Falls sees success in iPad integration

Applications are engaging 5-year-olds in math, reading

Oct. 22, 2012

Menomonee Falls - Visual learners in Menomonee Falls are in luck this school year.

Elementary school educators in the Menomonee Falls School District are seeing success with iPads that were integrated into all 5-year-old kindergarten classrooms for the 2012-13 year. What started as a pilot project last year at Valley View Elementary is now part of the regular K5 curriculum districtwide.

According to teachers, students are not only more engaged in visual learning, they are excited about it.

"They love it. iPads are new to me, so I felt at the beginning I had a learning curve for myself, but for 5-year-olds there is no fear," Valley View Elementary Teacher Laura Oelstrom said. "They are excited, engaged and on target and on task and really enjoying them."

She said they could test students on the same skills using a paper and pencil; however, the level of engagement would not be there.

Five iPads were given to each of the 13 sections of 5-year-old kindergarten throughout the district. The tablets are also used by reading specialists. Kindergarten teachers were trained in September and each classroom now uses a slew of applications to complement the reading, writing and math curriculum.

Tablets complement curriculum

There was more of a learning curve for teachers than there was for students; however, breaching the curve has proved worthwhile.

"It's so developmentally appropriate for them because it is so hands-on and so focused with the sound and the direction, it just fits their level," said Valley View Teacher Laura Hoff who spearheaded the pilot program last year.

Hoff led the iPad teacher training in September after testing the iPads with a small group of students who needed early intervention in their learning. She said those students who were struggling had a hard time focusing and staying motivated in class. With the iPads, the students became more focused as they view the applications as a game even though they are learning basic math, reading and writing skills.

Tablets are not replacing normal instruction in the classroom, they are used as a tool complement teaching.

"It's just another medium for kids to interact with text and writing and word work and math," said Sarah Doerr, reading recovery teacher at Valley View, who also helped train her colleagues on iPads. "It's another piece that's becoming part of their lives and we want to incorporate that along with book and authentic writing."

Tablets offer multiple benefits

Classes have a reading block in the morning and a math block in the afternoon. Teachers pick a specific skill and instruct the students on that skill. Then, they pick two applications for the students to practice it. Doerr said the iPads add a visual element to the classroom, which can be difficult to recreate using regular instruction.

"It is also organized, which helps those kids who struggle with spacially organizing things themselves, they are already spacially organized for them," she said.

Although technology integration is at the forefront for the 2012-2013 school year, student collaboration is still crucial despite the technology.

That is why each kindergarten class of 20 students are broken into five groups. Each group works with one iPad and the students have to work together and socially interact, Doerr said.

"Most applications have a way for us to set the settings and adjust it and make sure it's exactly the focus that we want for different groups," Oelstrom said. "You can see the excitement when they accomplish something and then they show their neighbor and then they work together."

The tablet technology is still in its infancy; however, Hoff is spearheading ways to utilize them further. In the next few months, she wants to begin working with eBooks on the iPads. Through Scholastic, eBooks can be downloaded and read aloud to students, while highlighting specific words.

Hoff said this way students can listen to reading while simultaneously seeing a model of the text.

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