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iCougar program increases student engagement at Kearns High School

By Angie Manzanares

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, March 30 2012 6:03 p.m. MDT

Kearns High School student body officers use their iPod Touches in the school's library.

Angie Manzanares

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KEARNS — Walk into a math class at Kearns High School and you’ll find dozens of students staring down into the bright screens of Apple iPod Touches.

The teachers have no desire to remove the gadgets from the hands of students. In fact, they encourage their use.

“They are completely engaged when they are using them, and they are good at it too,” said principal Maile Loo.

The devices are in each classroom thanks to school media specialist Rachel Murphy. Nearly three years ago, she applied to receive a technology grant for the school and was awarded the funds. The proposal of the grant was to create an iPod program at the high school, with its more than 1,600 students and 80 teachers, that provided innovative ways to increase technology in the classroom. The grant could only be used to fund technology on the campus.

Murphy teamed up with iSchool Initiative — a student-led nonprofit organization dedicated to revolutionizing education through innovative technology — and soon the iCougar mobile devices were released into the hands of students.

“The iCougars mobile device project had a number of goals. We were hoping to see an increase in the level of satisfaction and interest in school, and this has been successful,” Murphy said. “Students report being more interested in their classes when teachers use technology.”

Dozens of teachers have taken advantage of the program, coming up with creative uses for the devices.

“Teachers are using the camera and video features of the iPod to have students create projects using a number of applications. Notes are taken on the iPod in a number of creative ways, for example, taking photos of notes on a whiteboard,” Murphy said. “Immediate feedback and class engagement has been made possible through clicker applications. Students and teachers alike will tell you the iPods are making a difference at Kearns and they couldn't imagine teaching or learning without technology.”

Kearns High School principal Maile Loo said the devices are just another step toward the technological direction in which education is moving. She said that the program has increased student achievement in the classroom because students are so involved in daily lessons.

Murphy was recently given the Utah Coalition for Educational Technology 2012 Making It Happen Award.

“It was a great honor. Past recipients of this award are people I highly admire for their contributions to technology education in our state,” she said. “It was a great honor to be considered in their league. However, the teachers and students I work with at Kearns are the ones truly making it happen. And they need recognition for their great work as well.”

Angie Manzanares is a former teacher and journalist. She currently works for the Granite School District as a public relations specialist. Her hobbies include photography, graphic design, dancing and screaming at Jazz games.

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