Borough mixes latest technology with learning

City Hill Middle School students work on a lesson on an iPad last school year as part of a pilot program to bring handheld technology to the classroom. - CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — A pilot program to introduce handheld touch technology in borough classrooms proved successful in its first year.

Last year, the district bought a total of 22 iPads and iPod Touches for both special and regular education teachers to integrate 21st century skills into their classrooms.

The schools used federal stimulus money to purchase the devices, according to Assistant Superintendent Brigitte Crispino.

“What we were able to do was target specific schools that we felt that the iPads would be well-received and teachers had expressed an interest in the technology,” Crispino said.

The devices went to teachers at the high school, middle school, intermediate school, and three elementary schools.

“One of the key things is that students are a digital native. It’s part of the their culture and part of their everyday lives. This provides them with a tool to expand their learning,” Crispino said.

Crispino attended an Apple training session on the use of iPads in schools last year along with Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson and Director of Information Technoloy Alan Merly.

“That served as a catalyst for us thinking how else can we deliver instruction using some of the most recent applications to further student understanding,” Crispino said.

She said many educational applications are available for free and the technology helps build that intrinsic desire to learn in students because they understand it.

“It’s absolutely fascinating to watch a child work with an iPad and have them self-direct,” Crispino said.

Kathy Bosco-Walker, a reading consultant at City Hill Middle School, has been using technology stations in the classroom to work on vocabulary, fluency, photo analysis, and other reading comprehension building activities.

“It’s just been a tremendous positive reaction from the kids,” Bosco-Walker said.

She said students are very involved in the activities and enjoy the instant feedback the programs provide.

For example, students can record themselves reading poetry and play it back to see how well they did.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to go back if they don’t like how the first reading came out,” Bosco-Walker said.

Another program is a flash card application for vocabulary.

“It’s so much more positive and interesting for the kids than trying to flip through a thesaurus,” Bosco-Walker said.

The school got the portable devices at the end of December and began using them in late winter last year.

“A lot of it is having the teachers become familiar with the technology because the kids have it all under control,” Bosco-Walker said.

Since they only have two iPads, two iPods, and a SMART Board, Bosco-Walker said the technology also teaches students to work collaboratively in a group. They have to learn how to share the technology and take care of it. Bosco-Walker said she hasn’t had any problems with students misusing it.

“They just eat it up. It’s their life. It’s what the live everyday,” Bosco-Walker said.

Since the schools went wireless this year, it opens up even more avenues to use the technology, but Bosco-Walker said she’s not sure if she’s ready to try out those opportunities just yet.

“I prefer taking baby steps, being really confident in what we’re doing, rather than branching out into the unknown,” Bosco-Walker said.

At the high school, special education teacher Nancy Wilcox is using the same technology to improve math and reading proficiency among her students.

“When it was used to enhance the curriculum, it really made a huge difference. … They like that it’s hands on,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox did research on the results in conjunction with her graduate degree program. She saw average scores on an algebra test she created improve 38 points over the course of the semester. One of her student’s reading rates increased from 80 words per minute to 120 using the iPad application, she said.

Among the programs she used were books on tape that track students’ reading rate and algebra applications that allowed students to manipulate variables.

“The thing that I liked about the apps is that I could tailor them to individuals,” Wilcox said. “You can really pinpoint your interventions to what a certain kid needs.”

Wilcox said her students’ favorite application was an interactive whiteboard. She could write something on the virtual board and her students could see it on their own devices and vice versa.

“We could do things across the classroom without talking out loud,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox said her students told her working with the electronic devices was fun. They said it helped them to do things like write out steps and helped them visualize concepts better, according to Wilcox.

Despite the iPads’ usefulness, it doesn’t replace a computer, Wilcox said.

“There are limits to what it does do, but to enhance instruction, I found it very effective,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox attended training before using the devices in the classroom and she said the program is slowly expanding.

“It’s very new here, so we’re still learning,” she said.

Crispino said she hopes to purchase more devices as money through grants becomes available. She said schools are just starting to learn more about the capabilities of the programs.

“The opportunities are limitless. It’s just a matter of having a vision and trying things and seeing if it’s a good match for our students and our community,” Crispino said.