Recently Dan Jones, an 8th grade social studies, reading, and language arts teacher at the Richland Academy School of Excellence in Mansfield, OH wrote about the value of providing distance learning opportunities for students. In this post, he shares his experience with initiating new opportunities and the impact of distance learning on creating an enriching experience for his students. 

This has been a year of growth and exploration for my students and me. I wanted to add a dimension to my curriculum that would show my students the reality of the content we studied in social studies. My students study the content by becoming researchers. I knew, though, that if I was going to take their learning to the next level, I needed to provide them with opportunities to talk with individuals whose expertise focused on the content we cover in class.

Too often, the individuals I wanted to expose my students to were in institutions states away. I was determined to bring the content to life. Distance learning was a way for me to bring the experts to my students and a way to provide them with meaningful learning experiences without leaving the classroom. I began by reaching out to multiple agencies and found that many of them had never thought about distance learning opportunities with classrooms. Often, the response has been that distance learning is part of the agencies’ future programming, but I am determined that the time for future programming is now. The future is now.

The first time I used distance learning, my students were studying the events that led to America’s declaration of independence from England. I contacted Missy McNatt from the National Archives and Records Administration. I explained that I was looking to create a distance learning opportunity for my students to help them understand more about the Declaration of Independence. She said that she would be delighted to talk to my students, and that this would be her inaugural Skype session with a group of students. We began to communicate through e-mail to discuss my expectations for the session as well as what she would like to present to the students. My students were able to ask her questions as she presented a content rich experience that made the history of the Declaration of Independence come alive. My students were thoroughly impressed by the session and asked if they could do something similar again. I was determined to bring them the world.

I began to explore LinkedIn to find individuals who worked in agencies that exemplified the content we were covering. As I searched, I asked myself, ‘Who would be the best person to talk to my students about each of the topics we were about to cover?’ If we were going to study our nation’s government, then I wanted people from our nation’s capital to engage my students.

I reached out to Ellen Stanton, Public Programs Coordinator at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, and Courtney Speckmann, Director of Education at the White House Historical Association. Both Ms. Stanton and Ms. Speckmann were able to show the importance of the U.S. Constitution and bring Articles 1 and 2 to life for my students. My students will never forget the “Candy Desk”, started by Senator George Murphy in 1965 or taking the Oath of Office with Ms. Speckmann. The knowledge and experiences brought to my students at the Richland Academy School of Excellence have left an impact to last a lifetime.