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Tanzania Skype call is learning experience

Updated 9:46 pm, Thursday, November 29, 2012
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  • Students in Kristen Ball's fifth-grade class at New Canaan Country School...
  • Students in Kristen Ball's fifth-grade class at New Canaan Country School...
  • Students in Tanzania made a brief apperance in New Canaan Country School...

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NEW CANAAN -- The fifth- and sixth-graders assembled in front of a laptop in a New Canaan Country School classroom didn't actually get to Skype with schoolchildren from Mbola, Tanzania, on Thursday morning, but they might have learned just as much as if they had.

Teacher Kristen Ball told her students she received an email from a teacher at the Tanzania school in earlier in the morning reporting electrical problems.

The initiative to connect with an African classroom was part of the School-to-School Connections program facilitated by the Connect to Learn initiative at the non-profit Millennium Promise Alliance.

As Ball and others attempted to sort out the technical problems and wait for the Mbola school to do the same, Ball had the students practice their prepared questions in Swahili. Just as they were about to begin their recitation, a call came in from Tanzania.

A cheer went up and several kids in the class said "Hujambo" (Swahili for "hello") and waved. A picture came up on the screen up but there was again no sound and the students on the other side -- about 15, all wearing white shirts and black ties and sitting in a room in front of a computer in the same way as the New Canaan students -- were frozen. After a couple of excited seconds, the connection was again lost.

"I'm feeling disappointed because we've been working on this for so long, but I think this might actually be a great learning experience," Ball told the class.

This was the second missed call between the two schools; Superstorm Sandy derailed the first one.

Another time, the Mbola school had to reschedule because the roof of their town center had blown off in a windstorm.

Ball recalled to the class that the Tanzanian students had been surprised to hear that even in America, school was canceled and a call was impossible due to weather.

She said she felt that event brought the students closer together because they had a type of shared, or at least similar, experience.

Then the familiar Skype ring was heard again.

"Hello!" came a distinctly African-accented voice on the other side, but nothing was on the screen.

Shrieks and the word hujambo erupted in the room. The bald head of a teacher who appeared to be fiddling with the computer was all that was visible, but then just as soon as it had popped up on the screen, it cut out.

It was the closest the students would get that day to communicating with their peers half a world away.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews

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