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School technology expands



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August 22, 2012 - Looking to give younger students real world experiences and applications beyond the classroom, Lake Orion School District is offering technology in a greater way at both the elementary and middle schools.

New to this year, Lake Orion schools are offering FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.) LEGO League to all seven elementary schools, as part of the vision of Superintendent Marion Ginopolis's vision for preparing students for the 21 century.

"This is a need in our community and our society," said Orion Oaks Elementary Principal Ken Nuss who is one of the group members helping with the FIRST LEGO League.

"Obviously it's a big thing in Clarkston and other places and we've been a little slow in joining this," he continued. "It's not that they haven't tried before, but it takes a lot to really get it going."

FIRST is similar to the robotics team at the high school level, but the robots are LEGO based. "We're getting a lot of help from our robotics team at the high school," said Nuss. "They've been very helpful."

FIRST is mainly for Fourth and Fifth graders, but Nuss said they would also like to develop Junior FIRST, which teaches the basics to kids ages six through nine years old. Out of two parent meetings, e-mails and phone calls he estimates approximately 300 students are interested in joining the program.

"Our goal was to set up 20 teams, we don't know if we'll do that," he said. "That's basically with two to three teams per elementary school."

Getting the program started said Nuss is a three step process. One, is having enough students sign up, two is having enough parents who want to be coaches/mentors for the teams and the third is the funding. The Jr. FIRST costs approx $250 a year per team. The upper level FIRST is approximately $800 per team, but will drop to $400 after the first year.

"The biggest challenge is the first year," he said. "The first year is when you have the upfront expenses."

So far they've received several donations from parents, but haven't done much yet to promote businesses to sponsor.

"I just got a commitment from FIRST LEGO of Michigan that General Motors is willing to donate $300 a team, for every team that we create. That will help with some funding right there," he said. "Lake Orion Education Foundation is also interested in sponsoring us."is having enough parents who want to be coaches/mentors for the teams and the third is the funding. The Jr. FIRST costs approx $250 a year per team. The upper level FIRST is approximately $800 per team, but will drop to $400 after the first year.

"The biggest challenge is the first year," he said. "The first year is when you have the upfront expenses."

So far they've received several donations from parents, but haven't done much yet to promote businesses to sponsor.

"I just got a commitment from FIRST LEGO of Michigan that General Motors is willing to donate $300 a team, for every team that we create. That will help with some funding right there," he said. "Lake Orion Education Foundation is also interested in sponsoring us."

As far as the program itself, Nuss is really excited. He said the program will help students with skills they need for the 21 century such as creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communicating, collaborating, information literacy and media literacy.

"So much of what we do in school is black and white, it's the right answer, it's the wrong answer, but that's not how life really is," he added. "You got to be really creative, you got to be good thinkers and you got to have those interpersonal skills and be collaborative."

He also like the idea, that FIRST will give opportunity for students who not necessarily the best athlete to shine at something.

"In society and in school we take care of those kids who are in athletes and all those popular things in society," Nuss said. "This will provide a nitch not only that's good for society and our community, but also provide a nitch for kids who have a different skill set."

The theme for this year's competition is to try and create something to assist senior citizens.

Studies show the key to good teams or organizations start young, and Nuss is hoping the FIRST League will be a "feeder program," to technology programs at the middle schools and high school level.

"If there is one thing everybody has told me who I've talk with is, the people who get involved in it, it becomes a passion of theirs and they love it," he said.

If any businesses or individuals in the community are interested in donating or parents interested in being mentors you can call Ken Nuss at Orion Oaks Elementary 248-393-0010, also for more information about FIRST LEGO League visit www.First.org.

"We'll promote all the business and community members that support us and make sure they're advertised and represented at all of our competitions," he said. "One thing I know about Lake Orion is the community really supports the kids, the schools, and each other."

In keeping with the vision of Ginopolis and bettering the community through technology, The Lake Orion Middle Schools are organizing their first ever "Tech Squad," where they will be teaching senior citizens how to use various technology gadgets.

"We're actually partnering with the teacher cadet program at high school," said Meg McMahon one the parents spearheading the program. "Students that are taking that course or are interested in becoming teachers they are going to mentor the middle schoolers who apply to the program."

McMahon said they will be providing six different areas including: smart phones and texting, Apple products, digital cameras, tablets and WiFi, e-books, and finally internet, video, and/or voice calling."

"When a student applies they'll be put in one of these groups to develop a specific training session for the seniors," she noted.

McMahon said inspiration to propose this idea came from phone calls from her mother, who is a senior citizen asking how to use various technology devices.

"Often times we've had to hand the phone off to my son who is a middle schooler and say 'Tell Grandma how to fix this,'" she said.

Student will be working with members of the Senior Advisory Committee at the Orion Center. McMahon said they'll probably be setting up information booths and a walkthrough at the Orion Township Library in late November, early December where seniors can get a better idea of the different groups and choose what devices they want to learn more about.

"The students are actually going to have to take the ball and run with it under the guidance of the high schoolers. The committee members will be there for support in case anybody has issues, but they're going to have to put this training together," added McMahon. "They're going to have to come back to us at end of January and provide us with an update of where they're at and how far they're progressing. We can determine if they're going to need assistance from there to get done."

The goal is to have the sessions offered to the seniors in the spring, around late April or early May. Students will be required to write a report of their experience at the completion of the program. McMahon said they are hoping that not only will the seniors learn something, but he students will as well.

"It would be kind of neat for them to hear stories from the seniors of how life was like prior to technology," she said. "I'm very excited. It's a lot of work, but I think it's going to end up being really cool and I think it is going be a great experience of the kids."

Nuss agreed and said it was a way take the community and the schools to the next level.

"We think of Lake Orion as being a world-class community and this would be just another example of that," he said. "Another way of showing there is no better place then Lake Orion."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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