Craig Cheryl Arnett’s first-graders stomped in from recess Thursday, cheeks flushed with cold and bouncing with energy from lunchtime.
As they sat down in front of the white board, Joey Kenney’s hand shot into the air.
“Ms. Arnett, are we going to use the iPods?” she asked her teacher.
Her question was met with a chorus from her classmates.
They clapped their hands and chanted, “I love iPods. I love iPods.”
It was a matter of minutes before they had lined up and one by one picked an iPod Touch out of a box.
The students knew what was next.
The 6- and 7-year-olds sat down cross-legged and began to log into the classroom’s wireless Internet to begin their afternoon lesson.
“We’re looking at the weather,” student Dustin Dunn said. “You click on this thing called Wi-Fi, and we can see the weather of our pen pals.”
The Moffat County School District bought 23 iPods for a pilot program in Arnett’s class that features a new approach to learning core material.
Arnett said with a small computer and the Worldwide Web in their hands, her students can pack math, geography, literacy, motor skills and social interaction into one lesson.
But to Arnett, the most impressive result of technology in the classroom is how it has let them reach out to far corners of the world.
“We’ve made the Earth a bit smaller for them,” she said.
Throughout the next 20 minutes, the class traveled from Craig to Henniker, N.H., then to Lusaka, Zambia, and finally Beirut, Lebanon.
Each of the cities housed a classroom that Arnett’s students have been exchanging letters with since the beginning of the year via a Web site.
Each day, the students look at the weather in their friends’ cities and make a graph comparing the climate in each area.
This week, Arnett’s class didn’t receive letters from their friends in Lusaka, but they soon learned why.
“What’s it doing in Lusaka?” Arnett asked.
“It’s storming,” the students replied.
Joey explained that sometimes, when Africa experiences lightening storms, the Internet at their pen pals’ school can be out of commission for weeks.
Each student has one or two pen pals from each school, and they exchange letters once a week.
On Tate Severson’s page, she could view the history of her letters and pictures of her pen pals.
“Dear Tate,” Kennedy from New Hampshire wrote. “How was your weekend? I lost my tooth. Did you lose your tooth?”
Reina and Mounira from Beirut learned English as a second language, but told Tate they still celebrated Christmas in addition to their Muslim holidays.
“We like pizza and strawberries. What is your favorite subject in school?” they wrote.
When Arnett’s class celebrated Thanksgiving, they posted a video of their drawings of the first feast between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.
The Lebanese class responded with a video of how they celebrated their holiday of Eid ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadon.
Joey said she liked having pen pals all over the world and learning about their lives.
“We get to see them every day in the computer lab,” she said. “They can tell me what they see in their backyard and how many pets they have.”
While the students spent a little time each day playing spelling or math games on their iPods, there was no shortage of hands-on creation in Arnett’s classroom.
The students made Christmas cards with Elmer’s glue and construction paper, sprinkling red and green glitter on top before taking pictures of their cards with a Web cam and posting them to their pen pal sites.
They had also made an entire town of milk cartons and paper-towel tubes while they studied the needs and wants of human beings.
“This is not taking the place of basic reading and writing,” she said. “We’re still doing all those things.”
Arnett said each of the iPods cost $200 and are much more interactive than desktop computers, which cost more than $1,000. Also, each child could have one in his or her hands and walk around the room to help one another.
“Instead of having six, full-size computers with limited space, we can have 23 of these, and they can use them for everything,” she said. “And .we spend so much money on text books just to have them become outdated in a year.”
In the future, Arnett hopes to expand the relationship to her African counterpart. The teacher in Lusaka has begun a service project in nearby indigenous villages.
She plans to take pictures of the huts and the native people and post them online so Arnett’s class can learn about shelter and other cultures’ traditions.
“But, the kids aren’t finding out that we’re different than them,” she said. “We’re finding out that they’re the same.”