Wake teacher uses crowdsourcing to put iPads in students' hands
Posted November 6, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — With Apple iPads in Jessica Downing's fifth-grade class, it is clear that the children enjoy learning.
"It just make school more fun – and easier – and it makes us learn better, too," said Johnny Vargas, 10, one of about two dozen students in Downing's class at Laurel Park Elementary School in Cary.
At the start of the school year, though, there were only three old computers for learning that the children had to crowd around to use.
Although the Wake County Public School System is working on a plan to have more technology in schools, that is still several years away.
Downing saw an immediate need and took to crowdsourcing, – specifically Donor's Choose, a fundraising website designed to put everything from basic supplies to scientific equipment in underfunded classrooms.
Then, she went a step further.
"I used Facebook and social media to get the word out, just because I think it's important to get everyone involved," Downing said. "This is the future."
As a result, she raised in three days the money to buy four iPad minis and an Apple TV – bringing the reach of more technology to her students.
They were immediately excited.
"They couldn't wait to use them. I couldn't get them out of the boxes fast enough," Downing said.
Donors Choose isn't new.
The online charity has been around since 2000 and has funded more than 200,000 school projects around the United States – raising more than $285 million and reaching more than 13 million students.
In Wake County, for the 2013-14 school year, it funded 200 classroom projects, according to Wake schools communication director Lisa Luten.
But for Downing, one of nearly 9,000 teachers in the Wake school system, it was something she had never before heard.
Just putting the iPads in students' hands has helped with collaboration and cooperation. Downing says the students are more engaged than ever.
"Every day, they come in and say 'Are we using the iPads today?'" she said. "And that's what makes my job fun when they're excited to learn."
There are safeguards in place. Donors Choose vets every project, buys the materials and sends them directly to school and provides a cost report showing how the funding is spent, according to its website.
Locally, Downing says, teachers must seek approval from the school system before participating, and once they receive the requested supplies, they become property of the school.
Wake County school leaders have been talking for years to get more computers and technology into students' hands, but the money hasn't been there.
Last year, however, voters approved an $810 million school construction bond that also earmarked funding for technology, infrastructure updates and associated costs.
The goal is to provide one laptop, tablet or other electronic learning device for every three students by 2017.