Excellence in Education: iLearning for Tahoe/Truckee children | SierraSun.com

Excellence in Education: iLearning for Tahoe/Truckee children

Courtney Simson and Laura BrownSpecial to the Sun
Submitted photosTwo fifth-graders from North Tahoe School, both reading the popular novel andamp;#8220;The Lightning Thief,andamp;#8221; are recording their discussion of one of the chapters.

TAHOE/TRUCKEE andamp;#8212; A year ago the Excellence in Education Foundation board of directors engaged in a lively discussion about supporting creativity in teaching. That conversation prompted Excellence in Education to offer an andamp;#8220;Innovationandamp;#8221; grant cycle this past fall, to provide a platform for inventive ideas and pilot programs. The Foundation was intrigued with a grant application that proposed using iPods as a teaching tool and moved forward with funding the pilot program, andamp;#8220;iLearn.andamp;#8221;The iLearn program launched this winter allowing students at three TTUSD elementary schools daily use of hand-held iPod Touch devices in the classroom to boost academic achievement.The iLearn concept is based on a successful program in Escondido, Calif., called andamp;#8220;iRead.andamp;#8221; It began with a simple idea: If adults can use the voice memo app on a smart phone to record appointments and reminders, why can’t kids use iPod Touches in classrooms to record timed fluency readings of texts? The belief was that if students did this regularly they could listen to themselves and correct their mistakes. With this idea, the Escondido program started a few years ago with only a few teachers and a handful of iPods. It has grown to over 150 teachers using more than 1,500 iPods throughout the district. The program has not only helped kids become better readers, but also increased their mastery of math, science, and social studies skills. Courtney Simson, who heads the Tahoe Truckee iLearn program, is an educator who spent 22 years in the Escondido Union School District where she participated in the iPod program for four years before her retirement. She became the first middle school teacher in the Escondido district to pilot a one-to-one program in which every one of her students had their own iPod to use in class. Simson saw great growth in her kids as a result of their interaction with the iPods and, after relocating to Truckee upon her retirement from Escondido, she began searching for a way to launch a similar program here at TTUSD, where she had been serving as a substitute teacher.With funding from the Innovation grant from Excellence in Education and the support of key school district administrators, the pilot program, iLearn, kicked off in February 2012 with four district elementary teachers at three grade levels, each with six iPods to use in classroom centers. Two special education teachers, who planned to use the devices in pullout groups with their fourth- and fifth-graders, joined this team.Students at Glenshire Elementary, North Tahoe School, and Kings Beach Elementary have made significant gains in fluency rates since the introduction of the iPods. Participating teachers received extensive training from Simson, and now use the devices not only for reading, but also for math instruction (particularly the Khan Academy apps), social studies and science projects. Additionally, Special Education iLearn teachers are working with Escondido Union School District to develop powerful applications for their students to raise their reading rates, comprehension, and mastery of state standards.The vision for the iLearn program includes having a representative teacher on board from each of the TTUSD elementary schools, and eventually incorporating iPads into upper grade classrooms to allow kids access to interactive textbooks and other educational apps.Students are excited about the iPod Touch. A 3rd grader at Kings Beach Elementary said kids are asking their parents to download the math and reading apps onto their smartphones saying, andamp;#8220;You can learn at your house…not just at school!andamp;#8221; One North Tahoe 5th grader claimed that working with the Khan Academy app was very helpful because he could watch a lesson repeatedly, stop the video to try a problem, and then check to see if he was correct.Recently, one of the iLearn teachers was absent and the kids had a substitute teacher. When they found out they wouldn’t be using iPods, a student inquired, andamp;#8220;No iPods? But… how can we learn our skills, then?andamp;#8221;Additionally, 12 TTUSD students recently completed a video production class called andamp;#8220;Lights, Camera…Actingandamp;#8221; in which they created an original video about writing skills using a camcorder and an iPad. Entitled andamp;#8220;Yes, You Can! Tips for Terrific Writing,andamp;#8221; this movie was written, storyboarded, filmed, and edited by the children, and has won first place in the Youth Media Show Video and Animation Division of this years’ California State Fair.Children today are often referred to as andamp;#8220;digital natives,andamp;#8221; as they don’t know a world without computers and the internet. It seems appropriate to apply these tools to our educational landscape and simultaneously, it makes the learning fun and engaging for the students. Excellence in Education is pleased to support this 21st century form of teaching in our classrooms.andamp;#8212; Courtney Simson is program director for iLearn; Laura Abbey Brown is executive director for Excellence in Education.

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