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Education: Students showcase computer skills at tech fair

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

If they had a charging station for adjectives at the school district tech fair like they did for laptops, “amazing” would have been tethered to a power strip.

Adults are almost always amazed when surrounded by kids with computers. But a group of Waccmaw High students looked at what third- graders were doing and said they were, yes, amazed. “They’ve started doing all this stuff,” said Lindsay Jessmore, a sophomore.

“It’s amazing,” said Johnny Wilson, a member of the Georgetown County School Board, whose memory of school computer projects was a box with a lot of wires.

“I’m just amazed and impressed,” said Randy Dozier, the district superintendent.

“The enthusiasm struck me,” said Dwight McInvaill, who has won awards for bringing technology to the county library system where he is the director. “There are so many exciting projects.”

This was the third year that the district held a technology fair, but the first since the district bought laptop computers for every student in grades six through 12. The fair is a chance for students and teachers to show how they have used technology over the year. There are awards for the top projects in primary, elementary, middle and high school grades.

Keitt Easterling and students in her gifted-and-talented classes at Kensington Elementary swept the awards in four categories: creativity, critical thinking and educator. “I just got lucky, I think,” she said after posing for photos with her students.

But Easterling also said she incorporates technology as a subject as well as a tool. This year, geocaching was a focus of her classes. It’s an activity that uses Global Positioning System data to hunt for hidden objects. Next year, she wants to create a film festival.

“If you have a love for it, the kids have a love for it,” Easterling said. “I love the way you can connect with technology.”

Students often bring ideas to her. “It really is a motivator,” Easterling said.

Margaret Stacy and Juliette Gammel won an award for best middle school communications project. They created a website using the hosting service Weebly and created animated characters using the online service Voki for a project about planets.

“I wasn’t interested in planets until we had to do this,” Stacy said.

“It snowballs,” said Cynthia Crisp, the girls’ eighth-grade science teacher.

An award also went to one of Richard Gehrman’s eighth-grade social studies students, Shelley Gruenberg, for a project about the Civil War. The technology isn’t just an overlay, he said.

“They pick their technology,” Gehrman said, asking “how can it best show myself?”

Gage Geddings and Trenton Douglas, seventh-graders in Nina Runion’s class at Georgetown Middle, used their computers to research and design a device to clean up a hypothetical oil spill at Pawleys Island. “We decided to make an oil skimmer,” Geddings said.

They went through seven different designs before coming up with their “Eco Boat.” It wasn’t all computer driven. Douglas’ father, Travis, is a firefighter-EMT at Midway Fire and Rescue and they sought his advice on dealing with hazardous materials. Their project won the middle school innovation award.

Next to them on a cafeteria table in Waccamaw Intermediate School, site of the fair, Gavin Darrone, a sixth-grader, sat with an array of circuit boards and tools next to a laptop like a tech project gone wrong. It was creative destruction, or at least disassembly, he explained.

It was a Wii game console that his partner, Banks Ward, got for Christmas. It quit working after a year, but a science project was born: “What Happened to My Wii?”

After cracking the case, they tested the four small motors and found that the one that operated the optical drive had burned out, Darrone said. They found out later that Nintendo offered to fix the motor. Taking the case apart was difficult; putting it back together was impossible, he said.

Technology is a subject of debate among Montessori schools, which emphasizes the importance of hands-on experience. Opponents say manipulating computer images can’t replace handling the genuine object.

Coastal Montessori Charter School won an award for innovation for a lower elementary (grades one through three) project about geological time. The first-year school worked with Marc Frechette, one of the district’s technology coaches, on the project and he suggested they enter the fair.

“Now we’re in the public setting we have access to all these resources,” said Antointette Ursits, whose students presented the project. Braedon Tomovski and Peyton Brown attended the fair, but the whole class participated, they said.

Brown said along with the science she learned typing and editing skills. Tomovski said he learned digital editing to create a slide show in an application called Little Bird Tales. They also produced books for each member of the class.

Nathalie Hunt, the school’s new director, would like to get iPads for the students next year. She and Ursits agree there is a place for technology in the Montessori setting.

“I want to make sure they have any resources they need,” Ursits said.

While many teachers look to students for help in staying current with technology, Anne Marie Byrd, a third-grade teacher at Waccamaw Elementary, said she has to teach her students the basics, like how to click and drag with a mouse. “They’re used to touch screens,” she said.

Her students, Roman Everhart and Destiny Lawrence, won an award for innovation. Their project used Little Bird Tales to tell the story of Jackie Robinson. Byrd also said technology is a motivator.

Despite her skill with a mouse, “I learn a lot from them, actually,” she said. “With iPads they’re further ahead than I am.”

The only concern raised about the use of technology was the need to make sure students use the Internet safely.

That was one of the themes developed in a series of videos created by Jessmore, the Waccamaw sophomore, and her English II honors classmates, Chase Davis and Caroline Summers. They also covered cyberbullying.

“I see it all the time on Twitter and Facebook,” Jessmore said. “It really bugs me.”

The videos were created as part of a school-wide contest. They were shown on a big screen in the cafeteria. “We got a positive response,” Davis said.

It’s the kind of message that could be refined for a younger audience, Jessmore said as she looked at tables of primary and elementary students. “It could happen to them,” she said.

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