While textbooks and worksheets may have been the way many Tullahoma students learned while they were in school, students in today’s classrooms are taking a more technologically advanced approach to their learning.
As part of the Tullahoma City Schools mission to provide “challenging and innovative experiences” designed to foster students’ love of learning, the Bel-Aire Elementary School Bees are taking to Skype and Google Hangouts to connect with classrooms around the country in order to learn.
Students at Bel-Aire have been connecting with their peers in a school district in Pennsylvania for several months, sharing information about each other’s schools, hometowns and educational style, as well as collaborating on projects and participating in joint lessons on English language arts, math and more.
The connections began in November, when Director of Schools John Carver first stepped into his role with the district. Carver’s mission since he was passed the baton by Dan Lawson has been to promote children’s passions and foster their love of learning into deeper and broader connections with others.
As part of that mission, each elementary school has been tasked with one aspect that furthers the district’s new mission statement. Bel-Aire’s focus thus far has been global connections, according to Principal April Norris, and she’s seen the positive impact these connections have had on both her Bel-Aire Bees and her faculty.
Teaching through technology
While everyone knows who’s connecting with whom now, the connections don’t start out that way. According to Norris, each new connection begins with a “mystery Skype.”
“During this meet, learners asked questions and used maps to determine where the other students are located,” Norris said. “Once the location was determined, learners got to know each other and discussed their schools. Other connections are set to focus on learning projects in [English language arts], math, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and finally student-led projects.”
The connections allow students to both experience different ways of life, such as the difference between a public and a Catholic school, and see how similar their educations may be.
According to third-grade teacher Brittany Byrd, her students have been able to see how different people might interpret data differently.
“Both schools were learning about types of graphs used to represent different types of data,” she said. “Each school created a small survey for the other school to complete. We then graphed each other’s answers.”
While both schools were utilizing similar methods in compiling the data, the differences came when each school presented their graphs, she said.
“The students from Bel-Aire shared bar and circle graphs that they had created individually,” Byrd said. “St. James’ students shared a graph on chart paper that they created together as a group.”
The lessons all fit into the standards set by each state, Byrd said, but some are more interactive than others.
“In our most recent connection, we played a game of Multiplication Battleship against the other school,” she said. “This was exciting for the students and still fit into the learning expectations.”
Both Norris and Byrd said they’ve seen great things come from these Skype lessons – both for the students and the teachers.
From an administrative point of view, Norris said she relishes the fact that her educators are collaborating and implementing “relevant and engaging projects.” That collaboration and implementation then translates to positives for her ever-learning Bees.
“The learners enjoy the connections and understand that learning has no ZIP code,” Norris said. “[They] see and understand the ease of connecting, collaborating and creating higher-order projects to showcase their learning.”
By immersing themselves in this new type of learning, Norris said, they use technology as a tool to “support learning and illustrate unlimited capabilities.”
Byrd echoed Norris’s claims, saying it was “great” to see how much the students enjoy learning about other places during these connections.
“They are very interested in the similarities and differences between our friends in [Pennsylvania],” she said. “For example, they are an hour ahead of us; they wear uniforms at their school [and] they have fewer students than we do.”
Byrd also said she’s experienced great benefits from her own perspective.
“The connections I am making as a teacher are also invaluable,” she said. “I have been able to assist the principal at St. James with some technical questions she had, and I have been able to work with educators outside of my district with a simple mouse click.”
These classroom-to-classroom collaborations aren’t the first ones Bel-Aire has experienced. In November, the school participated in the Traveling Mural Project, an interactive and collaborative art project that sees art classes from around the world come together to create one mural.
According to Norris, Bel-Aire students created a mural that was broken up into pieces and sent to nine other schools across North America. Those other schools also created their own murals, and the mural pieces were all shared among each participating school. The resulting artwork is currently on display in the Bel-Aire Art/Music Hall, Norris said.
Other states the Bees have connected with include South Dakota, Texas, Connecticut, New Jersey, Georgia, Iowa and Alabama. Students have also made connections with multiple international locations, Norris added, including Sweden, San Salvador, Germany, Argentina and Canada.
As the connections continue, Norris said students will complete a final project toward the end of the year that will share their experiences with their classmates. Students will make a video detailing what they liked about the connections, Norris said.
Since all the connections thus far have been positive, Norris said many more were coming, including special “virtual field trips.”
“Our connections will continue to grow as we ensure our learners experience virtual field trips and Skypes/Google Meets with others all over the world,” she said. “Stay turned for many more exciting projects.”
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.