Wake teacher uses crowdsourcing to put iPads in students' hands

Posted November 6, 2014

— 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.


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  • 678devilish Nov 7, 2014

    If they are going to use ipads to teach the student, what do they need the teachers for?

  • Doug Pawlak Nov 7, 2014
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    View quoted thread

    It's not all about "achievement". Getting a kid to love a topic/subject or to increase their technological literacy is a good thing. Especially when the money is voluntary.

  • Joseph Smith Nov 7, 2014
    user avatar

    Zero evidence that Ipads or computers increase achievement. Just a side show.

  • stymieindurham Nov 7, 2014

    Here's a math question. How many ipads could have been purchased with the $80 million the teacher unions threw away on this past election???

  • Terry Watts Nov 7, 2014
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    View quoted thread

    You must be a rotten father...

  • sww Nov 7, 2014

    I've donated to Donor's Choose a few times. It's sad that teachers have to resort to outside help to get the things they need. In the cases I helped, it was for books for the classroom.

  • NCCoachSE Nov 7, 2014

    Really depends on what the school system is using if they are a good idea. If they don't use "I" stuff they will soon fall into disfavor.
    We tried to help a company donate some older but fully functional computers to a CCS elementary but they would not let them on the network unless they were the absolute latest and greatest. It was a shame as they were better than what they had.
    The school districts in NC are lagging behind tech, many other states and districts the pupils all have computers to use starting early elementary. Tech is a wonderful tool to both inspire and save money when used properly.

  • glarg Nov 7, 2014

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    This was excitement about unboxing a toy. Not about learning.

    The taxpayer has been paying to put computers in the classroom since the '80's and there has been no measurable progress on education.

    So "begging for funds the state wont give them" is completely appropriate. We dont need to follow LAUSD down their wasteful rat hole.

  • andreanicole686 Nov 7, 2014

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    Thank you for respinding to such an incorrect statement.

    As studies have proven MORE testing does NOT help improve student growth. An excitement with learning using technology or other sources is the right way to keep students engaged in the classroom.

  • Holly Atkins Nov 7, 2014
    user avatar

    Yea...about that $810 bond...What has been done thus far with the money???

    Teachers shouldn't have to beg like this but I am grateful to see teachers thinking outside the box. I have no idea how people can look at children's enthusiasm and think this isn't a good thing. Everything we do is on computers now and teaching them on computers only helps their learning.

    iPads and tablets and computers SHOULD be in every classroom. The fact kids want to learn on them is great and if learning is fun they'll retain more. It's a great way to get kids engaged and excited about school. And as the teacher said, it makes her happy to see her kids WANT to learn.

    SSSSOOOO WCPSS Board start getting those purchase orders ready and using those dollars for what you SAID they would be for. Oh, and don't think you can tell us you'll operate in the hole again next year if your budget isn't raised....$810 million tells us differently!