W.Va. Rewards Classroom Innovation

Posted: February 08, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Children all over are fascinated with bodily functions, often bursting out in fits of laughter over a mere sound. One West Virginia teacher has captured a grant for figuring out how to harness that fascination in her winning 21st century lesson, “Turning Flatulence into a Teachable Moment.”

Melissa Huff Salvatore of Paw Paw High School in Morgan County is one of 13 teachers from nine schools to be named recipients of grants totaling $20,000 in the West Virginia Department of Education’s Thinkfinity video contest showing how they’ve incorporated 21st century learning into their classrooms.

Each of the winning entries receives $2,000 grants. The winners are Kim Mutterback, Glenwood Middle School, Mercer County, “The Power to Change”; Melissa Huff Salvatore, Paw Paw High School, Morgan County, “Cask of Amontillado” and “Turning Flatulence into a Teachable Moment”; Rachelle Pallini, Williamstown High School, Wood County, “MarcoPolo Meets Ibn Battuta”; Mary Young, New Martinsville School, Wetzel County, “Money Matters to Me”; Robert Lyons, Westside High School, Wyoming County, “Sports Physics”;  Angel Cannon and Rhonda Dean, Fairview Middle School, Marion County, “News Broadcast of the Revolutionary War”; Lee Anne Burton, Monongah Elementary, Marion County, “Honey, Where are the Bees?”; Lisa Vaillancourt, Kim Smith and Sharon Minigh, Jane Lew Elementary, Lewis County, “Effective Arguments”; and Kristin DeVaul and April Gilpin, North Marion High, Marion County, “World Religions.”

“This contest illustrates the creativity that permeates many West Virginia classrooms,” said state Superintendent Jorea Marple. “These teachers have embraced technology tools to bring 21st century learning to their students. They make their classrooms fun places to learn and where children want to be.”

Funded by the Verizon Foundation, the contest challenges teachers to incorporate high quality online resources into their lessons, such as those available for free on Thinkfinity. The digital learning platform combines the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, National Geographic, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and others to provide nearly 40,000 online resources and lesson plans.

Mutterback of Glenwood Middle engaged her students by utilizing the "adopt a soldier" program.  The class was connected with Roby Potter, who was stationed in Afghanistan.  To everyone's horror, Potter was wounded by an explosive device.  Using the web, the class stayed in contact with Potter during his recovery and was able to send words of encouragement to his family. The students realized that by working together they could have a positive effect.  The students are working together to be a positive influence in their school, community and family.

Salvatore, a ninth grade English teacher with two winning entries, seized the moment when her students at Paw Paw High asked if they could make a movie.  They had recently studied the short story "A Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe when they wanted to do more.  Using the entire class and most of the building, the students made their own video version of this classic horror tale. They rewrote the story to turn it into a screen play. A trailer was created as well as the final movie.

In her second entry, she took a classroom disruption and turned it into a teachable moment.  Many of her male students were passing gas and laughing about it.  The girls in the class complained.  The more they complained, the more the boys disrupted. Seizing the moment, the teacher challenged both groups to a debate.  This debate would be held in the gym with a podium, microphone and large screen for presentations.  The debate would be judged by a panel of teachers as well as a popular vote by a huge number of students.  The once disruptive boys were so intent on winning their argument that they were diligently conducting research on the digestive system of the human body.  They even called gastroenterologists on the telephone to get advice. The boys won the teachers’ vote as the most effective debate.

Pallini, an AP World History teacher at Williamstown High, challenged her students to "prove you understand the material.” They were studying two famous explorers, Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta. The students learned that the two explorers paths crossed as they both had a common goal -- finding a cure for the black plague. Acting out the roles, the students showed how religion was spread during the travels of these two men.

Young, a second grade teacher at New Martinsville, taught her students about the importance of money. The students worked a standard lesson but then were joined by their parents as experts from businesses shared tips with adults and students alike.

Lyons, a physics teacher and second time contest winner, had his students at Westside research sports and the physics involved in the sports.  How does conservation of angular momentum keep a Frisbee in the air?  How can vector analysis describe the action on the front line of a football game?  Can mathematics describe the motion of a basketball foul shot?  Using slow motion video, the students recreated the scenes needed, described the physics involved and then reported their findings. Further, coaches were asked to review and comment on the findings and even NASA engineers were invited to view the videos.

Cannon and Dean integrated technology into their lesson on the Revolutionary War at Fairview Middle. Students were divided into teams and instructed to create a news broadcast.  These broadcasts had anchors, co-anchors and field reporters.  Using a "time machine," the students were able to go back in time and interview key historical figures.  Using video cameras, green screen technology and video editing skills, the students turned in a complete news report.

Burton, a second grade teacher at Monongah Elementary, worked on a real world problem with her students.  The students played the roles of consumer, scientist, farmer and grocer to discover why the bee population is declining and how it affects us all. Students used video cameras and costumes to recreate the roles, to explain what was happening, and how to address it.

Vaillancourt, Smith and Minigh teamed up to work on a civics project at Jane Lew Elementary.  Starting in small groups, students were asked to come up with a problem that could be solved. Ideas included speeding, littering and bullying. Using writing and debating techniques, the students laid out the problem and their solutions.  The principal was then invited into the classroom to provide an alternative view point. Using this additional information, the students fine-tuned their solutions and presented their arguments to the appropriate audience.

DeVaul and Gilpin at North Marion High took on the task of discussing world religions. A frank and open discussion was held about negative stereotypes that pervade the media. Comments such as "all Muslims are terrorists" were common.  Building on this point, guest speakers were invited into the classroom.  A young Muslim woman from Kuwait, wearing head scarves, was invited into to meet the students.  Following the Muslim woman was a Catholic priest in full robes.  Combining these guest speakers and technology, all of the world’s major religions were discussed.  Students were interviewed on camera after the lesson to see if they still believed in the same stereotypes. The lesson had changed their minds.

For more information, contact Mark Moore, technology coordinator, at 304-558-7880, or the Office of Communications at 304-558-2699.

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