It was back to school for about 40 community leaders who toured Hall County classrooms Friday while school was in session.
With students as their guides, these leaders — representing educational organizations, businesses and nonprofits — went into the classrooms of seven Hall County schools to watch the kind of innovative teaching methods the school district hopes will create a more successful learning environment.
Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal, a former middle school teacher, was among those taking the tour.
Deal said she was impressed with some teachers' use of technology to engage students in learning.
At Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science, Deal found one fifth-grade math class using the Lowe's Home Improvement website for a project aimed at calculating the cost of re-tiling one of the school's ceilings. Deal said the teacher integrated basic math skills like multiplication with real world business sense.
"That's innovative teaching at its best," she said.
In Darrell Skogman's calculus class at Chestatee High School, Deal and others watched as students worked out the derivatives of equations using electronic tablet devices.
One visitor asked if learning to use the tablet was nearly as complicated as their equations.
"We're teenagers," senior Samantha Fey responded, as if to say everyone younger than 20 was instinctively proficient with electronics.
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said the tour, which he hopes to make a regular occurrence for community leaders, has two purposes.
The first, he said, was to showcase the progress of the school system in its attempt to reach students on their own terms.
The school aims for an "engagement-based" strategy, where students get to study subjects they are passionate about taught in a way they can better understand.
Students in a Spanish class don't just sit at their desks while their teacher conjugates verbs. They use recording equipment and editing software to create multimedia projects out of what they've learned.
Adam Garry, an education solutions specialist with Dell, has worked on the strategy with Hall County Schools but got to witness it in practice on Friday.
He went into a physics classroom at Chestatee where students were learning the subject by figuring out how the Xbox 360 gaming system works.
"I never took physics," Garry said. "So they were teaching me."
Schofield said the second reason for the tour was to help make the schools better.
"We're looking for healthy feedback," he said.
Visitors on the tour were asked to provide criticism on what they thought could be done better. Like its efforts to meet students at their learning level, the school system tried to make the feedback as easy for the visitors as possible. One option was to text constructive criticism back to officials.