Cloudland’s Preswood leading innovation at University High
Erica Preswood brought experience when she moved across the state line from Avery County’s school system to University School in Johnson City.
She also brought a passion for technology.
And a wave of creativity.
Hired as a seventh- and eighth-grade language arts teacher at University School, she had helped build Avery County’s reputation as a leader in academics – and technology.
The Cloudland High School graduate, a former curriculum coach in that technology-rich Avery County system, is now immersed in bringing similar innovations to University School on the campus of East Tennessee State University.
And one of those innovations is a computer lab on wheels.
With funding provided by the university’s College of Education and University School, Preswood and her co-workers developed what she calls a “cabinet on wheels.”
But nestled inside that modest cabinet are 25 iPads that all middle-school content areas can use it.
The idea of a mobile computer lab won’t be unfamiliar to Elizabethton students – elementary students in the city system use iPads as a part of their computer lab time.
But in Elizabethton, the switch came our of necessity – the elementary schools lost their computer labs to make room for extra classroom space, so the schools now use iPads on mobile carts for computer lab time.
Preswood says that although most University School students have a computer, the iPads are bringing a new dimension to the classroom.
One example is how the iPads lent texture to her eighth-graders’ study of the 19th-century writings of former slave Frederick Douglass.
Comnbining Douglass’ words with Apple’s GarageBand music creation studio app, students built their own slave narratives.
Joseph Harless chose to set his narrative at Evergreen Plantation in Edgard, La. In his own voice, Harless reads from a diary he wrote himself, recounting daily life on the plantation; he sychronized images including shackled hands with voice and music on the iPad.
“I cried when I saw it,” his teacher says. “It wasn’t just a paper. And the iPads made it happen.”
Some students plotted their escape routes on the Underground Railroad and theorized where their self-created characters might end up in the North. The students created a digital gallery walk to share their accomplishments after the projects were finished.
In another project, Preswood’s seventh-graders used the iPad technology to create movie trailers to coincide with Montana novelist Ben Mikaelsen’s book, “Touching Spirit Bear.”
Preswood graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor’s degree, and earned and a master of science in media and technology from ETSU.
And Preswood’s link to Cloudland High School has a story of its own.
She grew up on the North Carolina side of the state line. But as luck would have it, the bus to Carter County’s Cloudland High School ran right past her house.
So that’s where she went.
Preswood jokes that she has a “four-year plan:” she started teaching sixth-grade language arts in Caldwell County, N.C., for four years, then spent four years teaching eighth grade in Avery County, followed by four years as a curriculum specialist in Avery County’s central office.
In Avery, her career in instructional technology took off. She helped the system there with its successful application to be a K-12 Apple Distinguished District, among the first in the country.
“We were going to conferences all over after that,” Preswood says.