The blue cloth hanging up inside Kristi Kisler’s classroom is a low-tech starting-off point for high-tech ventures.
The cloth itself allows gifted Rim Country Middle School students to embark on a technology-powered excursion into the furthest reaches of the imagination.
Blue screen technology allows students to create videos with any background they can conjure.
After filming themselves in front of the blue cloth, students download the video into a computer and superimpose whatever background they want in place of the blue screen.
Gifted students recently began the first project using blue screen technology — they’ll present the life cycle of a shoe. By requiring Internet research, presentations, and the use of new technology, students apply the knowledge they glean from regular classes.
“Each group picked a different kind of shoe,” Kisler said — cowboy boots, hiking boots, tennis shoes.
They research everything from raw materials to product design, write a script and then tape a presentation in front of the blue screen, which students format using the computer.
The project is part of a study on the environmental effects of business that will extend through the remainder of the school year.
“The shoe is actually just a metaphor for any type of product that we make,” said teacher Marlene Armstrong.
The class is tailored to gifted students on numerous levels. First, a core group of handpicked students meet with Armstrong twice each month to discuss where they want the curriculum headed.
The idea to focus on the environment emanated from a previous project during which students devised a new soft drink. During that project, students were divided into groups — one corporate citizenship, one marketing, among others.
“The kids were so interested in the environment part that they asked if we could do something on the environment,” Armstrong said.
Similarly, they asked to learn about blue screen technology. Armstrong said the videos are just another way of presenting information — “rather than doing a boring old book report, which they have already proven they know how to do.”
Now, they’ll embark on various projects examining the environmental effects of business that will include lessons on mining, for instance.
“This is not a classical classroom,” Kisler said.
One of the biggest complaints in the business world is that incoming professionals can’t problem solve, Kisler said.
Projects like this require students to apply their knowledge and problem solve, which is another way the curriculum is tailored toward the gifted.
Some of the problem solving crops up unexpectedly. Armstrong said at one point the blue screen in her room wasn’t working correctly.
The kids set about researching and discovered that the lighting combined with the specific shade of blue was the source of the problem. “I would probably still be wondering, ‘Why is this not working?’” Armstrong said.
Every student has an Achieve class for one period each day. They use the time slot for tutoring, making up missed work, reward time, or in the case of gifted students, weekly enrichment.
Four classes of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, 111 in all, work with Armstrong one period each week.
Kisler is a supporting teacher this year. She works with the students during the same period each week when they’re not with Armstrong, though not necessarily on the gifted project.
“Gifted kids don’t need more work,” Kisler said. “That’s a very big misnomer.” Instead, they need challenging work.
“That’s where education is heading. Look at what is the objective and then allowing kids to choose what is the best way to learn,” Kisler added. The projects allow synthesis and analysis beyond pure comprehension.
The students have vast imaginations and show great promise, the teachers said.
“They’re going to rule the world,” said Armstrong.