Students use technology to explore Johnson City’s history

Liberty Bell Middle School student Sadie Beck scans a QR code on a poster to learn more about the history of Johnson City. This year, students in the Johnson City School System spent Digital Learning Day exploring the city’s history in observance of Johnson City’s ongoing Sesquicentennial celebration. PHOTO BY DAVE ONGIE

By Dave Ongie, News Editor

When Digital Learning Day rolls around each year, it’s easy to get caught up in all the technology being used in the classroom nowadays.

But this year, the 11 schools that comprise the Johnson City School System found creative ways to ensure learning took center stage. With a focus on Johnson City’s Sesquicentennial Celebration, students from kindergarten through high school found unique ways to learn about the city’s rich history that went far beyond iPads and the other gadgets that now dot the educational landscape.

“We wanted to make sure that technology is a tool we have, but it’s something we pick up just like a pencil, something we put to daily use as needed,” said Lake Ridge principal Renee Wood.

The students at Lake Ridge used the five senses to explore Johnson City’s history. They felt the pelts of animals native to the area, tasted Dr. Enuf, listened to a live bluegrass band, smelled native plants and used their eyes to take in a variety of sights from the city’s history. Students roamed the halls in costume, ready with scripts to allow passersby to interact with local luminaries such as Henry Johnson – the founder of Johnson City – and Kenny Chesney, a country music icon who got his start at ETSU.

Students at Lake Ridge Elementary used their five senses to experience Johnson City’s history. Fourth-grade student Marcus Carrier pours Dr. Enuf for a taste test. PHOTO BY DAVE ONGIE

By using their senses, students were able to connect on a deeper level than they could by simply researching the city’s history on the Internet. As she watched students place their hands on pelts, feathers and bones of animals that can be found in our area, Lake Ridge art teacher Ann Ferenbach stressed how important hands-on learning is even in the digital age.

“You have to be a realist,” she said. “You have to be able to touch something, because it makes more sense. You understand the characteristics.”

Another aspect of Digital Learning Day at Lake Ridge was the fact the third- and fourth-grade students were able to take on the role as teachers for the younger students. That was an idea that took root at several other elementary schools around the city as well this year, and it was a hit for the older students. Wood said the third- and fourth-graders at Lake Ridge were abuzz for weeks leading up to the event.

“I just think it’s kind of cool that it’s a whole day where kids are in charge,” said Makenzie Moore, a fourth-grader at the school.

Henry Elb, a third-grade student at Lake Ridge Elementary, played the role of Henry Johnson during Digital Learning Day. PHOTO BY DAVE ONGIE

At Liberty Bell, a daylong competition kept students engaged in activities focused on the city’s history. Quizes and other challenges stoked the fire of competition as classes raced to fill up a scoreboard located in the school’s library. A Price is Right style game show also got the competitive juices flowing at Mountain View Elementary while Fairmont Elementary students worked their way through a digital timeline of the city’s history and South Side Elementary students enjoyed a “Where’s Waldo?” theme.

“It’s amazing to watch how creative our teachers and our schools are, not only celebrating Digital Learning Day, but also with celebrating the city’s sesquicentennial,” said Dr. David Timbs, Johnson City Schools Supervisor of Secondary and Instructional Technology. “At each school I visited, there was just a great level of excitement. While that enthusiasm comes from using technology, it actually revolves around learning; and as an educator that is really great to see.”


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