The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 8, 2012

They've got the touch: Preschoolers using tablet computers to learn reading, math

Kelly Urban

JENNERSTOWN — Preschoolers in Somerset County are improving their math and literacy skills with just a touch of a screen.

Through funding from North Star School District’s Keystones to Opportunity grant, the Learning Lamp was able to implement the iStartSmart computer learning system in its Jennerstown preschool in September.

The Learning Lamp Center for Children in Jennerstown is  an early childhood provider for the school district. In May, the district was awarded a KtO‚Äągrant to develop a districtwide birth to grade 12 literacy plan, which included starting the iSS system at the Jennerstown preschool location.

The project puts touch-screen tablet computers in the hands of youngsters, ages 3 through 5, that are programed with interactive games geared toward math and reading.

“The iSS computer learning system focuses on helping children develop core skills essential for school readiness,” said Erica Ponczek, the Learning Lamp’s director of child development and early learning. “Because it’s research and standards based, it’s preparing children for kindergarten with content and approaches that are built upon foundational concepts of early childhood education and directly correlate to state early learning standards.”

The preschool has five units and the computers serve as a complement to traditional book learning and are rotated into curriculum throughout the day.

“Children practice skills until they have mastered them; that’s when the computer unlocks the next level,” said Kayla Trexel, director of the Jennerstown facility. “If they have trouble, they can follow a prompt that tells them to ask the teacher for help.”

In addition, the Learning Lamp received a $10,000 grant in September from PNC Grow Up Great that has allowed the agency to purchase two sets of iSS computers for the Learning Lamp Center for Children in Somerset.

The Somerset preschool is a collaborative classroom with Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8. For children with special learning needs, the iSS mobile tablets are used to encourage interactivity, promote group discussions and problem solving among pupils, as well as develop independence and fine motor skills.

Additional plans call for integrating the tablets into the Learning Lamp’s preschools in Cambria and Bedford counties.

“Technology has changed how we read and learn, and there is now an emphasis on digital literacy,” Ponczek said. “This is increasing skill level, and the kids are having fun while doing it.”

For more information, call 262-0732.

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