La Cañada High tech club lets 'students become the teachers'

La Cañada High tech club lets 'students become the teachers'
Some members of the La Cañada High School iTeam club include, left to right, Clay Massimino, adviser Jamie Lewsadder, Matthew Pasion, Braden Oh and club president Jonathan Connelly, at the iMac lab on campus on Tuesday, April 14, 2014. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

For the past year, Jamie Lewsadder has led La Cañada Unified School District's foray into a new technological era. As IT director, she's worked with a small team of employees to upgrade the district's infrastructure and prepare it for online Common Core field testing, currently in progress.

But for all her talents, Lewsadder acknowledges she can only do so many things at once. So last year, when La Cañada High School sophomore Matt Lundy asked her if he could gather a team of tech-minded students to help her bring the campus and teachers up to speed, Lewsadder was on board.

"We talked about how students could be in the classroom working with the teachers," she said. "For years, the student was receiving knowledge and the teacher was dispensing it. Technology flips that, so now the conversations can be about kids making changes in their classes."

Although Lundy moved to Denver last year, his iTeam is still going strong. About 20 students meet weekly to identify where technology could be integrated to improve a teacher's life or lesson plan and add another dimension to the classroom experience.

When Lewsadder has a project students can help with, like setting up computers or find apps for teachers to use in class, she sends a text through GroupMe. Like Batman's famed "bat signal," the students respond right away.

LCHS junior Jonathan Connelly, who leads the iTeam, says tech things just come easy to him.

"I understand how computers work, and I can help my teachers or family with any technology problems," Connelly said, explaining tech's appeal. "For me, it's just the coolness and the mystique of technology. It's about not having to carry four notebooks and two textbooks…because it's all accessible on Google Drive."

The iTeam's slogan is "where the students become the teachers." In that vein, team members were recently informed they'd be in charge of maintaining the school's new iMac lab — a room furnished with 37 iMac computers, thanks to a $75,000 donation from the LCHS 7/8 PTA and 9-12 PTSA.

Freshman Braden Oh, who comes from "a Mac family," was excited to see the new lab, furnished in the style of a startup company. He explained his motivation for helping out on the iTeam.

"I really hate sitting idle for any amount of time, so having anything to do is fun," Oh said. "And this is what the future is going to be made of, so it seems good to hop on the bandwagon early."

Lewsadder said the team empowers students to support their teachers and empowers teachers to experiment with technology in the classroom. The balance will come, she added, when teachers are able to deliver lessons to classes on how to use technology smartly.

Giving students a say in how and what teachers teach may seem intimidating, but not to Brent Beaty, whose worked with iTeam members to integrate devices and apps in his own U.S. government and economics classes.

In his 28 years of teaching, Beaty says he's kept up with technological changes but still has more to learn. So he watched as iTeam students increased his computer's RAM and learned how to use Droceri Desktop — an interactive whiteboard app for the iPad — to write notes in class.

"I've been asking kids for tech help since I started having computers in the classroom. When they teach, they're better students," he said. "That's their language, and if we're not up on that, we won't be able to connect with them."

If using an app or a device in the classroom will get the kids to the content, Beaty adds, he's game.

"If technology is the hook, I'm all over it," he said.

This is the second in a series of articles about the integration of technology in today's La Cañada classrooms. Read Part 1: Schools tap into tech with iPads