Students learn from Greatest Generation with new technology

Published 4:13 pm Friday, January 30, 2009

Second-graders at Greystone Elementary are using new technology to dig up old memories.

Susan Larkin’s second-grade class has partnered with Greenbriar at the Altamont, a Hoover retirement home, to foster relationships between members of the Greatest Generation and members of Generation Next.

At semester’s beginning, Larkin’s class used Skype, an Internet-based phone and video service, to talk to their cohorts at Greenbriar. The only problem? The senior citizens didn’t want to deal with the technology.

“They were afraid, and they didn’t want to use it,” Larkin said. “For a lot of them, it’s a foray into technology they’ve never had before. They were really worried about Skypeing.”

To solve that problem, the class came up with a creative solution. They made a book with pictures of themselves and a mini-biography for each student and sent it along to Greenbriar. After reading about the kids and getting a look at what they’d be missing, several more seniors signed up to take part in the project.

Their participation has led to several unexpected educational opportunities — for example, the kids and seniors experienced Barack Obama’s historical inauguration together by sharing viewpoints over Skype as Obama took the oath.

The project is funded by a $300 grant from the Hoover City Schools Foundation, which paid for two field trips to Greenbriar as well as two web cams, one for the retirement home and one for the school.

Foundation vice president for grants Dr. David Conner said he enjoyed seeing how the students responded to the seniors.

“I was never a P.T.O. person, but I love getting in the classroom and seeing the projects,” Conner said.

He said he uses Skype to talk to his own grandchildren that live out-of-state.

“We have five in New Jersey, two in Ohio and two in Birmingham,” he said. “We see (the ones in Birmingham), and the rest of them we see on video.”

The project came about when Larkin went to visit a friend’s mother at Greenbriar and ended up spending time talking about the woman’s past. Fascinated, Larkin saw an opportunity to make history come alive for her students.

So far, that’s exactly what’s happened.

“(The seniors) will say something, and it makes the kids interested. They were talking about radio shows, and now I’m trying to find a DVD of old radio shows the kids can listen to,” Larkin said. “One mentioned Herbert Hoover, and (the kids) ran straight to the bookcase and found a book on presidents to read up on Hoover and what was going on at that time.”

The kids themselves are getting an idea of what life was like for children back then. When the class took their first field trip to Greenbriar, the students interviewed the seniors about their childhoods — and got a few surprises.

“(My partner) was born in France,” said 7-year-old Tori Yeager. “We talked about her life and how she had one sister and no brothers. I want to keep (talking) so I can learn more and more and more about her life.”

Larkin said that’s the entire point of the project.

“There’s a whole generation that has these stories, and they won’t be around forever,” she said. “The seniors love the communication with the children. People think little kids can’t do anything, but they can make a difference.”