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Brie Rugg has a knack for computers. “They’ve just always been my thing,” says the seventh-grader at East Jessamine Middle School in Nicholasville, which is serviced by Blue Grass Energy.

Last fall, at a Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP) regional showcase hosted by the University of Kentucky, Rugg and three of her East Jessamine teammates illustrated their skills at using Pivot Stickfigure software to create short, fun, original animations. Nearby, two other STLP teams from their school showcased tech-savvy projects highlighting the excitement of geocaching and the dangers of cyber-bullying.

“One of the neatest things about STLP is that it allows students to take charge and find a project topic that’s interesting to them,” says Tracy Adams, STLP co-coordinator at East Jessamine Middle School. “And, best of all, it allows students to work together to learn from each other and to teach each other.”

Launched in 1994, Student Technology Leadership Program is statewide open to any student, pre-K through 12, that encourages kids to explore an array of technology applications while fostering their creativity and leadership skills.

Every spring, more than 4,500 Kentucky students converge at Lexington’s Rupp Arena for the STLP state championships. Many come as part of a team to present yearlong group technology showcase projects—on topics as diverse as digital book reports and Internet safety to recycling and money management.

Others participate via individual or team entries in STLP’s impressive array of roughly 40 contest categories, which run the gamut from original digital art and digital music to documentary videos, technical writing, electronic gaming, computer programming, podcasting, RCX (Robo Challenge Xtreme), live reporting, and Web site design.

While the numbers attending the state STLP event are impressive, state STLP coordinator Elaine Harrison Lane, with the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Knowledge, Information and Data Services (KIDS), estimates that as many as 8,000 to 10,000 students total from across 100 school districts in the state take part in some aspect of STLP each school year.

While some schools offer STLP as an elective class to their students, others implement it as an optional, after-school club. Many middle and high schools allow STLP students to work during their free periods as technical support to teachers and staff at their schools.

“At the regional showcases and state championship, we’re just getting a little glimpse of the variety of exciting projects that are being done,” says Lane. “Some of the most important work is what these students are doing day by day and week by week, inside their schools. STLP empowers these students to become leaders; when empowered to do so, they become the ones teaching their teachers new technology skills.”

Student leaders
When the Woodford County Board of Education elected last year to give iPad tablet computers to all Woodford County High School students, members of the school’s STLP program quickly realized that simply providing iPads wasn’t enough: students needed to know how to use them.

“We came up with the idea of doing a tutorial kind of thing to help students know how to make the most of this new resource,” says Daniel James, a 2012 Woodford County High School senior. The resulting project was a hit, ultimately taking top honors in the 2011 high school showcase competition and at the 2012 STLP state championships—a special thrill for the students since it was Woodford County High School’s first time competing at STLP.

Dubbed iTutor, the project was inspired and created by a foursome including James, Zachary Rankin, Ian O’Canna, and Emily Lawson, to launch a Woodford STLP channel on YouTube where students could watch “how-to” videos for making the most of their new iPads. The group also created a Web page, Facebook page, and Twitter and Skype accounts, leveraging all the available social media outlets to allow students to easily post and share comments and questions as they learned to navigate their new iPads.

The group even staffed a help desk and taught their teachers about the array of cool educational apps available for the iPads and how to implement them in their classes.

Soon the project had taken on a life of its own. While the original target audience had simply been Woodford County High School students and teachers, by the end of the school year, the group’s iPad tutorial videos had an international audience on YouTube and iTunes U.

“They had kids in the Philippines watching their YouTube videos,” says Becky Keith, Woodford County High School’s STLP coordinator. “And to watch as the teachers began to call on these students for help, it was all very empowering for them. They really became leaders in the school, through their knowledge of technology.”

Keith was equally proud of Woodford County’s other STLP team, which also advanced to the state competition, thanks to its high-tech work on the school’s yearbook. The group supplemented the traditional hard-copy book with fully interactive QR codes that, when scanned by the students’ iPads or iPhones, linked to a storehouse of additional digital photos and videos for all the school’s clubs and activities.

“The students got a lot more content that way,” says Woodford County senior Chris Kuehl. “With the QR codes, they got a lot more bang for their buck.”

Hands-on learning
Each year, the top-placing schools in the elementary, middle, and high school STLP showcase categories have the opportunity to share their projects at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. The 2012 ISTE conference was held in June in San Diego.

Along with the iTutor team from Woodford County High, students from the James E. Bazzell Middle School’s STLP in Allen County, serviced by Tri-County Electric, and from Oakview Elementary, in Ashland, represented Kentucky at ISTE in June 2012.

“My students have grown so much from being a part of STLP, not only as individuals, but as leaders in our school and community,” says Cynthia Stovall, the STLP coordinator at Bazzell Middle School, where the winning group collaborated with social studies teacher Trevor Graves to create music videos using green screen technology. “It has provided them with an opportunity to use technology for real audiences,” Stovall says.

And while, naturally, taking top prize is a huge honor, for the students involved in the more than 500 STLP showcase projects that crowded Rupp Arena last year, simply making it to the state competition—which required a top finish at one of eight regional STLP regional competitions held in the fall—is gratifying.

Caleb Hester, an STLP student from Austin Tracy Elementary School in Lucas, located in south-central Barren County served by Tri-County Electric, dressed like Uncle Sam at the state STLP competition to promote what he and his teammates had learned about online voting using computers and Google Docs in their school’s first-ever, school-wide student council elections.

A few rows behind him, four now-juniors from South Floyd High School—Taylor Johnson, Keisha Adams, Andrea Cicchetti, and Amber Mosley—shared their yearlong project on suicide prevention, which included creating a Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube videos on the topic, as well as leading presentations in area middle schools.

“We made an actual impact on people’s lives with our project,” says Mosley, a Big Sandy RECC member, “I could see it.”

The leadership aspect of STLP is as important as its technology focus, educators say. The program encourages students to do community service as a way of giving back to their communities. East Jessamine Middle School’s STLP, for example, sponsors an annual penny drive to raise funds to buy toys for needy children at Christmas time, says Tracy Adams, the school’s STLP co-coordinator.

“If you allow students to learn in a very hands-on way, they’re always going to remember it,” says Crystal Neal, STLP coordinator at Powell County Middle School, which is served by Clark Energy Cooperative. Last year, two Powell County STLPers—Matthew Melton and Nate Brooks—were honored for having one of the top 60 showcase projects in the middle school division at the STLP state competition. The pair dubbed their podcasting project “Pirate Service Announcements” in homage to their school’s mascot.

“I love technology and I love working with kids,” says Neal. “When you bring those two things together, like STLP does, it’s just a wonderful thing.”


ODYSSEY OF THE MIND

Now in its 34th year, Odyssey of the Mind is a unique program for students in grades kindergarten through college that blends fields of science, math, engineering, literature, drama, problem solving, teamwork, and creative thinking all into one fun competition.

Students compete in teams of five to seven to tackle their choice of one of five situational problem-solving challenges, ranging from building a 15-oz structure out of balsa wood strong enough to support hundreds of pounds, to creating a skit that builds upon a famous work of art or literature. Students also respond to spontaneous questions, where they’re scored higher for more creative answers.

“Odyssey of the Mind believes that creativity can be taught,” says Odyssey’s Kentucky program association director Joan Coates of Union. “It’s so interesting to see the thought processes and originality that go through these students’ minds as they are solving their problems.”

The program is entirely student-driven: adult coaches cannot assist their students in finding a solution. Everything—from sewing or sawing props to determining their plan of attack—must be left completely up to the student members.

“Odyssey of the Mind is one of the best programs there is for teaching kids what they need to know for life—skills like creativity, perseverance, and teamwork,” says Terry Walther, Odyssey coordinator for Shelby County Schools, whose school board was so impressed with the program that they’ve implemented it in every school in their district in the last two years.

“Odyssey really gives students a sense of independence and credibility,” says Dalynn Jensen, Odyssey coordinator for three schools in Boone County. “When the team members acknowledge that a student’s ideas are good for the team and use them, it really boosts his or her self-confidence. One person will throw out an idea, and they’ll all piggyback on it, and it grows, and everyone feels as though they’ve contributed to the group’s performance.”

Last school year, roughly 75 schools or other programs in Kentucky participated in the Odyssey of the Mind program. (In addition to schools, YMCAs, libraries, and other established nonschool groups can also host one or more teams.) Last year, more than 200 teams from across the state participated in the Kentucky competition.

For more information, see Odyssey of the Mind’s Kentucky Web site at http://kycreative.mis.net or the program’s national home page at http://odysseyofthemind.com.


TRY THE QR CODE YOURSELF!

Woodford County High’s winning state competition Student Technology Leadership Program iTutor team also taught students and faculty how to use QR codes. A second Woodford County STLP team’s project added QR codes to the yearbook to expand content, such as additional photos and other material, for online viewing.

See Woodford County’s iTutor videos, Jacketeer 2012 online yearbook, The Jacket Journal newspaper, and more, online at http://m.wctp.us.


MORE ON STUDENT TECHNOLOGY LEADERSHIP

For more information about Kentucky’s Student Technology Leadership Program, go online to www.education.ky.gov and search “STLP” for links.


KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: TOP 5 EDUCATIONAL APPS

Student Technology Leadership team members Zach Rankin and Daniel James, both 2012 graduates of Woodford County High, provide their pick of the five most beneficial educational apps to try on the iPad. To find the list, go to educational apps.

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