Tablets are transforming learning in many west metro classrooms

  • Article by: CANDICE WHEELER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 9, 2013 - 4:08 PM

iPads and similar devices are transforming how students learn — and even saving money — in many west metro schools.

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Christina Persaud used a tablet to work on a slide show in Steve Searl's 4th-grade classroom at Bloomington's Oak Grove Elementary.

Photo: Bruce Bisping , Star Tribune

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In schools across the west metro, iPads and other tablets are evolving from exciting novelties into established teaching tools.

The “one-to-one” student-tablet teaching model is enhancing learning from elementary to high schools in districts that include Bloomington, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. In some cases, they’re even saving schools money.

Bloomington’s Oak Grove Elementary School launched its tablet pilot program in March. Every student in one of two 4th-grade classrooms received a Samsung touch-screen tablet with an attachable keyboard.

“It’s going to make learning more exciting for the kids and more informative for teachers,” said Oak Grove Principal Raymond Yu.

Best Buy Corp. donated the tablets, a flat-screen monitor and a mobile charging cart, citing its own corporate curiosity about how elementary-school children would use tablets. The devices feature the latest educational software, provided by Naiku and Microsoft.

Microsoft also donated an Xbox 360 with fitness software to integrate wellness and class time. “We know that’s an additional challenge — how to ensure more physical activity during the school day,” Yu said. “It gives us an opportunity to give a broader reach to kids to do some wellness activities.”

The school plans to shape curriculum around the resources the tablets provide and to use them to prepare students for standardized tests.

They have proved most useful for language arts and math instruction, said Steve Searl, who teaches 4th grade at Oak Grove. They “allow for a lot of differentiation of the curriculum, because I can have kids working independently,” he said.

Students use the program “Raz Kids” to read at their own levels. Each student has his or her own Google account, which saves all classwork and makes it accessible from any device. They use Google documents for informational reports and slideshow presentations. And math exercises designed as racing games make learning fun and interactive.

Parents are pleased.

“I’m thrilled that she has the opportunity to work with these tablets,” said Christy Warner, whose daughter, Claire Sazama, is in Searl’s 4th-grade class. “I think it’s a way for the teacher and the students to get themselves prepared for a future that demands digital proficiency.”

For schools, tablets can be attractive from a financial standpoint, too.

“You can buy two or three ... for the same price as one desktop or laptop and be able to have that mobility to move them around the building,” Yu said. “And you’ll be using the devices more frequently.”

Before tablets came to Searl’s classroom, he didn’t go to the school’s computer lab very often because of time constraints. “More and more, education is going to be a one-to-one device situation,” Searl said. “I haven’t had to worry about going to the computer lab, and it frees it up for other classes to go there so much more.”

Minnetonka: The end of computer labs?

Meanwhile, the Minnetonka district is expanding its iPad program.

At Minnetonka High School, all 9th- and 10th-grade students now have their own iPads. Starting next school year, students in grades 8 and 11 will, too.

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