Interactive video conferences cover all bases

Leonard DiFranza believes he’s got a home run for educators: The interactive systems technician from the National Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF) was at NECC 2006 to discuss how teachers can use interactive video conferences with HOF staff to engage students and teach core curricular concepts.

In a live demonstration with James Yasko, manager of visitor education, DiFranza showed how HOF staff can use artifacts in the museum to impart knowledge. Yasko was in Cooperstown, N.Y., for the demonstration, and his image appeared on a large screen at the front of the room.

The Baseball Hall of Fame offers 13 different modular units to help teach concepts across the curriculum, DiFranza said. These include civil rights, American history, women’s history, science, economics, communications arts, geography, and mathematics.

In the American history unit, for example, HOF officials show an old baseball jersey worn by the 1917 Chicago White Sox, which contains an insignia of an old American flag. HOF officials use the jersey as a launching point to discuss America’s involvement in World War II, which led to a heated debate over whether baseball should cancel the 1917 World Series.

In the Communications Arts unit, HOF officials take an old baseball game and condense it into a radio script. Students take on the role of announcer and can make a tape of themselves calling the game. After listening to their recording, they can revise and re-record it based on what they’ve learned.

Each modular unit contains objectives, standards, background information, additional resources, pre-program and enrichment activities, and information about how to plan a HOF video conference, DiFranza said. All of these resources are available on the HOF web site free of charge, though the museum charges $100 per actual video conference. Educators can connect to museum officials through an Internet Protocol (IP) or Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) connection.

DiFranza’s presentation Wednesday was one of a series of events showcasing standards-based applications of interactive video conferencing (IVC) in K-12 education. Other K-12 IVC Showcase sessions at NECC demonstrated how teachers can explore the effects popular music has had on society with experts from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, bring the natural world into their classrooms with officials from the Indianapolis Zoo, and more.

Rachel Simon, distance education specialist for the Alaska SeaLife Center, discussed how students can virtually “visit” and help Alaskan sea animals through the center’s hands-on, research-based video conferences.

“All of our distance learning programs have some tie-in to actual research at the center,” she told conference attendees. For instance, she said, the local sea lion population is declining, and scientists there–with the help of students–are trying to find out why.

In a video conferencing program titled “The Scoop on Poop,” SeaLife Center staff send students clean samples of the sea lions’ scat, which students can analyze to determine what the animals have been eating. By measuring the bones of digested fish, students can estimate the number of calories the animals have been taking in. Then, in the live video conference, students interact with scientists to discuss their findings to see if there’s a link between the amount of food the sea lions are eating and the decline in their population.

All activities are aligned with national science standards, Simon says, and they also include tips for integrating the activities into other content areas. The cost is between $100 and $200 per session, and SeaLife staff request at least two weeks’ lead time so they can send program materials to teachers in advance of the session.

Thursday’s K-12 IVC Showcase sessions cover SeaTrek, which develops interactive video conferencing programs featuring real-world science at Mote Marine Laboratory; HealthSpace Cleveland, which engages students in thoughtful discussions and activities that encourage disease prevention and wellness; and more.


National Baseball Hall of Fame

Alaska SeaLife Center

Dennis Pierce

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