It started with my questions, “Hey Mr. Silvers, what’s new? How has your school year been going?” I hadn’t seen Mr. Silvers in a few months. But our daughters are the same age, hence we run in the same circles. That night it was an elementary school Valentine’s Day dance. As Miley Cyrus played and our kids danced and ran around the gym, Mr. Silvers, a seventh grade Science teacher at Olean Middle School explained to me that his class had been studying the Gulf oil spill and their effects on the sea food industry.
“Cool,” I responded politely.
“So what exactly do you do at BOCES?” Mr. Silvers asked me in return. It was either keep the conversation going or join our 7 year olds on the dance floor. We opted for further conversation, as Taylor Swift was next on the playlist.
“I work in distance learning, you know, connecting schools for classes and video conferences.”
Then the idea came. “Hey,” Mr. Silvers said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could get a leading Environmental Scientist or a famous Environmentalist to speak to my class about the oil spill?” Without knowing or ever meeting an Environmental Scientist I enthusiastically responded, yes!
The distance learning team at CA BOCES went to work. Over the next few weeks we scoured CAP Space, a classroom networking site, twitter and friends and relatives looking for an Environmental Scientist who would be willing to speak to a group of 175 seventh graders. It wasn’t an easy find. About a month later, I found someone and excitedly sent his credentials to Mr. Silvers to see if he would fit the bill. Mr. Silvers wasn’t impressed with my find and in return sent me a list of names in return. He was hoping to get some of the most highly regarded environmental researchers in the county. We contacted everyone on Mr. Silvers’ list. Including, First Lady Michelle Obama, number 3 on the list- no response.
A few days later we met with Andrew Whitehead, Associate Professor and Environmental Scientist from UC Davis over some email exchanges. He had been studying the Gulf spill since it occurred and is a leading author and researcher on the subject. Over the next few weeks the Distance Learning team worked with Mr. Whitehead to test the technical aspects of connecting into Mr. Silver’s classroom. What most people do not understand about distance learning is that with all the firewall, content filters and security measures in place to protect students, connecting someone from the outside internet to our district’s secure and safe internet can be tricky at times. Luckily we have our team dedicated to making that happen. That’s why when we on the Distance Learning team hear, “Can’t we just Skype,” we on the Distance Learning Team often offer a wry smile before answering.
Finally, the day of the connection was here. The seventh graders filed into the auditorium and took note of Dr. Whitehead on the large screen. “He looks awesome,” noted one student. For the record, Dr. Whitehead is young, hip, funny and relaxed, all of which are highly prized attributes by middle school aged students.
By Brian Crawford, CABOCES Learning Resources