Indiana State University Newsroom

Touching equals learning with iPads in elementary classroom

December 1, 2011

Danny Vega and Mia Speer bent their heads over the slim screen as their fingers touched numbers on the display. They entered the correct answer to the equation 10+2 x (9+8) before turning their attention to the word problem that next appeared on the screen.

For Vega and Speer, two fifth grade Sugar Grove Elementary School students who enjoy math, the opportunity to figure sums on an iPad made it more fun.

"It's a lot faster than a computer. It's a touch screen," said Vega.

"It's a new step in technology. It's more fun to play with," Speer said. "It teaches math in a fun way."

That is part of the point of Indiana State University's Bayh College of Education's Center for Math Education providing 15 iPads to use in the gifted and talented class of fourth and fifth graders on Nov. 30.

"It's always been for me about empowering ISU pre-service teachers and teachers with innovative resources to better education," said Marylin Leinenbach, ISU associate professor of elementary education. "The students can stay engaged with interactive lessons. A classroom can truly come alive."

That seemed to happen as Brandon Chambers, a senior elementary education major from Bloomington, passed out the iPads to the 29 students. Students' hands shot into the air after their teacher Tiffany Scamihorn asked them "How can you use an iPad in class to help you with what you're learning." Students immediately began responding with various math apps as well as a dictionary app and geography.

"Anything to help you with what you're studying in class," Scamihorn said as she opened an app that showed students the diagram of a cell.

"This to me is a teaching tool," she said after the students left for lunch. "This brings the world to your fingertips visually. They're not just hearing a lesson, but seeing it and touching it."

Chambers began talking to Leinenbach, his professor, on the second day of university math methods class about using iPads when he entered the Sugar Grove classroom as part of his TOTAL (Teachers of Tomorrow Advancing Learning) program. All of ISU's elementary education students spend a semester before their student teaching semester working alongside veteran teachers to be immersed in the teaching experience as part of TOTAL.

For Chambers, the idea of using the iPad came from watching his two daughters play with the device.

"They are so wrapped up in iPads," he said.

Leinenbach used funds from a U.S. Department of Education grant that had money allocated to ISU's Center for Mathematics Education to buy the slim computer devices. As a pilot program for using them in the classroom, she turned to Sugar Grove and Chambers.

"He has become my teacher in this," Leinenbach said.

For Gail Artis, Sugar Grove principal, the technology further strengthens the bond between the university and the school. While a few teachers have used their own iPads in their classrooms, the students haven't had the opportunity to interact with them. Students need to use the latest technology, she said, and ISU provided it.

"It's an extension of the core curriculum. It's fundamentally important to have kids adept at technology," she said. "It's just like reading in that technology is important for all the other disciplines."

Leinenbach and Artis plan to use the iPads throughout the school and in different grades to help the students with their learning across subjects.

On that Wednesday morning after finishing working math problems, the students used the iPads to look up words such as emerge, charitable and shilling from their reading of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol."

"It's fascinating to see their faces," said Chambers as he watched the students work. "For an hour, they've had constant interaction with education and they don't know it's passing at all."

Mia Speer and Danny Vega work a problem on the iPad. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
A Sugar Grove elementary student looks up the definition to a word on the iPad. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Brandon Chambers assists students with answering a math question on the iPad. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Sugar Grove gifted and talented teacher Tiffany Scamihorn works with fourth grader Anthony Bovenschen to answer a math question on the iPad. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Contact: Marylin Leinenbach, Indiana State University, at 812-237-2847 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, at 812-237-7972 or