Miles Away, Right at Home
Distance Learning Enhances OCS Curriculum
By Megan McCarthy, Onekama School Teacher
A fifth grader, Sophie Wisniski, bounced over to me at halftime of the high school basketball game night.
“I can’t wait to go to Pennsylvania with you in class tomorrow, Mrs. McCarthy,” she said.
“Me, too, Sophie,” I replied. “It’s going to rock.”
The next day, instead of sitting at our desks and taking out our interactive notebooks and preparing for our usual routine, my class and I headed down the hallway to the Distance Learning Room.
Boz Duffield, our technical advisor, had the large screen ready, microphones on, cameras ready… and with the push of a button, my students were suddenly speaking to and interacting with a national park ranger at Fort Necessity in Farmington, Pennsylvania.
During the hour-long live videoconference, we learned more about George Washington’s early life in the military and about the ways the French and Indian War set in motion discontent among the colonists that would eventually lead to the American Revolution.
“The ranger at Fort Necessity is an expert because she had to learn so much for her job,” commented fifth grader Ashley McGrady. “I liked hearing her tell me so many details I didn’t know before.”
As a fifth grade social studies teacher, you just can’t ask for a better way to help bring history to life than experiences like this one.
Onekama School is fortunate to have a great set-up: a room with the proper technology and correct set up to allow this type of experience any time a teacher wishes. Our Distance Learning Room is not just set aside for high school students taking college classes; it is open to all teachers and all grade levels for truly unique learning experiences.
Last school year, third grade social studies students spent an afternoon at the Homestead National Monument in Nebraska, learning about a typical school day in 1872. In science class, this same third grade class combined love for Dr. Seuss with a hands-on science program out of Ohio called “Egg-Citing Animals and Egg-Speriments.”
Fourth graders spent time at the Smithsonian Museum of Art in Washington, D.C., as a museum curator shared insights on items from the museum’s amazing collection.
For some of my students, this may be the closest they will ever get to the Smithsonian. The fact that our school has the opportunity to expose these children to great artwork in its environment at such a young age feels important to me – as a teacher, and as a parent of four Onekama School students.
Fifth grade students will participate in three multi-point distance learning trips this school year as part of a collaborative program called The Great Race, in which they communicate with 35 other fifth grade classrooms across the country in a project that combines geography, economics, math, and technology.
These twenty-first century learning experiences will allow students to see beyond the borders of Manistee County, to hear from experts in their fields, to ask questions of the past, and to imagine possibilities for the future.
It also gives students the chance to learn from, question, and be inspired by perspectives other than their classroom teachers. Distance learning does not replace classroom instruction, but it absolutely can enhance it.
To be a teacher at a time when technology is making the wide world seem touchable is inspiring. To be a teacher in a school that makes these opportunities possible and a priority is amazing.