Screenshots of Flipgrid videos made by Wrangell students and their peers in classrooms around the world.
(Courtesy of Laura Davies)

Living on an island can be isolating in many ways. But a Wrangell teacher has found ways to expand her classroom around the world using video technology.

Listen to this story here.

A fifth grader with a tuft of black hair over one eye stands on the pebble beach at Wrangell City Park, staring at the camera.

“Hi,” she said, “My name is Madelyn, reporting from Wrangell, Alaska. In Wrangell, we have about 2,000 people. There are two flights a day from Wrangell. There is a school primary, middle school, and high school. There’s only one fifth-grade teacher, and I’m stuck with her.

Madelyn’s mother, Laura Davies – the fifth-grade teacher in question, who stands behind the camera – laughs.

Davies now teaches sixth grade, but she still uses technology to give her students public speaking experience, help them teach the world about Wrangell, and teach the world to Wrangell students.

Madelyn’s video was part of a project where students made videos about the Wrangell culture that Laura Davies says she could then share with other teachers in the United States — or around the world — on a video sharing app called Flipgrid. In another video, Jackson Carney, then in fifth grade, sits in front of a greenscreen image of a cabin, talking about the iconic ruby-red gemstones sold by Wrangell’s children to visitors to the island.

“In Wrangell, the children have a very unique way of making money,” says Carney, “They sell garnets. These garnets can be found up the Stikine River at Garnet Ledge, a cabin dedicated to the children of Wrangell by The Boy Scouts At Garnet Ledge, you rip garnets from the wall with a chisel and hammer.

Davies heard about Flipgrid about five years ago, but says it became a staple in his classroom at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In 2020 when COVID first hit and I was teaching remotely, students could do daily checks on Flipgrid,” says Davies. She says she would respond with her own videos, where she would explain the plan for the day. “I cringe seeing them again, but that’s how I stayed in touch with those fifth graders throughout this story.”

Even when Wrangell students returned to in-person classes, Davies says she continued to use Flipgrid.

Then, in the spring of last year, Davies says he saw on Twitter that an educator in South Korea was looking to connect with classes around the world: “So I reached out to them and said, ‘Yeah, we could collaborate.'”

Davies says that at first she just expected her class to watch the South Korean students’ videos and give feedback — the students, who live in the megacity of Seoul, had written poems about their COVID experience and put them to music.

“We watched every video,” Davies says, “And my students just lit up. Suddenly they’re like, ‘Wow, someone on the other side of the world understands us’. We don’t like COVID either. Can we make videos? »

Wrangell’s students responded with their own poems, but Davies says the experience was more than just sharing words. She says the South Korean students’ poems had a recurring theme of feeling like they were in jail because of COVID restrictions:

“So we started talking to them, ‘What are our freedoms at Wrangell, we’re still able to do all these things. We are still in school, whereas in many places in the rest of the world, what don’t they know how to do? And so we had these discussions, but then there was this commonality like, nobody likes COVID,” Davies says.

Before discovering Flipgrid, Davies says she used to do what she called “Mystery Skype” with her classes, where the class would video call with another class around the world and try to guess where the kids lived. other children and learn more about their lives. This process started with her sister, who was an au pair in Switzerland.

Davies says interactive video technology like Skype or Flipgrid helps make the world accessible to children on a small island.

“One of the ideas for me is to develop like, ‘Hey, Wrangell, you can go to school and do whatever you want, and have these cool careers. And maybe you can live off of Wrangell, or you can pick up those skills and bring them back to Wrangell, and work from here,” she explains. “So I try to give them ideas of what’s outside of Wrangell. doesn’t mean they never come back, but what they have to learn.

And it allows Wrangell students to share in the unique aspects of island life in Alaska.

“My students love to talk about hunting, trapping and all those things related to the subsistence lifestyle. And so I talked to them like, ‘Yeah, be proud. It’s your culture. But how do we present this so that people can take in this information? Are we making it bloody about the hunt? No, we’re talking about why we’re doing this, and we’re not wasting meat and so on. And so I think it’s a great opportunity for my students to be able to share their culture,” says Davies. Laughing, she adds: “We were talking on Skype with a class in California and the teacher said, ‘They’re all vegetarians’, while my students were eager to talk about the subsistence lifestyle. But both classes were really respectful.

In addition to video poems and presentations on Wrangell, students shared the Tlingit language, presentations on mathematical concepts, or tutorials on how to make bracelets or perform other tasks.

Davies taught 5th grade for most of her career, but switched to 6th grade technology and science classes about a year ago. She says she would also like to bring more technology into her middle school science class.

“So if we talk in sixth grade about food webs or Alaskan plants that we have, local plants, maybe we can connect with schools in the interior or the Arctic,” Davies says. . “We just talked about ocean acidification. Well, wouldn’t it be great if we could talk to a class, maybe like where I grew up – on a farm away from the ocean – and we could share what we know with this class?”

While the technology is great, there’s also a lot to learn from the people and places on Wrangell Island, says Davies, of the Ph.D. students to wildlife technicians or shop experts. The goal is to expand the world for students and bring the world home.

Contact KSTK at [email protected] or (907) 874-2345.