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Shelby Township

September 12, 2012

All-day kindergarten, iPads welcome class of 2025 to UCS

By Brad D. Bates
C & G Staff Writer

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Kindergarteners at Wiley Elementary make use of Utica Community Schools’ iPads as part of the district’s blended learning programs being instituted this year.

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — There were the lessons on counting and the voices of characters from Sesame Street one would expect in a kindergarten classroom.

But as popular Muppets like Grover issued requests from an iPad, it was a sign of how technology and changing times extends to places like Maureen Langenderfer’s kindergarten class at Wiley Elementary.

In their first full day of school Sept. 5, students were already learning with the help of new technology, such as iPad applications, adaptive DreamBox math software for grades K-5, a digital projector and interactive whiteboards.

“This is the first year of our blended learning model in Utica Community Schools, and we call it ‘kindergarten the Utica Way,’” Langenderfer said.

“Within our classrooms this year, we have six iPads and a station with six laptops; we’ve also got two interactive whiteboards and an Elmo (digital projector), which really assist to teaching to the small groups in our classroom.”

The 500 iPads were purchased with $229,000, which UCS Director of School/Community Relations Tim McAvoy said “was funded through the 2009 bond issue.” The whiteboards and Elmo projector were also purchased with money from the bond issue.

And because software is not covered by the bond, the DreamBox math programs and the iPad applications and management tools were paid for with $60,000 and roughly $200,000 from the district’s general fund, respectively.

Langenderfer was one of several teachers and administrators on a committee to help the district adjust from a partial offering of all-day programs to a full slate of the full-day classes for its youngest students.

Her participation in that committee led her to take part in a similar committee that sought to incorporate the new technologies.

The blended learning dovetailed perfectly with the adoption of full-day programs, as Langenderfer said it allows her to spend more individualized time with small groups of students and to better cater each learning experience to each student’s specific needs.

Parents like Erin Derk said she likes the versatility and possibilities of her daughter Allison working with new technologies as she transitions to student life.

“It allows them to go at their own pace, and when we went to (kindergarten) open house, they gave us the (iPad) apps, and Allison loves them,” Derk said. “It gives them more of an opportunity to get exposed to the technology that they’ll be using the rest of their life.”

Langenderfer said the expanded technology better readies the children for future years in education, because it nurtures the strengths that some students may have while addressing the areas of need with others.

“It enables the teachers to see, on a daily basis, the data and help provide good instruction at (a student’s) level and interventions when needed,” Langenderfer said. “It will help them grow as far as they can grow. The technology helps us fine-tune the learning.”

Chicago-based firm eSpark is working with the district to implement the literacy- and math-based software that will help teachers and students tailor specific iPad lessons, which evolve throughout the school year.

“We’re going to take some data we get from our children at the beginning of the year, and we’re going to use that data to personalize their learning with the applications we put on the iPads,” Langenderfer said.

“The children will be able to log into their iPad, and they will get into their individualized learning plan, and we’ll be able to, on a minute-by-minute basis, be able to see where they’re at with their learning plan,” Langenderfer added, noting that parents, too, will be able to track their children’s progress on the iPad applications from home.

McAvoy said the cost of eSpark’s services covers “review of thousands of education apps and recommending appropriate ones, with associated costs; professional development for our teachers — before school started this year and throughout the school year; and taking our student data and developing an individualized plan in math and reading for each one of our kindergarten students.”

The institution of the iPad program covers all of the district’s 80 kindergarten classrooms, and Superintendent Christine Johns said depending on the success of the iPad programs at the kindergarten level, the district may expand it.

“Our plan is to implement it at the kindergarten level and carefully observe and monitor, and then move ahead with the next step,” Johns said earlier this summer.