A classroom in which each elementary school student is using an iPod would sound like an environment where nothing productive is being done.
That’s hardly the case at Wilson K-8 School.
With a generous donation of $36,000 from a private donor and some funds from the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, Wilson has purchased 105 iPod Touches with protective cases and screens. They’re used mainly by elementary students at the school.
The iPod Touch, a small, portable, multi-media, touch-screen device about the size of an average cellphone, can hold and operate any number of thousands of programs and applications.
All of the applications — “apps,” in modern lingo — that are used at Wilson coincide with whatever curriculum is being taught. Some teachers, such as fourth-grade teacher Niki Tilicki, are using iPods in the classroom every day.
In language arts, students play the app Word Cub Letters and Sounds, which is used with a reading tutor. For math, students might use an app called Cloud Math to practice multiplication, either individually or on small groups.
Before iPods came into the classroom, Tilicki needed to learn how they worked.
“When I heard we were getting iPods, I just thought they were only used for music, and I was trying to think about what kind of music I could listen to with them,” she said.
Using an iPod, and teaching with it, is a new experience for Tilicki.
“I thought that’s how it will be for kids. When they grow up and get jobs, I am training them for a job that doesn’t exist today,” she said.
And, she said, “you have to reach the kid before you can teach the kid, so I reach out to them. We are teaching them the way they learn. We are meeting their needs.”
In her earlier years, Tilicki viewed teaching standards as limits. Now, she sees standards as a base, and she can take children above and beyond regulated standards.
Her students have taken to the new teaching style. Tilicki has seen every student in her class improve since she started using iPods.
“I thought it was a little difficult at first because I had never tried it, I didn’t know what it was like,” said Halle Pernett, a 9-year-old in Tilicki’s class. “But after using it, I started to get the hang of it. Now I am a pro at it.”
Pernett’s classmate Chloe Ward felt the same way at the beginning of the year.
“When I used it, it wasn’t hard, but it wasn’t really easy because I hadn’t played any of the games and I had to know what to start with,” Ward said. “Now I have played almost all of the games and it is pretty easy for me.”
“Games” are apps like Stack the States, in which correctly guessing the corresponding capital with one of four states on the screen drops the state-shaped object. The goal is to stack the states as high as possible.
“We have gotten a lot of feedback, a lot of positive feedback,” said Rob Henikman, the school’s assistant principal. “And also we’ve gotten a lot of feedback as to how to make it better. That’s one of the best things that I think is a testament to the staff. They don’t see it as another thing to do, they see it has something that can enhance their instruction, that can enhance the day-to-day lives of their kids.”
Henikman, who helped implement the usage of iPods at the school, made sure to be in every classroom the first time each class tried them out.
“You see every kid is 100 percent engaged on a very specific learning activity or skill on these devices,” Henikman said. “It’s really cool. You see them not just working on the program, but you are seeing different 21st-century skills like the communication and the collaboration.”
At the beginning of the year, the PTO put iTunes gift cards on the supply list as an optional item students could bring on the first day of school.
The response was overwhelming, and the school will not have a problem purchasing apps any time soon. When it buys an app, the school can transfer that single program to all of the 105 iPods, and only have to pay for it once.
iPods are spread among three separate carts that synchronize, charge and connect 35 iPods at a time. On any given day, any class may sign up to use a cart of iPods for a class.