Sixth-graders at Gompers Middle School interested in participating in the National Geographic Bee Club were able to speak with a renowned
pilot stationed halfway around the world via Skype earlier this month.The students were able to ask Capt. Barrington Irving several questions about flight and the cultures he has experienced on his journey as the youngest and first black pilot to fly around the world solo.
“I was able to explore amazing things, all possible because of my education,” Irving told the 11 students.
This was 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 Joliet 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. He also answered questions about Chi
the Skype discussion was part of an effort to use technology to meld STEM education with social studies.
nese culture, education and how high his plane flies.
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
“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.