S. Washington schools go from paper to pads

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2012 - 6:21 PM

South Washington County students and teachers are embracing the use of iPads, laptops and educational software in the classroom.

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Elise McCabe, above, reached for her iPad during a spelling exercise at Royal Oaks Elementary School in Woodbury.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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A choir concert had ended, and the learning was underway -- first with paper and then with iPads -- in a kindergarten classroom at Royal Oaks Elementary School in Woodbury.

Students are assigned district-owned devices and to handle distribution, teacher Jodi Weinfurter called out numbers one by one.

When she hit "7," Dylan Levang, 5, exclaimed, "Seven, seven," and ran to the front. He collected his device, sat cross-legged on a mat and began sounding out consonants and piecing together words on the iPad screen. He was one of 22 students positioned on the floor in six neat rows.

There was not a hint of disruption.

"They last a lot longer with an iPad in front of them -- more than with pencil and paper," said Barbara Brown, spokeswoman for the South Washington County School District.

This fall, kindergartners began using iPads on a pilot basis at Royal Oaks Elementary, part of a district-wide initiative to help teachers get comfortable with and creative in the use of instructional technology.

In August, the district supplied new MacBooks to each of its 1,200 licensed teachers, at a cost of $1.2 million over three years. About the same time, it also hired two technology integrationists -- one at the elementary level and the other at the secondary -- who work with technology coaches in each school.

Ann Vogel, a first-grade teacher whose classroom is just down the hall from Weinfurter's, is one of two coaches at Royal Oaks. During a professional development day on Dec. 3, she instructed her colleagues in the use of iPhoto, and they went around the building taking pictures of shapes and other features.

The goal, technology integrationist Kate Skappel said, is to then put such work to use in the classroom -- for the kindergarten teacher, for example, to show an image and ask: "How many sides are there to a triangle?"

On a recent Wednesday, Vogel used an interactive whiteboard to show students some videos their classmates created of objects as they turn. A student, Addison Pyrz, pulled aside a visitor to show him her slide show of figures sliding, flipping and turning.

She said she liked working with computers because "you learn stuff on them."

Still, she preferred books, she added.

To some, South Washington County may seem late to the game in embracing technology, especially given the work some districts have done in putting laptops and iPads into the hands of classrooms of students.

But Brown, quoting from the district's strategic plan, said it is committed to being a "regional leader in technology and innovation that positively impacts student achievement, engagement and college and career readiness," and is being deliberate in its approach.

Last year, she said, the district surveyed teachers to determine what they knew and what they needed. This year, the laptops were delivered, and teachers began putting ideas into practice, "just the start," she said, of what the district expects will "grow and grow and grow."

Susan Risius, principal at Royal Oaks, said that the four kindergarten teachers there all work from the same apps that they helped select.

The district plans to look at student test results in February for signs of the iPad's impact on student learning, Brown said.

Levang, who seized upon the task of moving around letters on his iPad screen, said that he enjoyed the device because of the many fun games on them. But, the iPad at school, he said, differed in a big way from one he had access to at home. At school, there's no Angry Birds.

A short time later, as he matched dominoes to numbers on his screen, his teacher walked by, and took note of his work.

"Good job, Dylan, you're a rock star now," she said.

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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