John Archer School students get lesson from Tel Aviv, Israel

As John Archer teacher Carla Amos held out a stuffed giraffe and a stuffed alligator to each of her students, Liat Eliasaf projected on the white board in the front of Amos’ room, showing the students a photo of giraffe fur.

Amos asked her students to “look” at her animals and look at the fur, which in her hand was a giraffe. She cheered when they picked the correct one.

Eliasaf also had each student “visit the Congo” by walking up to the board and finding the tiger, the alligator, other animals in the picture.

As a whale was projected on the white board, Amos asked her students if a whale weighed “more” than a garbage truck or “not.”

What was unique about the lesson was where Eliasaf was teaching it from — her home in Tel Aviv, Israel. It was 5:30 p.m. there, 10:30 a.m. here.

Amos’ students, who are non-verbal, pre-readers, ages 14 to 21, loved the 25-minute lesson, she said. They stayed interested the entire time.

“They love to be engaged, just like anybody else,” Amos said.

Even watching the video of the lesson had one student, Callie, laughing all over again. And it was clear that another, Luis, was having fun as they realized they were on the screen.

“Carla and her folks, they were setting the tone that there are great educational opportunities for kids and they responded,” Vince Evans, an assistive technology specialist based at John Archer, said. “They were staying with the lesson and participating.”

Amos came across the opportunity for the international teaching lesson during a class she was taking on Microsoft Office 365, a Harford school system class taught by the medial specialist at Aberdeen High School.

She found a group called Microsoft Educations Community that brings together educators from all over the world so they can share lessons and information.

Students can take virtual field trips by Skyping with scientists at the North Pole or on a submarine at the bottom of the ocean.

“Obviously that’s above my kids’ level,” Amos said, but she was able to find someone, Eliasaf, with whom she could work to tailor a lesson to her students.

Amos and Eliasaf spent nine days coordinating the lesson, with emails translated from English to Hebrew and vice versa, and learning to read right to left.

“This was just something that was exciting, different, and Eliasaf was passionate about teaching this population,” Amos said.

Both teachers would like to do another online lesson, and Amos thinks more teachers should take advantage of the opportunity.

“I’d love to see other kids, other schools do something like this. Why not?” Amos said.

Teachers can’t get their students to the Congo, so this was the next best thing, Evans said.

“This way we can extend these opportunities and have students be able to acquire that specialized learning,” he said.

Kimberly Marine, assistant principal at John Archer, said it’s important to share learning techniques.

“Other teachers and places around the world can see how we educate children with special needs and cognitive needs,” Marine said. “Eliasaf was very excited about what we do and how we teach these children. It let’s people know how we do what we do and that we love what we do.”

Judith E. Heumann, an American disability rights activist, talks about how technology makes life easier for people without disabilities, but it makes life possible for people with disabilities, Evans said.

“That’s certainly what Carla did here,” he said.

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