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Tallmadge -- In an effort to prepare students to take state assessments online and sharpen skills in the "Common Core" subjects, the Tallmadge City School District expanded its technology program at Dunbar Primary and Munroe Elementary schools this semester.
To enhance students' exposure to the most recent devices and refine their software skills, the district hired two full-time instructional paraprofessionals, one to work in each building. Diane Stroud uses iPads to reinforce and enrich lessons related to literacy and math for kindergarten through second-grade students at Dunbar, and Jenell Wood teaches skills for Microsoft Office products, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint, on desktop computers in a lab to third through fifth-graders at Munroe.
Stroud's hourly wage is $14.42, and Wood makes $12.01 per hour, according to Treasurer Jeff Hostetler.
By next school year, the Ohio Department of Education hopes to have students take state assessments online with some kind of device, according to school district officials. The assessments test students' knowledge in the Common Core subjects of math, language arts, science and social studies.
At this time, students in grades three through eight take the Ohio Achievement Assessment, and students in 10th grade take the Ohio Graduation Test. The state plans to have assessments for every grade from three through 12, and seniors also will take the Ohio Graduation Test, according to Munroe Principal Shelly Monachino.
The expanded technology program better acclimates students with the technology through longer sessions that happen more frequently, school officials said. Instead of Dunbar students only using iPads when teachers check them out, students now have weekly 50-minute sessions that build a foundation and understanding of the devices. At Munroe, students went to the computer lab every other week for 40 minutes. Now they go once a week for 50 minutes to further develop their software skills.
"Prior to [Stroud] joining our team, we had really just scratched the surface in terms of what our iPads were capable of and what our children were doing in terms of technology," Dunbar Principal Courtney Davis said. "Now we're able to dive a little bit deeper with the technology we have available to us, which has been good for our kids."
During the 2011-12 school year, the school district spent about $15,000 to buy 30 iPads and a mobile cart that was available for teachers to use in the classroom as part of their lessons. To build up the number of iPads, the Dunbar staff bought 10 more this school year and plans to buy 10 each year at a cost of about $3,000 each year.
The iPads have a variety of applications. One gives students the option to read a story book themselves by flipping through the pages, or students can choose to have the device read the book to them. Game applications teach pre-reading skills, including letter tracing and word spelling, and the arithmetic skills of addition and subtraction.
Before downloading applications, Stroud reviews each based on its educational merits and recommendations and even tries them out with her own children to make sure they fit with the educational standards for each grade level.
During a session with first-graders on Feb. 3, Stroud, a former librarian, introduced an application that focused on spatial recognition through geometric shapes, which she said is a basic engineering skill.
"Even though they feel like they're having fun and playing, it's really teaching them spatial concepts and shapes and how similar shape forms fit together," she said. "It's math skills and spatial skills they're learning."
She said students view the sessions as time to relax, a good thing during the busy school day.
"It's different from most of what they do, and kids love technology," she said.
Despite the increased "screen time" students are exposed to because of the expanded program, Stroud said the additional exposure is more beneficial than harmful. And, so far, the students seem to be receptive to the program. "Most of the kids have a sense of how [the iPads] work. I haven't run into very many kids that have no idea how to use it," she said. "And even if they don't really know exactly, they figure it out pretty quickly.
"I always feel like for adults, this is almost kind of like learning a foreign language, but for kids this is a native language for them," she continued. "They don't have to process it or think about it, they just do it."
She also has noticed students are used to touch-screen mobile devices so when they try to operate a desktop or laptop computer, they touch the screen instead of using the mouse.
Even though the program focuses on literacy and math skills most of the time, some applications on the iPads relate to other Common Core subjects. At the suggestion of a parent, Stroud downloaded one that teaches about the solar system.
Monachino said students at her school probably will be required to use Microsoft software to take the state assessments.
"I think we just assume that because these kids are computer age that they know how to use a computer … ," she said. "They know the basics, but they don't know everything [the software programs] can do."
Students learn how to perform simple functions, including copying and pasting and dragging and dropping text, and use the Internet to research a topic. They also learn about proper typing technique, safety on the Internet and cyberbullying, and the older students at Munroe are permitted to see their grades online and use an email program.
"What we've done is we've taken a combination of the state standards and things that teachers have said they want students to know and created something. We've just started so we're really working on that," Monachino said, adding the program will continue to develop.
In addition to the weekly sessions led by an instructional paraprofessional, teachers at Dunbar Primary and Munroe Elementary schools integrate technology into daily lessons for the “Common Core” subjects of math, language arts, social studies and science.
At Dunbar, each teacher plays music on an iPod with speakers during activity transitions, and they can check out a cart of iPads to use in their classes.
Three teachers, one for each of the grade levels, participated in a grant with the University of Akron and received five additional iPods and a touch-screen computer for the classrooms.
Students also use Chromebook laptops.
At Dunbar and Munroe, document cameras, interactive whiteboards and Nook e-readers are in classrooms.
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