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Use of iPads is increasing in CPS classrooms

HoustLee fifth-grader works math pre-test an ipad his classroom Monday August 21 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Houston Lee, fifth-grader, works on a math pre-test on an ipad in his classroom, Monday, August 21, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 20, 2011 2:20AM

Using a pencil and paper to solve three times six: boring.

Using an iPad app to become a math ninja who, by solving the same multiplication problem, kills evil tomatoes and robotic cats and dogs: kind of awesome.

Similar sentiments have been echoed at the 23 Chicago Public Schools taking part in the iPad pilot program. And schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard just announced the use of a $3 million state grant to add 39 schools to the program — reaching a total of 8,700 under-served kids this year.

An initial federal grant last year put 750 iPads in CPS classrooms ranging from kindergarten through high school. The new grant will supply elementary classrooms with 4,500 iPads, the last of which should arrive by the end of the week.

“I like playing math baseball,” said National Teachers Elementary Academy fourth grader Mavric Johnson, as he dragged a finger across the screen of an iPad — the almighty, and only, instrument in teacher Jennie Cho Magiera’s classroom. Writing utensils and paper are out of sight.

“It’s cool, we don’t like leaving this class,” Johnson said.

It’s allure may seem gimmicky, but Cho Magiera insists substance outweighs novelty.

Data from the ninja and baseball games, as well as a math test Johnson just completed, is sent back to Cho Magiera’s iPad, where she tracks each students’ progress, enabling her to pinpoint problems and tailor the lesson plan each student will face on their iPad.

This is how Cho Magiera was able to simultaneously teach 20 students 20 different lesson plans as a violin version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody played Monday morning in the background of her classroom in the South Loop.

“It reaches them on a level that I, as one human being, can’t reach them,” said Cho Magiera, who graduated from Columbia University before earning a math degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I can address them all individually almost all the time and I’m squeezing every second out of the school day.

“And I was able to write today’s test sitting on my couch watching USA original programming with my lap top and a glass of wine. Before, I had to write the test, go find books, copy it, staple it and remember which test goes to who,” she said.

Cho Magiera’s school has 160 iPads that are shared by more than 400 students and never leave school grounds. School administrators hope to eventually equip all students with their own iPads. “We’re preparing them to get a job in the 21st century...a lot of these students don’t have access to the Internet and computers outside of school,” she said.

The new batch of iPads were aimed at schools with students performing below state standards, schools lacking technology and ones comprised of 40 percent or more low-income students. CPS received more than 200 requests to participate in the program, which, according to CPS, is proving effective.

“We’re still compiling the data on test scores, so I don’t want to give that out, but we have seen an increase,” said Margaret Murphy, who heads up the iPad program. “And we’re hearing from teachers that students are more on task, attendance has risen and discipline problems have decreased.”

“This is like Star Trek,” quipped Cho Magiera, who once believed classroom technology a waste of money because administrators didn’t instruct teachers how to use the gadgets.

She now regularly troubleshoots and brainstorms via blogs with teachers from her school, as well as educators from around the world.

The iPads are also used in science, social studies, and writing classes at National Teachers Elementary Academy. “Our music teacher is using them to create music and perform with the iPad as an instrument. It’s pretty awesome,” said Cho Magiera.

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