By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent
A group of Beecher Road School fifth-graders recently talked via Google hangout with Moroccan peers – face to face, albeit separated by an ocean. Technology is what made the exchange possible. Equipped with a simple computer camera and a microphone on each side, the students started asking each other questions about their experiences here and 6,000 miles away.
The virtual classroom had to be carefully planned, as there is a six-hour time difference between the east coast of the United States and the west coast of northern Africa. The Moroccan students and their teacher actually had returned to school in the evening to be able to talk to the Beecher students.
“What happens when you misbehave” and “Do you play an instrument?” (cautious answer: “kind of”) were some of the questions asked. They talked about favorite foods and holidays, about after-school activities and movies they have watched.
There were only four students on the Moroccan side, while there was a group of some 15 Beecher students, chosen from each fifth grade class. They assembled in the Rotunda in front of a large screen, on which the computer projected the Moroccan students.
Students shared some similarities, such as pizza as a favorite food, and parents and teachers reluctance to allow the elementary school children on Facebook, but also differences, such as the Arabic students’ fluency in several foreign languages. The Moroccan students are enrolled in an international school with an American school system, and their fluency in English reflects that. In addition, they speak French, Berber and Arabic. Beecher students on the other hand learn Spanish, and some learned heritage languages at home.
The contact between the two schools was made through Beecher Road School teacher Caterina Zdrowski, who had visited Morocco last summer on a Fulbright grant. She took part in an exchange program specifically for teachers.
One Beecher student had received a bracelet with the “Hand of Fatima” printed on it, and was asking them about the significance. It means ‘Leave my country alone,” one student said.
The Moroccan students were impressed by Beecher Road School’s use of IPads as a tool of instruction and for learning. At their end, older students sometimes bring IPads to school, they said, but not for education.
Zdrowski will talk about her month-long experience in Morocco on Tuesday, January 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Woodbridge Library. The public is invited to attend.
Woodbridge Superintendent Dr. Guy Stella was on hand, and clearly enjoyed the exchange. He said he hopes that this is just a first step in building a relationship between the two schools.