ELDON — Cardinal second-graders saw Africa for the first time through one webcam and conversations with several Ugandan children.
Wednesday also marked the first time the Ugandan children had Skyped with anyone from the United States, as they had only previously Skyped with classes in Canada. Skype is a video-, sound- and text-messaging platform that allows users to chat with anyone around the world in real time.
The CHAT to the Future house mother, Florence Kanyunyuzi (who pops up as Florie Kan on Skype), had been hospitalized over the weekend with malaria but was back in front of the webcam Wednesday morning to greet the Cardinal students. CHAT (Care and Hope through Adoption and Technology) to the Future houses and educates around 20 orphaned Ugandan children in Kampala, the country's capital.
"I was the technology coach the last two years ... and this is my first year teaching second grade," said second-grade teacher Jessie Greiner. "I've been looking for tech stuff [for the students]."
Her class has Skyped with around 15 different people, classes and organizations, including authors, elementary classes from across the nation, a fire safety dog and the Blank Park Zoo.
Greiner happened upon CHAT to the Future while on Twitter. Social media is a great way to find new and different teaching tools that incorporate technology into the classroom, she said.
The students especially enjoy "mystery Skypes," where they Skype with another class somewhere in the U.S., not knowing where they're from. Question by question, each class has to narrow down which state the class they're Skyping with lives in.
Not only are the Skype sessions educationally beneficial, Greiner said the social impact is huge.
"They have to get up in front of everyone and talk to a complete stranger," she said. "They have to see themselves on the screen."
Infusing classrooms with the latest technology has been the Cardinal School District's game plan ever since it was named a one-to-one school during the 2008-09 school year. Between Greiner and fellow second-grade teacher Stephanie Ferrell's classes, the students share iPads and Macbooks.
"It's great because most of these kids don't get this opportunity at home," Greiner said. "Around 60 percent of the children are on free-reduced lunch."
"Remember, this is an orphanage," Greiner told the students before the Skype session was initiated. "These kids go to a home without parents, so it's a little different than how you go home at night."
When the faces of the Ugandan children popped up on the screen at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, it was 5:30 p.m. in Uganda. This was a notion some of the students couldn't quite wrap their heads around.
"Well, sometimes the earth goes around, and they're on the other side of the earth, so ..." one boy explained.
The half-hour Skype session began with the Ugandan children singing a song to applause and cheers from the Eldon classroom. The Cardinal second-graders then began clamoring to ask questions, from what kind of musical instruments the Ugandans played to what pets they had to their favorite singer.
The Ugandan students came back with more questions, their grinning faces bouncing in and out of frame, looking for an opening to ask a question or wave. What's the name of your school? How many subjects do you have? What color are your uniforms? What do you want to be when you grow up?
"I like when we get to ask questions," said second-grader Grace Eakins.
Second-grader Jean Brimmer said the Ugandan accent was a little difficult to understand.
"But it was exciting to listen to them, to their different accents," she said.
Greiner said she hopes Wednesday's Skype session with the Ugandan children wouldn't be a one-time thing.
"They've caught my heart," she said.