Connected by technology

Published 10:09 pm Saturday, February 28, 2009

For 15 minutes, the students in Kim Stickels’ third grade class had been listening intently to a story.

It was a version of the Three Little Pigs; this story’s pigs were in Hawaii and the Big Bad Wolf was now a Big Bad Shark.

The only problem was the students had missed the name of the story.

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Immediately after the reader finished the last word on the page, the students practically yelled in unison, “What’s the name of the book?”

They looked to a giant television screen in anticipation as a teacher placed the book in front of a camera to show the students they were reading from a literature textbook, a textbook the students themselves have.

“WE HAVE THAT BOOK! WHAT PAGE ARE YOU ON?” they shouted back at the television.

Soon, students shouted back at them, “93!”

Sure enough, on page 93 of their “Enjoy” literature book was the story, “The Three Little Hawaiian Pigs and the Magic Shark.”

It was a connection these two classes shared, even though they were hundreds of miles away from each other.

In honor of “Read Around The Planet Day,” students from across the globe utilized video conferencing technology that allows classes to interact in real time to read and talk to one another.

Friday morning, students from another third grade class in New Jersey were taking turns reading to Stickels’ class at Northern Shores Elementary School. Once they finished their book, Stickels’ class returned the favor and read a book they had recently completed about soil and dirt.

After they finished the story, both classes enjoyed a special snack – homemade dirt (M&Ms were the bedrock, chocolate pudding was the soil, crushed Oreos were the topsoil and gummy worms were the decomposers). Stickels had sent the recipe to the New Jersey school in advance so they both could enjoy the treat.

“Kids like to connect with one another,” said Christine Lafferty, lead technology resource teacher for Suffolk Public Schools. “It’s a real way for them to meet people and see things that are similar and talk about their differences. It just makes the world smaller.”

Students in the class agreed.

“It’s cool,” said third-grader Kevin Martinez. “You can talk to other people about math and school. They are in different states and you can see them. (Other students) should do it because they can see other people and get to meet them.”

While enjoying their “dirty” snack, the classes took turns asking the other questions. The children covered everything from school mascots and state birds to favorite subjects and common bodies of water.

After one child in Stickels’ class said they were next to the James River, a student in New Jersey thought she could up the ante.

“We’re on the Atlantic Ocean,” she said.

“So are they,” the teacher reminded her quickly.

Stickels’ class was one of eight classes in Suffolk participating in the program, which was sponsored by Polycom, a conferencing technology company. Lafferty said each class enjoys the experience and many walk away setting up pen pal partnerships between the schools. At the very least, she said, Nickels’ students will be more excited about reading from their literature books.

“Now, what will happen is they will all want to read that book,” she said. “It’s funny to watch.”