551eb0d29bba7.imagePORT BYRON | A. A. Gates Elementary students and teachers will have a new tool in their instructional toolbox come fall when iPads become part of their learning landscape.

The school plans a September roll-out of 220 units that will help third- through sixth-graders with English language arts and math instruction in the rural district.

“We want to expand it to others grades,” said Principal Julie Podolak. “We want all students to be engaged and we want them to be reading on, or near, their grade level.”

Earlier this month, the Port Byron school board considered extending the school day for fifth- and sixth-grade students, with the goal of reversing a negative trend in reading growth scores.

In a Feb. 27 e-newsletter to district stakeholders, Superintendent Neil O’Brien said “…we work on the assumption that the state will provide resources and we have to continue to move expeditiously forward to meet the challenges of expanding the program for a September start date.”

The recently approved state budget netted the district $1,037,000 in school aid, approximately $87,000 more than anticipated. These resources may help the district work through the companion elements needed to expand the iPad initiative – technical capacity and expanding bandwidth.

In a pilot program earlier in the school year, Port Byron fourth-graders began using the tablets to introduce LightSail, a web-based literacy system, into the classroom.

On March 23, teacher Doreen McCarthy guided her fourth-graders through an interactive reading assignment while third-grade teachers observed how the computer tablet technology is integrated into lessons.

All students’ eyes were on the tablets either in-hand or situated on desks as the observers watched them complete a math quiz using Socrative, a web-based math program.

Student scores are tabulated immediately once tests are completed and there’s no waiting time before results become known. LightSail offers similar immediacy with reading modules and assessments. Teachers and administrators can monitor compiled daily, weekly, monthly student data to pinpoint individual student progress and needs.

The programs’ graphic organization facilitate lessons by eliminating time taken to ready paper and pencils and locate relevant materials.

“So, there’s no more rushing through writing projects at the expense of classroom discussion time,” McCarthy said.

But from a student perspective, using an iPad is just plain fun.

“They’re always out,” McCarthy said. “They love it, they love reading on them.”

In less than a minute, students shifted from math to English. LightSail’s 80,000-volume digital library allows student access to almost any fiction or non-fiction book of interest. As the children read, they’re able to click on words to learn definitions and also answer multiple choice questions to emphasize close reading practice.

“The novelty has never worn off, but they know that it’s not a toy,” the teacher said. Students are responsible for their iPads care and safety and are expected to charge them overnight. Two extra units in the classroom are always charged and ready for use.

LightSail keeps track of the amount of time students read, too, which acts as a student incentive to keep their eyes on the prize.

On his iPad, Sean Sincebaugh pulled up the book “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney.

“It has a lot of good books on it,” the 10-year-old said. “Today I read for 20 minutes.”

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