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GISD’s tech-focused DLU enlightens elementary students 

Ninety students from Beaver and Watson Technology Centers for Math and Science enhanced their 21st-century skills during the district’s Digital Leadership University (DLU) July 28-30 at North Garland High School. The third-annual event encouraged students from all grade levels to practice innovative programs and techniques.

“When we started this program, we wanted students to be well-versed in all the good things technology could do in the classroom,” said GISD Magnet Facilitator Stacey Payton. “We took two students from every classroom so they could help teachers with projects throughout the year. Students attended five teacher-facilitated sessions lasting two hours each. Those sessions included everything from coding to digital citizenship training to gaming.”

Payton and her team have worked to add new courses to DLU’s itinerary each year. With the help of Sachse High School alumnus and current University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) biomedical engineer major Shelbi Parker, Payton was able to incorporate the Polycraft World session at DLU this summer. The groundbreaking course combined chemistry, 3-D printing and UTD’s version of the build-a-world video game, Minecraft.

“We taught kids about material science and how to make different things with a 3-D printer,” said UTD student Allie Dyson. “We taught them about an extruder, which takes plastic and molds it into a material, then set them to play our Minecraft mod, PolyCraft, and practice industrial applications. The nice thing about this program is that it opens kids’ eyes to how the world is built around them.”

Beaver MST fifth-grade teacher Mary Katherine Marston also delights in seeing students discover real-life concepts through technology. The two-year DLU instructor believes the mini summer camp not only helped students enjoy the thrill of digital exploration, but teachers, as well.

“I really love teaching at DLU because you get to do more of what you love doing in the classroom with technology and projects that really expand the kids’ knowledge,” she said. “Sometimes in the classroom, you are so focused on so many other things that the fun aspect of technology is not celebrated as much.”

After three days of interactive fun, students were able to share their newfound knowledge during DLU’s showcase—which saw more than 80 enthused parents and guardians.

“[DLU] was excellent. This camp was a great way for young kids to explore and understand more of the digital world,” said Cheryl Moore, grandmother of Watson MST first-grader Makenzie Mathis. “I enjoyed watching the experience.”

“The program was genius,” added Yuleydiana Marin, mother of Beaver MST first-grader Rubi. “But I would love it if the kids had more than three days to learn more about technology, considering the fast rate at which it advances.”

Payton is already on the case. Next year, she plans to open DLU to GISD students across the district and expand it to multiple weeks.

Information provided by Garland ISD.