District 16 hosts first Celebration of Learning for public

A panel of eight, a mix of teachers and students from Westwood middle and intermediate schools concurred that the one-to-one digital learning initiative, which has placed iPads in the hands of nearly every student in District 16, is being well received.

Visitors had an opportunity to interact with students to see how they are learning with their digital devices.Photo courtesy of Jim Elert, District 16 communications coordinator
Visitors had an opportunity to interact with students to see how they are learning with their digital devices.Photo courtesy of Jim Elert, District 16 communications coordinator

The panel discussion at Westwood Intermediate’s library was part of the Spring Lake Park district’s first Celebration of Learning Day May 23, inviting the public on school tours districtwide, to hear presentations, participate in demonstrations and to listen to panel discussions. Time was set aside to answer any questions the public might have.

Parents, local business owners, politicians, local service organizations, community members and representatives from such school districts as New Prague, Little Falls, Rush City and Roseville were among those who gathered at the district to more closely examine the learning going on in the district recently named, in partnership with Farmington School District, as a Minnesota Innovation Zone.

The panel

Panel members from Westwood Middle School were Michelle Patterson, reading workshop teacher; Mary Barnette, sixth-grade language arts teacher; and Lisa Comfort, eighth-grade math teacher. Westwood Intermediate teacher panel members were Kristin Golmen and Brenda Sellner. Students on the panel were Julia LeVahn and Logan Miller of Westwood Intermediate and Isabella Moorman of Westwood Middle School.

Barnette has her students write English assignments on their iPads, she said. They send their assignment to her, she corrects them online and sends them back to her students. Oftentimes, students receive immediate feedback.

“I asked them to use pencil and paper recently,” she said as part of the Westwood panel discussion. “You would have thought I had asked them to carve something out of stone.”

Eighth-grader Isabella figured out how to save school-related articles on her iPad and take them home to read, something she wouldn’t otherwise be able to do because she does not have access to the Internet at home, she said.

“We depend on iPads every day,” she said.

Julia, a fifth-grader, extolled the virtues of iPad use, especially in digital discussions and sharing feedback among classmates. For those kids who don’t participate in classroom discussions, “they can write what they think,” she said. “So, they can communicate, too.”

An audience member asked how teachers deal with a student who isn’t enthused about using the iPad.

Teachers said students hesitant to use the iPads have a choice of using pencil and paper.

iPad benefits

With the introduction of technology, teaching methods have changed.

“In the past, I was the one who had all the answers,” Barnette said. Now, it is her students who, at times, have the technology answers and are able to help her out. They, in turn, also reach out to help other students.

Among other benefits, the panel members said iPads make organizing easy, feedback can be given in video form, assignments don’t get lost, students can create multi-media PowerPoint-like presentations with their Keynote application. Students are typing faster and completing assignments faster. Language translation programs are being put to use as well.

One teacher said, thanks to the iPad she was able to communicate with a Chinese student, who knew little English. Spanish Immersion students can change language on the devices to display Spanish.

The district decided to put digital devices in the hands of nearly every student to improve student engagement, to personalize student learning and to ensure that all students have equal access to technology.

“We’re excited about what we’re doing and we want to share,” Jerelyne Nemanich, instruction technology coordinator for District 16, said in wrapping up the panel presentation.

Next on the day-long celebration agenda was a tour of Northpoint Elementary School in Blaine followed by a tour of Spring Lake Park High School.

Fun book report

After the Westwood panel discussion, fourth-grader Kari Jackson gave a quick overview to this reporter on how she uses her iPad. With her Keynote app, she created a colorful and visually inviting book report on “The City of Ember” by author by Jeanne DuPrau.

She included a summary, defined the characters with photos, identified the problem and solution and wrote about cause and effect in the story. The presentation included questions and answers and Kari’s personal opinion of the book, one of the best she’s ever read, she wrote in the report. Kari also gave examples of figurative language used throughout the book and on what pages they could be found. She ended the report with a collage of characters.

She especially enjoyed adding in the transitions to the iPad-created report, she said. The assignment took about a week to complete.

For Kari the best part of creating the report “was working on the iPad instead of writing it down,” she said. “Being able to do it was fun, and sharing it with the teacher and other kids in our group.”

District 16 started the rollout of digital devices in the fall of 2011. Nearly 5,000 digital devices have been distributed to students. Professional development for staff has been at the forefront of the initiative.

The digital initiative was funded by a capital project/technology levy approved by District 16 resident voters November 2011.

“We are in the process of evaluating our first year of the 1:1 Digital Learning Initiative – surveying staff, analyzing systems and program data and getting feedback from students as well,” Nemanich wrote in an email. An evaluation report on year one of the digital initiative will be posted on the district’s website in June, she said.

For more information, visit District 16’s website at www.springlakeparkschools.org.

Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]