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Paths in therain forest

Chris Drage describes how primary schools can explore the Internet

The day after a class from Welford and Wickham Church of England Primary School near Newbury, visited the nearby Wyld Court Rainforest at Hampstead Norreys, two pupils asked to research rain forests using the Internet.

One wanted to find out about parrots, while the other wanted to find out how people live in the rain forest. One child made notes of how they navigated, while the other did the searching.

They dialled in to Research Machines' Internet for Learning and logged on to the school's own Links page. From there they were able to go to the Web Crawler database and "parrot" was entered as a search phrase.

From the sites that were returned they visited the Rainforest Workshop home page and downloaded some pictures and a very interesting fact sheet about native peoples of tropical rain forests. They then returned to the Web Crawler and entered the phrase "rain forest".

Of the sites returned they chose one that appeared most likely to tell them also about the way people live in the rain forest and found a map of Surinam, South America. They then visited the Rainforest Action Network page. They logged off after having been on-line for about 20 minutes. The very useful research was surprisingly easy and together they wrote a report about the lesson and displayed it with the pictures they had printed out.

Sonia Crisp, the headteacher of the small Berkshire school, says: "The Internet provides a fast, inexpensive way to interact on a personal global level."

The process of accessing the Internet starts with the purchase of a modem (Pounds 100-Pounds 180) and a subscription to a service provider such as RM Internet For Learning or Zynet for about another Pounds 120 per year. In some cases you may also have to purchase Internet software to access the system and handle mail and the World Wide Web. It depends on what the provider offers.

The on-going costs may be what schools fear most. Remember, the telephone system charges at local rates and the only time this will be noticeable is if the World Wide Web is used excessively.

The first step in using the Internet is through electronic mail (e-mail) exchanges with schools and children around the world. E-mail is composed and read off-line, making it a very low-cost exercise. There are numerous electronic mailing lists that can be used to find Keypals - the most useful is Kidlink which offers an opportunity for 10 to 15-year-old children to take part in projects throughout the year with schools around the world. Welford and Wickham's first exchange came over a year ago after they contacted a school in Point Hope, Alaska.

What curriculum opportunities are offered? English, geography, history, science and modern languages come immediately to mind. E-mail offers children real opportunities to write for a purpose. Studies of world weather conditions, differing settlements, environmental change, and how and why people seek to manage and sustain their environment are all important aspects of geography.

Similarly, children can undertake historical enquiries and are able to collect and record evidence and analyse, draw conclusions and communicate their findings. Web sites such as Regia Anglorum provide schools with a vast on-line encyclopaedia, while there is a plethora of sites of scientific interest, especially those relating to the earth sciences and astronomy.

Any new activity we attempt at school immediately raises management and organisational questions. Schools already involved are breaking the ground and publishing their experiences on the Web for others.

At Welford and Wickham children are always supervised when using the Internet, usually working in pairs in 20-minute sessions. Once the children have received initial instructions from a teacher on how to carry out their research, trained voluntary helpers are often used to supervise further sessions.

It isn't long before on-line schools begin to develop their own Web home pages where not only children's work is displayed, but where older pupils create their own personal pages.

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