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Class at Sharon Elementary School develops app about bats

SOUTH FORSYTH — Within the next week, anyone visiting the iTunes store should be able to download an informational app all about bats that was designed by a group of local second-graders.

A class of 36 at Sharon Elementary School has been developing Batology since October, and celebrated its launch Friday.

The app has two components — an informational section and a game.

Throughout the year, each student in Wendy Wing’s gifted education class researched a different bat species, wrote a paper and created designs.

“It’s from a first-person point of view, as if they’re the bat,” Wing said. “It teaches why they’re beneficial from a conservation point of view.”

Charis Beverly learned about the spotted bat that lives in Yosemite National Park.

There are also debunked myths about the animal throughout the app. Vampire bats don’t turn you into a vampire, Beverly said. All bats can see, but some can’t see well.

Some cultures think they’re good luck and give good fortune, including the Navaho Indians who consider bats messengers of the gods.

Beth Jesionowski’s daughter, Maddie, 8, researched the bumblebee bat. It is the smallest mammal in the world with a wingspan of 6 inches and weighing as much as a dime.

“We went on vacation over Thanksgiving and went to a bat exhibit in Orlando, and she was telling the [workers] all about bats,” Jesionowski said.

She added that the project has taught the students so much both about bats and technology.

“She would come home from school and do practice coding on this app,” she said. “I had no idea there’s so much to learn about bats.”

Her daughter plans to attend a coding class over the summer.

“I don’t always understand technology at the lower elementary level, but this is a great example of how it’s useful,” Jesionowski said.


Ingredients for an app


The idea formed when parent Chris Douglass contacted Wing.

Douglass is a software developer for a technology company in Forsyth County. He builds touch-screen devices for schools in an effort to help students like son Jake, a second-grader who has Apraxia, a neurological disorder that causes motor deficiencies, and others who find it hard to use a traditional computer.

“[The students] took everything I could throw at them and ran with it,” Douglass said. “They helped design every part of the app, including the actual artwork you’ll see on the app store.”

Wing recalled that he asked her, “Why not teach computer programming to elementary kids?”

“Given what’s going on with Google, Facebook, Apple, STEM, etc., I thought it was a cool idea,” she said. “Still, because my only experience with computer programming was buying my son his textbook for [Advanced Placement] computer science, I knew this would require a Herculean level of involvement from Chris.”

Douglass volunteered two days a week for nearly the entire year.

“You’d be amazed just how smart they really are,” he said of the students.

In the end, he took all of the information and drawings and ideas from the students and used it as content to develop the app.

“He took them through the whole design process, not just computer programming,” Wing said. “It’s marketing, business, generating the idea, creating the name. I teach them Greek and Latin stems, so we wanted to think of a cool name. They told him what they wanted it to look like.

“He took all of their ingredients.”

The game portion of the app involves a bat trying to find insects or fruit to eat, depending on the species.

A live bat expert visited the class to show them a real animal, she said.

Douglass gave them an introductory lesson to coding. The class joined a video session with the creators of Microsoft’s Touch Develop — the programming language the class used — to talk about “what it’s like to be a computer programmer.”

“If you expose them young enough [to the STEM and coding component],” Wing said, “they don’t have to go through the ‘I’m not smart enough’ phase.”

The app will be free on iTunes.

“The goal was for students to make sure they reached the widest audience,” Wing said. “To show that bats are beneficial and that they’re helpful to the world.”