Morgan Park Academy students often cheer at the opportunity to use iPads or Chromebooks during class, although the assignment involves much more than simply play time. But don’t tell them that!
Technology is an alternative learning avenue for students. Educational apps and programs reinforce and enhance the curriculum. The students are so engaged in the activity — whether self-selecting their next book or solving 10 more math problems to reach a higher level — that they do not view their time on the device as working, but rather play. In addition to increased productivity, there are several other hidden benefits.
- Students’ specific needs are met through differentiated learning.
- Teachers can target a student’s areas of strengths and weaknesses, or assign areas of practice and review.
- Students move at their own pace and level to ensure comprehension or mastery.
- Students are given a choice in what and how they learn.
- As students take control of their learning, they become more invested in process and outcome.
- Collaboration and peer-teaching; we frequently hear, “I can show you how to do that,” or “Look what I found!”
- Students often extend the learning at home via favorite apps and websites.
MPA teachers on the elementary team (grades 2-5) integrate technology into their curriculum in a host of ways:
Sumdog is used throughout the elementary grades. This program provides engaging adaptive learning for math and English and language arts. The activities are individualized, hugely popular, and motivate students. The games are generated at the individual levels in all subject areas, and can extend beyond a student’s grade level. Teachers can track students’ time spent on the program, number of correct responses, and grade level in a report summary.
Vocabulary and Spelling City makes learning spelling patterns and new vocabulary fun. Our students love not only the games, but also taking tests. They often spend more time and complete more activities than required because they’re so into the game.
Khan Academy is an educational organization that offers free online lessons and practice for students. MPA second-graders use this primarily for math differentiation and practice, while third-graders use the site for both math and English and language arts. Following tests in various topics, a personalized study plan is created. Teachers can assign content areas as well as view and track progress.
Second- and third-graders regularly use Scholastic Study Jams for math and science concepts. The cartoon videos (kids love the cheesy humor) and step-by-step tutorials offer individuals clarification or a different way to conceptualize the strategy.
Third- through fifth-grade students use ALEKS in conjunction with their new math program. This online support has really helped with differentiating in math, especially those on the very high and low ends of the spectrum. ALEKS is like a personal tutor who knows exactly what skills students need to practice.
QR Codes offer students a choice in their learning. Second-graders use QR codes to select books during free-time reading, research, and perform topic specific math task cards, such as geometric shapes or perimeter and area. Students drive their own learning by selecting what and when they want to explore.
Epic is another digital library that second- and third-grade teachers have used in the past and will resume using next semester. The independence students feel from freedom of choice in reading fuels them to read above and beyond.
Storybird is a website which allows students to write stories based on the sets of provided pictures. Third grade uses this site for their fairy tale unit. Students who struggle to develop a story from scratch can create a story from pictures. This site helps both the reluctant writers and students of varying artistic talent become amazing authors and illustrators.
Fourth-grade students use ReadTheory, an online reading program, that helps aid in comprehension skills. Each student takes a pre-test and starts reading at the grade level tested. The program breaks scores and progress down into Lexile reading levels. As students take more quizzes, the program moves them accordingly, keep them the same, or lower their level based on their test scores.
Fifth-graders utilize myriad sites on their Chromebooks. Thinglink helps students use digital media to demonstrate their learning. It was difficult for some, but others really liked it.
Fifth-graders also recently began a Level Up Village project. The mission of the Level Up global classroom is to “globalize the classroom and facilitate seamless collaboration between students from around the world via pioneering Global STEAM (STEM + Arts) enrichment courses.” Our students are partnered with a school in Mexico to share our thoughts and reactions to I Am Malala through the course of the book.
Our elementary teachers continually find more ways to enhance student learning via technology. It is easy to see why students are so enthralled. As for the educational benefits of differentiated learning, targeted instruction, review, practice to gain mastery of proficiencies, and acquisition of 21st century skills, mum’s the word.
By Liz Raser
Mrs. Raser teaches second grade and also serves as assistant principal for the Lower School and as curriculum leader for the elementary team (grades 2-5).