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Students get a new tool for learning

North Trail Elementary School fifth grader Nathan Beck works out a four-measure melody on a new iPad purchased by the school's Parent-Teacher Partnership. The PTP bought 30 for student use.

Usually, when the fifth graders at North Trail Elementary School compose their four-measure songs in music teacher Nancy Huppert's class, Huppert has a hard time hearing herself think because the sound of kids tapping out tunes on xylophones fills her room.

But not this year.

This year students are taking a different approach to their assignment. They're composing their songs on iPads, with the benefit of a keyboard application and a set of headphones.

The NTES Parent-Teacher Partnership recently bought 30 iPads for the school. And in the three weeks since the iPads arrived, they've changed the way teachers can teach.

"It was hard for them to create melodies because they couldn't hear themselves," Huppert said in a calm, quiet classroom filled with students. "I thought we could try (the iPads) with the composition piece. With the headphones now, they can hear themselves. Then they can see if they can play back what they have written. This has been a neat way to do it."

Huppert does her composition sessions with grades 3, 4 and 5, but so far, only the fifth grade students have been able to use the iPads. It's all kind of new yet, but eventually, the students will use iPads for more than just music class.

"The possibilities are endless," said NTES principal Dr. Steven Geis. "We want to give our students a well-rounded, global experience that integrates technology into classroom lessons.

"Here we have students engaged fully, using the technology as a tool to reinforce and enhance their learning experience," he said.

A purchase

Geis credits the school's PTP fully for providing the opportunity to students. Parents approached administration and asked what they could do to provide educational tools. The iPad idea came up, and the parents took control and held fundraisers to earn money to buy them.

The timing turned out to be good, too. When Apple launched the new iPad 2, the cost of the original iPads dropped by $100. That helped a lot, Geis said. The price drop allowed the PTP to buy extended warranties to replace any damaged iPads in the future.

About the same time, Apple introduced a tool called a Smart Cart, which allows school administration to download new applications to all 30 iPads at the same time, saving the headache of trying to sync the timing after doing one at a time.

A committee including District 192 technology integration specialist Jen Legatt, Gies and an NTES media specialist decide which applications to download. They look at how the apps can benefit students, how the applications fulfill education standards. Some will make the cut, others will not.

Keeping them interested

One thing is for sure: students enjoy using the iPads. Fifth grader Nathan Beck considers using the iPads a two-for-one deal.

"They're very educational ... and fun to play with," he said. "There are a lot of fun games on them. They make you think a lot."

The students have also used the mathematics apps, but Geis sees the role of the iPads expanding in the years to come. Right now just the fifth grade has access to them, but Geis figures it's just a matter of time before iPads are used more and more.

"The students say it's fun. I say, no, it's educational. Learning can and should be fun," he said. "I have very lofty goals for these."

One of those goals is to help summer school students who are reluctant readers become more interested in reading. The application committee is reviewing reading applications and digital books, planning ways to pique the interest of students who are struggling in reading.

There is only catch - Geis fears that before long, teachers will want every student to have access to an iPad on a daily basis. Right now they check them out, and the units are shared between classrooms.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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