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January 28, 2013 10:10 PM

Getting an iDucation

Sioux Falls, SD

A lot of us have iPads to check our email or play games.  But the iPad is also proving to be an effective educational tool. A Sioux Falls classroom is the first in the city to have the iPad integrated into the entire curriculum. 

It's not surprising to any parent of an elementary student that kids take to iPads like fish take to water. Maybe that's why this little experiment at St. Lambert's school in Sioux Falls is so successful. 

"We knew we couldn't go wrong but we didn't realize it was going to be this phenomenal," St. Lambert's principal Barbara Lockwood said.

Lockwood wanted to take the iPad from being just an occasional learning tool to one used every day in every subject and that kids would even take home.

"Those naysayers who say students lose library books and you're giving them an iPad? What are you crazy?" Lockwood said.

But St. Lambert's came up with the money to supply each student with their own and parents had to sign a form taking responsibility if the iPad were lost or damaged.

"I was taken back at first," parent Dan Johnson said.

But Dan was open to giving it a try.

"After two or three weeks, I noticed a big difference in how she wanted to learn. When she got home she got on her iPad and got her homework done right away and continues to do that today," Dan Johnson said.

"If you don't understand it, you can look at some of the apps. If you don't understand science, we have a science app and a math app, so if you don't understand it you can just go there," Molly Johnson said.

Lockwood also knew she had to pick the right teacher to kick off the program.

"My first thought, was 'Oh my gosh, I've never touched an iPad,' because that was the absolute truth," fifth grade teacher Jennifer Mieras said.

But Mieras was willing to learn. 

"There is not a class you can take to prepare you to do what she is doing. So she did all the legwork to get it set up and prepared for these students. It's not just a matter of handing a student an iPad and saying here are some apps; play some fun games. No, we wanted to make sure every app on there is applicable and really corallites to the curriculum we have here," Lockwood said.

"They're using it as their tool to find the answers. Some people say they're not learning anything and I'm like they're learning beyond a textbook and how to approach that to the rest of the world and the iPad gives them that opportunity," Mieras said.

The Integrated iPad one on one classroom has been winning over its critics and Mieras says it's changed the way she teaches and students learn. 

"They go way beyond what a textbook can ever give them.  And I don't have to be the expert all the time because I have the resources at my hands and we are collaborating all the time-teacher and student and I love that," Mieras said.

And all the kids, no matter what their learning level, are excelling in this classroom.

"It's such a differentiated classroom in terms of their ability levels, their backgrounds; their needs; their special education needs. It works for all of them. It's a wonderful tool that really, truly differentiates instruction. It's been a bonus for all in the classroom, not just a certain group," Lockwood said.

The program is such a success that these fifth graders will take their iPads with them into the sixth grade and the next class of fifth graders will be issued their own iPads next fall. 

"They're a step ahead of the other fifth graders right now.  When they take that next year to the sixth grade, junior high and high school, I think when they get out of high school they are going to be so much further for their age because of what they did now; what they learned in fifth and sixth grade, going forward," Dan Johnson said.

And with the right taps on the right apps, a whole new world in education is at their fingertips. 

And amazing as it may seem, so far not a single iPad has been lost or damaged, even with the kids taking them too and from school. It's also made their backpacks a lot lighter because all of their homework is downloaded onto the iPad.

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