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Third Graders Experience Virtual Lesson

Computer technology helps Spring Hill students learn about Mayan culture.

When Nomathemba Seme, Ph.D., a reading specialist at Spring Hill Elementary School, learned that Middlebury College undergraduates had found the tomb of a Mayan king in the lost city of Jaguar Hill in Guatamala, she mentioned it to her third grade students as they were reading an article on Egypt in the children’s magazine “National Geographic Explorer.” The students had so many questions about the Maya discovery that Seme decided to find someone whom the students could interview.

Seme asked archeologist James Fitzsimmons, a professor at Middlebury College, to speak with her students about the ancient Mayans in Guatamala and Fitzsimmons agreed. Since he was not able to come in person, Spring Hill Elementary School technology specialist Amy Burk arranged for him to communicate with the students via the computer. Fitzsimmons was able to see and hear the students through the camera, and they were able to ask questions.

Third grader Hannah Chang asked: “What was the best thing you ever found?”

"A royal tomb,” said Fitzsimmons. “I was digging when I saw a tunnel, so I followed it and found the tomb."

Another student inquired why the Mayans became extinct.

"No one knows, but it's possible that there was a climate change in the rainforest where they lived in Central America and food became scarce,” said Fitzsimmons.

One student asked how the Mayans communicated.

"Well, the rich people knew how to use pictures and symbols called glyphs, but they were only one percent of the population,” said Fitzsimmons. “Poor people couldn't write at all."

Sarah Maloney asked Fitzsimmons why he chose to study in Maya, and she recounted his reply in her subsequent class report.

“He said that it was kind of an accident,” wrote Sarah. “He had to study Maya for a project, although he wanted to be a medical doctor. He became so interested in Maya that he was anxious to learn more. He told us about some of the games that they played. Some were like Parcheesi, and one was when they threw a gigantic ball."

In her class report on the online interview with Fitzsimmons, third grader Priya Miller elaborated on the games described by the professor.

"The ball was huge and bouncy,” wrote Priya. “The way they played was a mixture of volleyball and basketball. The players would wear armor like football players." Priya also noted that Fitzsimmons said "the Mayans were not as violent as the Aztecs."

Third grader Jack Martin was enthusiastic when asked for his take on the experience of speaking with Professor Fitzsimmons via a computer.

"We could come up and look into the camera to talk,” said Jack. “I felt great about this experience and think we should do it again."