The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Special Guests

I have long been a proponent of inviting members of the community to visit the classroom to share with students their different areas of expertise. Sometimes I am able to do this through my own efforts at contacting people. Other times I am contacted by an outside group asking if I would be interested in a classroom visit. Usually these visits are spread out over the course of the year and become rare events. However, if the past week is any indicator, my students are going to see a lot of special guests throughout the year!

It started when I was discussing decomposers with my students last week and one of the girls in my class told me that her dad studies bacteria at the University of Illinois. I inquired further and learned that he is a plant virologist. I asked her if she thought her dad would be interested in visiting the students to talk about his work as it relates to decomposers and she said he might. So I emailed him and we arranged a day and time for him to visit.

He prepared a simple PowerPoint presentation and brought along a video to share with the class. The PowerPoint worked fine but, sadly, the video would not play on the interactive whiteboard we had in the library. Fortunately, he had it on his iPad and was able to share it with the class that way.

This was on Wednesday. The following Friday, we had two more special visitors to our class. This visit was the direct result of me getting lost while trying to get to Clinton Lake, which is about 30 miles north of Champaign. My wife and I had been following our GPS. Instead of taking us to the lake, it took us to the Clinton Nuclear Power Station and a sign that said, “This is not an entrance to Clinton Lake.” I thought it’d be a great idea if I could get someone from the power station to visit my class when we started studying electricity and energy this year.

As it turned out, a friend of my from high school works for the company that runs the power station and he was able to put me in contact with the educational outreach people at the station. They told me about a special program they offer in October and asked if I’d be interested. While it is still a few months before our electricity unit, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity and we arranged a date for their visit. (They will visit again in January to share more about how nuclear energy works.)

The students were a captive audience. They asked some excellent questions about nuclear energy and showed that they were really listening to what was being shared with them. One student wanted to know where energy, itself, comes from. I loved the deep thinking that my fourth graders were doing!

Today we had four special guests work with our class! The first were two women from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. They came to share a drug prevention program tailored to fourth and fifth grade students called Tar Wars. They asked the students to think about what they believed about youth and adult tobacco use and then shared some of the statistics. The students then worked in groups to identify myths about tobacco use and shared them with the class. [Edit: Finally got a picture to share!]

Right after the Tar Wars presentation, we left to see Fireman Phil from the Urbana Fire Department. He visits the school a few times each year to teach students in grades K through 5 about fire and storm safety. We went with Fireman Phil to the Smoke House to learn about what to do in the case of a fire. He also shared what he, as a firefighter, is responsible for doing. The students listened closely and appeared to take his message very seriously.

We will have two more days with the women from CUPHD this week. I’m not sure when we will have special guests visit our class, but I already have several ideas in the works! I love inviting members of the community to share with the students and I love that the boys and girls in my class can hear from professionals what they really do! I look forward to continuing this community outreach in our classroom!

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