By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Prekindergarten? There’s an app for that.
Since December, students at the Carousel Academy, the North Tonawanda school district Universal Prekindergarten program at Grant School, have been using iPads right along with — and to augment— their daily studies of letters, numbers and shapes.
Amanda Karnath, administrator of the Carousel Academy, said that Universal Prekindergarten grant money was used to purchase the devices, six for each of the program’s three classrooms, and about 10 educational applications for the students to use. As they master those apps, she said, more will be purchased.
“They’re all very excited to use them,” she said. “With the new New York state core curriculum, technology is really a part of the 4-year-old program. Getting them exposed to this is important.
“Technology is just the reality today. This exposure to it at a young age is necessary. We use it for different purposes ... kids who are at a lower level, kids who are at a higher level, kids who don’t speak a lot. It’s not just squares and letters and numbers anymore.”
On Thursday morning, one group of students was completely engrossed in the iPads, tapping away at the devices enclosed in protective, brightly colored cases. Nathaniel Wydysh was working on an activity in Pirate Trio Academy, building structures out of a variety of shapes on his screen with a swipe of his finger in an app designed to teach children about geometry.
“I love this game,” he said, putting the final piece into place on a boat, “ ‘cause I’m good at it!”
Next to him, student Katey Quinn used a different program, using shapes to construct an emu, the name of which she then had to spell. Students Sage Pradon and Carsten Thuersam played a Word Wagon game, identifying letters or sounding out words and spelling them.
Quinn said she liked the iPads, “because it’s so fun. We learn our letters and our numbers.”
After a bit of time to acclimate students and staff to the iPads, they are now mostly used for classroom “centers,” or small group activities, Karnath said. While children in a center at one time often use the same app at once, whether individually or in groups or pairs, they can all work at their own pace and own level, she said.
“Initially, we didn’t know how they’d be able to do it,” she said. “They’re better than we are. They manage it with complete ease. We’ll teach a lesson, and they’ll do the app and they’ll learn more at their own pace.”
Teacher Jillian Elliott agreed.
“It’s really self-directed, so the students can figure out where they want to go,” she said. “It’s very independent.”
Teacher Jackie Rieck admitted she was a little nervous about integrating the devices into the classroom at first, but said it’s worked out well. Although the students also work with desktop computers, the iPads have proven to be even more accessible, she said.
“Using a finger instead of a keyboard or mouse is easier for them, and they seem to have a lot of fun,” she said. “Computers are starting to become obsolete. The next thing is iPads.
“They’re just in the generation of technology. It’s working really well for them.”
Karnath credited Ron Barstys, district director of student services, for helping the program upgrade its technology and give the youngest students access to it.
“Some of them get no exposure to technology at all,” she said. “This is the only place they get it. Everything is becoming technology-based, and they need the exposure at this young age.
“They’re learning skills they need to know ... but they think they’re playing.”