AUBURN – Imagine walking into a classroom in which every single student is working on an iPad. Now, imagine that these students are kindergartners, and that’s exactly the scene Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen was greeted with when he visited Kelly McCarthy’s classroom at Fairview Elementary School in Auburn.
Fairview was the Commissioner’s first of three stops on his school tour last Friday to see how students are taking control of their learning, just as the Maine Department of Education’s strategic plan outlines in its core priorities.
According to kindergartner Lauren Fletcher, she and her peers use the iPads almost every day to access learning tools such as Magnetic Land, an app specifically designed for practicing letters and numbers.
Teachers say the iPads offer students immediate feedback that’s both positive and corrective, giving each user individual attention in a room full of students. “The iPad provides customization so kids are where they need to be, and that reduces classroom interruptions,” said Mike Muir, Auburn Multiple Pathways leader.
In Mrs. McCarthy’s classroom, kids work in small groups around tables or are nestled into beanbag chairs, tapping away at personal iPads labeled with their first names. Some students practice reading and writing, others listen to learning prompts on their headphones, and after about 20 minutes she asks the students to move to the next station – still largely working on the iPads but now on different apps. As students rotate through the stations, McCarthy is able to instruct a smaller number of kids and offer the personal attention they need.
Even when students use iPads, teachers remain an integral part of their learning process. The iPad lessens the amount of time teachers spend grading papers, which leaves more time for them to teach and work one-on-one with students. Once students complete tablet assignments, they save pictures of their work for teachers to review.
The use of one-to-one iPads in kindergarten classrooms is not only groundbreaking – it’s practical. “Technology is the direction we’re going. We’ve got to start early,” Muir said.
Fairview’s use of iPads in a classroom of five- and six-year olds has attracted worldwide attention, with visitors ranging from Australian educators to representatives from a private preschool in Japan.
After leaving the kindergartners, Bowen found students upstairs in Stephanie Marris’ sixth grade language arts classroom using flip cameras and first-generation Maine Learning Technology Initiative laptops to make films for their Greek mythology unit.
Student Danica Hemond’s group chose the Arachne and Athena myth for their movie, which they directed, filmed, acted and narrated. “It wasn’t that hard,” Hemond said. “We just loaded them onto the computer, and now we can learn to edit them. Plus, we got to wear costumes.”
The laptops have enabled Marris’ students to integrate technology with their language arts standards seamlessly as they become more active designers of their own learning.
“This is what was always envisioned with the MLTI program,” Bowen said. “Not simply replacing books with laptops or iPads, but using them to create learning experiences students couldn’t have otherwise. Moreover, the technology helps students take more control of their own learning and meets them at exactly the place they are every day. And, ironically, the role of the teacher is even greater with the technology. They become coaches, guides, mentors – they work individually with students a lot more.”