When Tom Franke teaches astronomy on Monday nights, he's not at his chalkboard at Hopkins High School in Golden Valley, Minn. He does it from the den of his home, using his laptop computer to connect with 13 students statewide.

Using his computer's mouse and microphone, Franke explains a diagram showing how astronomers determine the distance between earth and the stars. Students at home see his drawing appear simultaneously on their computer screens.

Most of the students send instant text messages to Franke saying they understand. But a red line

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