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posted: 2/22/2014 8:01 AM

Technology classes help girls build online skills

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Evansville Courier & Press

EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- A digital tattoo, just like a real tattoo, lasts forever and never goes away, even after pressing the delete button.

That was a reminder DeLyn Beard delivered during a recent meeting of the Digital Divas, a girls only eLeader Academy club centered on young girls' needs and interests.

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Beard, eLeader founder, coach and fourth-grade teacher at Oak Hill, told the girls ages 9 to 11 that the digital footprint is permanent and never leaves, so be aware of what you're doing online.

Throughout the course, Digital Divas will be encouraged to explore computer science-related careers and hobbies, including new techie tools, Internet safety, cyberbullying, Internet literacy and computer programming.

"This is the space that lets me break the rules that I can't break during the day," Beard told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1fduS8n). "It's very empowering ... I just have a passion for technology. It's moving so quickly, and I love that."

The six-week courses are offered to students in grades 1 through 6. The winter camps started last week and go through March 20. Each class is held at night in the offices of EDN Systems, located at 4004 East Morgan Ave. The clubs are available to all students in the community, and no previous technology experience is required. The cost to attend is about $60, with sibling discounts, which funds technology for students who may not have personal tools.

Johnathon Marvell, president of EDN Systems, donates the space for Beard's classes. Marvell said there are thousands of new techie tools created each year. He said the leadership part of Beard's academy is important for students and builds their confidence.

"I was self-taught with it (technology), so I think what she's doing is a good thing," he said. "Even with computer science in schools, it's not going to be on this level."

Students are encouraged to bring their own eDevices, which can include a smartphone, laptop or tablet, but Beard currently has two MacBooks, two Chromebooks, a Microsoft Surface tablet and an iPad available for students to use. She has purchased two more computers and a server, and hopes to have an entire computer lab in the future. Some of the techie tools used in class include Weebly, Powtoon, Prezi and Padlet.

Beard also offers "unplugged" classes, and the current one focuses on chess and Legos. She said it's for students to find opportunities that may not involve technology, but will still get them thinking outside the box and encourage leadership skills.

"Some nights are unplugged, some nights are plugged in," she said. "So really it's about working together, collaborating, solving problems and becoming leaders. And they (kids) take risks. They're a lot less afraid of the technology than we are."

Cynthia Heights third-grader Alexandra Garland, 8, took the eLeader boot camp in November, and she created the name for Digital Divas, which she is currently participating in. Oak Hill fourth grader Myah Dressler, 10, learned how to make a website during November's camp and is now a Digital Diva.

"I like technology a lot for the social aspect and to play games," said Isabelle Edwards, 10.

At the end of the camps, students are required to present one techie tool they learned and connected with. This builds leadership skills, and Beard said she has seen some introverted, quiet kids transform into leaders.

The eLeader Academy is a result of Beard creating Oak Hill eLeaders with a group of eight students three years ago. It is an after-school technology club for Oak Hill students geared toward teaching them how to purposefully use technology and then empowering them to teach their peers, adults and even teachers. The Oak Hill eLeaders present at national conferences.

Beard has 18 years of teaching experience, including grades K-8 and special needs students. She started the original club because she said there simply wasn't enough time during the school day to accomplish everything she planned.

Class sizes are limited in the eLeader Academy, and clubs will soon expand to junior high and high school students. For more information, visit http://www.eleaderacademy.com/.

It's a daunting feeling, Beard said, to walk into her classroom and know the jobs her students will have most likely don't exist yet.

"I believe the reason their jobs don't exist yet is because of technology," she said. "We don't know what the world is going to look like when they're 18 years old. So how do we prepare them for those jobs? That's what I'm trying to do."

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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