Kansas students use tech to do ghost-town research

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News,Science and Technology

INMAN, Kan. (AP) — Ghost towns don't have real ghosts, these fourth-graders have learned.

"A town is a ghost town because there is nobody there," said Inman Elementary student Dantlie Raney. "Everybody left it."

It's part of teacher Bentley Richert's Kansas history lesson. Most of his students didn't know the definition of a ghost town, or that Kansas has more than 6,000 of them - towns that expanded with dreams of a future before disappearing from most maps.

However, armed with their iPads, these fourth-graders have a quest to memorialize the ghost town of Covert in Osborne County, which has been dead since the last postmark was stamped in 1966.

"We are going to put the flesh on the bones of Covert," said Kaia Wiggins, 9. "We are trying to find out what happened to the town."

The project started after Kevin Honeycutt, the technology integration specialist for the Educational Services and Staff Development Association of Central Kansas, or ESSDACK for short, read a story The Hutchinson News wrote about the town last month. Honeycutt, on his way to Nebraska to train teachers about using technology in the classroom as part of his job through the educational service center, made a stop at Covert.

Honeycutt, who works with Richert's class, posted a video and pictures of Covert, then charged the students to research the town's history and demise. He wants them to have the project done by the end of the week so he can demonstrate incorporating technology with lessons to teachers in New Zealand and Australia.

After all, technology isn't going to go away, Honeycutt said. Gone are the days when it took three months for a letter to get across the ocean and another three months for the person who sent it to get a response. Instant learning and communication is at anyone's fingertips and these students who will work in the future will need these skills for their future jobs.

"Business used to move at glacier speed," Honeycutt, who also is a member of the Inman school board, said with a chuckle, but added, "This isn't going to pass and kids need these skills.

"The Web and technology provides a buffet of learning, and we appear to be eating the napkins," he said.

However, in Inman, teachers and the administration are taking steps toward 21st-century learning. Several classes are using iPads to work on curriculum, whether it is history, math or science, he said. Students also learn researching skills, along with publishing and writing.

Richert said he is on the second year of using iPads in the classroom. Every student in his class has an iPad, which they check out each morning.

For the next few weeks, their iPad work will be focused largely on Covert, the ghost town born in 1880 along Covert Creek. Today, the town is nothing more than dilapidated buildings and a cemetery.

But the youths grew excited after watching Honeycutt's video during class. A majority went home and started doing more research, including reading the article published in The Hutchinson News.

On Friday, the class spent 20 to 30 minutes continuing their research of the town, then began rattling off facts from their Web browsing.

"There was a high school."

"It was founded Sept. 28, 1880."

"The school burned twice."

"Look at this picture," said a boy who had found an old photo of Covert's high school girls' basketball team.

Raegan Neufeld, 9, said she would rather work on researching Covert than go to recess.

"In third grade, we did a unit on pioneers, and I loved it," she said. "I like history.

"I wish I could go there," she told Richert.

There may be little money in the budget for field trips, but Richert said his class could take a virtual tour of Covert via the iPad. The plan is for the class to make an interactive video timeline.

Honeycutt himself sees a bright future for virtual learning technology in the classroom. He said that with funding cuts for field trips, he is exploring the virtual museum concept with Inman's historical museum.

Other schools with iPads could access the museum live via Skype, with a live volunteer tour guide leading them through the collection.

"The possibilities are endless," Honeycutt said. "It's like putting the door of a library in their back pockets.

"These are amazing times we live in," he said.

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Information from: The Hutchinson News, http://www.hutchnews.com

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