Third-grader schools area, national educators

schandler@newsobserver.comApril 28, 2013 

Cary Elementary third-grader Mary Moss Wirt speaks to educators at Discovery Education's Future@Now conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month about how she learns best.

DISCOVERY EDUCATION

  • Technology talk

    You can see a video of Mary Moss Wirt’s talk to Wake County principals in February at bit.ly/14FHphO.

Most kids are pretty scared when they’re sent to the principal’s office. But Mary Moss Wirt faced an entire roomful of Wake County principals – and, more recently, a U.S. representative and superintendents from all over the country – with a big smile on her face.

Her father, Todd Wirt, the assistant superintendent for academics for Wake County schools, asked her in February to kick off a districtwide principals meeting to “kind of set the tone, through the eyes of a third-grader, how our kids want to learn,” he said.

Mary Moss wowed the crowd, and some attendees from Discovery Education – an affiliate of the Discovery channel that designs digital textbooks, interactive lessons and other tools for using technology in the classroom – invited her to speak at their Future@Now conference for educators in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

“I learn with my imagination; that’s how,” she told the principals and then the conference attendees. “I see all kinds of possibilities.”

Personally, Mary Moss said in an interview, “I love to use technology, I like to work in a team.” But she was quick to point out that “we all learn in different ways.”

One of her favorite recent lessons at her school, Cary Elementary, was a social studies project that incorporated PowerPoint and other information-sharing applications to talk about different regions of the state. Mary Moss’ group researched the Coastal Plain, but what they turned in was about as far from the old-fashioned written report as you can get.

“There would be no words except the title,” she said her group decided. Instead, each PowerPoint slide contained photos and a voiceover sharing facts about each topic they covered.

Mary Moss also likes to use Edmoto, an access-controlled educational social network (think Facebook for kids), to discuss classwork and life in general with her classmates.

“We talk about stuff like what’s your favorite book to read, did you get your homework done, what does this problem mean on our homework,” she said. “It’s probably my favorite website, I love it.”

In Washington, she spoke to 200 people in person, with several thousand more watching online. They were educators and leaders from around the country – including U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a member of the House Education Committee – and Mary Moss reported that they were a very attentive group.

“They were totally paying attention,” she said. And apparently they liked what they heard: “I got a standing ovation,” she added.

Her father said he appreciates her willingness to talk to educators because of the perspective she can give from the view of the most important constituents in the education system – the students.

“As a dad and an educator, I think she’s just a microcosm of kids her age,” he said of her aptitude for technology. “… I think she’s just a pretty typical example of how kids want to use it, understand how to use it.”

Wirt said a large part of his job is professional development, including getting teachers comfortable with technology. But “when I handed (Mary Moss) her iPod Touch, she didn’t need any professional development to learn how to use it. It’s a very natural process for her.”

Mary Moss isn’t exactly glued to a screen all day – she plays softballs, draws and reads real books. But she acknowledges that technology provides a great way to have fun, whether talking to friends via Edmoto or reading digital books, as well as to learn.

“It helps me learn because I like to use different websites and I like to be able to find it myself ,” she said, adding that she loves to express herself in class through creating videos. “With technology, you can do it your way, you can fit your style.”

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