Alaskan students go digital
Fourth graders at K-Beach Elementary School in Soldotna, Alaska, USA, show the blog on which they've posted photos taken with Rotary club-funded digital cameras. Photo courtesy of Rotary Club of Soldotna
A close-up photo of a sleepy-eyed Labrador retriever. A family crest reproduced on a class blog. A two-minute movie featuring a bear catching fish in a rushing, clear river.
These varied projects were all produced by students in Soldotna, Alaska, USA, using digital cameras, editing software, and printer/scanners purchased through a District Simplified Grant and contributions from the Rotary Club of Soldotna, the city, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
During the 2008 academic year, elementary through high school teachers at four schools used the 51 cameras and supplementary equipment, valued at $15,000, in their classrooms for a variety of lessons, including a digital pen pal project with schoolchildren in Russia.
"With third graders, we were doing a lot of teaching of how to use the camera and download the images onto the computer," says John Pothast, Redoubt Elementary School principal and president of the Soldotna club. "What we found out is that our third graders had no knowledge of any of that."
By the end of the year, Pothast says, the students were taking photos and incorporating them into storybooks and PowerPoint presentations. Older students used the equipment in digital video, photography, and yearbook courses.
Club member and project leader Joe Kashi also worked with teachers to link the Alaskan students digitally with students in six Siberian schools in District 5010, which includes parts of Canada and Russia as well as Alaska. The project is in its infancy, but some students have already made international connections, exchanging e-mails and photos.
"This piqued interest from Belorechensk students in things they previously did not pay attention to, such as Russia selling Alaska," says Past District Governor Vladimir Donskoy about the approximately 20 Russian students who have corresponded through the aid of a Google translator. "Now they seem to understand why Alaska has many Russian geographical names."
Communicating outside the district, 24 fourth graders in Jason Daniels's class in Soldotna have been interacting through a blog with students from an English-language school in Moscow. In addition to featuring posts about class outings such as an ecology trip, the English-Russian language blog provides links to students' photos and writings.
Daniels included the digital exchange in social studies and geography lessons and held a digital photography contest in his class.
"Our long-term intention would be to get a Pan-Arctic digital pen pal project going involving Scandinavia and northern Japan as well," says Kashi.