ARTICLES / Canada

The Montreal Gazette: “Fakebook connects students with Greek gods”

On her profile, Pandora agonizes about having opened the box. “I am so ashamed,” she writes, “I’ve opened the golden box and thousands of little lizard-looking creatures escaped! I am so worried.”

Zeus, who according to his profile was born in 1971 BC, “is loving being king of all the Gods,” but Hades openly disagrees.

“Shut up about that,” said a comment that he left on Zeus’s wall. “Ruling the Underworld is so much better.”

That’s what happened to ancient Greek gods recently when students were asked to make Fakebook profiles for the mythological characters.

“It makes it interesting and exciting for them. It’s doing a research and report, but it’s doing it in a new format,” said English teacher Jack Fraser from Westwood High School’s Junior Campus in St. Lazare, who had students pull gods out of a hat and fill in the date of birth, list of friends, and comments on their walls.

“They are going to have to use their imaginations – it’s an English class after all,” Fraser said, adding that, in a way, he asked students to think about what Zeus’s Facebook page would look like if Zeus were real. “But it has to make sense, it has to fit with the character.”

The “k” is not a typo – he is using Fakebook, not Facebook.

Fakebook is a Facebook lookalike website minus the social networking. Created as an educational tool about a year ago, it allows students to make profiles for literary and historical figures – without interacting with other users on the site.

“Kids love Facebook and you always have to latch on to what they’re enthused about and channel it into the classroom,” said Russel Tarr, who made the site. Tarr teaches history at the International School of Toulouse, in France, and had originally used the webpage for profiles of Mussolini, Franco, and Stalin.

Tarr says he is surprised by how popular the site has become. With a quarter million views per week, it is now also used not only in English and history, but also by mathematics teachers to make profiles for circles and triangles, in biology to teach the different parts of a cell, and in chemistry, he said.

When the elements of the periodic table get Fakebook profiles, their date of birth can be their date of discovery, while their friends are the other elements that they bond with, Tarr said.

Tarr created Fakebook in part because most schools do not allow students to access Facebook.

That is also the case at the Lester B. Pearson School Board, where access to Facebook remains blocked. A year ago, the school board made news by announcing that it would be the first in the province to launch a digital citizenship program, which would teach students about using the Internet responsibly, and one day allow them access to Facebook in class. Almost a year later, however, only YouTube has been unblocked, according to Fraser.

A hidden agenda of the Fakebook exercise is to prepare students for Facebook, he said.

“How to write and be responsible on the Net – how to say things that are appropriate and be aware of what is said – they have to learn that,” he said, noting that the school has had problems with students leaving offensive comments about their classmates or teachers on Facebook. “That has to be taught. You can’t just assume they’re going to figure it out.”

One English teacher, however, recently used Facebook to teach Shakespeare to her high school class in St. Lambert. This became possible after the Access Adult Education and Career Training Centre decided in October to give students access to Facebook in class.

Students were assigned to characters from Romeo and Juliet and acted out the play in modern English on each other’s walls. The result was a Romeo who has a degree from Harvard but mops the floor at McDonald’s, a friar who works as a part-time drug-dealer, and a nurse, who inquired on the friar’s wall whether it would be okay to confess online.

“Shakespeare is not really meant to be read like a novel. I would want to tear my hair out if (when I was in high school) I was made to sit down and read it,” said teacher Diane Alken, who staged the Facebook play.

Alken is now planning to put Macbeth on Facebook and has been asked to give a talk to other teachers about using the social networking site as an educational tool.

“It shouldn’t be treated as some kind of evil site,” she said. “I think it’s good to interact with this new form of literacy, this technological literacy.”

To see a Greek mythology page on Fakebook, visit http: //www. classtools.net/fb/80/2kUabm.

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