June 05, 2013 - By Susan Bromley
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Brandon Twp.- After a tornado tore through Moore, Okla. last month, destroying two elementary schools, students here at Oakwood Elementary wondered what they could do to help their peers hundreds of miles away.
While it wasn't so simple to help clean up or give hugs with the distance separating them, fourth grade students in Mike Medvinsky's music class found a way to reach out, using the wonders of technology to send art and messages of encouragement.
"If we were with them, we would put our arms around them and comfort them," said Medvinsky.
Unable to do that, the teacher and students instead augmented reality with an app called Aurasma, which works like a QR code. Using a smartphone or tablet, any image can be scanned to be a trigger. In the case of the Oakwood students, they decided to make art for the staff and students from Briarwood Elementary, which was leveled when the EF5 tornado swept through May 20. When the art is scanned by a computer, video messages from Oakwood students are conveyed.
Oakwood students who are in "Rock Our World," which connects students and teachers in an international collaboration, "composing original music, making movies, and meeting each other in live video chats" were chosen for the augmented reality project because they had already "met" students from Oklahoma also involved with "Rock Our World."
In a twist of irony, "emergency preparedness" was the theme of "Rock Our World" this season. In April, via video chat, Oakwood students gave a presentation about water contamination due to high arsenic levels in the water in this area. The students also saw students from Oklahoma talk about the tornados they are so frequently threatened by, and were unaware would strike again so soon.
When the tornado did hit, Tammy Parks, a technology integration specialist from Oklahoma, reached out to "Rock Our World" participants from around the country and asked if they could do something to help the children who had lost their school.
The Oakwood students brainstormed ideas and started with the art. Dividing the fourth-grade class into five groups, each group worked in Mary Larsen's art class to paint a large piece of white paper.
"We used dark greys and blacks, to look like the storm," explained Leanna Roman, 10. "Then we splattered with greens, reds, yellows and oranges, because the storm doesn't neatly place things. The idea was it was something really bad, but something beautiful can come out of it."
The students then worked in their groups to devise 1-2 minute videos to accompany each of the five pieces of artwork.
Gavin Alderman, 10, said the messages were upbeat.
"I said, 'Tomorrow is a new and better day, stay positive,'" he said. "Instead of feeling trapped, you're open. They had a tornado and thought they couldn't get out. But after, they were open and they can be happy and not sad all the time."
Kristina Smail, 10, said using Aurasma enabled her and her classmates to support others.
"We can tell them how we feel about the tornado and how we wish they can move on," she said. "We just wish them luck."
Parks said the students from Briarwood Elementary will receive the art and accompanying messages this fall.
"I just want them to keep learning no matter what happens," said Smail. "They don't have a school and I want good things to happen to them. Things like that happen, but I hope it never happens again."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville