Learning Pad: Parkway teachers use iPads to boost lessons

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Parkway Elementary first-grade teacher Georgia Marlin stood in the back of a classroom last week watching several 6- and 7-year-olds flick their fingers across the glowing screen of an iPad device.
While some students played various math games on the devices, others answered addition and subtraction questions displayed on a screen that projected what was on their teacher’s computer.
“It sure is a lot different than when I was in school,” the 16-year teaching veteran said.
Like many districts across the country, the Tupelo Public School District has been actively adding technology to its classrooms. All of its sixth- to 12th-grade students were supplied with laptop computers, and many classrooms are equipped with special projectors that allow students to interact with the images that are displayed on screen.
Among the newest devices the district is using this year are iPads, which look like thin tablets with display screens. Like iPhones, they give users access to thousands of applications, or programs, that can be downloaded from the Internet.
Teachers can find different programs that can help students learn.
“It is not that you are teaching anything different,” Marlin said. “It is a different way to engage. They are more interested in this, for some reason, than they are in listening to me.”
Parkway Elementary has 10 such iPads that are shared by the school’s teachers to use in their classrooms. Marlin and first-grade teacher Heather Cartwright often use the iPads as one of several stations the students will rotate through during the course of a week.
After completing other activities, the students will have the opportunity to play some of the educational games available on the device.
Marlin said her class probably checks out the devices about once every two weeks. Cartwright also has a personal iPad that students will use every day.
“It is an interactive lesson,” Cartwright said. “It is not just a textbook. The students can get up and move.”
For first-grade students, the iPads are especially useful for reinforcing math, spelling and grammar skills, Marlin and Cartwright each said. Teachers also can download second-grade-level activities for high-performing students or kindergarten-level ones to reinforce skills for those who are struggling.
On a recent day last week, students in Cartwright’s class spread out on a mat in the front of the class and played various educational games. Some played a bingo game in which they had to solve addition problems, others played one in which they had to mark different numbers in order.
There are also games that allow students to play hangman with spelling words or to unscramble those words. Other programs help with telling time, counting coins or recognizing the shapes of states. Students can even read books that are downloaded to the iPad.
They can record themselves reading those books, Marlin said, a feature that can be particularly helpful.
“When they hear themselves do it, it really sticks with them,” she said. “It really helps with their expressions and fluency.”
The programs also can be especially helpful for students with disabilities, Marlin said. For instance, the device can read out loud to students with vision problems.
“It is a better way to meet kids where they are,” she said. “For kids with disabilities, it can take away roadblocks.”
Cartwright checks daily to see whether new applications have become available. She will let the students test-drive the free versions of the programs. If they appear helpful, she will buy the full version of the application, which usually costs between $1 and $5, she said.
“I am always checking to see what goes on in other classrooms that I may be able to incorporate in mine,” she said.
The addition of technology in the classroom also has brought teachers closer together, the two said.
Cartwright, a second-year teacher, said she has been able to learn from Marlin about creating lesson plans to match the curriculum. Marlin said Cartwright has helped her add technology into her lessons.
“She has taken a lot of the fear out of it,” Marlin said.
Both teachers said that the kids pick up on the technology even more quickly.
“You do a couple of procedures to teach them how to use it, and they fall right into it,” Cartwright said.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.