Published: September 12, 2013
For the 26 second graders in Maria Woytko-Morris' class, math time last Friday was like talking to cartoon characters.
"The kids were just riveted, following along, participating and excited to have such special visitors," Woytko-Morris said.
The Manitou Springs Elementary School students got to meet The Digits, not in person but via Skype, a free Internet platform that makes live, interactive video sessions possible.
According to creator Scotty Iseri, The Digits is "the greatest unknown rock band in the galaxy, fighting an evil record label that's using music to turn people stupid. They rock the smarts back into brainwashed people."
Woytko-Morris' class was one of nine across the nation - joining students in Oregon, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Iowa and other states - to link to the Skype chat from The Digits' headquarters in Portland, Ore.
"I had my computer set up to run through my TV, and they called us over Skype. It was the first time I'd ever done Skype, and it was great," Woytko-Morris said.
Students got to interact with The Digits to solve math problems, sing a song about fractions and ask questions. The class also received a CD of math songs, two autographed posters and stickers that Woytko-Morris seemingly grabbed from cyberspace and handed out to students.
The session lasted about 15 minutes, and at the end, students took The Digits pledge that sends the message "Math rocks," and "It's OK to be smart."
"Students were so enthralled," Woytko-Morris said. "This is such a global world now that kids need experience with different types of technology. It's really opening up the world for them."
Iseri describes the educational tool as "Sesame Street for the 21st century."
The Digits emphasizes problem-solving not through memorization but through the live, high-energy interchange via computer. Last week was the release of The Digits' first math album and launch of a digital music tour, Iseri said.
While The Digits isn't a television show like Sesame Street show, there are YouTube videos and a mobile application.
"Our philosophy is to make educational media across all the platforms, where kids are already spending their time," Iseri said. "If we can get kids excited about learning and education and make it fun, that's our goal. And it's helpful to be put in front of a live audience, especially kids - they don't take any guff."
Twelve additional math videos from The Digits are in the works, as are videos about science and technology.
The Digits is the first narrative offering from Skype. Woytko-Morris stumbled across the opportunity over the summer break while searching for ways to incorporate technology into classrooms. She plans to use Skype more - she's setting up a live shark feeding from Florida.
"How cool is it to be able to bring a live shark feeding into our classroom? It's amazing," she said. "There are so many lessons out there - guest speakers, authors, activities," she said. "Somebody in Spain practicing English with their second-grade class wants a second grade class here to talk to. There's a global read-aloud, where classrooms around the world read the same book at the same time. It's a way we can all connect."