Are you smarter than a kindergartener?

Manitou Park students excel at technology

3/20/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

Anaiya LeBlanc scrunched her nose and carefully typed her student identification number into the login screen on the tablet before her. She then opened an online notebook where she found a reading assignment to complete. 

Think this lesson occurred in an advanced classroom? Try kindergarten. 

Judah Frazier works on a reading lesson using Microsoft Classroom
in his kindergarten class at Manitou Park Elementary School.
Anaiya and her classmates at Manitou Park Elementary School frequently use tablets and Microsoft Classroom—an online program for students throughout the district to collect and share their assignments, notes, drawings, screen clippings and other classwork with each other and their teachers. Anaiya’s class is just one of many in Tacoma Public Schools using technology in innovative ways to boost learning and prepare students of all grade levels for their future college and career choices.

“This technology is what they’re using at home,” said Katie Felix, Anaiya’s teacher at Manitou Park. “It’s natural to them.”

Felix started using tablets with her kindergarten students two years ago. Students interact with safe and appropriate digital education tools such as videos that read books aloud and PowerPoint presentations where students match pictures with words. 

In Felix’s classroom, while some students use tablets, others work on pencil and paper exercises before switching. The variety of stations—a type of teaching called blended learning—helps kids process information in multiple ways. For instance, the audio from hearing a book read from the computer reinforces visual reading lessons. 

Manitou Park received tablets for two kindergarten classes in the 2015-2016 school year as part of its status as a technology-focused school. Currently, the district runs technology pilots at 11 schools to train teachers how to integrate technology into their teaching. Then they share innovative technology ideas with teachers at other schools.

The technology innovation in Felix's classroom was made possible thanks to Tacoma voters who supported a 2014 technology levy that dedicated funds to put interactive technology in classrooms and train teachers how to use it.

Technology influence on attendance, behavior
Manitou Park Principal Steven Mondragon tracked the attendance and discipline cases last year in the classrooms with tablets compared to those without. He found better attendance and fewer discipline issues in classes with tablets. He and the kindergarten teachers credit increased student engagement and excitement over using technology as a key reason.

“We’re preparing students to be digital citizens,” Mondragon said. “A key component of this is teaching ways to use technology. We observe that students are more engaged when using technology and the technology reinforces academic skills.”

Felix said her students sound out words better after working with computer programs and her class started reading texts at the second and third grade levels. 

She also saw how technology helped change the behavior of a struggling student who acted out, but was also intrigued by the tablets. 

“I had a student literally attacking me last year,” Felix said. “But we worked on his behavior and on earning tablet time to play educational games like Minecraft. The technology engagement helped calm him down and he became a safe child,” she said. 

After logging into a tablet, Anaiya grinned. “I like this,” she said. “It helps me put words together so I can learn. It’s pretty easy.”