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The Generation Connection

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Then, when school began last fall, both teachers divided their classes into teams of two. Each team was paired with one senior citizen and told to research his or her life's story; all communication had to take place via computer and modem. After initial classwide brainstorming sessions, students in both classes developed a list of questions for their subjects. There were the usual queries about personal statistics, but they also included such questions as "What person do you most admire and why?'' and "What was it like growing up in your day compared with now?''

They sent off their lists via modem. At the centers, the program participants downloaded the questions and took home printouts to work on answers. According to the teachers, the tales the senior citizens sent back were often so vivid and moving that the youngsters became enthralled.

One goal of the project was to teach the youngsters how to use technology. The students not only learned how to operate computers and modems, but they also learned to use wordprocessing and desktop-graphics programs, so they could publish the finished biographies.

But the Simmses were surprised at how many other curriculum doors the project opened. They began the year by teaching the rudiments of biography, however, before long, they were giving impromptu lessons in other disciplines. "We had them read biographies, write autobiographies, and gave them as much experience as we could before they communicated with the seniors,'' Jan says. Once the seniors started talking about Hoovervilles, V-E Day, and streetcars, however, the students wanted to know more social studies and history.

"We were constantly send- ing kids to the media center to look things up,'' Bruce says. "What the kids learned was really meaningful to them because they needed to know it to make sense of what they were hearing from their seniors.''

The program culminated in a year-end party that brought the oldsters and the youngsters from both classes together for the first time. When the final results were presented to the seniors, both generations were overjoyed, the teachers say. In fact, the seniors were so enthusiastic about the project that most volunteered to participate again. This past summer, both centers had waiting lists.

"The project was meaningful to the kids,'' Jan says, "because it gave them an audience for their writing. What we had hoped, in the back of our minds, was that through the technology some relationship would develop between these two generations. And to see it happen has made it so worthwhile.''
--Debra Ladestro

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