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Changing the classroom
Impact of technology far-reaching
Skype WEB 1
Coal Mountain Elementary students take part in a video conference using Skype. - photo by Jim Dean

About this series

Classrooms have come a long way from the days of pencils, paper and books, or even instructional films and videos. Today’s students have access to seemingly limitless technology and resources, and that’s changing the way they learn. This is the first in an occasional series by the FCN exploring how the Forsyth County school system is using technology to educate students.

They could have been across the globe or right next door.

All the students in Joanne Paget’s fourth-grade class at Coal Mountain Elementary knew was that the students with whom they were Skyping had an Internet connection.

The game of Mystery Skype let “children practice mapping skills and questioning,” Paget said. “They didn’t tell each other where they were from. They had to guess the location by asking questions that had a yes-or-no answer.”

Such queries included, “Are you in the Northern hemisphere?” or “Are you in the continent of Asia?”

“What I noticed was … the class we were Skyping with, they were using books and atlases and all of my children used their electronic devices,” Paget said.

The use of video conferencing programs such as Skype has opened Forsyth County classrooms to the world.

It’s just one of many ways the Forsyth County school system, long considered a leader in classroom technology in Georgia, has changed the dynamics of learning.

Paget’s students eventually used Google Earth and other applications and programs to determine they were talking to students in Wisconsin.

Her students also appeared to be much faster using their resources, Paget said.

Miles to the south at Shiloh Point Elementary, Elizabeth Stevens’ fifth-graders have visited Pearl Harbor.

“We had to arrange it after school because of the time change, but the students were able to talk to a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack,” Stevens said.

“We’d never be able to go to Pearl Harbor as a group of fifth graders, but we were able to do that with the virtual field trip. It’s opening up the doors to so many opportunities.”

Stevens’ students have been to the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Alabama and spoken to the director. They’ve also talked with an expert on the Wright brothers.

“He was able to voice conference with us and answer a lot of questions,” she said. “He was also able to share a video clip and primary source photographs of the Wright brothers and some of their other inventions.

“It’s very interactive for the kids and engaging and they were able to experience it in real time.”

While conferencing is a key tool in teaching through technology, it is not a replacement for textbooks, Stevens said. Students still need to use traditional tools to research.

Back at Coal Mountain Elementary in north Forsyth, Brittney Shadburn said technology has totally revolutionized how students learn.

The 11-year teaching veteran said it can be a difficult transition from standard teaching, but it’s the future.

“It’s how they learn and it’s where we’re going,” she said. “The engagement level, the excitement level for learning — I think it impacts their retention and how much they can remember and what they can do with it after they actually learn it.”

“It’s totally transformed the way we teach.”

Shadburn’s third-graders recently Skyped with Mike Byster, founder of the Brainetics program the students are using in her math class, as well as the classes of Kristen Durant and Dotty Forbes.

By Skyping with Byster, Shadburn said students were able to ask questions about mental math secrets and tricks they could use to improve their memory.

Using Skype in the classroom is “just one tool that we’re hoping they can see how math interacts with real life and how … it impacts other people in their jobs.”

Stevens noted that using Skype in the classroom, while not entirely the same approach, is a way for students to take a field trip.

“In this economy, it’s going to save a lot of money on field trips and it’s going to open up the door to many more opportunities,” she said.

“A book might not have the answers they’re looking for, but being able to go to an expert, you’re just getting better information.”

Paget’s class can read about the U.S. Congress and who represents their state. But it’s a long trip to Washington D.C. to bring a congressman in for an interview.

Through Skype, Paget’s class and the entire fourth grade at Coal Mountain Elementary will speak with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia in March and District 9 U.S. Rep. Tom Graves in a few weeks.

“What better way to teach than to Skype with the actual people doing the job? And the children will remember it more than me standing up at the front telling them about it,” she said.

“Technology is forever changing and we have to keep up with the times and with the children if we’re to teach them. If we don’t then we’re being negligent as teachers.”