Sundance and Ann Parish elementary school students learn with iPads

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The classroom is engaged and relatively quiet except for the murmur of students reading out loud to themselves while recording every word.

Their faces are intent on the device in their hands from which they are reading and simultaneously recording. Each child wears earphone headsets that keeps out the voices of fellow students.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Sundance Elementary School sixth-grader Kameron Knight works on a language arts assignment using an iPad application called Sparklefish. The class is studying parts of speech, synonym word choice and expression in a computer game format. Sundance and Ann Parish elementary schools recently received carts of iPads through the Los Lunas School District’s technology department for a program to evaluate the effectiveness of new technology in the classroom.

It is plain to see these students are learning, because they are totally immersed in their assignment. Learning has become engrossing and fun, using the small flat-screen iPads.

Two schools in the Los Lunas School District recently received charging carts with 30 iPads each, including Sundance and Ann Parish elementary schools.

The iPads are already integrated into classroom curriculum, and students are really enthusiastic.

“They feel like they’re playing a game, even when they’re typing a story,” said Sundance Elementary sixth-grade teacher Aletha Grugan-Redd.

The instrument offers a visual aspect of learning that crosses all language and cultural barriers, she said.

“iPads in the hands of all students provide equal learning opportunity for all students,” said Mildred Chavez, Sundance Elementary principal. “The learning opportunities for our students are limitless.

“Students practice math concepts, read stories or have them read to them, observe science experiments, travel the world, take pictures, and (they) can interact with their peers worldwide.”

Classic literature and familiar passages in a textbook story take on a new dimension as students record themselves reading out loud.

Sundance student Charles Nash said he thinks learning the technology is important for his future in the world.

“It can also help us be better writers, and type faster,” Luke Freeman said.

They have learned how to make their own videos to critique their own reading skills and pronunciation, or dissect the parts of a sentence naming the verbs, nouns and adjectives.

In math, they record themselves while reading assignment instructions, then play it back to themselves while they work out the solutions.

Toward the end of the period, a student will be selected to share their video with the rest of the students on the large classroom screen in a mini presentations of what they learned that day.

It gives students greater opportunities to learn from each other, because the way a sixth grader explains grammar or mathematical solutions to fellow students can give a unique insight that triggers comprehension.

“I just like these, because it gives us a chance to listen to ourselves, and work on our skills of talking and teaching,” said sixth-grader Elizabeth D’Ambrosio. “Because, like my teacher tells us, we’re better teachers, sometimes, than the teacher. So, it gives us a great learning experience and it makes learning fun.”

“They (iPads) add a whole new way of teaching in school,” said classmate Kameron Knight.

In July, the district’s technology department had two iPad carts available for student use, purchased with mill levy funds for a program to evaluate the effectiveness of iPads in the classroom.

All the schools were invited to make a proposal and show how iPads would be used in their school to increase student achievement and motivation. A committee reviewed the proposals and selected two schools to receive them.

“One of our goals in our technology plan is to bring in new and innovative technologies for students to use for academic purposes,” said Linda M. Jones, director of technology.

Ann Parish and Sundance elementary schools will act as pilot sites, from which the technology department will monitor and evaluate the program and determine if iPads should be pursued for the remaining schools.

The district’s special services department purchased two carts, but none of the other schools in the district have iPads.

“We appreciate that we have been given this wonderful opportunity to further enhance student learning,” said Chavez.

The nifty instrument is a learning tool the school is using to reinforce the fundamentals of the curriculum being taught.

“iPads and other new technology are the future of education,” Chavez said. “These iPads will take student learning to a new level.”

Teachers are involved in ongoing training, and at Sundance they have written a grant to buy more applications to download on them.

There are a lot of free apps and free digital e-books that teachers are experimenting with for appropriateness, and there are plans for an entire digital reading group.

One free app, an educational game called Sparklefish, is about parts of speech. The program is so much fun that one student said he was going to download it at home on his parent’s iPad, Grugan-Redd said.

“The apps are all educational, but instead of downloading a video game, they’re wanting to go home and do parts of speech,” she exclaimed.

Initially she worried students would think Sparklefish was lame and boring, but they love anything on the high tech device.

“It’s a highly engaging interactive tool,” said Grugan-Redd. “You know, the kids want smartphones and touch screens, so to have an actual iPad and it’s not their parent’s, it creates an ownership that goes above and beyond a textbook. It gets rid of the boring and brings in the interactive and excitement.”


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.