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Apps take learning to a new level in Grand Forks schools

As technology improves, the world must adapt to the changes. Not immune to those changes is education, whose sole purpose is to prepare students for what is to come.

As technology improves, the world must adapt to the changes. Not immune to those changes is education, whose sole purpose is to prepare students for what is to come. 

 “We want students to learn the technology for today’s world,” says Darlene Johnson, Grand Forks Public Schools technology facilitator.

   The Grand Forks Public School system hasa technology division dedicated to bringing the latest advancements to the area by working with teachers individually to find out the needs of each student, in each class. The implementation of iPads in the classroom has been a recent focus, allowing students to work with basic reading and typing skills, forming class-created apps that can be viewed worldwide.

   Joel Schleicher, technology director for GFPS, says the use of iPads in the classroom is a tool used to target the skills and areas of difficulty for each student.

   “It’s not about the device,” Schleicher says. “It’s about the experience and giving kids opportunities.”

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  Funding and focus

   Using money from grants and parent-teacher organization (PTO) fundraisers, the curriculum tech teamcollaborated with teachers to create an approach that would first test a small group of area students. Starting with special needs, focusing on reading and writing, the group used available apps and even created its own, following the International Society for Technology in Education requirements.

   The apps created by the teachers and curriculum tech partners “allowed students to be at a learning level,” Johnson says. It was a success in the trial with special needs students, and shortly thereafter grew to include elementary classrooms across the city.

   “The help from the PTO and Title Iis helping the program move along,” says Johnson. “It’s growing, expanding and really exciting.”

  The new textbook

   Already in many homes in the region, the latest technology is not unfamiliar to the average kindergartner, specifically the iPad.

   “Now, students come to the classroom knowing how to use new technology,” Johnson says.

   Even with the confidence of the students, the teacher is needed to plan and guide the learning process. And without the assistance of the curriculum tech partners, the teachers may not have the knowledge or capabilities to perform some of the activities that keep so many children as engaged as they are today.

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   “Classrooms are working on apps used for creating,” Johnson says. “Students learn and show what they know through these class-created apps.”

   Rather than reading out of a textbook or watching short films on the specific unit, students are able to work together to create their own virtual textbook. By researching the topic, finding pictures and facts about the topic and placing it on virtual pages, the students create team-building skills while learning about the subject at hand.

   “Images give meaning to the content,” says Johnson. “They aren’t just learning a topic, they’re learning life skills.”

   Students are assigned specific tasks as they create the virtual textbook, giving each child the opportunity to work on areas of needed improvement while still operating at a level with the rest of the class, using guidance from teachers.

   After the information has been compiled, the app is ready to be published and any student across the world will be able to access the content. Apps built in local schools have been published on blogs and programs such as iTunes, made available for global consumption.

   The GFPS technology vision says, “Technology helps learners gather and analyze information, solve problems and develop higher-level thinking skills through authentic realworld experiences.” Without the use of technology in classrooms, this teambuilding, educational tool could not be created. Through apps the GFPS is creating with students, those students are educating themselves and becoming educators for millions across the globe.

   “Teachers and students are now creating with these apps, not just consuming,” Johnson says. “Students are motivated and engaged with the help of these apps on these devices.”

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