Montgomery News - Thomas Celona

Wissahickon School District considers online Chinese curriculum

Published: Monday, November 01, 2010
By Thomas Celona
Staff Writer


The Wissahickon School District is exploring using a new technology that would let students learn the Chinese language straight from people living in China.

The district currently is considering using myChinese360, software that allows students to study Mandarin via the Internet. The school board heard a presentation on the program at its Oct. 25 meeting.

The technology first came to the district's attention when Superintendent Judith Clark viewed a demo last year at a meeting of county superintendents. The curriculum office then began to explore the option of using the program at the high school.

"We have been reviewing this opportunity," Assistant Superintendent Christopher Marchese said. "We have been experimenting with various ways to provide additional course opportunities for students at our high school. We think this would be a benefit for students interested in exploring the Chinese language."

Grace Hannon, regional sales manager for myChinese360, gave an overview of the program.
"Our program is with live teachers that are in Beijing," she said. "All it requires is a computer, Web access, a webcam and a headset."

Students, by using a webcam, interact with teachers twice per week in a virtual classroom and
complete online coursework throughout the week. The teachers provide instruction in writing,
reading and speaking Mandarin, along with lessons on Chinese culture. Through the Web
technology, students can take "virtual field trips" to places such as the Great Wall of China.
Through myChinese360's online network, students' activity, participation and work can be easily monitored.

Hannon also mentioned the program heavily incorporates social networking in order to foster
communication between the students, which makes the format appealing to teenagers.

"It's a great opportunity to learn and use tools that are very engaging," she said. The technology is designed to be used as a four-year program and is aimed at students in grades six to 12, according to Hannan. The coursework can be used to prepare students to eventually take the AP or Regents exams for Mandarin.

The cost of the program is $600 per student per semester, but grants are available to cover the expense, according to Hannon.

The program, which has been around for approximately one year, was first used in Pennsylvania by the Quakertown Community School District, according to Hannon. The Philadelphia School District is set to start with the program in the spring semester.

Colonial and Upper Merion high schools also are already using the technology, according to
Marchese.

While it is currently not accredited in Pennsylvania and is used as an enrichment program,
myChinese360 is working to gain state accreditation, Hannon said.

The school board's curriculum/technology committee will continue to discuss the program at
future meetings, but the district indicated it's looking to start a test run of myChinese360 next
semester.

"To get started, we would be looking at two students from a pilot standpoint in the spring,"
Marchese said.