Students use new technology to learn history

Hillendale Elementary School fourth-graders used some 21st
century technology to learn about 20th century history last week.

With all three classes of fourth-graders assembled in the
large group instruction room at the school on the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 20,
nine of the 69 students got to question Lecia J. Brooks about the civil rights
movement. Brooks is the director of Civil Rights Memorial Center at the
Southern Poverty law center in Montgomery, Ala.

The bulk of the questions centered around Rosa Parks and the
Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Some of the things they learned was that Parks was not the
first person who refused to give up her seat to a white person when asked and
that even white supporters of the boycott–that lasted 381 days from December
1955 to December 1956–were harassed and had homes bombed.

One student, Eric, said he learned that police in Birmingham
would falsely charge whites that supported the boycott.

“I learned a lot about the boycott, like how policemen would
fine people for things they didn’t do,” he said.

Another student, Timothy, said he learned that supporters
had their homes bombed “even though they were just not riding the bus.”

Despite occasional audio glitches, the entire group of
students, not just the nine asking the questions, seemed eager to hear the
historic background from Brooks.

Todd Picard, one of the fourth-grade teachers, said the idea
for the project came about during the regular social studies curriculum where
students learn about the regions of the country.

“We are currently studying the southeast region and one of
the places we talk about is Montgomery, Alabama. In that discussion we talk
about Rosa Parks and the bus boycott that took place as a result of not giving
up her seat to a white man,” said Picard.

He said the idea for the videoconferencing came while he was
thinking about ways to incorporate the use of technology.

“I thought that videoconferencing with somebody in each
region would give the kids a chance to interact with a primary source and give
the lessons we teach more real world application,” Picard added.

Skype and the Internet are not the only technology Picard
uses. He also uses computer technology to help the kids learn how to make
movies and podcasts along with word processing and Internet research.

Picard uses technology to teach “everything from math facts
to states of the country, capitals. … Technology has played a huge part in what
I do with my kids educationally.”

Friday’s videoconference was the first time the students
used Skype–a technology that incorporates the Internet with a computer’s
built-in camera, microphone and speakers–though Picard has used it on his own.

The project came as a result of an e-mail Picard sent to the
Civil Rights Memorial Center. Picard said he received a direct reply from
Brooks and after several weeks of communication, the date was set.

The goal, he said, was to get the kids to “come away from
this activity with a better understanding of the Civil Right Movement and the
struggle African Americans faced in this country,” Picard said.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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