Sprawled on a carpet that doubles as a map of the United States, a small group of second-graders focused intently on the electronic tablets in front of them. They were working on their blogs.
Asked what she was doing, 7-year-old Phoebe Martin whispered, “Typing what I did this weekend.” And when she is finished? “I publish it.”
This technology-oriented classroom belongs to Beverly Ladd, who teaches second grade at Pine Valley Elementary School.
Ladd caught the attention of the New Hanover County school board last year when she made a presentation on an exceptionally ambitious project. She organized a 24-hour Skype-a-thon, which culminated last spring in a classroom sleepover in which students talked and blogged with classes in Asia, Africa and Australia, among others. The class even Skyped with researchers in Antarctica to learn about penguins.
“It was the fastest 24 hours of my life, but the most precious,” Ladd said.
This year’s class already is blogging and soon will publish to a worldwide audience. And beginning Nov. 2, her students and another Pine Valley classroom will participate in the global blogging challenge she developed.
International classes will read “The Not Perfect Hat Club,” a new book from Cary author Jena Ball that explores a universal subject: the quest for perfection and the feeling of inadequacy at inevitably falling short. They will blog about the book, comparing their thoughts with those of other children. In the course of building relationships with other children, they will hone their reading and writing skills, almost without realizing it.
It’s part of the teacher’s effort to make learning relevant and engaging.
“They can see a purpose in it,” Ladd said.
She believes she also is preparing them for a technology-driven future.
“They’re growing up in a world where this is the norm, and the jobs they’re going to have aren’t even created yet,” she said.
Through their blogs, they are working on something that is personal, creative and comes with the reward of having other children react to what they have written.
“It really makes them feel special when they get a comment,” Ladd said.
Earlier one student remarked, with a tinge of envy, that a classmate “has the most comments.”
As Ladd sat among the children on the carpet, she updated her own blog, setting an example by editing her work to make sure it was polished before publishing it. Her students followed suit.
In addition to teaching them how to use the technology, she also emphasizes courtesy and safety while on the Internet — “digital citizenship,” she calls it.
In 2013, Ladd set out to do something no other teacher in New Hanover County — and to her knowledge, no other teacher in the Northern Hemisphere — had done. She wanted her students to be able to talk face-to-face with children in far-away places. It took a solid year of planning, making contacts through online teacher networks, to arrange the Skype event.
Pine Valley principal Rebecca Higgins Opgrand was supportive; she said she encourages creative ideas. Ladd’s class brought sleeping bags and assorted other comforts of home to the classroom, where they Skyped and blogged day and night.
It was such a success that Ladd is preparing to do it again in April. But first, her students will exchange comments with other students through a virtual book club.
The kickoff for the blogging challenge took place Wednesday at Pine Valley, with author Ball in attendance, along with virtual participation by other classes in the United States, Australia, Argentina, Canada and Great Britain. So far, 85 classes have signed up for the blog challenge. They represent the five aforementioned nations as well as Ethiopia, Nigeria, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Singapore and Ecuador.
Ball, who has written three other books in the CritterKin series, often reads and discusses her stories with children around the world via Skype. She and Ladd are good friends and together cooked up this challenge.
Ball is excited to be able to share her message with “recovering perfectionists” everywhere. “Perfection is ingrained in our culture,” she said, adding that it is good for children “to see characters struggling with the issue themselves.”