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Get the max from your school fax

It's standard office equipment but it can also be an excellent resource for learning. Luke Darlington looks at how one school spread the message

Many schools now have a facsimile machine, but if it languishes in the office for occasional administrative purposes its potential is largely wasted. St Mary's CE primary school in Yate, near Bristol, organised a "fax fortnight" to demonstrate to its pupils and staff what an excellent resource it is and put the wonder back into modern technology.

A "fax fortnight" is an excellent way to demonstrate this. It is easy to organise and it enables children and staff to engage with a relatively underused piece of equipment in an immediate and entertaining way. Such an enterprise has all the right ingredients to capture the imagination.

The parents of the school's 315 pupils were encouraged to arrange for their children to receive fax messages from anywhere in the world. The response was tremendous.

Well over 200 messages were received from 59 towns and cities in the UK and a further 53 from 35 countries in Europe, Australasia, the Middle and Far East and North America.

Three large maps, of the British Isles, Europe and the world, were displayed and as messages arrived numbered map pins were plotted and thread lines draw to Yate from the various locations, all cross-referenced to a continuously updated master list.

All kinds of people entered into the spirit, with messages not only from relatives and friends, but also societies and businesses. One came from the Millennium Dome site in Greenwich, another from a British Consulate in the Middle East and another from Kathmandu in Nepal, the roof of the world.

Communications arrived in both landscape and portrait format. There were birthday messages, reminders about dental appointments, cartoons and jokes, puzzles, poetry and maps and fascinating facts about the sender's location. Many were illustrated, some with photographs.

Several were in foreign languages, including French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Russian, Slovene, Arabic and Japanese - with an English translation. It was an active resource for class lessons with immediate relevance and could be used to illustrate several areas of the national curriculum. Geographical and climatic differences across the world were studied. A fax from Moscow prompted talk about what time it was there.

The school secretary ex-plained to children how the machine worked. They were fascinated by the ways in which handwriting and other graphics could be communicated electronically.

Metres of paper would greet us on some mornings. Such was the success of the exercise that BT was persuaded to donate a box of fax rolls to bolster our resources.

The project prompted further ideas, such as twinning with local businesses. The school's special educational needs co-ordinator suggested a "fax friendship" link between pupils with special educational needs and others in the local area, thus encouraging writing for an enjoyable purpose. And although the event wasn't competitive, it still gave us some ideas for fund-raising.

* Luke Darlington has now retired as a headteacher and he chose a fax machine as his leaving present


* Discuss the event at a full staff meeting and brainstorm its cross-curricular benefits and intended outcomes. Nominate a co-ordinator.

* Promote the event to parents by letter, and don't forget to give the school's fax number! Emphasise that messages don't need to come from abroad. They are all important. And ask writers to include the class name on messages.

* It is better to have an independent fax machine, not a faxtelephone.

* Have plenty of fax paper - at least three rolls.

* Use large international wall-maps which are not too detailed.

* A large-scale map of the local area is useful for precise location of neighbourhood messages.

* Ask that messages from abroad indicate the nearest big town. You will need a good atlas.

* Use thin thread to make the visual link with your location.

* Have separate master lists for the faxes from within the UK and from abroad.

* Inform your telephone company's publicity department - it might sponsor the venture.

* Invite the local press and request a photographer to see your displays.

* Take photographs for use as evidence to OFSTED of the school's commitment to information technology, or perhaps schedule the second half of the event for inspection week.

* Send a follow-up letter to parents, giving statistical details of your success.

* Evaluate the effectiveness of the fortnight at a staff meeting. The benefits should be obvious, but greater awareness of the fax facility may also encourage people to use it more.

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