaka because of the feedback he’s received from the district and others like it, which he uses to improve the app. He said teachers and students founded the app, so it will always be maintained and upgraded with them in mind.

While the district continues to push for GeoGebra in its classrooms, Sewanhaka Coordinator of Classroom Instruction Technology and Student Achievement Brian Messinger added that the next step for the district would be to allow students to use their iPads during state tests. Messinger and Pontecorvo have spent the summer trying to figure out how to make this happen while also exploring ways to prevent cheating under the new format.

“We’re working to lock the students into the GeoGebra app to keep the integrity of the state tests intact,” Messinger said.

But some parents are concerned that the district may be moving too fast in its attempt to integrate more technology into the school’s education plan. Cheryl Scarry, whose daughter is an eight-grader at H. Frank Carey High School, mentioned that her daughter sometimes complains about the iPads, especially when using the GeoGebra app.

“It’s great that we have these devices, but I don’t want to see anything lost,” Scarry said. “Not everything has to be on the iPad.”

The district agreed with Scarry’s concern and added that students are working with both the GeoGebra app and traditional TI calculators in the classroom. But District Superintendent Ralph Ferrie said the district’s main concern over the calculators and why it wants to promote GeoGebra stems from an incident that occurred last year.

Ferrie recalled that one of the district’s schools only needed to distribute three graphing calculators to its students, meaning that nearly everyone in that school owned their own calculator. But another school in the district had to distribute more than 300 calculators for the same test. Although Ferrie wouldn’t name which schools he was referring to, he expressed his concerns over the lack of access students faced, and how new technology could help them overcome this problem.

“What I’m most concerned about is making sure equity exists between all our students,” Ferrie said.

As Pontecorvo and Messinger complete their locking system to introduce an exam mode into students iPads — which would lock them out of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Cellular Data and Camera functions — they hoped a small group of selected students would opt to use the devices during the Regents exam this January. If all goes well in the test, the district will roll out the feature to a larger group of students in the summer.

“Tech in schools is no longer a novelty,” Messinger said. “It’s kind of inevitable at this point.”