Monday, November 18, 2013

The Elephant in the Classroom

By Elise Gilchrist

            There is a buzzing excitement emanating from the classroom. This will be a very unconventional lesson after all.

            “Settle down! I need to get the connection going first,” exclaims an equally excited teacher.

            “But when will we see them?” “Where are they?” “How close will they be?” A flurry of student enthusiasm is bursting at the seams.

            Then the ringing sound comes clear through the speakers and suddenly the picture expands to reveal...


            Did you ever think it would be possible to bring a real live elephant into classrooms all over the world? Thanks to the Skype application and web camera technology, that is exactly what Think Elephants International (TEI) has been able to do.
            At TEI we believe that it is important for students to learn about the natural world and the species that live in it. A traditional approach to this lesson plan may include eye-catching photographs or even an enthralling documentary, but how long are those images retained after that lesson ends? It often takes a more memorable, personal experience to get subject matter to really stick in an already saturated mind. That is why we have developed interactive lessons that connect classrooms all over the world with elephants here in Thailand—in real time.

            Our most recent Skype lesson included classrooms in Alaska, Florida, Australia and New Zealand. The students were introduced to two younger elephants, named Thangmo and Am. Our lesson started at 7:00 a.m. Thai time (or 4:00 p.m. in Alaska, 8:00 p.m. in Florida, 11:00 a.m. in Australia and 1:00 p.m. in New Zealand). The students got an opportunity to learn about elephant biology by getting up close and personal with body parts like the trunk, ears, and feet. The students could also ask questions of the TEI elephant researchers. The whole session took only an hour, but we hope that having an elephant live in your classroom is memorable long after the conclusion of the Skype call.

            Utilizing new technologies, innovative teaching methods, and the intrinsic appeal of elephants, Think Elephants hopes to inspire the next generation. If these children can learn to make meaningful, informed choices with regard to the natural world, then we might witness a future where elephants remain alive in the wild.

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