By Heather Mullinix
CROSSVILLE — Health science students in Cumberland County Schools have gone far beyond their classrooms in recent months, with students getting the chance to talk with NFL Hall of Famers, view an autopsy and talk with a nurse at a large regional hospital.
It's become second nature to teachers to think of how they can help not only their students, but other classes as well, enjoy a new experience through the use of technology.
"Sometimes you just have a lightbulb go off," said Cumberland County High School agriculture teacher Mitch Lowe.
Lowe was visiting ParkWest Hospital in Knoxville and waiting for his father to be released after a procedure. The nurse had been a great comfort to the family and Lowe, who happened to have his Career and Technical Education program iPad with him, had the idea ask the nurse to Facetime with health science students in class in Crossville.
Marsha Polson was thrilled and quickly went to work to arrange for her health science class to speak with the nurse.
"All the prep time it took was about five minutes," she said. "They spoke with a nurse at the hospital, asking wonderful questions like how many cases she handles, hours of work. They were so excited to get to talk to her."
Lowe said the nurse enjoyed it as well and said she'd actually considered teaching nursing students.
The iPads that made that surprise learning experience possible were among 41 iPads purchased through the Going the Distance grant. It provided funding to purchase iPads for all high school CTE teachers, as well as 14 hours of training on using the technology to meet their class objectives and increase learning opportunities for students.
Polson sent her iPad around the room with each student taking a turn asking questions. The technology allows the nurse to see and hear the students holding the iPad and the students could see and hear her via the iPad or by projecting the iPad onto the television using an Apple TV connection.
The one-time grant from Perkins IV Reserve Grant program, a federal grant program, provided $75,000 for the initial investment in the iPads and three years of training, with a goal of increasing course enrollment and the number of CTE courses available.
And while the new iPads are fun to use, CTE Technology Coordinator Josette Schlafer explained the purpose of the grant was for teachers to integrate this technology into their teaching to help meet the standards of their classes.
"I was at a conference when I got the email from Mitch Lowe that they had done this with the class," Schlafer said. "I got goosebumps because that's meeting the goal when you can put the technology into the teacher's class and then they, thinking out of the box of what they're doing, incorporate it."
The iPads were deployed in October 2012, with training taking place after that.
"I use them constantly for working with the students," Polson said. "Students relate things to technology. Without it, it's not as vivid or as good a learning experience for them. On tests, they get instant feedback on how they're doing and it's easier for them."
The school system has partnered with an educational clearinghouse that offers a variety of virtual activities and field trips, some free and some with a fee.
One that came with an additional fee was the virtual autopsy in Laura Gilpin's anatomy and physiology class at CCHS.
"It was $295 for the autopsy, and I wondered if it would be worth it," Schlafer said.
That fee included a packet of pre-teaching materials, helping Gilpin prepare the students for the experience and guide their questions. They also had a one-hour teleconference with a pathologist and viewed a video-taped autopsy. Afterward, they received the results of lab work.
"The goal was to determine the cause of death," Schlafer explained. "After the autopsy and getting the data, they then had to put it all together."
And while that's a "neat" experience, Schlafer said they looked for experiences that were more than just "neat," but that also met the standards of the class. Such an experience would not be a good fit for introductory health science students, for example, but was a perfect fit for anatomy students.
The grant only allowed the system to purchase enough iPads for the teachers, but the teachers encourage students to bring their own technology. The county-wide wi-fi project to increase the wi-fi capabilities in all schools has helped teachers make greater use of the wireless iPads and to allow for students to use their own devices.
Elementary CTE teachers also have iPads they can use in their science, technology, engineering and math; agriculture; and teen living courses.
And with each teacher having an iPad, teachers of similar classes at both CCHS and Stone Memorial High School can offer opportunities for their students to collaborate, which happens often, Schlafer said.
Polson said, "It's really beneficial when schedules work to do that."