In different schools, but same digital classroom
Feb 01, 2013 (Reading Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Maddy Fegley and Brandon Mengel are discussing "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas," a novel about two boys -- one German, the other Jewish -- caught up in the Holocaust.
The story revolves around Bruno, whose father is commandant of a German labor camp during World War II, and Shmuel, who's confined with his family and wearing the mandatory striped uniform.
The boys, both 9 years old, live on opposite sides of a barbed wire fence in a place reminiscent of Auschwitz.
"Do you think Bruno's parents will tell him what's on the other side of the fence " Maddy asks.
The discussion would be routine for an eighth-grade literature class were it not for one thing: Maddy is in Kutztown Middle School, and Brandon is in Brandywine Heights Middle School, and they're chatting via Skype.
Skype is a computer service that allows users to see and hear each other over the Internet.
Kutztown's Kristin Haring and Brandywine's Thomas Whalen, both eighth-grade reading teachers, devised the innovative approach that links their classes for about 30 minutes twice a week.
"It allows students to share their ideas and exposes them to different perspectives," said Haring, who's taught in Kutztown for 12 years. "It broadens their point of view."
Beyond discussing novels, she said, communicating with others via the Internet is preparing students for the rapidly changing workplace.
"Many workplaces are already doing video conferencing," Haring said, "and it's only going to grow in the future."
Despite a few technical glitches, the teachers say the joint class has proven successful. Indeed, when it comes to the fine points of technology, the teachers are learning from their students.
"Kids of this age have been around computers their entire lives," Whalen said. "We're learning what they already know."
To enhance their interest, students were allowed to read and discuss one of four books selected by the teachers.
In all, about 100 students in each school will discuss character and plot, protagonists and antagonists, and the authors' writing styles. At the end of the monthlong course, each team will make a test for the other.
In discussing "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas," Kutztown's Xavier Luciano expressed concern for the fate of Shmuel, the captive Jewish lad.
"The thing I worry about," he said to Robyn Pagany in Topton, "is whether he will make it."
Contact Ron Devlin: 610-371-5030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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