Niagara Gazette

Communities

December 5, 2013

First-graders getting a little lesson in 'FaceTime'

TECHNOLOGY: Local first-graders learn with iPads, make nearby 'pen pals.'

Niagara Gazette — NORTH TONAWANDA — It can be nerve-wracking, to meet new people. And when those new people aren't even in the room — and you're only 5 or 6 — it can be even more nerve-wracking.

A first-grade class in Ohio Elementary School prepared this week to meet their new pen pals from a first grade class at Roy B. Kelley Elementary School in Lockport. However, they weren't trooping onto a bus, or preparing to greet students walking into their room, or even opening letters.

Instead, they gathered on the rug at their classroom, peering at an iPad held by Laurie Berger, district director of curriculum and instruction, and the image also projected on a larger screen in the room.

When the FaceTime screen and its spinning icon cleared, they saw the face of a stranger about 30 miles away — and then the faces of a classroom full of other children the same age, who waved solemnly at the Ohio students.

Lockport teacher on special assignment Heather Bitka laughed as she turned the iPad around. 

"I don't know about you guys," she told the NT class, "but we're usually never this quiet."

•••

About a week before, the technology was still very new in the Ohio Elementary classroom, and even the lure of pre-Thanksgiving festivities wasn't enough to draw the students from their new iPads.

Burger said that the first-grade classroom, taught by special education teacher Julie Reszczenski and first-grade teacher Maureen Byrne, was the first in the North Tonawanda school district to have an iPad for every student. It will not, however, be the last.

"This is kind of the kickoff to unbelievable things that will happen with technology" in the district, she said.

On the day before Thanksgiving break, the class was utterly absorbed in working on educational apps. Student Hannah Walker practiced writing her letters as she was scored on how well they were formed. Noah Hudson used an app to put words in order to form sentences to describe a photo. Other worked on phonics or mathematics apps.

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