URBANA — She was trained to be a band teacher, but Erin Lodes has expanded into teaching students about how to use and learn with technology.
Lodes, who became an Apple Distinguished Educator last year, will travel to Cork, Ireland, this summer to attend an institute with other teachers who have earned that distinction.
The institute is including teachers from 26 different countries, with the goal of increasing international collaborations in education, as well as Apple employees.
A total of about 200 people will attend, Lodes said.
"It's a wonderful community of educators embracing their geekiness," she said.
Apple Inc. pays for the institute, Lodes said, so it's considered a gift to her and was reviewed by the school district's administration. The school district is paying her air fare, while Lodes is paying her other travel expenses.
While these institutes include some keynote speakers, they tend to emphasize getting teachers together to collaborate on how technology and education work together. They also work to develop content for iTunes U, a computer application developed by Apple that provides access to educational materials on computers and mobile devices.
When Apple selects distinguished educators, "they're looking for people trying to transform education through technology," Lodes said.
Lodes said she and her husband, Mike, will travel to Ireland before the institute starts in mid-July. The district is not paying any of his travel expenses. They'll camp and bike around the country, and Lodes will meet with Irish teachers who are also Apple Distinguished Educators. She and others who are attending had to apply to be accepted into the institute.
This year's won't be Lodes' first institute.
She attended an Apple Distinguished Educators institute in Phoenix last summer and used her own curriculum to create an app for iTunes U. That meant that this school year, she (and other teachers) were able to use the curriculum on iPads.
There's a huge push right now to expand the K-12 offerings in iTunes U, Lodes said, but those who work in higher education also attend the institutes.
Lodes started at Urbana Middle School five years ago as a band director, and then developed a music technology course for eighth-graders who weren't necessarily involved in band, chorus or orchestra.
She also earned an online master's degree from Full Sail University in education technology and media, a program she chose for its emphasis on technology.
She helped develop non-music technology classes for sixth- and seventh-graders, along with UMS technology coordinator Kevin Erlinger, and taught the seventh-grade class last year.
It's focused on science and technology, and Lodes teaches it with an emphasis on careers that use these things.
She has students working as journalists using statistics, as forensic scientists processing evidence, as game designers creating their computer games and as animators using computers. Some students, independently, have made stop-motion films using clay.
Lodes said that as a teacher, she believes in student-led, project-based learning, and likes to focus on what her students need to learn, rather than the specific work she'd like them to do. She said she finds that giving students the freedom to choose their own projects increases student engagement.
She likes working with technology, because it changes just as fast as her students' interests, and believes incorporating it into the classroom keeps students engaged.
"All the ways we use technology in real life should be used in school, too," Lodes said.
Scott Woods, principal at Urbana Middle School, said Lodes is a part of a group of teachers at the school who are interested in technology and work to integrate it into the classroom.
She also teaches courses for professional development for teachers across the school district, and emphasizes the importance of knowing how to use technology to help students learn more.
"Really, it's how you use it and how you apply it," Woods said. "(Lodes) is really ace on that."