Saturday, November 10, 2007

Grand Prairie schools welcome iPods in classrooms

How creative, and coincidental in that just two days ago my 10 year-old cousin was sharing the math rhymes her and her friends developed to help on their upcoming CSTs. Access to technology is a wonderful thing! -Patricia

By STELLA M. CHÁVEZ / The Dallas Morning News
November 5, 2007

A fifth-grade girl sits in class singing her new favorite song. She and her classmates listen on their iPod headsets, bobbing their heads and moving to the beat.

"States of matter. Aren't they cool?" the kids sing. "States of matter ... ."

No, this isn't the latest hit by Hannah Montana or the Jonas Brothers.

Crystal Chavez, their teacher, is belting out a rock song about solids, liquids and gases.

Ms. Chavez is one of 18 employees at Grand Prairie's Ervin C. Whitt Elementary School – including the principal and librarian – using iPods to teach kids about subjects they might otherwise find boring.

iPods in the classroom became trendy several years ago when Duke University began giving them to incoming freshmen.

Now, they're spreading to school districts around the country. Advocates say they help engage students in learning and keep them tech savvy.

The devices have also been popular on college campuses where professors record lectures on iTunes.

"This is tech generation. So, when we think of instructing students, we have to think of different ways of teaching," said Whitt's principal, Alisha Crumley. "To get their attention in class, we have to keep up."

Ms. Chavez created her latest hit using GarageBand, Apple's software that allows users to record, edit and mix their own song.

"My kids are jamming out to science," she said. "It's so much more fun than taking notes in a book. Come TAKS time, they're going to be singing that song."

Ms. Chavez said her next song might be a takeoff on Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll." She'll call it "I Love Rocks and Solids."

The iPods have only been in use at the school a couple of weeks, but student reviews have been glowing so far.

"I think it's awesome because it's easier to learn," said Kayleigh Guthrie, age 10. "I learned how the particles move and that gas can be anywhere."

Cesar Amador, 11, said he's learned about the country's history.

"It's fun work," he said.

The school district purchased a total of 321 video iPods at a cost of $73,114. The district paid for the gadgets using a combination of its state technology allotment and a Title I federal grant. Title I money is calculated based on the number of free and reduced lunches at a school.

Whitt is the first school in Grand Prairie to use iPods.

In 2005, the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district became one of the first in the area to distribute iPods to five of its schools. Today, the Carrollton district has about 4,000 iPods. About 80 percent of the campuses at the elementary level have them. Middle school and high school students use them too.

Many of the teachers use the iPods to help teach kids English as a Second Language or another foreign language.

Andrew Berning, chief technology officer for Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, said teachers have also learned podcasting, the term used when creating a digital media file that is distributed over the Internet. Teachers, parents or students can listen to the podcasts, or teachers can listen to podcasts produced by educators in other parts of the country.

In Grand Prairie, teachers are still getting the hang of the iPods, but they are not short on ideas.

Recently, the music, art and physical education teachers teamed up for a lesson about planets using hula hoops. With a camcorder, they recorded planets, designed by the art teacher, rotating around the hoops. The music teacher edited the video that students later watched on their iPods.

In her class, music teacher Karen Becker instructs her students to scroll through their iPod's playlist to find the second grade's list of songs.

Students walk around the classroom as they listen to a slow song. Next, a song with an upbeat tempo plays. Some of the kids strut around; others show off a few dance moves.

"Part of the curriculum is deciphering between fast and slow," said Ms. Becker. "This gives us a way to decipher tempo. I think it just opens up different doors [to teaching]."

In a fifth-grade class, students have produced a historical podcast about the American Revolution. Students listen to their classmates talk about historical figures as images of the figures pop up on the iPod screen.

In a first-grade classroom, students learn about the changing seasons. After a discussion about the subject, they watch a video on their iPods. The video shows leaves falling from trees and the earth orbiting the sun.

Kids are allowed to take their iPods home, so they can revisit the lessons and share them with parents.

Teacher Kathy Hasty said one student described this new responsibility as taking the teacher home with them.

The students must return the music players the next day. Parents sign an agreement that states the value of the iPod and that they will replace it in case of damage or loss.

Only about half of the school's teachers have signed up to use the iPods, but other teachers have expressed an interest after seeing the kids' response.

"Our world is changing, and this what our kids know," said Ms. Hasty. "They were born into this age and we, as teachers, have to design our work differently."

The Grand Prairie school district purchased a total of: 321 video iPods at a cost of $73,114.

The Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district, one of the first in the area to embrace iPods in the classroom, today has about: 4,000 iPods.

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