SAD 44 directors Monday approved up to $40,000 in federal technology funds to buy iPads for all kindergarteners in the district for next year.

The decision follows a presentation by SAD 44 kindergarten teachers on iPads at the March 26 board meeting.

iPads in the kindergarten classroom allow youngsters to create their own stories, teach each other, film themselves reading and get immediate feedback on practice lessons, the five teachers told the board.

For the teachers, there’s an automatic record of the kids’ activity on the devices and a resource to aid in classroom management, they said.

Each kindergarten classroom currently has one iPad. The teachers received training last month at a two-day, international conference in Auburn on the use of the iPads in the classroom.

When an iPad program was first instituted in Auburn two years ago, there was some opposition from taxpayers because of the cost.

Woodstock teacher Jessica Wilkey told SAD 44 directors she went to the conference uncertain about the value of the computers in the classroom.

But, she said, “My opinion on how they could be used was completely turned around in the first session.”

Crescent Park teacher Erin Stearns demonstrated how the kids can use basic components of a cartoon-style animated story to create their own tale, which they narrate on audio.

“They can then do the writing to go with the movie,” she said.

CPS teacher Robin Smith said that approach allows the creative juices to flow without the potential stumbling block of sounding out each word.

“So many kids get frustrated with trying to write a story, so they give you one sentence,” she said. “They have so much to say. The vocabulary that comes out of them is so amazing. You wouldn’t have that because they shut down because they don’t want to sound the words out.”

The kids can also film themselves reading aloud, which the teacher can later evaluate, use in a parent-teacher conference or e-mail directly to parents.

Teachers can program the iPad for each student to provide practice in reading or math.

As the pupils choose answers to questions, they get immediate visual and audio feedback on their answers.

As they master easier questions, the questions get progressively harder.

Smith described one pupil who was helping another on practice work, and when the “tutee” got an answer right, the helper praised her by mimicking the computer voice: “You did such a good job — smile.”

She also said sometimes the youngsters find different ways of doing a task that she didn’t think of herself.

“You’re learning from them,” she said.

The teachers said their pupils are enthusiastic about the iPads and don’t want to lose the privilege of using them.

Superintendent Dave Murphy said the teachers are just as motivated as the kids.

“I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen so much enthusiasm carrying over from a conference,” he said.

Murphy said Monday the district has built up about $163,000 in the federal technology funds, known as ERATE money.

He said the iPads would follow next year’s kindergarteners to first grade, and the district could potentially have the devices in kindergarten through second grade. Higher grades have laptops.

Andover Director Keith Smith said it would be important to track the effectiveness of iPads in the classroom.

Murphy said the kindergarten teachers would return to the board with reports.

The vote to approve the purchase was unanimous.


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