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Teacher's technical talent leads to mobile iPad lab at area school

June 5th, 2014 9:44 am by Contributed to the Press

Teacher's technical talent leads to mobile iPad lab at area school

Erica Preswood, far right, works with students and their iPads. (Contributed)

When Erica Preswood was hired to teach seventh- and eighth-grade language arts at University School, she brought with her a passion for new technology that had catapulted a North Carolina school system into a spot as one of the nation’s best.

The Avery County school system in North Carolina has become known as a national leader in the provision of computer technology to students from kindergarten through grade 12.

Preswood, a former curriculum coach in that technology-charged environment, is now working to bring similar innovations to University School on the campus of East Tennessee State University.

With funding provided by the university’s College of Education and University School, Preswood and her colleagues created what she describes as a “cabinet on wheels.” 

Within that modest cabinet, though, are 25 iPads that have sparked a wave of creativity at the school. It’s called a mobile iPad lab.

Even though most all University School students have a computer, Preswood says the kids are ecstatic about the opportunities these iPads are providing.

Recently, Preswood’s eighth-graders immersed themselves in the 19th-century writings of former slave Frederick Douglass. Using his words as inspiration, combined with Apple’s music creation studio app called GarageBand, students created their own slave narratives.

Joseph Harless, for example, chose to set his narrative at Evergreen Plantation in Edgard, La. In his own voice, Harless reads from a diary he wrote himself, recounting daily life on the plantation, as images, including shackled hands, are synched with voice and music on the iPad.

“I cried when I saw it,” his teacher says. “It wasn’t just a paper. And the iPads made it happen.”

Students plotted escape routes on the Underground Railroad and anticipated where their self-created slaves might end up in the North. When the projects were done, the students created a digital gallery walk to share their accomplishments with each other.

After reading Montana novelist Ben Mikaelsen’s book, “Touching Spirit Bear,” each of Preswood’s seventh-graders used the iPad technology to create movie trailers. The work of student Laney Falin and her classmates rivals that of big-time movie companies, according to Preswood.

Preswood earned a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University and a master of science in media and technology from ETSU. She grew up right on the North Carolina-Tennessee state line — actually in North Carolina proper, but since the bus to Tennessee’s Cloudland High School ran right past her house, that’s where she went.

Joking that she has been on the four-year plan, she started out teaching sixth-grade language arts in Caldwell County, North Carolina, for four years, then spent four years teaching eighth grade in Avery County, followed by four years as a curriculum specialist in Avery County’s central office.

It was in Avery County where her career in instructional technology really took off. She helped the system there with its successful application to be a K-12 Apple Distinguished District, among the first in the country.

“We were going to conferences all over after that,” Preswood says.

University School officials say they are doing their best to end Preswood’s four-year plan, to make sure she shares her technological talents and enthusiasm with students at the school for a long, long time.

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