Student teachers

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High schoolers assist senior citizens with new technology, gadgets

By Mark Robinson

The ever-evolving world of technology can be overwhelming to anyone. Personal computers, smartphones, tablets, applications are constantly changing, with newer, better, more sophisticated tools becoming available each day.

Understanding how to use those tools can be challenging for anyone, particularly seniors who didn’t grow up with the technology and are often apprehensive about learning even simple tech tasks that could enrich their lives. Who better, then, to teach seniors than a group of savvy, friendly teens who have been immersed in the techno sphere since birth?

That’s the premise behind classes conducted by Noblesville High School students that take place at Senior Citizens Organizations, Inc. of Hamilton County and at the Hamilton East Public Library-Noblesville. Zack Baker, an NHS junior who started computer programming at age 10, leads a “tech team” of five to 10 students who work with seniors to make learning technology less daunting.

“We just help answer their questions about technology, show them some new apps and things they might be interested in,” said Baker. “It’s pretty awesome.”

For some, like senior center member Patricia Mangan, it was as simple as learning how to take photos or turn up the volume on her smartphone. Others, like DeEtta Burch, needed to learn how to use Skype on her smartphone so she could have video chats with her grandson in Saudi Arabia.

“These kids, each one of them, I could hear them talking with people, and they didn’t care if we didn’t know anything, they talked with us like we were smart,” Burch said. “They did help me and were really good about explaining it. It’s a worthwhile thing for us. They are excellent, excellent people. It makes me really proud to say I live in Noblesville.”

Baker explained that the classes began as a required community service project for an NHS class. He and the other students quickly saw the enthusiastic response and have continued with the classes long after the requirement ended. The classes – which often turn into individual help sessions – are offered once a month at the library and twice a month at the senior center.

“People really love it,” Baker said. “They always tell us how grateful they are. It’s just really cool, the things that we’re doing. We helped one woman use the maps application on her iPhone. She said she doesn’t usually drive because she gets lost. With the maps app open, she says she can visit her friends in the hospital in Anderson or something. So we actually, really helped her.”

Plans are to continue offering the classes at both locations. That’s good for Phyllis Linenberger, the senior center member who helped organize the classes. She said only about 10 percent of the membership has taken advantage of the classes to date, but that interest is growing as word of mouth spreads about the benefits.

Baker, who has also developed an app that NHS uses for school hall passes, envisions taking the students teaching seniors idea to the next step.

“We’d love to continue it throughout high school and we’d like to expand it to some other places, too,” he said. “There’s a digital learning conference coming up at Noblesville High School where we get students from around the state to come. We’re going to talk to them about what we’re doing here and hopefully they’ll bring some of that back to their own communities.”

For more information on the classes at Senior Center Organization, Inc. (18336 Cumberland Rd, Noblesville), call 773-6904 or visit seniorcitizensorg.org. For information on classes at Hamilton East Public Library-Noblesville (1 Library Plaza,), call 773-1384 or visit http://nobl.ent.sirsi.net/client/default.

“I needed a lot of help and it’s fun,” said Sue Huffman, who attended a recent library session. “… They made everything so easy. I thought, ‘Why didn’t I see that?’”

A tech whiz

Hey, kid, where’s your hall pass?

Thanks to one of their own, Noblesville High School students can answer that question quickly with a smartphone or iPad. Zack Baker, a junior, developed a software application called PassWhiz that the high school uses to distribute and monitor student passes instead of the traditional paper passes.

Baker created the app for a U.S. House of Representatives initiative that encouraged representatives to support competitions in their home districts for students to develop technological solutions. While Baker’s app did not win for Indiana District 5 (it placed second), he was encouraged with the potential of PassWhiz.

“We saw that it was really promising, so over the summer and the beginning of the next school year, I worked really hard redoing the app and making it sync over the cloud,” Baker said. “So now there’s three apps – PassWhiz Student, PassWhiz Teacher and PassWhiz Admin. The student can request passes from the teacher and they can manage them on their devices, and the administrators can see where all the kids are going. It works really, really well at Noblesville High School. We’re just ironing out a few little bugs and then we can move it on to the (Noblesville) middle schools and past that to other schools that are interested in using it.”

Baker said other school districts have expressed an interest in using the app, but he’s also looking ahead to his next project. Baker and Pete Freeman, a noted 2014 NHS graduate and freshman at the University of Notre Dame, are collaborating on a way to gather social content disseminated by Notre Dame students – blogs, podcasts, photos and more – into a one-stop location.

“We’re taking all those Notre Dame students’ content and putting it in one app called the Irish Insider,” Baker explained. “We’re putting the finishing touches on that. We’re really excited about it.”


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