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High-tech tools boost classroom learning at Elizabeth Forward

| Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, 11:28 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Elizabeth Forward Middle School principal Trisha Maddas observes as seventh-grader Alyssa Brinson uses her iPad. Others in the classroom include sixth-graders Ryan Huss and Samantha Kracun.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Elizabeth Forward Middle School principal Trisha Maddas observes students using the iPads provided beginning this year. Seated from left are seventh-grader Alexa Martell and eighth-graders Jake Maringo and Julia Balogh. Also in the classroom, at rear from left, are sixth-graders Ryan Huss and Samantha Kracun and seventh-grader Alyssa Brinson.
Patrick Cloonan | Daily News
Apple education development executive David Diokno, left, presents a certificate to Elizabeth Forward Superintendent Bart Rocco, right, honoring Rocco's district as an Apple Distinguished Program through 2015. Joining them are third-graders Kyleigh Fetchen and Cassidee Fitterer.
Patrick Cloonan | Daily News
As third-grade classmate Kyleigh Fetchen watches, Cassidee Fitterer uses her iPad to conduct an exercise in 'augmented reality' in which she became the atlas she was studying during a review of reference sources earlier in this school year.
Patrick Cloonan | Daily News
Elizabeth Forward third-grader Cassidee Fitterer uses her iPad to conduct an exercise in 'augmented reality' during a demonstration at Wednesday's workshop meeting of the Elizabeth Forward district's board of directors.

Elizabeth Forward School District administrators are pleased with the progress students are showing with their iPads, and plan to tell educators about it on two national stages later this year.

“They really have exceeded our expectations,” assistant superintendent Todd Keruskin said prior to a Wednesday night presentation honoring Elizabeth Forward as an Apple Distinguished Program through 2015.

It's been three months since the 2,352 district students received a high-tech “One-to-One Learning Initiative,” with Apple iPads for those in grades 3-12 and iPad Minis for those in kindergarten through second grade.

The district was the first in Pennsylvania to provide the devices to every student and is paying up to $550,000 a year to lease them.

“It is not about the technology, it is about the learning,” Superintendent Bart Rocco insisted at Wednesday's school board workshop meeting.

“We're seeing, even in kindergarten classes, even in second-grade classes, what kids are doing,” Keruskin said. “The kids are learning and doing projects in the classroom.”

Projects include “augmented reality,” as demonstrated at Wednesday's workshop by two third-graders under the direction of teacher Lisa George.

“We were studying reference sources, encyclopedias, almanacs, atlases and dictionaries,” George said, before Cassidee Fitterer and Kyleigh Fetchen used their iPads to transform themselves into two of those reference books.

If the board approves it next week, Keruskin and Rocco will take the message of EF's high-tech learning to the South by SouthWest Education Conference March 3-6 in Austin, and then to the spring meeting of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools in Tucson. No date was provided for that meeting in Wednesday's preliminary agenda.

Elizabeth Forward is one of eight new members of the league, authorized by Congress to advance breakthrough technologies for the improvement of education.

The tab for each trip is set at $3,000 in next week's school board agenda, which states that Digital Promise will pay part of the price for the Tucson trip.

“They are doing some amazing, amazing things,” said David Diokno, an Apple educational development executive based in Avondale, Chester County, who came to Elizabeth Forward to recognize the district as an Apple Distinguished Program.

According to a release issued by district spokeswoman Colleen Geletko, the Elizabeth Forward Apple program is titled “Inspiring Innovation.”

“Over the past five years we have worked to incorporate Apple and iPads into our curriculum,” Rocco told Diokno.

Elizabeth Forward joins approximately 240 schools across the United States, including at least two in Pennsylvania, on Apple's distinguished list.

On an Apple web page, the company talks about “distinguished educators” recognized for using Apple technology to “explore new ideas, seek new paths and embrace new opportunities.”

Geletko said schools qualify for the program by providing Apple products to their students, as well as the curriculum and training needed for students to experience advanced learning.

The effort goes beyond the iPads. The district plans a Dream Factory kickoff on Jan. 23 at 1 p.m. with WTAE-4 anchor and Elizabeth native Jackie Schafer as host.

“We want the kids to demonstrate some of the projects that are going on,” Rocco said. Two hundred people have been invited, including Gov. Tom Corbett.

Such learning eventually could include ways to teach students at home on snow days, as Serra Catholic High School has been able to do for its Chromebook-bearing student body.

“We're in the process of having that happen down the road,” Keruskin said.

It would require approval from the state Department of Education, which requires 180 days in the classroom during a school year. In addition, Keruskin said, the district would have to discuss the idea with its teachers.

The district's high tech effort is getting recognition elsewhere. Elizabeth Forward's director of technology Mary Beth Wiseman is a finalist for Chief Information Officer of the Year, to be awarded by the Pittsburgh Technology Council on March 6 at Heinz Field.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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