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iPads Help Individualize Lessons, Lead to ‘Higher Level Thinking’

Mario Suarez says he learns better when using an iPad in his special education classroom at Harrison Park School.

The 8-year-old second-grader is among a group of Harrison Park students using technology to help them learn by building higher-level thinking skills.

“iPads help me get smarter by getting my brain power on,” Mario said. “I like playing Kodable, that helps me think through steps to solve.”

Mario’s teacher, Heather Gauck, has begun organizing a tool for teaching teachers how best to use technology to improve student achievement. She’s had some lofty help.

Gauck was one of 30 teachers from across the nation who were invited in February to bring projects they’ve been working on to one of three Teach to Lead summits in Boston, where they fine-tuned them with help from experts in various fields.

Gauck has spent the past four years working on ways to integrate technology into her classroom, and made presentations around the state showing teachers how to use iPads. Her work shows student achievement can be improved if teachers are trained to effectively use and integrate iPads in their classrooms.

After piloting a test scenario in her special education resource room using five iPads, Gauck showed remarkable results and earned the support of administrators, who bought 40 more iPads so she could expand her efforts. Gauck says using the technology has allowed her to individualize learning for her students like never before.

“Just the fact that you have technology in a classroom does not mean that scores are going to go up,” said Gauck, a teacher for 21 years. “Teachers need to have professional development and be taught how to use them.”

That’s why she’s working to create a professional development series for other elementary school teachers, a website offering teachers training on how best to integrate the technology into their classrooms. Gauck said she hopes it will save other teachers from duplicating her efforts of the past four years.

“I just really spent a lot of time on my own iPad, trying to figure out how to push the students’ higher level thinking skills instead of just using an app that does flash cards,” Gauck said. “Since I’ve already done all the work, I wanted to share it with the other teachers in my district and create a professional development site, which I’m in the midst of doing right now.”

Gauck provided a teaching example: She asks students to draw pictures on iPads that illustrate fractions and record their verbal explanations. This creates powerful learning experiences on the front end, and meaningful reinforcement later, she said, because students can refer to an accurate explanation in their own voice and drawings in their own hand.

This year she’s been pushing into second-grade classrooms once or twice a week and getting good results while providing iPads to every student in a class. She said she’s having success getting students to actually show what they know using this tool.

“The question everybody asks is “When are we going to have time to learn this?” which is why I’m working on the website,” Gauck said, adding she aims to have the website up and running for use next school year. “If this truly is valuable, then people are going to find time to embed it into their classrooms.”

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