St. John’s Lutheran School at Sauers purchased a cart of 25 iPads for classrooms to share this year, and first-year language arts teacher Cassie Irwin has made the most of it.

Her seventh- and eighth-graders recently filmed their own interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe stories or poems by using the iMovie app. Their other project, again using iMovie, was picking a part of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and gathering dolls and props and taking pictures of them to create a stop-motion film.

Before the iPads arrived, students would have just read the stories on their own, talked about them in class and then taken a test or written an essay on them.

But now, with technology in the classroom, learning literature is on a different level — and it’s fun.

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“It helps me to learn and interact with things. That’s just the best way I know how to learn,” seventh-grader Maggie Connell said. “Having to read through it and doing all of the actions, it helped me memorize it and learn it a lot better.”

Eighth-grader Kaleb Baumgartel said it has allowed the students to feel like they are a part of the stories.

“You got to be more creative than just sitting there in class and doing boring stuff,” he said. “It got you more in the sense of what you thought it would really be like during that story and how it was back then. It’s getting you to have more fun during class and get creative.”

Principal Jon Baumgartel said the school conducted an auction a couple of years ago to raise funds for specific needs and decided that money should be put toward technology enhancements. It cost about $12,000 to purchase 25 iPads with a PowerSync Cart, which allows the devices to be stored, charged and transported.

Teachers share the cart using a sign-out system.

“The iPads allow our students to be much more mobile with technology,” Jon Baumgartel said. “They are able to use iMovie in various locations around the school. This allows students to be creative and take ownership in the learning process. Our teachers are also able to take advantage of the various apps for classroom use that they would not otherwise utilize by being limited to a computer lab.”

When Irwin did her student teaching in her home state of Michigan and then taught her first year at Phoenix, she integrated technology in her classroom.

“I’m very into project-based learning and them showing me what they learned instead of me testing them on what they learned,” she said.

With the first project in her class at St. John’s, Irwin said she wanted to pick a notable author and thought Poe was perfect to do during October.

The class read “The Raven” before taking a field trip to The Frazier History Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, where some of Poe’s works were portrayed.

“A couple of them were ones that I’ve never even read before, so it was nice for me to see them and the kids to see them,” Irwin said.

Back at school, they read more stories and poems and talked about irony and symbolism and how Poe sets the mood and setting and uses strong wording.

Three groups of five students each then picked a Poe story or poem and used iPads and iMovie to act it out. That involved acting, filming, editing and producing and then presenting it all to the class.

“It was nice because Edgar Allan Poe is such a hard concept,” Irwin said. “There is a lot of things he talks about, and the language is different, so it was nice for them, instead of being tested on paper and pen, they were able to portray what they learned about the different elements of literature.”

With the second project, the students first read a shortened version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to get a basic understanding of it. They then read the original book and talked about plot chart, including capturing the mood, establishing the characters and setting, rising actions, climax and falling actions.

They then teamed up in five groups of three and picked a part of the story to re-enact. This time, though, they weren’t the actors. They brought in their own dolls and props to use to tell the story.

In creating a stop-motion film, they used their iPad and iMovie to take pictures of the dolls in a variety of scenes. When the frames were played in sequence, it showed movement.

The old clay animation movies and “The Lego Movie,” which came out last year, were made in a similar fashion using computer animation.

Some of the groups chose to do voice-overs, while others made it more like a silent film.

“We watched Disney Pixar short films when we learned the plot graph, and those have no words in them,” Irwin said. “They are very silent movies, and you have to read the film to really understand it.”

The students thought the second project was a little more challenging than the first one.

“This one is just so much harder because we can’t act it out. We’re taking pictures and then putting them into it, so it’s a lot of pictures and just a lot of time,” Maggie said.

“Because you’re not the ones who are acting it out, you’re going to have to be setting (dolls and props) up, and you have to make this stuff, so it’s a little more challenging,” Kaleb said.

Irwin said she was impres-sed with the students’ work.

“They did a great job playing the voice-overs, and they got to kind of play with iMovie,” she said. “It’s just cool to see them come out of their shell and get to do something that’s more hands-on. I see fifth through eighth grade, and they are all hands-on learners, and technology is something that’s a part of their lives. So to integrate it into their learning, they are instantly hooked.”

Jon Baumgartel said he also liked seeing the students put their projects together.

“I enjoyed witnessing the overall excitement and creativity the students displayed while immersing themselves in the different genres of literature,” he said. “Each student remembers more about each author’s style of writing and can better interpret the author’s intent. The iPads have brought a level of excitement to literature class where students not only enjoy class but are learning to appreciate the different literary works.”

He also praised Irwin for her efforts.

“Our new literature teacher has brought so much enthusiasm to this subject area, using a variety of mediums that students are able to creatively produce works that bring them closer to authors like Poe, he said.

Irwin said she wants students to love literature even more.

“I want to take this classic literature and make it modern for them; because you read it, and a lot of times it’s a struggle just to understand the words (authors) are using,” she said. “To let them act it out or present it in another way, it helps them at least understand the plot and the setting and those characters; and those are key concepts that they can take into high school and college.”

Irwin said she plans to use technology for other projects this school year, and it also should help students in other classes and activities.

“With history and language arts, those are two things where I feel like they don’t always make it hands-on like they can,” she said. “So my goal is just to make it a hands-on classroom because they are in seventh and eighth grade, and it’s really the last time you really get to have fun before you get to high school. Not that high school is not fun, but it gets a lot more serious the older you get, so I want to make it a fun experience for them.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.