South Side students receive 'honorary Jedi Knight status' at Star Wars-themed Digital Learning Day

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Feb 22, 2018 at 10:56 PM

To avoid falling to the “dark side,” students at South Side Elementary School completed Star Wars-themed academic challenges Thursday during the district’s Digital Learning Day.

Digital Learning Day is a nationwide celebration of technology in the classroom and its ability to improve learning.

The theme for South Side’s multi-platform academic event was “South Side Starship: The Force Arrives.” In the backstory for the event, Luke Skywalker had taken refuge in the “South Side Starship” in an effort to hide from Darth Vader.

To help protect Skywalker, students completed various challenges, including coding robots and using other digital platforms in math, science and language activities. The challenges were based on grade level science standards and integrated reading, writing, math and other specific challenges.

“We have taken three challenges. We have one in ELA (English language arts), one in math and then a STEAM project. In ELA, they’re making their own video to explain how matter works and how you go from a solid to a liquid to a gas,” fourth-grade instructor Anita Sutherland said. “Today, South Side is our spaceship, so we’re all working together on all three challenges to become young Padawans at the end of the day.”

“STEAM” is an acronym referring to the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

As part of their STEAM project, students learned more about liquids, solids and gases by making slime, while other students coded robots. When asked what their favorite activity was, Sutherland’s students exclaimed, “The slime!” in unison.

Sutherland said the students also excelled in coding, video and other hands-on STEAM activities. After completing all their STEAM challenges, students were awarded “honorary Jedi Knight status.”

Sutherland said it was impressive to see how well the students were able to learn by taking a hands-on approach to academic activities.

“I taught for 23 years, and I would’ve never thought that we would’ve come this far with digital learning and being one-on-one with computers and technology,” she said. “The students can’t stop talking about it — they’ve been having so much fun, and they’ve been excited all day long.

“When I asked on a scale of one to 10 what they thought about today, one boy yelled, ‘55!’ ”

Keisha Scott’s first-graders also enjoyed testing out their small robots. Though it was fairly difficult to get the robots to follow their designated paths, she said the students overcame the trials and errors of coding with skill and patience.

The coding activity, which can often be difficult for students at the high school and college level, was successfully completed by many students at South Side.

“They loved it. They’re way more engaged when we do stuff like this,” she said. “Even if it didn’t make it, they were so engaged and excited about these activities.”

For more information about Digital Learning Day, visit Johnson City Schools’ website at www.jcschools.org.

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