(June 6, 2021) — During a typical year in the elementary schools in our district, we have art shows, plays, concerts, and more. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, large gatherings were prohibited and many events were canceled. Where there is a will, there is always a way, especially with staff as creative and dedicated as the ones in our district. Burr District Elementary School decided to hold a virtual learning fair in May. Judith Nacca, the Literary Coach there, said they received a total of 72 projects on a variety of topics. “That’s about a quarter of our population who willingly volunteered to do this independent project,” said Judith.
“Students from all grade levels chose a topic (science, social studies, reading, writing, math, art, or music), completed research on their topic, created a visual presentation, and then recorded themselves to share their learning with others,” explained Burr Elementary School Principal, Brienne Whidden. ” All of this work was done at home without assistance from their teachers.”
“I was so pleased with the turnout of projects that were submitted by every grade,” said Christine Salzano, Library Media Specialist at Burr. “The effort that was put into these projects was impressive in all age groups. Also, the diversity of topics and ways to showcase their efforts were amazing.”
“As an educator, I loved this project,” said Becky Aithal, a Kindergarten teacher at Burr, as well as a member of the STEAM Team that helped organize the event. “Students were given a chance to shine and highlight their learnings or special talents that they have outside of school. Watching the videos was a complete joy. The smiles and excitement from students was heartwarming, especially this year.”
“I had almost 50% of my second graders participate,” said Becky Harkin, teacher at Burr. “My students presented a variety of topics that ranged from Hummingbirds, King Cobras, Rabbits and Guinea Pigs, to inventing a robot that can read your mind and making elephant toothpaste! One student made a podcast, while another presented it as if they were on a newscast! It was so great to see their personalities come out in their videos. Students that are usually very shy were able to shine in their projects. I loved watching their final videos. I am so proud of the hard work that these kids put into the virtual learning fair!”
Christine told us more about some of the projects:
Cayden Carlson in Mrs. Aithal’s kindergarten class did a project that was scientifically based with everything from a hypothesis and a conclusion. He used the standard tri-sided project board to describe the parts of the process. It started with his idea that he might be able to get a ball to hover in a pressurized stream of water if there was no wind. The video showing the project in action and working after the second attempt was priceless. So was the excitement in Cayden’s face when it worked!
Caenon and Nola Macauley did a brother and sister news broadcast on saving the cottontail complete with puppets, digital footage, and a microphone.
Magaret Morin went on a field trip to Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic to learn more about birds of prey. Her sister Jillene went to the famous Haddam Shad Shack Museum to learn more about our Connecticut River’s history.
“I liked learning about rabbits,” said Nola Macauley (age 5). “The New England Cottontails are very cute, and they need homes.”
“The bunnies are really cute and very interesting to learn about,” said Caenan Macauley (age 7). “It was really fun to learn about a rabbit sanctuary!”
“It was fun to support my children in learning about a topic of their choosing and a place that is located in our community,” said Tiffany Macauley, Nola and Caenan’s mother. “We had never heard of a rabbit sanctuary and were truly curious about what that entailed. It was fun to watch their creativity, their teamwork, and their interest-driven learning in action!”
Becky Aithal is not only a teacher at Burr, but also a parent of a third grader. “Putting on my ‘parent hat,’ I also loved this project,” said Becky. “It gave my daughter the opportunity to combine her new learning of equivalent fractions and one of her favorite hobbies, baking.”
The educators did their part in instilling a love of learning in the students, and the parents supported their children at home, sometimes by taking them places to learn more about their subject.
“The virtual learning fair was such a great opportunity to get my daughters (1st and 2nd grade) to dig deeper into their own interests,” said Kelly Morin, parent. “I’ve always been an advocate for inquiry based learning and this project allowed for that. Each of the girls chose a topic they really wanted to learn more about. We talked about how they wanted to learn about their topic, books, web, in person etc. The adventurers that they are, both girls designed an outing specific to their interest. We ventured to two locations normal life might not have landed us. We spent one Sunday with local fisherman at the Haddam Shad Museum. My 8 yr old daughter might know more about Shad spawning and fishing than anyone else her age!
“My 6 yr old took to Birds of Prey as her topic which found us touring The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic,” continued Kelly. “Seeing hawks and owls in person really helped her relate to and become passionate about the topic and that passion was a catalyst to learn more on her own. Putting together a two-minute video was the trickiest part…as both girls could go on and on about the adventures this project took them on. The technology hurdles alone become a learning experience within and of itself. We loved sharing what we learned and hope this tradition continues as we truly loved it!”
Another parent, Jennifer Taliercio, said, “I think this was a wonderful opportunity to share some of the unique learning [the students] experienced this year. This year was really challenging in so many ways and one of the aspects that was missing, especially for elementary school students, was getting to have the community come into the school building and see what students were learning. For my son in particular (first grade) who was working on this student-led independent study about dinosaurs, the fair gave him a chance to feel proud about his work and an opportunity to share it with peers. For my daughter who is in kindergarten, the opportunity to teach really excited her! She loved getting to pick her own topic and that she was able to choose what to share.”
Students used a variety of methods for their projects: trifold boards, book trailer programs, Chrome extensions, video recordings, and even a podcast.
“Some students really pushed themselves into doing something they have never done before,” explained Christine. “Eva Nuzum was brave and recorded herself for the first time. A huge shout out to Cole Sturges and his project on Lionel Messi. He not only persevered when encountering technical issues but also decided to leave in the video portion of him telling about his project when at first he was only going to allow audio.”
“I have been a part of RSD17 since 1999 and am continually impressed by the students in not only what they learn but also how they learn,” said Christine.
“The Virtual Learning Fair proved that our students are resilient, curious and passionate learners,” said Judith. “In a time of unprecedented restrictions on physical gatherings, this event allowed us to have windows into the rich and vibrant lives of our students outside of school. We weren’t sure what we were going to get by having such open guidelines, and we were more than pleasantly surprised–we were stunned!”
“I have been in constant awe and amazement of how our students and schools have adapted to teach in these trying months,” said Becky. “This was just another great way that we were able to encourage kids to make learning fun and exciting.”
“I am so proud of the creativity, independence, and perseverance that students showed throughout this process!” said Principal Whidden. “We had such positive feedback from this event that we will absolutely build on it in the years to come!”
H-KNow.com is a not-for-profit daily online newspaper operated by the Haddam Civic League, a volunteer organization which also produces Haddam Killingworth News (print newspaper) sent free to every home and business in Haddam, East Haddam, and Killingworth. You may mail us at the address below