Arroyo Grande fifth-graders connect with Australian classroom

At first, the fifth-grade students gathered in their classroom one afternoon in late September at St. Patrick Catholic School in Arroyo Grande were stumped.

They were talking via Skype to another class located somewhere in the world. Their assignment was to find out where by getting clues and asking yes-or-no questions.

Were they in the Northern Hemisphere? No. The Southern Hemisphere? Yes. Are you in New Zealand? No.

Eventually, though, the clues — and the accents — led them to the answer.

“We were trying to decide if they were English or Australian,” 10-year-old Maxwell Murphy recalled recently. “When we asked if they had kangaroos, it gave it away.”

The school’s 38 fifth-grade students are using technology to work on a project with students at Fairfield West Primary School in Fairfield, a suburb of Sydney, Australia.

Last year, St. Patrick School launched an effort to get more technology, including iPads, into the curriculum for all of its students, from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The idea of connecting to a class across the globe came to the school’s technology teacher, Glenn Loayza, when he met an Australian teacher while researching teaching ideas for the iPad on an online discussion board.

The two teachers decided to collaborate on a joint project. Students have already created short autobiographies using some of the school’s iPads, which they’ll share with the Australian students.

Now, they’ll work in groups of four — two students in Arroyo Grande, two students in Fairfield — on a joint project to explore ways to conserve the ocean that crashes onto both their coastlines.

“The classroom walls are coming down,” Loayza said.

About half the class gathered in the computer lab to start their research project on Nov. 14.

Guided by Loayza, the students started searching online to answer some questions: Why is it important to preserve the Pacific Ocean? What effect does the Great Barrier Reef have on its ecosystem?

As part of their research, students will also visit the Avila Sea Life Center, the local sewage treatment plant and a private ocean-friendly garden, said fifth-grade teacher Trisha Ainsworth.

She said the project has raised the students’ awareness about the Earth and its connectedness.

“It’s eye-opening to think that when they step into the ocean, it is the same body of water that (the Australian students) step into,” she said.

Eventually, the students will create a plan to put their conservation ideas into place.

“We might get to fix laws to make it a better place,” said 10-year-old student Grace Devaney.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.