The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 12, 2013

St. Peter early learners going high-tech

By Amanda Dyslin
adyslin@mankatofreepress.com

---- — ST. PETER — The use of new technology in schools often elicits thoughts of high-schoolers on iPads.

Thinking of kids in pre-K through those early elementary years using such devices isn’t as common. But Darin Doherty, principal of South Elementary Early Learning Center in St. Peter, points out there is an array of digital tools available and being used by all grade levels in the classrooms of today.

“There’s tons of stuff,” Doherty said.

Even in gym class technology is being incorporated. Phy-ed teacher Christi Maloney is using iPod Touches in creative ways.

Maloney has students video record each other doing certain skills, such as sit-ups and push-ups. Because the children are in kindergarten through second grade, Maloney said lessons have begun simply.

“We are working on learning how to hold it and videotape, and learning how to keep our fingers out (of the frame) and keep the person (in the frame),” she said.

The idea is for the children to get to see their form and then compare it to the proper form of the skill or movement.

Maloney also found several apps the classes have been using, including one that allows students to put their finger over the iPod’s camera lens and it reads their heart rate. She teaches the students ways to keep their heart rates in the target range, between 175 to 195 when running.

“I’ve had kids every lap saying, ‘Can you check it again? Can you check it again?’” Maloney said. “It’s such a great motivating thing to keep them running."

Another app shows a bag full of exercises, and it pulls out an exercise for each student to do. Maloney planned to use the iPods for digital scavenger hunts.

The gym itself has been upgraded to include a new sound system, drop-down screen and projector.

“I’m excited about the use of the technology and watching the kids improve on their skills,” she said.

Lori Pierret has introduced her second-graders to Kidblog.org, and parents and classmates can read their entries.

Doherty said the blog has inspired the kids get excited about writing. One student wasn’t a big fan of the craft, but he wrote a title to a blog with the words “missing backpack.” So Doherty responded to it, asking the boy what was the deal with the backpack? Who took it?

“He got all pumped up and he started writing,” Doherty said, adding that it’s been fun to see how much an 8-year-old can find to write about. “I’m hooked on ’em right now.”

Pierret is working on teaching the students about “digital citizenship,” spending time discussing good and bad posting ideas on the blog.

“We also practice writing helpful and complimentary comments,” she said in an email. “This has been a very motivating experience. Giving our writing an authentic audience and receiving feedback supports a high level of learning.”

Doherty said St. Peter schools will continue boosting digital learning, especially with the Saints Digital Learning Initiative passed recently by the School Board. In September, all ninth-graders will be issued their own iPad Mini, and all other grades will have carts of iPads to share.