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Top Shelf Cookies Fundraiser update: We did it!

The iPads we helped buy have arrived and are a great success!

A student uses an iPad to learn about space
A student uses an iPad to learn about space
Mrs. Bermingham

Good morning. You may remember that, a few months ago, we helped out a fundraiser for a teacher out in Syracuse, NY. They gave up the twitter handle @topshelfcookies to our pal Heather, and we got together and bought her class iPads for STEM learning and other things. Well, they've been using the iPads for a while's a great success! Here's a letter from the teacher, Mrs. Bermingham:

I cannot thank you enough for the iPads we were able to buy through your generous donations. We've experimented with using them in a lot of different ways and we're all enjoying them so much! As I said in my original proposal, my students live in a high poverty area and many of them don't have access to the Internet or technology outside of school. Being able to capitalize on their natural interest in all things technological has increased interest and participation. Every day students come into the room and ask me, "Mrs. Bermingham, are we going to use the iPads today?" When the answer is yes, they pump their fists, say, "Yes!" and yell to everyone else coming in the room, "Guys, we're using the iPads today!"

Academically, the iPads have been awesome. A lot of the things in our curriculum are things that happen over thousands of years or far away from Earth, and that can be hard to grasp for 11-year-old brains. (Heck, some of it is hard for me to wrap my brain around at times!) We've used the iPads to play with interactive simulations of the water cycle, study the night sky, and watch videos from the International Space Station. In our next couple of units, the iPads will provide opportunities for students to manipulate weather systems, visualize the rock cycle, and see the long-term effects of things like pollution and climate change on our planet. I'm also hoping to find an appropriate virtual field trip for us to experience. A couple of students have made comments like, "Whoa, space is so big! I never knew HOW BIG before!" This technology is allowing them to see and understand things beyond their little corner of the world. Considering how limited their experiences often are compared to other kids their age, this is such a gift.

These iPads have been quite a gift for me too. One of the most challenging things about being a teacher is balancing everyone's different academic and behavioral needs. In every class, I have students who are working below grade level, at grade level, and some above grade level. I have students who can work very well independently, some who need a little push here and there, and some who need pretty consistent attention for both academic and behavior reasons. In the past, if I had to stop and address behavior, everyone else's learning came to a stop. If I had to stop and give students more academic support, students who had already grasped the content were stuck waiting for us. The iPads have helped make learning a more individual, personalized experience. If I need to redirect behavior or spend more time with certain students, other students can continue working. Technology also makes it easier for me to differentiate for students' needs. In one of the pictures I posted, there are 3 girls working independently. They're all working on the same content, but at different reading levels. One of them has an additional enrichment activity to work on. One of them also has a Spanish-English dictionary open to help with some translations. The most exciting thing is that I know I've only barely started to understand the different ways I can use these iPads to personalize learning.

Finally, one of the benefits that I didn't even anticipate is how wonderful the immediate access to technology has been to my English Language Learners. One of the groups I teach is a Beginners English class. Any 6th graders at our school who have been speaking English for a year or less go into this group and most of them are new to the United States. As you can imagine, it can be very challenging at times. I can speak a tiny bit of Spanish, but this group also contains students who speak Karen, Somali, and Swahili. While the goal for the year is for them to hear as much English as possible, ideally they pick up at least a little bit of content as well. Things like Google Translate have made it much easier for me to make sure they understand the directions that have been given and some of the science content we're talking about. Beyond academics, it's helped socially. During free time last week, an English-speaking student and a Somali-speaking student had a conversation via Google Translate. It was so wonderful seeing these two students find a way to connect and communicate despite their language barrier. When other students realized what was happening, they wanted to join in, too. I've learned this year that it's pretty typical for beginning English speakers to spend a year not doing much talking, and I know this kind of connection will go a long way toward making the English Learners feel more comfortable. This wouldn't have happened without your generosity.

So in closing, thank you, thank you, thank you! We're already enjoying and using the iPads so much and that will only continue. You've made a difference not just for these students, but for all my future students as well.

With gratitude,
Mrs. Bermingham

Just wonderful stuff, that we're happy to have helped along. The students also put together a thank you slide deck, check it out:

THANK YOU - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Thanks to all who helped make this dream a reality. I'm proud of you.