Imagining Life Before the Internet

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My 7th and 8th graders have begun reading Feed, a YA novel by M.T. Anderson set in a futuristic dystopian society where an advanced version of the internet (called a “feed”) has been implanted in the brains of most citizens, allowing them constant and continual access.

Before reading the book, I wanted students to reflect on our own connectedness to — and reliance upon — the Internet. To do this, I posed the following thought experiment:

Imagine that it is 1975.  The Internet does not exist yet, but people use phones, TVs, the radio, and cars.  How would you go about finding the answers to one of these questions without using the Internet and only using the technology available at this time?

Questions included:

  • Your family is thinking of vacationing in Santa Fe, New Mexico. You want to help plan the trip before you go. How can you find out the best sites to see in Santa Fe, and what the weather will be like in April?
  • Your cousin is thinking about becoming a flight attendant.  You’re wondering whether it might be a good field to go into.  How would you find out what is the average salary of a flight attendant?

First, we took a trip to the school library to see if we could find an answer among the stacks.

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We got some practice with the Dewey Decimal system, and using encyclopedias.

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As it turned out, only one group was able to find their answer!

We then returned to the classroom, and discussed what other strategies we might use to answer our questions. Possibilities included:

  • Ask a family member or friend who might know the answer
  • Consult with an expert, e.g. family doctor, government office, corporation, etc.
  • Order the necessary reference materials from a bookstore

Several students commented that the strategies we were using seemed time-consuming and potentially expensive — whereas with Google, an answer can be obtained in seconds. We often take such easy access to information for granted!

As we read Feed, we will continue  our discussions about technology. Through these conversations, we will be examining how technology has impacted our lifestyles and ways of communicating, and what ways it might contribute or detract from living a “good life.”

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To Kill A Mockingbird: Twitter feeds

In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, one of the most dramatic scenes involves a secret nighttime trip by Scout, Jem, and Dill to the spooky Radley house. However, what starts as a childish prank quickly turns dangerous, eventually culminating in shots being fired and Jem temporarily misplacing his pants.

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In order to keep straight the many events of that night, students created fake Twitter feeds from the point of view of one of the characters, providing “live updates” of each new and dramatic development.

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Twitter didn’t yet exist in 1934, but it is clear that if it had, these characters would certainly have had something to say!

Acting out scenes from To Kill A Mockingbird

Soundview’s 7th and 8th graders have been reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. One of the most intense, yet potentially confusing parts of the book occurs towards the end of the novel, when one of the main antagonists, Bob Ewell, is found dead.

To most readers, it is not immediately clear who killed Bob Ewell and how. There are some murder weapons found at the scene, and a list of possible suspects — one of whom is the narrator’s own brother.

So to get to the bottom of this murder mystery, students broke up into groups to re-enact the events that occurred on the night of Bob Ewell’s death. After reading the relevant passages, students formed “acting troupes” and selected from a series of grisly murder weapon props:

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They then each picked a character role and began to rehearse their skits. It was great to see the kids refer back to the text, using specific details and quotes as they debated with their group members about the various possible theories of “what really happened.”

The next day, they performed their skits for their classmates. As can be expected, there was a good mix of the gruesome and the hilarious (as well as a bit of artistic license).

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To wrap it all up, we discussed the different theories presented by each of the groups, and together did a bit of whole-class “detective work” to determine who the true murderer of Bob Ewell was. But we won’t spoil it for you … you’ll have to read the book for yourself!

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