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Making masks

Kayla Strayer/Daily Globe Hollie Hibma's Worthington Middle School's fifth-grade class holds up masks made by Tessa Dierks' Worthington High School art class. The two classes had a video conference using new technology Tuesday morning.1 / 2
Fifth-graders Eh Hser Paw (left), Bernice Ramos and Dah Eh hold up masks they used as inspiration to write stories in Hibma's class. The three students read their stories in either Spanish or Karen during a video conference Tuesday with Dierks' class.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- Tuesday morning brought a different start to the school day for some Worthington fifth-graders and high school students.

Instead of typical class time, students from both schools interacted through a video conference made possible by newly purchased ITVs (interactive television).

Tessa Dierks, a Worthington High School art teacher, came up with the idea for the collaborative project after her students started making masks in class.

"They turned out so colorful and full of life," Dierks said. "I thought it would be a neat idea to have students write stories about the masks."

Being a former elementary teacher, Dierks knew that fifth-graders would be learning creative writing skills. So, she contacted Worthington Middle School fifth-grade teacher Hollie Hibma, who jumped on board.

Each fifth-grader was given a mask to write a story about. Then, on Tuesday, the students came to the front of the classroom in pairs, one reading their story while the other acted it out using the mask. The art students watched from the ITV in their classroom.

Hibma said it seemed like a fun project to take on, and she was excited for her students to get to virtually meet the mask artists.

She admitted it was difficult for her students to start writing. But after discussing fairytales, movies and stories they knew, ideas were flowing.

"Once we tapped into the stories they were familiar with, the creative juices were flowing and they just wrote and wrote," Hibma said. "I truly am extremely impressed by the stories they created."

Since it was the first time utilizing the technology, Dierks admitted she was unsure how things would go. She said it was hiccup-free, and was pleased with the stories.

"I think it went really well," said Jordan Gieselman, a Worthington High School senior. "The high school students got to show their creativity, and the fifth-graders got to show theirs.

"My favorite part was getting to hear the stories to see what they came up with," Gieselman added.

"They were all very nicely done and incorporated details of the masks and had a good conflict and resolution," Hibma said. "After using it once and seeing how easy it is, I sure hope to use it again."

"I always like to try to come up with ways that art can fit into other curriculum, because so many times art is seen as something that's not as important as writing or math, and it really is," Dierks said.

After writing their stories, Hibma had her students journal about the project.

"One student wrote that at first it took her a while to get used to the mask, but it grew on her," Hibma said. "As the story started to develop, she started to like the mask she was working with -- there was a connection there.

"They were extremely nervous about reading their stories to a high school class, but they did a phenomenal job," Hibma continued, adding the students practiced beforehand.

A few fifth-graders read their stories in Karen or Spanish, which the teachers said offered a unique learning experience for the other students.

"Hollie said she had a student who spoke Karen, and hadn't been here long enough to write a story in English," Dierks said. "I have lots of students who speak Spanish and Karen, so I thought (they could) do it in their language."

"I'm really glad Tessa contacted me with this idea," Hibma said. "I'm grateful we had this opportunity."

"It's very unique," Gieselman said of the new technology. "I wish everyone would get to use it because it's something different than just normal class."

Hibma said her students learned that it's OK to be creative. She said without the ITVs, the project wouldn't have been possible because of expenses and time.

"Had we not had the technology, I don't know that we would have been able to afford to do this project because busing is expensive," Hibma said.

Both teachers agreed that technology is enhancing the classroom experience.

"I think it's been a big asset to the educational system," Hibma said. "My students use the computer constantly for research."

"This is what they like, it's what gets them motivated," Dierks said. "(My students) were so excited when they came into classroom today."

She said if the technology is available, then it should be used and integrated into the curriculum to get students interested.

The teachers said they are continuing to learn about different ways to expand upon the use of the ITVs, including taking interactive field trips.

"It would be awesome if I could take my kids to the Art Institute of Chicago without having to actually drive there," Dierks said.

She hopes Prairie Elementary gets ITVs so her students could possibly teach an art lesson to the younger learners.

"Everyone's really open here because they want the best thing for the kids," Dierks said.

"It's really cool to see different ways educators have harnessed technology," Dierks said. "Instead of looking at it as a deterrent, we're looking at it in a more positive way."

Daily Globe Reporter Kayla Strayer may be reached at 376-7322.