Oysterponds students learn Mandarin in virtual classroom

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Students at Oysterponds Elementary School in Orient are learning Mandarin after school. The pilot program began last month.

Students at Oysterponds Elementary School in Orient are learning how to read, write and speak Mandarin after school through a pilot program designed to virtually teach them foreign language.

Principal Francoise Wittenburg said the district was awarded a scholarship earlier this year to take part in the program called myLanguage360, which involves a certified foreign language instructor teaching students remotely through a Smartboard.

Four students sat in front of a webcam Thursday afternoon in the school’s computer room as Jen Huang, who was sitting in her Kentucky office, taught them the Chinese dialect.

Displayed on the Smartboard were live-video streams of Ms. Huang and the students. In the middle of the screen was a PowerPoint presentation where students learned new words and phrases. The students repeated each phrase listed and Ms. Huang corrected their pronunciation along the way.

“Ni hao,” Ms. Huang said to the class at the beginning of the lecture, which means “hello.”

Nico Wittenburg and Irene Papamichael, both 9, said they enjoy learning how to speak a new language.

“It’s cool that we get to learn Chinese,” Nico said, adding he likes to say the word for “grandfather” because it’s pronounced like “ya ya.”

Marissa Swiskey, 9, and Tyler Olsen, 10, both said they like the virtual classroom setting.

“I like that we’re learning this through the Internet,” Tyler said. “It’s really cool.”

Ms. Wittenburg said she first learned about the new program through Suffolk BOCES and was awarded a scholarship to pay for the $300-per-student pilot program. There are five students currently enrolled. She added the program, which began last month, is beneficial to elementary students because she believes it’s easier to learn a new language at a younger age.

“I had to keep looking at my notes, but they knew the answers right away,” she said.

In addition to learning how to read and speak Mandarin, students are learning how to draw Chinese characters, too.

“The number seven only has two strokes,” Ms. Huang said to the students as they each drew the Chinese character. “It looks like a hook with a line through it.”

Ms. Huang also used music to teach the students how to read and speak Chinese. She played the official song of the Beijing 2008 Olympics called “You and Me.” The music video was about unity and the song was sung in both Mandarin and English.

Ms. Wittenburg said the different visuals used to teach students are helpful because it requires “using both sides of the brain.”

“The students are learning through creative and logical methods,” she said. “Plus, it’s a lot of fun.”

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