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K-2 students adapt with their own tablets

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published February 10, 2016

 Second-grader Christian Benning works on a reading and spelling application while being observed by his teacher, Melissa Chambers.

Second-grader Christian Benning works on a reading and spelling application while being observed by his teacher, Melissa Chambers.

Photos by Erin Sanchez

FRASER — All of the schools in the Fraser School District are officially united on the iPad front.

This past December, all students from kindergarten to second grade were given Apple iPads as a means of elevating learning in a tech-heavy world.

Previously, students in certain grade levels had to share a cart of iPad devices with other classes in the same grade, in the same building. That was due to a 2011 bond that only provided iPads for students in grades three through 12.

But after receiving the devices from bond money late last year, students in the lower grade levels are now able to customize their own learning experiences. Rather than logging into different applications with multiple users, or wasting time accessing pictures and files, students can work more fluidly with what they know.

Kristin Ledford, the new communications director for Fraser Public Schools, said the district is working on a competency-based education. This advancement in technology provides both students and teachers the opportunity to become more apt in a bounteous amount of subject matter.

“A decision was made to help realize that individualized learning environment, and the response has been overwhelming,” Ledford said. “I think having the students prepared from as early an age as possible is the way to go, and it also individualizes each experience so they are connected with the learning and figure out what they know and don’t know.”

Robin Jenkins, a kindergarten teacher at Emerson Elementary, and Melissa Chambers, a second-grade teacher at Salk Elementary, both expressed excitement at how the process has worked itself out thus far.

Besides the convenience factor of students not having to worry about possessing a device for a limited time each school day, customization and flexibility have also been early realizations.

Jenkins, who has 28 students in her class, said her students were familiar with the devices due to previous use. However, they were limited in what they could and could not do because the devices weren’t personal.

She said the tech curve doesn’t affect the majority of her students, even if they are relatively young.

“Now that each child has their own iPad, we can individualize their learning by adding apps or activities that build upon their individual strengths and weakness,” Jenkins said. “Students have access to their iPads throughout the day and are always eager to use them at any chance they get.

“Even at a young kindergarten age they are taking more responsibility in their wanting to learn. The class is definitely more engaged when I incorporate using the iPads into a lesson.”

She added that one issue for the kindergarteners was logging in or re-entering passwords on certain apps, but each student having their own device “saves a tremendous amount of time.”

Chambers, who has 25 students in her class, echoed Jenkins’ words. Differentiating instruction has become a much easier process, while engagement and enthusiasm have increased.

And instead of sort of being the inaugural class to learn how to use iPads, Chambers’ students are in their third year of being acclimated with the technology. Hence, a learning curve has basically been nonexistent.

“The pros are that there are so many apps out there to enhance student learning,” Chambers said. “There are educational games, skill practice apps, videos and much more. I can use what I know about my students and the data I’ve collected to find apps that fit their individual needs.

“Besides downloading apps, since each student has their own iPad, they can use them to create work and save it to their iPad so they can continue working on it later or share it.  This is a tool to help making learning fun, which is a pro in itself.”

The cons are limited, Chambers said, with one point being when students try to access websites that they are supposed to avoid.

Teachers pride themselves to be lifelong learners, Chambers said, and using devices such as iPads enhances the learning experience for the children they teach. Delivering instructions, assessing learning and offering different ways of learning lesson plans are part of the 21st-century learning experience.

“We can introduce a topic and then have them follow up on the iPad,” Chambers said. “Or, vice versa, we can use the iPad to introduce a topic using something like a video, and then assess what they learned after.”

Jenkins said she recently introduced a new app that works like an interactive whiteboard, in which she wrote on her own iPad and the text showed up on the students’ devices. The students didn’t want the lesson to end, she said.

Also, the devices help the pace of learning. For example, if one student finishes assignments more quickly than others, he or she can work on other skills or assignments while waiting for classmates.

Jenkins said the best part is that teachers can now individualize learning more effectively and efficiently. And in real time, students can send their parents snapshots or videos of learning goals that are being accomplished.

“The parents love to get these messages and the children are very proud to show their hard work,” Jenkins said.