His introduction was simple, unassuming and inspiring:
“My name is Mr. Brizard. I love astronomy. I love teaching about the solar system.”
So began a unique digital lesson taught Wednesday by Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, a former New York City physics teacher, in celebration of the nation’s first digital learning day.
For many kids at Chicago’s Spencer Technology and 10 other Chicago public schools, the lesson was special because Brizard was teaching it.
“I thought it was exciting that the CEO came to our school … and taught a science lesson,” said Lucretia Woods, 13, one of the Spencer seventh-graders who got to see Brizard teach live Wednesday. “My principal said it was historic.”
Spencer students and kids in 19 other classrooms across 10 other CPS schools Wednesday simultaneously used iPads equipped with a free app, called Orbits HD, during a lesson taught by Brizard on gravity and the solar system.
Brizard clearly seemed at home in the classroom and at ease with the technology, although he confessed “I’ve never taught a class with an iPad before. My two-year-old son is better with an iPad than I am.”
Students discovered that as they increased the mass of the sun on their apps, planets orbiting around the sun were pulled closer and closer to it, finally crashing into it.
As Lucretia bent over her iPad, so did students across the other classrooms joined to Spencer by videoconferencing.
Live scenes from two remote classrooms – at Dawes and GoudySchools – flashed on a projector screen in Lucretia’s classroom, as did a running list of questions for Brizard from the remote locations. Brizard plowed through a few of them (“Why is it dark in outerspace when the sun is there to give light?”) but never got to others, such as “Do you believe God formed the universe?”
As one of 62 schools to join a CPS iPad initiative, Spencer uses its iPads every day. Piarre Easley, 13, said he likes the fact that he can touch the iPad screen during a lesson. Without an iPad, he said, “we wouldn’t get the full experience we’re getting now.”
As for the videoconferencing, Lucretia and others said they enjoyed hearing questions from other schools.
“They were so excited when other kids in other schools were asking questions,” said Dawes eighth-grade teacher Amani Abuhabsah.“They absolutely loved it. They were enthusiastic. They were engaged. It was amazing to have our CEO do something like that with our students.”