Teachers give LearnPad high grades
Other fifth-graders at Cedar Grove-Belgium Middle School are a little jealous of their peers who have teachers Sherry Schwabenlender for science and Mary Anderson for language arts.
The teachers are involved in a pilot program to use technology in their classrooms with the aim of eventually getting an electronic learning device in every student’s hands.
The district started small, purchasing only 30 LearnPads for 68 fifth-graders, but Schwabenlender and Anderson are enthusiastic about the prospects in their classes.
Each LearnPad, which uses cloud-based management and storage, costs $399. The pads are currently kept at school.
Students are assigned a LearnPad that they pick up when they enter a classroom and then scan the QR code displayed on the SmartBoard or on a sheet of paper.
“This gets them right to where they need to go. No time is wasted,” Anderson said.
She has students read a book or article and answer questions about it.
“I can tell by the answers who needs to work more,” Anderson said. “If they’re reading at a third-grade level, I can direct them to that level and they won’t know they’re doing third-grade work, or I can bump them up to a higher level.”
She can direct students where she wants them to go from her pad.
The LearnPad also helps students organize their thoughts when writing a narrative summary, something they will have to do on the state Common Core standards test, Anderson said.
She plans to have students download e-books to read at their level.
Each year, Anderson has students publish a book with their writings. This year, the book will be done online.
Schwabenlender is doing a long-term science project with the LearnPads that allows all students to contribute and also work at their own pace.
“I allow students who finish early to go to other activities that challenge them at the level they’re at,” she said. “I’m using the textbook a lot less.”
Principal Jeanne Courneene said she was a little worried at first because LearnPads require teachers to put their lessons on their pad before students enter the classroom.
“They have to do the work upfront and they need time to do that,” Courneene said.
Brad Navis, chairman of the district’s technology committee, said the committee looked at a variety of devices, including Apple iPads and Samsung Galaxy notepads, and decided to get the LearnPad because teachers control what is loaded onto the tablet and what students access on the Internet while in school.
“I find it amazing that a student can go from one class to the next, scan the QR code and be ready when class starts,” media specialist Jackie Navis said.
Brad Navis added, “Of all the things we’ve done in technology, the learning curve on this is short.
“In six hours, a teacher can learn to put a lesson on the pad. It’s not going to be the best lesson plan, but it will be there and they can add to it whenever they want.”
Board President Chad Hoopman said he would like students to take the pads home.
“As a parent, I like to see what my child is learning and be involved,” he said.
Board member Dan Bruhn, whose child was recently sick, said having LearnPads that could be given to sick children so they can keep up with their classwork would be great.
“Is there any reason these won’t work from first grade through 12th grade?” Supt. Steve Shaw asked.
At that point, district network engineer Anthony Summers said the first step is to upgrade network infrastructures at the elementary and high schools, where wireless capability is available in only about half of the two buildings.
The middle school, which was recently remodeled, is 100% wireless and has the infrastructure to support all students using portable devices, Summers said.
The board appeared ready to proceed in that direction, but there was some question about whether to go slow by grades or get LearnPads for all middle-school students.
Brad Navis, who prefers expanding in small increments, said he is almost finished with a three-year technology plan that must be approved by the state for the district to be eligible for grants. User fees are also being considered.
The technology committee was asked to present a plan to the board in December.
Image Information: STUDENTS ARE USING LearnPads in Sherry Schwabenlender’s fifth-grade science class this year. She and Mary Anderson, who teaches language arts, are testing the devices with the eventual goal of having a learning device in every student’s hands. Photo by Sam Arendt