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From left, Stacy Bender-Fayette, the technology integration specialist at Schoolcraft Learning Community, assists first-graders Braelyn Peggen and Keana Gulnon as they speak into a microphone connected to a laptop computer. The students made a commercial of a vehicle they constructed called a "Rocket Blaster," which is sitting on the table on the far left. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Federal grant dollars give Schoolcraft Learning Community iPad2s, bird nest cameras and more

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Anyone looking for a vehicle that can fly, travel at jet speed and can handle the iciest roads should get to know Braelyn Peggen and Keana Gulnon, two first-graders at Schoolcraft Learning Community.

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Using recycled materials and papier-mâché, the students constructed 3-D scale models of a vehicle they called a "Rocket Blaster."

Then, using a laptop computer, the girls waited as a movie-making program counted down from three seconds.

"Rocket Blaster," the girls shouted into a microphone connected to the computer. Their voices were needed for a commercial they were shooting of their vehicles.

"They are not used to hearing their own voice, so they are always surprised," said Stacy Bender-Fayette, the technology integration specialist at SLC.

Bender-Fayette has helped many students and teachers at SLC learn how to use new technology the school has recently purchased thanks to a large federal grant.

iPads, nature cams

Last year, SLC received a $189,750 grant from the U.S. Department of Education through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, which the school has used in collaboration with Bemidji State University, Apple Computer Inc. and Expeditionary Learning Schools.

The grant, titled "Using Digital Tools to Teach Environmental Literacy," allowed the school to purchase two mobile computer labs, 10 digital cameras, one video camera, one iPod learning lab with 20 mobile devices, 10 global positioning system units, five digital microscopes and two digital probes.

This year, the school was chosen as one of seven districts to receive extra dollars from the same grant fund, giving SLC an additional $68,500.

The school, which houses 175 students, used the money to purchase enough iPad2s for every sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grader to use at school next year and a few more to put in several classrooms.

"These are great research tools," Bender-Fayette said. "Now students will have access to video documentation to support their expeditions and field work. They can use it to build presentations, and do all of their shooting and editing with one device, which is huge."

Teachers at SLC will receive training on how to use the iPad2s. Eventually, the school intends to let students take the thin computer pads home, as long as they have been trained to use them correctly.

"This levels the playing field as far as access to technology," Bender-Fayette said. "Not every kid has technology at home, so now they will have access to technology."

Other items the school purchased through the grant were four flip video cameras and four Hawk Eye nature cameras which have infrared night vision. The nature cameras have been set inside four wood duck boxes on the school property. Eventually, students will be able to watch the ducks nest from their classrooms.

Outdoor technology

Bender-Fayette believes SLC received the extra grant dollars because the school is integrating technology with environmental learning.

"What we're doing with technology is so innovative. It's so curriculum-specific," Bender-Fayette said. "Everyone is blaming technology as being the reason kids aren't spending more time outside. I took that on as a challenge saying, 'You can entice kids to go outside using technology.'"

The focus of the grant, Bender-Fayette said, is teaching teachers and students about technology and how it can be used not only for writing or research, but for other areas such as science, art and outdoor learning.

As examples, one class of SLC students used digital cameras to take pictures of water critters they found in Turtle River Lake. Another class of students spent a month using global positioning units to learn about different ecosystems. Kindergarteners identified birds by sight and sound using applications on their iPods. First-graders used iPods with microphones to interview restaurant owners and chefs for a class project.

"When you are using it to learn about the natural world, it is a totally different deal," Bender-Fayette said. "I took that on as the challenge of this grant. Can you have a group of kids become interested in nature because we're giving them technology tools to learn more about it?"

Bender-Fayette thinks the answer is "yes," but said it is not possible without funding.

Future challenges

When Bender-Fayette was hired at SLC last fall, she found teachers were using aged laptop computers and students had access to one computer lab with computers purchased in 2002.

"I came in as a technology specialist thinking, 'What in the world am I going to do?'" she said. "I started looking for grant money."

But while more technology has certainly given the school an innovative edge, it also has created new challenges.

New technology can be expensive to update and replace. Also, since the school must move out of its Concordia Language Villages campus each summer, the technology must be stored in temperature-controlled storage all summer.

"Our biggest challenge now is creating that replacement cycle in our budget," Bender-Fayette said. "It may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but our teachers have transformed their teaching with the technology to accommodate 21st century learners. SLC is doing that as a result of this grant."

Online videos

To view videos of some of the projects SLC students have completed by using technology, visit www.schoolcraft.org and click on "Multimedia Gallery" under the "Academics" tab.

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