DOBSON — Rockford Elementary School third-grade students have had a virtual classroom trip to Japan this past week thanks to the relationship between an exchange student and her hosts.
Exchange student Kiyoe Tanimora became friends with Rockford Elementary third-grade teacher Michelle Porterfield and White Plains Assistant Principal Amber Flippen when she attended class at Surry Central High School from 1996-2000 as the guest of Porterfield’s parents, Teresa and Kent Hall.
Tanimora surprised Porterfield later by coming back for her wedding. This Saturday it will be Porterfield’s turn as she is present in Japan for Tanimora’s wedding ceremony. She has been in Japan since last Friday and is expected to return Monday.
Rockford Elementary Principal Dana Thomas explained Porterfield was open to her students from the beginning about her fear of flying (she’d never been on a plane before), as well as planning the trip.
Thomas said Porterfield has created interactive discussions, posted pictures and set up a virtual field trip by calling the school using Skype, a software application that allows users to make calls over the Internet. Students have been able to use the Haiku software on the Surry County School System websites to send Porterfield questions from school or home.
Haiku is a grade K-12 online learning management system and features collaborative activities and allows parents access to student learning and progress. She said Porterfield has talked about what areas in the country hit by a tsunami look like as well as clothing, cars, maps of where she is in Japan and diagrams of planes, trains, other types of transportation and weather.
“The coolest thing is Michelle has set up this virtual field trip for her students,” said media specialist Kristi Carlton. “This is real life. This is global awareness for them (the students).”
Immediately before the Skype call was made and projected on a SmartBoard at the front of the classroom, students offered their comments on what they have learned. They talked about how hamburgers in Japan have teriyaki sauce on them, the most popular thing in McDonald’s restaurants in Japan are the pancakes, and there are egg Mcmuffins as well in Japan’s McDonald’s.
Thomas said initially, students felt anxiety about Porterfield leaving. The amount of excited questions and hands raised proved that was no longer the case.
“This has all been wonderful for the children,” added Thomas. “Michelle met with parents and brought them into this as well as her class. I hope many of the students will use this as a springboard into learning more about Japanese culture and other things as well.”
Third-grader Selena Martinez asked Porterfield about the weather. She said there had been periods of rain followed by snow, hail storms and then sunny weather with temperatures around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Classmate Blake Stanley asked about what kind of trees Japan has. He was told there are persimmon, apple and many bonsai trees. Porterfield also told the students Japan has rice fields like they have tobacco fields.
Cristian Urquiza asked if the Japanese celebrate April Fool’s Day. Porterfield told him they don’t. She said other American holidays such as Thanksgiving and July 4th are not celebrated either. She said New Year’s Eve is a big holiday for the Japanese.
Thomas and substitute teacher Crystal Myers said the entire third-grade staff has really come together to make the project run smoothly and be supportive of Porterfield, who is a self-described picky eater.
“I ate squid today,” offered Porterfield. She and Flippen explained that squid gets bigger when it is cooked. They also said that rice and miso soup were eaten with every meal. They said rice and miso are as important to the Japanese as biscuits are to Americans.
Third-grader Maggie Parker said she and her classmates started with one page of questions for Porterfield, but that quickly grew to three pages.
“I’ve learned that malls in Japan have five or six floors,” recounted Parker. “Their burgers aren’t like our burgers and they have rice with every meal. I’d never thought about Japan until Mrs. Porterfield decided to go there. We were all so excited because we knew it was going to be really good to do this.”
Parker said she also has learned to use her sister Kathryne’s laptop to send questions and see pictures Porterfield had posted online using Haiku.
Not all of the information from Japan has been upbeat. Thomas said earlier in the week Porterfield visited a school in an area hard hit by the tsunami in 2011.
“It’s heartbreaking, in the areas damaged by the tsunami, the schools have not yet recovered,” concluded Thomas. “Overall, this has been positive. I’m excited about how with this technology these kids can go anywhere in the world.”
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.