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Technology links Miami classroom with kids in China

Kids in Miami and China worked together to solve a problem involving a turtle. Some of the local kids also visited China.

By Rodolfo Roman
Special to The Miami Herald
Jessie Schwartz, a third-grader at The Cushman School, had to wake up earlier than usual for class on Tuesday.

The purpose of losing a little bit of sleep wasn’t to avoid traffic.

Instead, Jessie joined about 30 of her classmates to communicate and conduct class with educators and students at an elementary school affiliated with Hunan University in Changsha, China, using Cisco’s WebEx, which allows web conferencing, at The Cushman School, 592 NE 60th St.

“It’s cool talking to someone from a different country and hearing them speak in a different language,” said Jessie, age 9. The Cushman kids spoke English, the Chinese kids spoke Mandarin, and a teacher in China translated.

There’s a 12-hour difference between China and the eastern United States. Cushman elementary students normally start class at 8:15 a.m., but came in 45 minutes earlier.

During the classroom connection, students worked on a curriculum called Idea at the Bass, produced by the Bass Museum of Art, which allows children to participate in a creative-thinking project. To communicate, they used WebEx, which combines desktop sharing through a web browser with phone conferencing and video.

The school’s curriculum director Arvi Balseiro said aside from communicating with the Chinese children, the kids learned from the lesson plan.

“It teaches kids to think creatively and how to problem solve and initiate ideas,” she said. “We come together to create a prototype that was shared through story telling.”

The effort is part of a middle school exchange program with Hunan University and The Cushman School, which bills itself as Miami’s oldest continuously operated private school. It opened in 1924. The program is in its fourth year.

Next year, Hunan students will come to South Florida.

The project started three weeks ago, when some of the Cushman school students visited China. Students were shown a famous Japanese print called “Mannen Bridge.” The colored woodblock print showcased a captured turtle overlooking a bridge.

In class, children discussed the artwork and considered how to help the turtle. They were also put to the test as both Chinese and American students needed to brainstorm and design a pet carrier for a turtle or pet.

Student Max Kurry, 9, explained his finished product to Chinese students and said it was worth waking up early.

“It’s really good, how often do you speak to people hundreds of miles away?” he said. “I am tired and excited.”

Bass Museum of Art director of education Adrienne von Lates said it is vital for students to learn this type of lesson plan at an early age.

“This is a way of teaching creativity,” she said. “It’s being used in the school systems because it’s crucial before the age of 10 to get children involved in creative problem-solving.”

During the 45-minute session, children moved close to the camera to explain their pet carriers made out of recycled material.

The Chinese students did the same, but created their pet carriers using paper.

Parent Carol Iacovelli stayed to watch the classroom communication.

“It’s the future,” she said. “The world is getting smaller. They get to see kids they have met in real time on the other side of the world.”

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