But the school has a different spin on the iPod's intended use, thanks to recently named Technology Teacher of the Year Grace Poli and her program, appropriately titled "POD People."
"It was a surprise to me; I didn't even know I was nominated," said Poli last week.
Poli was nominated by Anthony Dragona, business administrator for the Union City Board of Education, in recognition for her work with English as a Second Language students and implementing the iPod program.
"I started the program, POD People, to help bilingual students learn English through music, audio books, and the voice recorder," said Poli. "I definitely thought the iPod would be a useful tool because a lot of people learn foreign languages by listening to music."
Poli serves as the media specialist for the middle school and instructs bilingual workshops for ESL students.
"I wanted to do something with bilingual students as part of my thesis for my masters," said Poli. "And I thought, kids have iPods, what better way to learning English than using the iPod?"
How it works
Funded out of the school's annual budget, Poli started the program with 14 after school ESL students who would come in on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The students would work on different activities, including grammar and reading comprehension, through listening to music and audio books.
"We were trying to target grammar points through exercises," said Poli. "For example, we would print out the lyrics of a song but whip out all the verbs, nouns, and so on, and the kids would fill them in. Any words that they didn't understand, we would look up in a dictionary."
The kids would use the voice recorder adapter with the iPod to record themselves reading passages from books or magazines, and then go over the recording with Poli to check for pronunciation.
"There are a lot of benefits with the iPod because the kids could listen at their own pace," said Poli.
POD people took shape last year as a pilot program after school. After state testing showed significant score improvements for those ESL students, the school decided to incorporate it once a week in the Media Center.
"We started last year to motivate bilingual students, and this year incorporated it during the school day," said Poli. "They didn't know that this little thing would help them speak English."
Like most of the schools in the district, the staff at Jose Marti Middle School needed to find a way to help their ESL students prepare for the state testing, which is conducted in English as per the guidelines set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act.
Last year, Poli had about 14 students in the after school program, and now, thanks to its success it has grown to 24 seventh and eighth graders.
"They were having fun, but didn't realize they were learning," said Poli.
So far, eight students have successfully completed the iPod bilingual program and are enrolled in mainstream education classes. Some kids who have been the country for less than two years are making the school honor role after they finish the program.
Just a little music
Poli's original concept for the iPod was to have her students learn through music, but she didn't want them listening to just one type. So, she brought in a variety of genres from country to mainstream pop.
"I use different genres like country, R&B, soul, and pop because I want to introduce them to different varieties of music, and the kids love it," said Poli. "They loved Shania Twain; they asked me, is this country? They also go on the Internet and get extra information about the artist."
Students were also provided with the lyrics to the songs for them to reference while listening to the music, and had reinforcement lessons during their homeroom periods.
"They have a better understanding of the meaning after listening to the song as much as 15 times, and after a while they even start singing," said Poli. "We would talk about it, read the lyrics, and I would ask them to give me examples [of grammar]."
In addition to learning through music, Poli also downloaded classic literary works such as the Outsiders and The House on Mango Street to keep up with the students' core curriculum as well.
Poli, who grew up in Jersey City, has been working in Union City for the last six years, previously as a humanities teacher at Robert Waters Elementary School before moving to Jose Marti Middle School.
"It's a great environment, I love working in Union City," said Poli. "They do so much for the community, especially for children. There are great resources for teachers, and they listen to the teachers, which is important."
Poli has also received recognition from Apple for her inventive use of the iPod, and the company asked her to speak at their presentation at the New Jersey Elite Conference in Wildwood next July.