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Santa comes alive with e-mail

An overlooked Net service can provide cash-strapped schools with a new teaching medium says Leon Cych.

The World Wide Web is an excellent resource if you are a big school with an equally large IT budget, or have the luck and ingenuity to be chosen for a Government pilot project with lots of free equipment and connections thrown in. But what if you are a fairly small primary school with a single telephone Internet link and very limited funds - what do you do then?

With only one computer linked to the Net (usually, but not always, in the library) you have an immediate set of problems: how to ensure access for everyone; how to teach skills to pupils in a class with such restricted facilities; the daunting possibility of excessive phone charges. As always, there is a way to avoid these problems - it's called e-mail, short for electronic mail.

In the rush to browse the Internet's designer graphics interface, the World Wide Web, e-mail is often overlooked. It is an excellent teaching medium and well-structured e-mail projects can be extremely effective.

Some of the key features of a successful e-mail project include: a specific focus and a clear purpose, a definite time span and a well established timetable of events. The skills required are similar, if not identical, to those needed to use a word-processor, and children are highly motivated - the excitement, enthusiasm and quality of work, across a wide range of the curriculum, quickly becomes apparent.

One e-mail project our school, All Souls Primary, Central London, took part in last year was the Writing Letters to Santa scheme which has been run by the Global Schoolnet Foundation (Hilites listserver, see below) for over 10 years. The idea is that children in primary schools can write questions to Santa and receive a reply from children in secondary schools pretending to be Santa.

After joining the project by e-mail I was paired on a list with an American high school teacher in Florida. We quickly established contact and agreed on an agenda. I brainstormed my class of Year 3 children and got them to think up questions they wanted to ask Santa - I also encouraged them to put down as much information about themselves as possible. Then I e-mailed my colleague in the States with what the children had conjured up: "Is there a Mrs Santa?" "How are you able to deliver all those presents in one night?" "How is it that you have an e-mail address? How old are you?" She then got her class of high school children together to agree terms and iron out culturallinguistic differences before taking on the role of Santa and writing back. The results were hilarious and inventive: "The way I deliver the presents in one night is to make time stop for me." "If you don't have a chimney then I use my master key for all the doors in the world." "I'm too old to remember how old I am." Each of my children got a reply and even the most cynical were impressed by the fact that Santa had really answered each question consistently and commented on all aspects of all their letters.

Higher up the school, several children recently took part in a geography project that involved researching an e-mail partner's country. Our top juniors investigated Kuwait, Russia, the Czech Republic and Australia among others and were wrapped up in putting together information for a day in the life of their "keypal".

Never before have I seen children so involved in such purposeful study skills. The latest piece of work our Year 6 children have been doing is comparing the prices of various everyday objects around the globe and converting currencies to find out which is the most expensive country to live in.

You can find out about these projects by sending an e-mail to a suitable "listserver". A listserver is an electronic bulletin board and when you join a specific list, information is automatically e-mailed to you and all the other subscribing members on a regular basis. If you have a good idea then you can e-mail it to the list and everyone else gets to see and comment on it. Good luck and happy e-mailing!

Leon Cych is IT Co-ordinator at All Souls Junior, Mixed and Infant School in Fitzrovia, London. Its Web address is: http: web sitesallsoulsindex. html


Management techniques

* Find out when computers in other classrooms aren't being used.

* Make a timetable of which machines are in which rooms.

* Get older children to word-process their e-mail replies at those times.

* After they finish, they can save their work to disc and cut and paste into off-line e-mail software for sending later.

* Don't forget that you can send all your e-mails out simultaneously to save money.

* Train up one or two children in your class to be e-mail experts and get them to pass on those skills to others in a cascade system of learning.

Off-line e-mail writers and newsreaders suitable for your system * Eudora is excellent as an e-mail writer for PC and Macintosh. (free if you join RM as a service provider

* Turnpike is an excellent piece of software for PCs (Pounds 49.95+VAT). It makes reading newsgroups and e-mails a joy. You can tag incoming messages and file them into different folders, building up clear consistent resources and correspondence. ( * ANT Internet Suite (Pounds 99 + VAT) is commercial software for Acorn machines ( Ring 01223 567808 for a full working demo disc.

UK based Educational Listservers *

Just send an e-mail message with the words: join uk-schools your first name last name stop in the body of your e-mail text to join.

* The Chatback Trust is also involved in several projects (especially with special needs children): E-mail * To subsribe to the Chatback Dickens list at Type the message: subscribe boz your first name your last name US based listservers that schools in the UK can use * In the body of your e-mail message type: subscribe hilites (See their web page at http:archives.gsn.orghilites for examples of very successful projects.) Novae list set up by Arthur Galus In the body of your message type: subscribe novae firstname lastname (see http:prism.prs.k12.nj.usWWWOIIdisc-pub novae-groupindex.html for archives of their postings).

Teachers' Newsgroups Teachers newsgroups are often the best resource on the Net. Ask a question about education and you're bound to get an answer within a couple of days . You'll need an off-line newsreader to read and write e-mails to these groups.

Bear in mind that these are very public forums and are not privately subcribed to like listservers - anyone on the Net can read and write to them. If you don't want that kind of exposure just write to individuals on the list after "lurking" (reading the posts without joining discussions). alt.teachers.lesson-planning

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