iPods helping CPS students learn to read

June 7, 2012 3:31:04 PM PDT
iPod touches are making their way into the hands of some Chicago Public Schools students, but not so they can download the latest hit songs. It's part of a program to help them learn to read.

The learning system was developed by a Chicago attorney who says it's how he shows his Spirit of Giving.

Seven-year-old Rodnisha Cobbs needs help with her reading and she enjoys interacting on the computer.

"Because I get to read and play tic-tac-toe," Cobbs said

While she sits in her classroom at the Ella Flagg Young Elementary School on the city's West Side, she's getting that help from an executive who's in her downtown office.

"I can tutor from my office," said volunteer tutor Rebeca Mead. "I can tutor from home. I tutored from a meeting in Seattle when I was traveling for work. So the flexibility is what attracted me to the opportunity."

Mead is a technology strategist at Microsoft. Using a system similar to Skype, she connects with Cobbs for a half-hour each week.

"We go page by page and she reads to me, I help her sound out words," Mead said. "We go over the things that she struggles with and then at the end we get to play games and she always beats me in tic-tac-toe and it's fun."

Other students in her first-grade class are getting personalized lessons using iPods. The school principal says it's a concept that gives teachers and students additional support.

"Now the instruction has gone from group to really individualized instruction just for a particular student and so this program allows for all those things to happen in one classroom," said Ella Flagg Young School principal Crystal Bell.

The program is called Innovations for Learning. Seth Weinberger developed the program several years ago in his spare time, first using a hand-held device he called TeacherMate. He recently shifted his focus full-time to the non-profit venture.

"It became impossible to be both a practicing lawyer and running this thing," Weinberger said. "So I had to make a choice. The bottom line was I felt there were enough lawyers and there weren't enough people doing this, so I chose this."

The literacy-based programs are used in kindergarten through second grades across the United States and in several developing countries. Organizers can immediately monitor students' progress.

"We know what is happening in the classroom almost every day because everything that they are doing in the classroom is being synced back to the internet," said Weinberger. "So when we use iPod touches in Rwanda we know in Chicago the next day how this kids are doing in Rwanda, I mean it is kind of crazy."

The innovations for learning programs come at no cost to the schools.

The iPods and the software are all paid for by corporate sponsors.

Innovations for Learning


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