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Kindergarten goes high-tech

Royal Oaks Elementary is home to a District 833 pilot program where kindergarten students utilize iPads in the classroom for a variety of lessons including literacy skills, handwriting, math skills, sight words, beginning sounds, rhyming words, patterns and sorting.

Technology continues to be the wave of the future in many ways and District 833 has decided to bring it into its schools starting with its youngest learners - kindergarteners.

District 833 has started a pilot program at Royal Oaks Elementary where kindergarten classes utilize iPads throughout the school day in a variety of ways.

Royals Oaks has a total of 60 iPads for students and four iPads for teachers.

"This kind of learning is really the future for the children," said Royal Oaks Principal Susan Risius. "It's going to be way less paper and pencil, way less worksheets."

An app for that

On average, students use the iPads for 20 to 40 minutes per day in a variety of ways.

Some of the applications students use on their iPads help them with their literacy skills, handwriting, math skills and an individual response system. Students can also use applications to practice a skill that has been taught, such as sight words, beginning sounds, rhyming words, patterns and sorting.

"It won't let them make a mistake," said Royal Oaks kindergarten teacher Susan Lenz. "Even with a paper and pencil they can't do that."

The students are also learning keyboarding skills by typing words.

"It's preparing them for what they're going to be using," Lenz said. "Most of the time they're going to be typing on things."

Lenz said teaching students to use the iPads was a fairly simple task because not only do many of the students have iPads at home, but their curiosity naturally helps them figure out how to use them.

"It's absolutely made for kids," she said. "You touch a button and they figure it out.

"All they have to do is play around with it for a while and they figure it out."

Risius agrees with Lenz that kindergarten was the best place to use the iPads.

"The 'innocence' of the younger child makes it so there are no pre-conceived notions of technology," she said. "They're naturally curious. The sky's the limit on what they can learn."

Having iPads in the classroom could potentially cause distractions for kindergarteners, but at Royals Oaks that's not the case at all.

"They're so excited to use them that they're 100 percent engaged," Lenz said. "It's playing to them, even though it's learning."

Lenz said having iPads in the classroom has also helped with student behavior.

"They're so focused, they're so excited to use them that there's absolutely no behavior problems," she said. "It's not like before when we used to do the calendar and they would kind of drift off - they know if they pay attention, they get to play with an iPad."

The iPads have also been a benefit for Lenz since she is able to visually see when a student is struggling.

"You can absolutely see what they're doing right away and go and address anyone who needs extra help," she said. "Plus, it's an extra teacher in the room really."

Another added benefit, Lenz said, is that students are able to go home and continue practicing since many of them have iPads at home and can get the same applications.

Future of iPads at Royal Oaks

Other ways that Lenz said she hopes to use iPads in the future include having the devices read aloud to students, have students record themselves reading and listen back, and having children write their own stories with words and drawings.

Risius said it's uncertain whether or not the iPads will remain a strictly kindergarten tool or if they will advance with the students.

One thing is for sure though, Risius said: the iPads are a great added tool to the classroom.

"They can be actively involved in their own learning," she said. "They're going to remember those things so much faster and so much longer."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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