Technology Brings the Past Alive
For many kids, Thanksgiving is all about a bounty of good food, cheers from the football game on television and the influx of family members.
But in the last two weeks, Debbie Garner's third-grade class at Westmoore Elementary School has discovered the true meaning of Thanksgiving, with the help of technology for the 21st century.
While the class read stories about the first Thanksgiving, approximated how many guests attended the three-day feast and learned about the harsh climate the Pilgrims endured, students realized that they can give thanks for the same basic needs that were celebrated during that first communal meal.
Garner is thankful that her classroom's Smart Board has allowed students to delve that far into the past.
A Smart Board is an interactive white board that allows teachers to write using a digital pen and utilize all the functions of a computer to present online learning tools. As of this year, all Moore County classrooms now feature their own Smart Boards.
For Garner, a teacher of 17 years, long gone are the days of dusty hands, clapping erasers and the occasional screech of chalk on slate. Here to stay is the constant evolution of technological instruction in the classroom.
Garner says the Smart Board gives her the opportunity to take instruction and class discussions further, with the ability to present supplemental material that can answer students' questions and pique their interests.
"Everything's at our fingertips now," she said. "It engages the children more in the lesson. It's helping us prepare them for the 21st century, and these are the tools we need to be able to do it."
Jonathan Seawell, a student teacher from St. Andrews Presbyterian College, has helped Garner bring more interactive activities with the Smart Board into the classroom this year to constantly engage students.
"It takes more to keep their attention now than when I was their age," he said.
Garner's students have spent the last two weeks using the Smart Board to compare their present-day lives with the lives of the Pilgrims who established the village of Plymouth in Massachusetts almost 400 years ago.
"It's engaging," Garner said. "They're not just sitting there looking at a book. They get to actually see it."
Last week, third-graders watched a live webcast from Plymouth Plantation, where Pilgrim and Wampanoag Indian re-enactors explained what life was like in 1620.
Garner was excited to see her students realize that the world they live in is vastly different from the world that awaited the Pilgrims' arrival on the Mayflower.
"It really seemed to make the story they had read come alive," Garner said. "[The webcast] helped them make the connections that are hard to make without it."
The webcast was also the students' first virtual field trip of the year.
With a click, the Smart Board instantly transported the class up Interstate 95 to a live presentation going on almost 800 miles away in Massachusetts. Through the presentation, students learned about the greater ideas surrounding the story of the first Thanksgiving, such as religious freedom, cultural tolerance and cooperation.
Seawell said the webcast allowed students to become immersed in the society established by the Pilgrims.
"You can't always take a field trip somewhere, but that was a great opportunity for them to be in what we were talking about," he said
Trevor Cullen said he learned about how hard life was for the Pilgrims, who had to learn to survive in a new world.
"It was fun learning about how it was back then in the past," he said.
Cullen said the Smart Board takes the "boring" parts of learning, such as "staring at a book," and makes the material fun.
"It's way better than that," he said, pointing to a dry-erase board now used mostly to list homework assignments and display instructional posters.
Garner said the webcast also helped her students realize the underlying meaning of Thanksgiving beyond the day's leftovers and the marathon of football games on television.
"A lot of young children don't know a meaning past that," she said.
After watching the webcast, the students listed the things in life they can be thankful for and compared them with what the Pilgrims and Indians valued.
Though a few couldn't help but be thankful for modern technological advances like the Internet and satellite television, most students listed the basics that transcend any time period: loved ones, food on the table, a roof overhead and even their faith.
"What we're thankful for really hasn't changed in those hundreds of years," Garner said. "It's bringing the kids back to what is important."
Cullen thinks that in some cases, the Pilgrims and Indians may have been more thankful for those basic needs than people are today.
"They were more thankful for food than we are sometimes," he said.
Student Ethan Garner said the activity helped him realize the importance of giving thanks for simple things that are easily taken for granted throughout the year.
"Thanksgiving is a good time to remember," he said. "Because people don't have all of those things."
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
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