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AG students take virtual trip to Australia

Fifth-graders Devon Doud and Grace Devaney, from St. Patrick School in Arroyo Grande, work on a iPad together during their computer class.

Daniel Dreifuss/Staff

Fifth-graders tap iPad screens and punch computer keys during a St. Patrick School computer class, where students virtually venture across the Pacific Ocean to work with sixth-graders in Sydney, Australia.

Glenn Loayza, a St. Patrick technology teacher, launched a global collaboration initiative that utilizes Skype video chatting software as a vehicle for students to research the Pacific Ocean by interacting with counterparts at Fairfield West Primary School in a suburb of Sydney, Australia.

The Skype project is a part of a technology program launched in 2011. Kindergarten through eighth-grade students are using iPads to develop 21st century learning skills.

“We think it’s an important thing as they become stewards of the land,” Loayza said.

Students huddled around a computer screen last Friday while they probed an Australian class in a Mystery Skype session, the introductory phase of Loayza’s global project.

“We didn’t know where they were at first,” said Mia Landers, a St. Patrick fifth-grader.

An inquiry about kangaroos led the St. Patrick group to guess the other class was in Australia.

Students in Sydney also did not know the homeland of the group they virtually chatted with.

“It was harder for them to guess,” Landers said. “But after four or five questions, they knew we were in California.”

Loayza said the students were “charged up and working together to discover clues.”

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“The excitement in the room was palpable,” he said.

The next step in the project is to build community utilizing the educational social learning network, Edmodo, to conduct research and create mini-autobiographies to swap with Australian partners.

In the final phase of the project, students will collaborate on a global service-learning project about Pacific Ocean conservation and preservation.

“It’s one thing to talk about Australia, and it’s another thing to talk to kids there,” said Trisha Ainsworth, a St. Patrick’s fifth-grade teacher.

Ainsworth said students are picking up video conferencing skills that will be useful in the real world. Administrators said they are evaluating how the use of iPads and other technology impact student learning.

“These kindergartners entered first grade this year with high reading levels,” said St. Patrick School Principal Maureen Halderman. “We plan to continue to study their progress and determine if the added technology was a contributing factor to their success.”