- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

MARION, Ill. (AP) - Only a division equation stood between Brayden Emery and the cartoon zombie, green and gangly, inching near him on the screen.

Solve the problem (“What is 24 divided by three?”), save the zombie. Answer incorrectly, and the undead figure moves ever closer.

“What times three equals 24?” Brayden’s teacher, Jess Landes, asked as she looked over his shoulder.

The Lincoln Elementary School third-grader thought for a moment, and tapped 8 on his iPad. The green menace transformed into a real boy, and all was right with the world.

While Brayden vanquished zombies on Thursday afternoon, all around the room Landes’s 22 other students looked at 22 separate iPads, their favorite learning apps loaded. Several students had chosen Stack the States, a geography game. One girl, Markaysha, favored Spelling City. Another eyed “Scholastic News,” a digital magazine.

Landes’s class is one of two third-grade classes to pilot a 1:1 tablet program at Marion Community Unit School District 2. The program is part of the district’s eLearning Initiative, which earlier this year provided every student at Marion High School with a laptop.

The initiative kicked off several years ago when administrators decided to make technology a key component of students’ learning.

“The state (learning) standards require a lot of application,” said John Fletcher, principal of Lincoln Elementary School. “It’s, ‘Do the students know the information,’ but also, ‘Can they apply the information? Can they use it? Can they synthesize it?’ If those standards have been raised, we have to kind of raise the bar for us, too.”

And doing so has been shown to benefit students. Studies conducted over the past several years show technology breeds increased engagement and higher test scores. A 2013 study showed that 74 percent of teachers integrate some technology into their classroom.

At Unit 2, Superintendent Keith Oates said the iPads for Landes’s class were obtained through a series of technology grants.

Landes has been using the tablets to teach for the past four years. She said they not only engage students and speed up learning, but they also allow her to tailor curriculum to each student’s needs. Some apps keep track of students’ talents and trouble spots, for example, allowing teachers to focus in on deficits - or to increase the difficulty level for advanced learners.

“I can differentiate based on the student’s needs,” she said. “That’s the best part of the whole thing.”

“I can’t do that with a worksheet,” she added.

That focused learning, she said, empowers students. When they’re learning at their own level, at their own pace, they thrive.

Thanks in part to state standards, the tablets in Landes’s class soon will be replaced by Chromebooks. Third-graders are the youngest group to take the PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, test, which is administered on keyboard-outfitted computers.

Still, the pilot test proved tablets have their place, too. The district already has received new tablets for Kindergarten and first-graders through a gift from the Marion Unit 2 Foundation, a not-for-profit group.

“(Younger students) are just starting off, and some of the kids don’t have some of the necessary keyboarding skills or gross motor skills for manipulating the keyboards,” Fletcher said.

In Landes’s class, students said they appreciate both devices. And even still, textbooks and traditional lessons remain vital.

As the close of the school day neared on Thursday, and as the buses lined up outside, Landes invited students to the front of the room for a review exercise.

They sat cross-legged on the floor, iPads in hand, and peered up at a projection screen. The questions appeared on both their devices and the screen.

They answered questions together as Jeopardy-style countdown music played in the background. It’s this playful competitive spirit - game-making - that some students said they love.

“They’re really fun because you can learn, and you can also have fun on them,” one student said.

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Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, http://bit.ly/1SO4IxF

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, http://www.southernillinoisan.com

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