Students learn through video conferencing

Published 10:38 pm Thursday, February 3, 2011

Video-conference: Elizabeth Petry’s fifth grade gifted students at Mack Benn Elementary School pose for a picture in front of a solar system display in Petry’s classroom. The students participated in a video-conference yesterday with Virginia General Assembly Delegate, Lionel Spruill and astronaut Dominic “Tony” Antonelli as part of Virginia Aerospace Day.

Modern technology affords students with opportunities to visit to distant locations and meet with people all over the world.

It may not have been across the world, but that scene played out yesterday in Elizabeth Petry’s fifth-grade gifted class at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School got to “visit” Delegate Lionel Spruill and astronaut Dominic A. Antonelli in Richmond through video conferencing Thursday.

Students met with Spruill and Antonelli in celebration of Virginia Aerospace Day. Virginia Aerospace Day was organized a few years ago by members of the aerospace community, said Troy Merryfield, multimedia specialist for NASA. The day is held annually during the first week of February.


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It is a day when scientists and engineers meet with Virginia delegates and senators to establish the importance of aerospace technology in Richmond. This day also gives the aerospace community an opportunity to demonstrate videoconferencing technology, and it has evolved into an opportunity for students to meet with their delegates and senators using the technology.

“Most of the students didn’t know the names of the senators, much less what they looked like,” Merryfield said. “It gives them some ownership in the government.”

The students listened to Spruill discuss his busy schedule, his responsibilities, how he got started and what it means to be part of the Appropriations Committee. They even asked him more personal questions about his sleep schedule and his family.

“I thought he was interesting and was willing to answer even the crazy questions,” said fifth-grader Laura Brooks.

Laura said she was surprised to discover that Spruill works for several hours each day and is rarely able to see his family or study. Laura asked Spruill how he voted when it came to the environment, and later said, “I was pleased that the delegate was not one of the bad guys.”

Spruill told the students that he, too, was concerned about the environment and wouldn’t vote on anything that would destroy trees.

The students also picked the brain of astronaut Dominic “Tony” Antonelli.

”Tony Antonelli was pretty cool,” student Cameron Darnell said. “He was very funny and playful.”

“It was fun to talk to an actual state delegate and an astronaut,” student Ethan Bower added. “It was a good, fun experience.”

Ethan said that he appreciated Spruill and Antonelli’s message to the students to stay in school, get a good job, and stay out of trouble.

Mack Benn was recently named a NASA Explorer School, which means that they will have special privileges where NASA is concerned. They can request that an astronauts and engineers visit the school, have special views of shuttle launches via teleconferencing, and more.

However, Petry’s fifth grade class has been meeting with scientists and engineers in person and via video conferencing for two years now when Petry and Merryfield began organizing opportunities for the gifted students.

Petry, who was inspired by the first men walking on the moon, has always had an interest in the solar system and space. She explained that she enjoys sharing this interest with her students with the help of NASA.

“It’s a cool experience for them,” Petry explained. “As they went through, the quality of their questions has improved tremendously.”

The exposure to NASA scientists and engineers encourages students to explore their interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and encourages them to consider careers in these fields, she said.