Kristen Brooks attended the 2014 International Society for Technology in Education Conference in Atlanta June 28 to July 1, where she learned about new instructional strategies to use with iPads. A technology teacher, Brooks will be teaching students in a new iPad lab at Woodstock Elementary starting the 2014-15 school year.
“As far as I know, we’re the only elementary school with an iPad lab,” said Brooks, who has taught at Woodstock Elementary for 20 years.
Principal Kim Montalbano said she spoke with Brooks last year about ways to bring more technology into the school, noting as the principal, she tries to put any extra funds into technology. Last year, she purchased an iPad for the fourth and fifth grade students, which she said helped increase engagement.
“That’s our vision: to increase technology,” Montalbano said, adding the school now has 30 iPads for use in the iPad lab, which all students from kindergarten to fifth grade will visit on a rotating basis.
“The students rotate to visit the lab once every six days,” Montalbano said. “We are very excited about the technological opportunities that this iPad lab will bring our students.”
Many of the students didn’t have experience with smart devices, Brooks said, and she wanted to help them prepare for standardized testing, which is expected to be 100 percent online next year.
Brooks said she started doing random polls of students to find out if they had experience with smart devices, and soon after, she began what she calls a “grassroots campaign” to bring iPads to Woodstock Elementary.
Because Woodstock Elementary is a Title I school — meaning a large number of students receive free and reduced-price lunch — Montalbano said the iPad lab will help students who may not have resources outside of the classroom.
“A lot of these kids don’t have access to this kind of technology in their homes,” she said.
Montalbano said students have been using the application BrainPOP, which is available online as well as through an iPad app, with Brooks.
According to its website, BrainPOP was founded in 1999 by Avraham Kadar, a doctor who wanted a creative way to explain difficult concepts to young patients. The app “creates animated curricular content that engages students, supports educators and bolsters achievement,” the website states.
Brooks said she started experimenting with BrainPOP and BrainPOP Jr, designed for children kindergarten to third grade, in the computer lab where Promethean interactive smart boards allow teachers to use iPad technology.
By 2007, BrainPOP recognized Brooks’ efforts and gave her a 30-day free trial, which she shared with other teachers in the county. In 2008, BrainPOP was purchased for schools countywide and Brooks was invited by BrainPOP to speak at the annual Georgia Educational Technology Conference.
Brooks said, teachers like to hear from other teachers how using programs and applications works in the classroom.
“I’m one of their ‘pop stars,’” she said, noting that because her efforts in part led to Cherokee County schools purchasing BrainPOP, the company recognized her as a brand ambassador.
“Kristen Brooks is always on the cutting edge of new and innovative educational practices,” Montalbano said. “She has learned so much at the ISTE conference and is excited to share her expertise with others.”
Montalbano said she believes the iPad lab will complement other teachers’ lessons, and Brooks said her computer lab from last year will now be available as a “sign-up lab” where homeroom teachers can bring students in for practice.
A second computer teacher, Julie Bain, will continue using the second of two computer labs and Brooks said she will move into the iPad lab.
“The possibilities are endless,” she said, adding the iPad lab will allow Brooks to teach students to create presentations with iMovie, take virtual field trips and use interactive maps.
Specific workshops Brooks attended at the ISTE conference involved adding to the curriculum lessons on 3D printing and augmented reality, which calls for applying a code to a still image so parents could scan with a smart device an image of their child and then watch a video of the child reading a book report, Brooks said.
“I’m looking to make learning fun, and not just teach games,” she said about using the iPad as the “hook” to excite and engage young learners.