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South Fayette students' program redefines the flashcard

| Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 6:20 p.m.

Three South Fayette High School students want to change the definition of the flashcard.

Ben Kenawell, Radhir Kothuri and Varun Thangavelu started a flashcard program they say will enhance students' learning. When their work is complete, students will be able to answer computer-based flashcards by writing answers on a tablet computer.

The project's focus is on creating educational software, said Kenawell, 17, a team manager. The target audience so far is students in kindergarten to second grade.

Still, “The possibilities of that application can go anywhere,” Kothuri said. “I can use that for my calculus class, or a kindergarten student can use it to learn the alphabet.”

This isn't just a science project for the group. Over the summer, they showed it at the Workshop on the Impact of Pen & Touch Technology on Education conference at Pepperdine University in California.

They hope to market the product to businesses by Nov. 30.

Carnegie Mellon University computer science Professor Ananda Gunawardena helped with the project. With his expertise, the team made the flashcards more user-friendly.

Team adviser Aileen Owens said the software program's ability to notice a student's weakness makes it unique.

“Teachers can create a series of flashcards for students who are struggling in class,” Owens said. “They designed them so that if a student gets (a question) wrong, it appears randomly in the deck so the student has to answer it again.”

Making the code for the project was a grueling task, team members said, but they embraced the challenge.

“Working at 2 in the morning, trying to code, I just got a big smile on my face when it finally worked,” Kothuri said.

Sarah Hertzler, 16, took on graphic designing for the project.

“I've always had a thing for technology,” she said. “I kind of wanted to get involved and make it look prettier, so that when they actually tried to sell it people would want to buy it.”

Sam Cohen, 14, a freshman, focused on research and development, importing Microsoft Word documents, audio and video into the program.

Breanna McCann, 13, was in charge of public relations, and obtaining tablets. She hopes to get Windows 8 RT tablets on which to run tests, through a grant application to Best Buy.

Still, the future of the program isn't certain.

Thangavelu left for the University of Illinois. Seniors Kenawell and Kothuri graduate at the end of the school year. They are confident their successors will get the job done.

“We wanted a way to hand over something to the middle school students, so they could continue beyond the flashcards,” Kothuri said.

The next step is refining the program, and beginning a new set of trials. “We want to see it deeply engraved into South Fayette,” Kothuri said.

David Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5804 or dpaulk@tribweb.com.

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