In the week before Christmas break, the silence was deafening in Julie Line’s kindergarten class at Paxson Elementary.

While most classrooms were alive with excitable students eager to go home for the holidays, Line’s 21 youngsters were deeply engrossed in the interactive stories they were reading on their iPads.

Several children were busy reviewing vowels and how they are pronounced. Others had moved on to stories that asked them questions and incorporated the morning’s vowel lesson.

Every one of the small students was intensely focused on the material, and when one got stumped by how to get a story to work, he or she would quietly ask a friend for help.

Quietly and calmly the lessons of sharing, reading and technology use unfolded.

All of Line’s kindergartners began the school year with the high-tech learning tools thanks to an anonymous former Paxson parent who donated $85,000 to supply the school with iPads.

The funding is at the heart of the school’s pilot program called the 1:1 iPad Initiative, and Paxson is the only school in which students were given their own iPad to use every day in class for the entire year.

Four months into the learning adventure, the kindergartners now boldly navigate the technology, confidently swiping, pushing, touching and typing the screens to get at the assignment of the day.

“We use the iPads every day to reinforce what is being taught and to learn about the subject of the week,” Line said.

The technology also is used at various “play times,” which are really learning sessions, she said.

“What I am finding is that the children are so much more engaged and learning more readily because of the iPads,” Line said.

“This is a tool, and it is a supplement to classroom teaching, but because the students are so engaged with the iPads, learning gets ingrained in them so much faster.”

Proving the point, statewide test results show that the students are performing and learning at a higher level, Line said.

“In my 22 years of teaching, I can tell you that with the use of the iPads, the students are getting the sounds of letters better, and they are just further along this time of year than they normally are.”

Day-to-day, the iPads are used about a quarter of the time, and with all things, all day an emphasis is placed on developing the kindergartners’ social skills, Line said.

“We aren’t here to teach just reading and science,” she said. “We are about developing the whole child.”

On a recent school day while the students delved into the morning iPad work, Schuyler Fairchild broke the room’s quiet to answer a question about the technology.

Using them is fun, said the kindergartner, and while it might seem difficult, it’s not.

With great assurance Fairchild explained: “They are easy to read, you can play games on them, and using them, it’s right in the middle between hard and easy.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

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