BREWER, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci and his wife, Karen, popped into a third-grade classroom at Washington Street School for a visit Monday afternoon and did so from the comfort of the Blaine House in Augusta.
The Baldaccis used the Internet and videoconferencing to meet pupils in Cherrie MacInnes’ classroom, which included visitors from Deirdre Bryant’s third-grade class.
“This is the first time the first lady and I have done this,” Baldacci told the group of 40 or so grade school students.
Third-graders in MacInnes’ class have traveled to 31 states this year by the Internet through her “Chatting Across the USA” project, and are planning trips to every other state in the nation before the school year is out.
“We’ll have 40 by Friday,” the teacher said.
Students in Bryant’s class recently jumped on board and also are reaching out to students all over the nation.
“We learned we have a lot in common with third-graders around the country,” Libby Hewes, 8, told the Baldaccis.
The 8- and 9-year-old students spent about 15 minutes with the governor and first lady on Monday.
“I’m amazed and encouraged” about the use of technology, Karen Baldacci, who is a kindergarten teacher, told the students.
The “Chatting Across the USA” project started out as a way to stay connected to a student who moved to Minnesota last year, MacInnes said, and since has blossomed into an online learning experience for her students, herself and others.
The goal is to expose students to technology and encourage lifelong learning, she said.
MacInnes has set up meetings on Google Chat or Skype with third-grade classrooms in all 50 states. Each time a connection is made, students in Brewer and the place that is visited learn a little about each other. Afterward, MacInnes’ pupils place a flag sticker onto a map on her classroom wall to mark where they have been.
As a way to connect to classrooms all over the country, the Brewer technology team created a database under a new website, ClassChats.com, so teachers across the country can connect to one another easily.
To create the online connection, MacInnes uses a Macintosh laptop that has a built-in webcam. She projects the digital image of the visiting class onto her classroom’s white board for her students to see, and at the same time sends their image to the other class over the Internet.
The students keep journals of what they learn during the meetings and are not shy about spouting off their favorite facts. When the students first connected to the Baldaccis, each got up and listed a fact they have learned about another state or about Maine.
“I did not know some of the facts you cited,” Gov. Baldacci said, noting that he did not know that Utah’s state bird is a gull.
“Muktuk is raw whale blubber that is eaten in Alaska,” Lauren Richardson, 9, said. “One boy said it’s good with ketchup.”
“It surprised me that [NFL quarterback] Brett Favre was born in Mississippi,” said Logan Hughes, 9.
Other students asked the governor what it was like to lead the state and if he was happy when he was elected.
Baldacci said that he was ecstatic when elected to office nearly eight years ago and that the hardest part about his job is having to say no. He described his videoconferencing experience as inspirational.
“When [we] expand horizons, we have a much better perspective,” the governor said.