(Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 08--DUNMORE -- Even with school dismissal moments away, 26 first-graders huddled around 10 iPads in Jennifer Dempsey's classroom, vigorously playing word games.
"If you come into a classroom with them all on (the iPads), you can hear a pin drop," Mrs. Dempsey said. "They're just completely engaged."
Kindergarten through second-grade teachers at Dunmore Elementary Center have been sharing the tablet computers for more than six months as part of a pilot program to improve literacy skills.
The Dunmore School District ordered the first 10 iPads and a cart for about $6,000 over the summer. Superintendent Richard McDonald said school officials liked what they saw and ordered another 20 iPads for 2014-15.
Educators like Mrs. Dempsey, reading supervisor Mary Jane Cerminaro and computer technology teacher Jenna Urban said the software their students use teaches important literacy skills and provides instant feedback about how pupils are progressing with various skills.
The software allows students to learn at their own pace, letting gifted students move on after they master a certain set of skills while pupils who struggle get an extra focus where they are weak.
Students like 7-year-old Andrew Gatto and 7-year-old Lily Massaro enjoyed activities like the Starfall app, during which they constructed words to match a symbol the app provided.
Andrew even planned to download the app at home and play it after school. Knowing several of their students are learning instead of perhaps shooting bad guys in their video games at home thrilled the teachers.
"Now they want the socket puppet game, and they're making a story," Mrs. Dempsey said. "They don't even know it's educational. They just think it's fun."
Dunmore is among several districts in the region that have been experimenting with new technology in the classroom, and Mrs. Dempsey said the tablets should help with the transition to the new national curriculum.
"This is really getting us ready for the implementation of the Common Core," Mrs. Dempsey said. "There's such a push from teacher-directed instruction to student-centered learning, and that's exactly what the iPads are doing."
Mrs. Cerminaro expected to further flesh out how to take advantage of more iPads this summer.
Mrs. Dempsey uses the tablets for individual and small-group instruction and said having 30 iPads at once could allow her to design lessons around the technology for the whole class.
Mrs. Cerminaro envisioned dividing up the iPads and using the tablets as the school has been, but making them available to more classrooms at once -- and to more grade levels.
The iPads also help provide more computer capacity, with each classroom having one computer and one computer lab for an 840-student school, she said.
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