JOLIET – Sixth-graders at Gompers Middle School interested in participating in the National Geographic Bee Club connected last week through Skype with a renowned pilot halfway around the world.
They asked Capt. Barrington Irving several questions about flight and cultures that he experienced while becoming the youngest and first black pilot to fly a plane around the world solo.
“I was able to explore amazing things, all possible because of my education,” Irving told the 11 students.
It was all a part of Irving’s “Flying Classroom” initiative in which he promotes learning of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, subjects by talking with kids from around the world.
The school district is participating in the program, which connects Irving to students who will learn about the real life applications of STEM and other subjects such as geography, social studies and language arts in different cultures.
Irving told students the story of how he turned down football scholarships to become a pilot after another pilot talked to him about the job when he was young.
“I literally told him I’m not smart enough to fly,” Irving said. Irving accomplished a 30,000-mile journey in a small plane called “Inspiration” in 2007.
Irving also answered questions about Chinese culture, education and how high his plane flies.
Sixth-grader Esteban Morelos said he was surprised by how Irving said he flew at 45,000 feet in the air.
“It’s not that easy,” Morelos said. “I learned 50,000 feet above Earth people can faint. It’s daring.”
Irving talked about currency exchange rates, the difference between towns like Joliet and Shanghai with a population of 15 million, and the STEM-oriented focus of Chinese education. He encouraged students to explore their interests in geography and flight.
Sixth-grade social studies teacher Heather Watson said the Skype discussion was part of an effort to use technology to meld STEM education with social studies.
“It expands the horizons for what they see,” Watson said. “They can see what it’s like in a specific part of the world by talking with him [Irving].”
Natalie Coleman, the social studies and STEM program coordinator for the school district, organized the discussion.
“These kids don’t see a lot of geography and they can see it now,” she said. “It’s cross-curriculum and part of the Common Core standards.”
About 60 students from Joliet School District 86 middle schools will participate in the National Geographic Bee Club. It’s the second year the district is holding the club to promote participation for the state geographic bee in the spring.