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Tucson school embracing laptops, iPods for kids

By Andrea Rivera

Arizona Daily Star

Published: Sunday, Nov. 21 2010 2:10 a.m. MST

TUCSON, Ariz. — Fourth-grader Paul Juarez has never visited the Grand Canyon in person, but he has explored the national park's rock walls and plunging depths from a 13-inch screen at Ascension Lutheran School.

"On Google Earth, I like to go to the Grand Canyon," he said of his visits by way of an Apple MacBook. "It's really cool. On big canyons, you can go down in them. You just use the arrow keys to move around the Grand Canyon."

Paul's computer-screen trips to the Grand Canyon on his MacBook laptop were impossible three years ago at the small northwest-side school at La Canada Drive and Magee Road.

Computers were absent from Ascension Lutheran classrooms, and the few used by teachers were usually second-hand.

That changed in 2009 when the school bought enough Apple laptops to provide one to each of its third- through fifth-graders for use in the classroom. The school has about 100 students.

This school year, second-graders were also assigned school laptops.

Principal Kathy Holden ushered the school into the 21st century knowing that learning has changed and the method of delivery had to change as well.

"It's here," she said of technology. "It's not the future."

Preschool through fifth-grade classrooms at the school also feature iPod touch stations where students play educational games that have been downloaded onto the devices.

Students in fourth and fifth grades use their laptops to access class wikis, which are simple web pages where assignments and book reports can be posted, and they send completed lessons to their teacher via their own e-mail accounts.

E-mail accounts are hosted by the school's internal server, which went live this school year, and students are only allowed to send e-mails to accounts hosted by that server, school officials said.

Older students also are creating presentations on Keynote, which is like PowerPoint, and making their own music on GarageBand.

"I like having computers in the classroom because it makes learning more exciting," fifth-grader Micaela Zachmeier said.

Micaela, 10, created a presentation of Bible verses on Keynote that was shown during the school's chapel services.

Typing out the Bible verses proved to be efficient for Micaela.

"You used to write everything out on paper in workbooks. There's more variety with the computer," she said.

Her classmate, Zachary Sawyer, also views the computer as a tool to speed up the learning process.

"You get more excited to learn things," he said.

Teacher Marissa Engelhard, who teaches a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class, said computers have opened up a whole new world to Ascension Lutheran students.

"It changed their attitude about education," she said.

There's also no more limitations in the classroom, Engelhard said.

When the students explored the legacies of Jamestown, Va., they weren't limited to a textbook.

Students used their laptops to access podcasts, videos and photos to study up on the first permanent English colony.

Laurie Nelson, who teaches second- and third-graders, familiarizes her students with their laptops through typing exercises and educational games.

"They've added a lot to our curriculum," she said of the computers. "The kids can do so many more things."

Second-grader Mariah Mercer likes that her laptop entertains her in an educational way.

"They are really fun because they have lots of games," she said.

Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com

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