BLAIRSBURG - Northeast Hamilton Social Studies teacher Leslie Keehn is teaming up with the Bill Gates Foundation to introduce an innovative approach to teach history and connect classrooms worldwide.
Utilizing the district's newly purchased iPads, Keehn's tenth grade students are taking part in the web-based The Big History Project.
The project is funded by Gates and was developed in conjunction with the Microsoft mogul and university educators from across the globe.
Students in Leslie Keehn's NEH Social Studies class are taking part in the Bill Gates' Big History Project.
The students conducted an exercise which demonstrated the ratio of the solar system. Harli Schutt and Nick Jeffers point to an eraser to illustrate the Earth and a baseball to represent the planet Jupiter. Down the hall, Bryce VanLangen and Truman Chamness stand next to a basketball which marks the proximity of the sun at 93 million miles distant.
Gates, along with his wife Melinda, are reported to be two of the richest people in America. While Gates has amassed a fortune as he conquered the world of technology, he and his wife have now turned to philanthropic endeavors.
The power couple have established foundations which work worldwide to improve the human condition. Melinda Gates works to eliminate childhood diseases such as polio by championing childhood vaccinations and reproductive education.
One of her husband's current endeavors is to sponsor a contest to develop a better toilet which would serve the 2.6 billion people who have no access to sanitary conditions. The invention would pave the way to improve health and safeguard nature resources.
The Big History Project is another undertaking for Gates.
Gates has teamed up with David Christian of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia to present a course of history that traces the world from 13.7 billion years ago to the present day.
Educators from around the globe have signed on to help develop the course of study, not only at the university level, but also at the high school level, said Keehn.
"The Big History Project reveals common themes and patterns to help students understand people, civilizations and the world we live in," states the project mission statement.
The course is designed to teach students not only facts, but to introduce them to analytical thinking. In addition, the experience gives them the opportunity to connect with other students and share that knowledge in an applicable way, said Keehn.
The course work is web-based and students find curriculum study online. They stay connected through blogging and Twitter with participating classrooms and students.
In the first year, only larger school districts in the United States took part in the project. Now the curriculum can be found in both large and small school districts. This year, five Iowa schools have incorporated the course into their curriculum, said Keehn.
In a recent study of perspective and analyzing scale ratios, the students calculated the size of the Earth in comparison to Jupiter and the sun.
Student Truman Chamness completed the calculations and presented a demonstration, Keehn said. In the hallway outside Keehn's room, four students replicated their scale model.
The Earth, at a distance of 93 million miles from the sun, is the size of a pencil eraser. Jupiter is represented by a baseball. The planet Jupiter is 11.2 times larger than the diameter of the Earth and 390 million miles from the sun.
The sun in the demonstration is 9.7 times larger than Jupiter and is represented by a basketball.
"What this program teaches the students it that it's OK not to have all the answers," said Keehn. "It is important to think."