Pilot program rewards teachers with $2,500 grants

2014-02-20T00:00:00Z 2014-02-20T04:46:04Z Pilot program rewards teachers with $2,500 grantsBy CHRIS CIOFFI ccioffi@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

At Sandstone Elementary in the Heights on Wednesday, students in Ryan Groshans' third-grade class jumped from classroom instruction to iPad activity and back again as they learned to convert fractions. 

When Groshans' 9-year-old student, Jude Becker, logged back into an application called IXL that helps students learn math skills, he was excited to find he had already racked up five gold medals for successfully completing activities. 

"Oh my gosh, I’m already done with that! Look at me, dude," Jude said.

His fellow students busily completed activities so they could match his medal count.

Groshans said he turned to technology to reinforce concepts he teaches in his class. 

"You’re going to get kids that get bored with you just teaching a lesson," he said. "Kids love anything they can do with their hands."

Technology in the classroom can be a useful tool, but it's not cheap. Seven iPads and cases cost Groshans $2,500.

To get enough for half of his classroom to use, Groshans applied for a "Thank a Million Teachers" grant through Farmers Insurance.

Ten teachers in Montana -- five in the Billings area -- received $2,500 for their classrooms after submitting short proposals that were voted on by the public. 

The program attracted 172 proposals from Montana teachers, and more than 56,000 people voted.

Ten teachers in Nevada also received $2,500 grants.

Farmers Insurance planned to launch its "Thank a Million Teachers" program nationwide, but decided to start on a smaller scale in Montana and Nevada first. 

"They decided they needed a pilot program to work the kinks out," said Kimberly Cummins, president of Farmers Insurance agency operations in Montana.

The "Thank a Million Teachers" program will roll out nationally in 2014. About $500,000 in grants will be distributed to the winners, Cummins said. 

Trinity Lutheran School first-grade teacher, Lynne Erger, was awarded $2,500 and purchased iPads for her class. 

The class only had one iPad previously. Students used it once a week for independent exercises. With seven more, the students use them almost every day. 

"It’s so hands-on and immediate," Erger said.

With more iPads, they can be working on exercises reinforcing lessons while she helps others that need extra instruction. 

"While I’m working with other kids,"  she said, "They can be working with the iPads."

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