GREENVILLE — For today’s young students, it seems paper is quickly becoming passé.
In the latest advance of the Information Age, the Greenville City School District has fired up a new learning initiative for its elementary students at Woodland Primary.
With money provided by federal grants and the Greenville Foundation, Woodland first-grade students are being equipped with iPads.
“When combined with classroom instruction, this tool will promote individual academic growth while preparing our students for the challenges of the 21st century. We are excited to move forward with this project,” said Greenville Assistant Superintendent Laura Bemus.
Pending results from the initial rollout, the goal is that every student, Kindergarten through second grade, will be provided with iPads over the course of the next three years.
“It’s very exciting to have this opportunity for students and staff to add another dimension of teaching instruction and student learning experiences,” said Woodland Primary Principal Jody Harter.
The iPads, using the eSpark learning system, provide individualized math and reading instruction to students. Not only will the students learn using the iPads, the system also assists instructors in gauging student progress.
“We will use data from MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) to assess the exact needs of each student,” said Harter.
She added, “The mission is engagement. Students are excited and look forward to using them.”
The platform even assesses the pupils’ emotional status.
“It asks students how they feel — happy, sad, or other feelings — using emoji’s,” said Harter.
The program will also task the students with creating a video, describing what they’ve learned.
Pending parental/guardian agreement with the school over use of the iPads, students will soon be allowed to take their iPads home so they can complete individualized assignments. Each iPad is issued in a protective case with specialized labeling for easy identification.
Woodland teachers first conducted training on the iPads during a Sept. 28 Waiver Day. Another session will occur on Oct. 19.
During this week (Oct. 6 to 9), students will familiarize themselves with eSpark by completing a Launch Quest, which introduces students to example lessons and tasks. The Launch Quest takes place at school and students complete a unique quest each day for five consecutive days.
On Monday, Oct. 12, the school will hold its official eSpark kick-off, with students completing their own individualized quests that are aligned to testing data, using MAP tests that were completed by each student in September. Students will eSpark 20 minutes, three times per week, for both reading and math.
While not all students have previously been exposed to iPads or similar devices in their home environment, many have, and initial impressions are very positive.
“I have been in two different classroom and I’m finding that all children are having success with their devices. Some seem to be handling them better than us. The teachers have done a whole group launch with the iPads and the children appear to know what to do,” Woodland first-grade literacy and language arts coach Amy Shilts said.
Alex Ruble, first-grade teacher at Woodland, said, “I am surprised how many students do have some sort of tablet at home. Even those who do not are catching on pretty quickly.”
“Young students are brave, they aren’t scared to mess up anything. It is amazing to me how natural technology comes to them, but we do live in a technology-filled world these days,” she added.
Victoria Warner, another Woodland first-grade teacher, said, “We have students that have not had experience with iPads, but I don’t think there is a more difficult learning curve. The launch videos and activities created by eSpark make it easy for any student. This first week, our students have time to practice logging on every day and working through parts of the program, though using a keypad has been difficult for some students.”
With kids being so tech savvy these days, one might imagine it would be difficult to keep them on schedule, with many trying to “jump ahead” of the lesson plan, but this is not necessarily the case.
“The difficult part seems to be having them learn from an app and then respond in writing about what they have learned,” said Warner. “It is a difficult switch from just being entertained by the app.”
Ruble said, “I have had a few jump ahead, but eSpark is pretty engaging so most of them are staying on the designated apps for them. We have discussed the rules and procedures and the students are really following them. They understand what a privilege the iPad is.”
All instructors involved with the project expect the integration of iPads and eSpark with traditional teaching methods will pay dividends.
“I think the iPads with individualized apps will provide a greater degree of differentiation for all students in the class,” said Warner. “I also think that student learning will be strengthened when students have to explain or demonstrate what they learned in their video.”
Ruble agreed, saying, “I am so excited about this iPad one-to-one technology initiative. It by no means trumps teachers teaching, but it definitely helps add a differentiation piece throughout the day. It is a wonderful center that is catered right to the student.”
Shilts said, “I think nothing can replace teacher to student interaction, but I do think it is a great way to keep kids engaged and excited about learning while their teacher is working in small groups or individually with students as eSpark is individualized and at their own level of learning.”
For more on eSpark learning, go to esparklearning.com.