At Providence Day School, the classrooms don’t always look like traditional classrooms of the past: desks lined up in rows and topped with pencils and paper. In one classroom you might see students working together on their iPads at a shared table, while other spaces like the hallway or playground aren’t technically classrooms at all, but students are still learning there.

That’s because teachers at PDS know they’re working with a generation of students that will go out into a future filled with rapidly changing technology and a workforce that doesn’t stay at the same job for 40 years.

“Our students won’t necessarily be looking for one long career. They may have multiple careers with multiple job descriptions,” said Matt Scully, director of digital integration and innovation. “We need to prepare kids for a very different future — one where you’re very self-reliant and focused on problem-solving and process, as well as outcomes.”


That preparation comes in many forms at PDS, where every student in grades 4 to 12 receives a school-issued iPad. Some people may balk at the use of technology from such a young age, but Scully says it’s important to realize the tech enables teachers to do more.

“We’re using iPads to support our English instruction, not using English to teach kids to use iPads,” Scully said. For example, it’s easy for students to tap a word they don’t recognize and discover its definition immediately, rather than taking time to scour a dictionary (or worse, never learn the meaning at all). Students are also encouraged to add unfamiliar words to their own vocabulary lists and then use them in future essays.

Thanks to tools like Google docs, students can work to edit their essays while a teacher reads and makes commentary on the screen in real time. Scully says it makes the entire process more collaborative.

“Students are active participants rather than passive recipients,” Scully said. “They have more tools at their fingertips so they’re more engaged in their learning.”


But there’s still a place for paper in the modern classroom. Kindergartners use paper worksheets to trace the various letters of the alphabet, and then use their iPad to look at items that start with that letter. Then they draw the items on their worksheet, developing fine motor skills and letter recognition with just one self-directed activity.

“That’s important because we instill the ideas of focus, determination and perseverance when students are in charge of their own activities,” Scully said. “And we don’t want to eliminate technology or paper. We just want to find the best suite of tools to accomplish what we need.”

Technology isn’t the only thing driving innovation at PDS. The classrooms themselves are part of the equation. Students often sit at tables rather than desks to encourage collaborative work. The Transitional Kindergarten area features a “cottage” in which students can create large (and sometimes messy) projects that would take up too much space in the traditional classroom.

PDS 2014 08 26

In the library, common spaces are equipped with floor-to-ceiling white boards where students are encouraged to work out math problems, write scientific formulas and more.

The playground for lower grade levels has a slide and jungle gym, but teachers also bring in non-traditional items like cloth and poles to make tents, or pots and pans for creative imaginary play.

“The teachers are always introducing new items to give more opportunities to explore and play,” Scully said. “(While they’re building a tent), they don’t realize they’re learning physics. It just looks like fun, but there’s a tremendous amount of learning going on at the same time.”

CottagePDS 2014 10 24


Providence Day School
5800 Sardis Road, Charlotte NC 28270
Phone: 704-887-6000
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.providenceday.org/
Facebook page
Twitter: @ProvidenceDay
Head of School blog