Step into Star’s ‘Magic Room’

Six-year-old Addie Iwersen scored near the bottom in reading when she started kindergarten — a big surprise to her mom, a counselor, and her dad, a computer expert.

Enter the “Magic Room,” where little Addie was transformed. She shed her shy demeanor and busted up the reading-improvement scale in just a few months.

“She’s above grade level now and very active in class,” said her mom, Sara. Addie and all of her classmates have continued to grown academically leaps and bounds after their classroom got what she calls ‘magic screens.’

IMG_1098The kindergarten classroom at Star Elementary School was equipped with $40,000 of technology. The “Magic Room,” as the kids like to call it, is one of a kind in Idaho and one of only 20 nationwide. (Click here to watch a short video of the kids in their Magic Room.)

Principal Carla Karnes was awarded a grant from Smart Technologies and Neurilink for a “Smart Collaborative Classroom.” Smart Technologies provided the equipment and Neurilink provided the installation and training.

The classroom was equipped in March and already teachers say they can see an improvement.

“Engagement increased dramatically,” Karnes said. “The hardware is so user-friendly that within a few minutes every student was learning, and those who have never used devices caught up immediately.”

These 19 kindergartners attend school all day — the state pays half and the parents pay the other half in tuition of $250 a month. Karnes gave the equipment to these kids so a foundation would be built at a young age.

“I’m afraid we’re not going to have enough technology to keep up with this next generation,” said Mike Vuittonet, chairman of the Meridian School Board. “That’s why I’m excited about what’s happening here.”

Star has long been the rock star of technology use in the Meridian School District. Part of the reason Star won this grant was because the staff had already implemented technology in every room — innovations ranging from LCD projectors to online math to iPads and iTouches.

“Our philosophy has been to stay current with standards and research to provide our students with a learning environment that matches their world,” Karnes said. “Star was committed to implementing technology building-wide as opposed to a few target specific classrooms, because we’re a family and we don’t leave anyone behind. This commitment is uniquely different from other schools.”

The kindergarten students complete most of their academic lessons in the lab and work on art and motor activities and have snacks in another classroom. Half-day kindergarten students follow the same curriculum, but full-day students go into subject matter at a deeper level. Teachers also are able to spend more time targeting individual needs with the new technology.

“The smartboards have given us another way to reach the students with a variety of modalities,” said kindergarten teacher Sarah Blackaller. “The students are more engaged because they get to manipulate the images on the boards, the lessons become multisensory with movement and sound. The smartboards also allow us to turn whole group lessons, where traditionally one student would be sharing and the rest listening, into a small group setting with several participants.”

Addie Iwersen likes the “Magic Room” because she’s learning about math and language and Africa, she said. “It’s more funner.”

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