Classroom iPads boost performance in kindergarten class

2012-12-18T23:45:00Z 2012-12-18T23:51:20Z Classroom iPads boost performance in kindergarten classBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Kindergartner Treven Newman studied the picture and, after a couple of minutes, found all the trapezoids in it, which was a trick. Some were disguised as heads, others as hands and a couple as tiny wall-hangings. 

"It's hard," he said. "But sometimes it isn't hard."

Treven, along with his classmates, is part of the kindergarten class at Eagle Cliffs Elementary School in the Heights that received iPads at the beginning of the school year. 

Teacher Courtney Niemeyer wrote for a grant last year from the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools, asking for enough money to buy two. Instead, she heard from the donor, Tom Wardell, who wanted to know what she could do with a classroom full of devices.

In short, she believed she could improve the learning among her kids. She and Wardell called it their grand experiment and were eager to see just how her students would use their iPads.

The learning and interaction Niemeyer has seen over the last four months has been dramatic — far beyond what she expected. Wardell, who lives on the East Coast, traveled to Billings last week to see for himself.

"I gotta tell ya, watching those kids, it was really fascinating," he said. "It works. The fidgeters don't fidget. Everyone works. Everyone learns." 

The experiment, they said, has been an astounding success. Niemeyer's students are reading better, computing math faster and scribbling their ABCs cleaner than she thought possible. 

She recently downloaded a more challenging reading app for her students, something she didn't think she would need to do because she didn't think her kindergartners could use it.

Instead, they're quickly devoured the app and are moving through its paces.

"They're ready," she said. "They're ready to read."

Kindergartner Colton Davis is pretty comfortable with his newfound reading skills.  

When asked if he knew how to read, he simply responded, "Pretty much." 

The iPad's advantage is clear. It's interactive, giving students almost endless opportunities to work out problems repeatedly until they get them right — whether it's performing simple addition, recognizing shapes or writing a lower-case "d" until it's legible.

Each device comes with headphones, so that as the students work they can listen to the voice on the program properly sound out letters or words, explain concepts or gently correct a mistake. 

And unlike a paper worksheet, the iPad apps last as long as the students are willing to work.  

"A worksheet ends," Niemeyer explained. "But this just goes on to the next problem."

The concern for Niemeyer, Wardell and the parents of the kindergartners is their transition to first grade next fall. They worry about how the students will respond to a class when they no longer have access to iPads. 

For now, there's still time to examine the quandary and think about solutions. In the meantime, Niemeyer has no plans to slow down.

"They're so engaged," she said. "They work at their own pace."  

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