Two schools, 2 neighborhoods, 1 unique learning experience

CRYSTAL LAKE – Two schools from two very different neighborhoods met virtually Wednesday in a battle of reading comprehension.

An eighth-grade class from Hannah Beardsley Middle School in Crystal Lake and an eighth-grade class from Evergreen Academy on Chicago’s South Side used Skype and Cranium CoRE software to compete in an online educational challenge. Each class was required to read selected chapters of “Orange Houses” by Paul Griffin, then was asked questions based on the readings.

Hannah Beardsley, a mostly white school, and Evergreen, which is almost entirely Hispanic, were able to interact with one another through a webcam and answered questions with an iPad. The interactive competition created a learning environment not typically seen in many schools.

“Students’ lives are so much about technology,” said Hannah Beardsley language arts teacher Patricia

McNally, whose class participated in Wednesday’s competition. “They are motivated when technology is used at school. They enjoy it more because they are engaged and interacting more.”

Wednesday was the second virtual meeting between Hannah Beardsley and Evergreen. The Crystal Lake school came out on top in the first competition; Evergreen won Wednesday’s battle, an accomplishment that Principal Marian Strok said made him proud.

“It gives Chicago Public Schools a nice boost,” Strok said. “Doing this gives us a chance to show that Chicago Public Schools aren’t everything you see in the paper. That makes me proud.”

The competition required that each class have a solid understanding of the reading, but the lesson was as much about culture as it was about language arts.

“It’s good for our kids to see whats it’s like in another classroom,” Strok said. “Our kids are no different from anybody else. They just live in a different part of the state.”

In Crystal Lake, McNally noted that the cultural experience was equally important for her students.

“[Our students] don’t get exposed to a lot of diversity,” McNally said. “Being able to compete with an inner-city school … it’s a good social studies experience. Some of them have never been outside of Crystal Lake. It’s a good way to experience other cultures without having to leave the building.”

Behind the Cranium CoRE software is Andy Larson, who co-founded the technology and was at Hannah Beardsley to facilitate the competition.

“My mission is to get kids to love to read as much as they do anything,” Larson said. “We’re using technology in kind of a bait-and-switch way to pull them into the text.”

Larson and his partner, R.J. Lindelof, have been implementing their learning software in schools from Illinois to Florida. Larson’s mission was to create the “Facebook of literature,” connecting students’ passion for technology and the need to create engaged readers.

“Things like TV and video games aren’t challenging to the brain,” Larson said. “They make you a passive participant rather than an active participant. So all I tried to do is take a TV game show idea and add clickers to draw them in.”

“It was actually pretty cool,” Evergreen student Destiny Ibarra said. “It made the class more exciting because we were competing with the other school. It was awesome to see them.”

And as far as beating the school from Crystal Lake?

“It makes the students feel really proud,” Destiny said. 

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