January 18, 2012 | 08:07 AMFONTANA — Two unrelated, recent happenings at the village's elementary school showcased the expanding relationship between technology and education.
When two English as a Second Language students began attending Fontana Elementary School, more than 40 iPads arrived, which were supplied by the donations of a foundation with big ideas for providing extra funding for the district.
When the iPads arrived, an English to Spanish translation app was downloaded, and the ESL students were instantly writing and completing school work. The new technology broke what would have been a major language obstacle between the teachers and the students.
The Falcon Foundation began because parents and school board members knew that funding extra technology in schools is becoming increasingly difficult. The iPads are the foundation's first major donation, but the ambitious group would like to fill the school with new technology, and maybe even add more teachers for extra-curricular activities. See page B3 for a story on the Falcon Foundation.
As far as teachers see it, the new technology is already benefiting students.
Special Education teacher Brenda Johansen has used the iPads with her students, and is finding ways to enrich every lesson she teaches.
For some of her middle school students, who have first-grade reading levels, Johansen can teach them other subjects without having reading comprehension as a barrier.
If, for example, the students are learning geography, the interactive touch screen can provide audible commands to locate a country, which the students select with their fingertips.
"The middle school students can access sixth or seventh grade curriculum without worrying that they aren't reading with their peers," she said.
She also can use the iPads as a way to motivate students, promising they can play educational games if they complete their work.
"They love it and you can use it as a reward," she said. "And they are doing an educational reward."
Although the iPads provide additional opportunities for students to learn, the teachers weren't just given the devices without instructions on how to use them.
District Administrator Mark Wenzel said the district has a technology team, which is looking at ways of using the iPads appropriately in the classroom.
They are developing lists of Apps that are appropriate for each grade level, and teachers are receiving training on how to use the technology.
"We also are pulling on the expertise of some people who have been using them as well," Wenzel said.
Brookwood Administrator Bill Lehner has been using iPads in his district and has communicated with Wenzel ways to use them effectively.
"He shared with us a list of Apps that they have found effective for the different grade levels," Wenzel said.
Wenzel said teachers also are receiving training on how to use the iPads.
What Wenzel has seen with iPads so far has been impressive. Students who use the iPads are not only learning, but they are truly engaged while using them.
"I think any form of technology we use engages students," Wenzel said. "Students working on these are really engaged in what they are doing."
With new technology constantly entering the classroom, it is difficult to predict how education in Fontana will evolve in the future.
"I'm excited about the direction we are going, but our road map isn't quite clear," he said.