By LINDA LOBECK
KINGSFORD - Kingsford High School students equipped with iPads in the classroom have been able to make a connection with a school in Langa, South Africa. They have been sharing English assignments as well as what life is like in both schools.
Kingsford High School students in AP Literature and Composition class are using iPad technology as their work on an assignment for their teacher Kendalynn Sutton. Sutton received the 30 iPads to use in her English classes from the bond proposal money. This technology is helping to link the KHS students with students in South Africa in a classroom sharing project. Shown here, clockwise from right, are KHS students Danielle McConnell, Lillian Slajus, Alex Patterson, Dylan Lawton, Lauren Rice, Nicole Nettell, Santina Bianco, Jessica Babb, Pavel Hammer, Marinda Bottesi, and Rachel Strasdin.
Kendalyn Sutton, an English teacher at KHS, received the iPads for her classroom as a pilot project made possible through the school bond money. She teaches a variety of classes - English 12, English 10, AP Lit and Comp and Flivver Foundation.
"In each class, students use the iPads to enhance knowledge, practice skills, create projects and work collaboratively with students from around the world," Sutton said.
And this collaboration was made possible with the help of a 2011 graduate of KHS, Julia Fornetti, who is studying to be a teacher at Marquette University. Julia has been on a teaching assignment this semester at the Zimasa Primary School in Langa, South Africa. Her ninth grade students have been able to use computers to make that connection with the KHS students.
Sutton said that her English 10 class has partnered with the school to share experiences about school life. The students have created a shared blog in which students from each school respond to similar assignments from their teachers.
"Through shared writing and pictures, students learn of similarities and differences in one another's culture. The experience for my students has been eye-opening and they are completely engaged in this project," she said.
Sutton added that the KHS students have future plans to hold a book and school supply drive for their new friends, who are in a school that is lacking in these necessary items.
"It's all about the use of technology for education that has made this possible. My students are able to learn with and from students on the other side of the world, and they love it," she said.
So far, with help from the Kingsford High School Athletic Booster Club, items were sent to the school in South Africa along with KHS senior Peter Fornetti, Julia's brother, who is flying there to see his sister. The items included KHS window decals, flags and football ornaments.
Once the book and school supply drive is completed, the KHS Academic Booster Club is getting involved to help with the postage needed to send these items to South Africa.
"The iPads have been such a treat and we really want to thank the Kingsford community for passing the bond which allowed the school district to purchase them. It's made a huge difference in the classroom - there is such ease in using them and no start up required like with a laptop computer. We have a classroom set - 30 iPads - and we use them every single day in class," Sutton said.
KHS Principal Lyle Smithson said that the decision to give the iPads in this pilot program to Sutton was due to the fact that she has gone above and beyond in taking professional development to use the technology.
"She was very prepared to use them as a tool in her class for educational purposes. And from what we've seen so far, it's been a tremendous experience for her students," Smithson said.
Sutton agreed. "The iPads have opened doors - opportunities that the kids didn't have before. If we think of something in class, we immediately have a way to access the information we need using the iPad. The integration of this technology into the English curriculum has been seamless, absolutely perfect. I really don't teach from a textbook and now all the materials I need are in one place and accessible to the students."
She added that it allows the use for the most up-to-date information and fresh ideas when they are working on something in class. Along with this technology, the educational model she uses allows for her to blog on her site as well as put up published works of her students, lesson plans and homework assignments.
"If an assignment is coming up, I can do a mass e-mail to the students. I believe that this technology provides for better communication between teacher and students and teacher and parents," Sutton said.
And with this blog, a project evolved with her former student who was practice teaching in South Africa. It started out with the possibility of kids from KHS being penpals with the students that Fornetti has in her class.
"Although it is a poor area, they do have access to a computer lab. We began sharing blogs as well as similar assignments with our students. It has allowed the two classrooms to come together. My students have noted that the South African students express themselves 'so poetically' when they are describing something in their writing," Sutton said.
And this sharing has enabled the KHS students to learn about cultural differences between the two schools. She said that the students are learning about content and how important every word they write can be and how it is interpreted by someone else. It makes them think carefully about what they are writing.
"They are getting so much more than I expected from this sharing between schools," Sutton said. "One assignment asked them to describe what they see outside the window of their classroom. Our kids saw leaves turning color on trees, a parking lot and football field. The students in South Africa described a playground and gang activity outside their windows. From this activity, my kids have learned that their lives are pretty good here compared to with what these other students have to deal with each day just to get to school."
Although Julia is due home from South Africa in November, Sutton is hoping that the project can continue. She has been in touch with other teachers at the school, but a lot depends on that school's ability to continue to have computer access.
"We also have plans to have Julia visit us and talk about her experiences there. It's really been a good program all around, but I couldn't sustain it without the iPads," Sutton said.
Smithson added that they have additional iPads purchased for the high school, but they have been moving slowly in deciding where to put them next.
"We will be dispersing them soon to another class due to the fact that Kendalyn has had such success with them in her classes," he said.
"When getting new technology through the bond money, we took the advice of another school that went through a similar bond process. We learned from them not to purchase this technology immediately, but wait until the teachers are prepared first to use it. And more than half of our professional development for teachers has dealt with technology in the classroom. There has been a real thirst by our teachers to learn more," he said.
And Sutton's fellow teachers were excited she was getting the iPads as part of this pilot program.
"They've told me they are glad I got them first because then I can help them when they get to use this technology," she said.
Smithson agreed that the teachers have been great in sharing what they know and mentoring each other.
"It's a great atmosphere in the building," he said. "What I see is such enthusiasm and so many opportunities to use the iPads in teaching. Kendalynn has made progress very quickly in using them to enhance her teaching."
"I just love education and the iPad is a great tool. I'm certainly not an expert at this, but I'm enjoying the process," Sutton said. "I think this technology helps us to be better teachers and implement things quickly in the classroom. Technology is not an endpoint - it's ongoing. And this classroom sharing around the world is a great example of what we can do with this technology," she said.
Linda Lobeck's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.