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After 'iPad Academy,' Bernardston Elementary students looking forward to sharing computer savvy

— Thirty-two local elementary school students recently graduated, though school is still in session for another couple months.

After they completed the grant-funded “iPad Academy,” the students, in grades 4 through 6, went on to teach their peers.

“All the kids thought they knew everything about iPads,” said Mary Leyden, technology integration coordinator at Bernardston Elementary School. “But whenever I’d do a lesson, they’d say ‘Ooh, I didn’t know that.’” The kids, as well as 10 teachers, gave up some of their after-school hours to become iPad experts. The iPad academy was held in two sessions, each consisting of four two-hour after-school lessons.

“The kids had a really good time,” said Leyden. “They learned how to make movies, and their own comic strips.” It wasn’t all fun and games. The students also use the iPads for reading and word processing, to study math and science, and learn the inner workings of the human body through an app that displays 3-D models of the brain, heart and other organs.

Leyden thinks the tablet computers are revolutionizing classroom technology.

“iPads are replacing desktop computers very quickly,” and were included in the school district’s technology plan to also replace student laptops, said Leyden. “I’ve often thought, ‘These kids are probably never going to own a desktop computer in their lives.’” With a slew of affordable applications, and portability that rivals a laptop, tablets bring computers into the classroom like never before.

“We used to have kids come into the computer lab and learn things like how to make graphs from spreadsheets, but they left the knowledge in the lab,” said Leyden.

Touch-screen tablets are also more hands-on than keyboard- and mouse-driven desktops. Leyden said the students enjoyed being able to navigate through applications with the swipe of a finger, or zoom out on a map with a two-finger pinch.

While the students learned how to use their new tools, they learned to be good teachers, too.

“The kids also learned tech support,” said Leyden. “They learned to use language to teach (rather than simply showing others what to do), and to have patience with their learners. We wanted to balance learning a new skill with learning to teach it to others.” They’ll get plenty of chances to teach their new skills to others.

“The school has 35 iPads, and there’s an elaborate calendar (to sign up for them). They don’t collect any dust.” The school bought 15 iPads last year, which were mostly used for fifth- and sixth-graders. Now, those iPads, plus another 20, are making the rounds through all the grades at BES.

Leyden said the school’s fifth- and sixth-graders have used them to film and edit instructional videos, the fifth-graders filmed presentations on math, the sixth-graders created a video about the human brain.

At the end of each four-week session, participating students got their own “iPad specialist” badges to wear, as well as an iPad Academy certificate of completion, and an iPad cleaning cloth.

The iPad academy was funded by a $1,320 grant from the Foundation for Educational Excellence. The FEE was formed more than 20 years ago, to help provide otherwise-unfunded programs to schools in the Pioneer Valley Regional School District.

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