It's time! The students are coming up the stairs; the part time instructional assistant is waiting for instructions. She is amassed to find one brand new computer in room 207 (the second one in the school). The students are afraid, yet quickly take their seats. After the introduction to the course, the teacher started talking about the importance of technology in their education. He tried to create in their minds of the students a picture of the future, and his expectations to the students. Students were faced with many more interesting challenges; a New World of learning was ahead.
This year there is a new sign in the classroom: "It's a small world" - "Es un mundo pequeño." This project, created during the summer, will give the opportunity for the students to interact with others, regardless of time, language, or frontier. For the last few days the teacher had been making contact with others schools around the globe. Every student in room 207 is given an e-mail pal; the participant teachers had made the necessary arrangements to set the topics of discussion. Everything was carefully planned, after sometime the students were supposed to write in their journals a descriptive letter of introduction that would be sent to their respective new friend in the project. The instructional assistant was capable to type or translate most of the letters in the 2 hours period assigned to room 207. The students also will spent three hours a week in the Computer Lab of typing skills and learn to use the tools of the Internet (there was another computer connected to the World Wide Web).
The first month the teacher was capable of controlling the topics of interaction. However, with the increase of the responses sometimes up to five per student, per day, the control was lost, topics of discussion vary from foods, friends, TV programs, music, gangs, homework, assignments, family, etc. By that time, cooperative learning was the only way to get some control back of the structure. The classroom was divided in small groups, this time the teacher helped the students select the topics of discussion. Every group selected what they wanted to learn from their e-mail friends; the teacher set some limits on the topics to write as well as the amount of time spent writing and searching for information. Some of the students decided to do the writing and searching at home instead of school some also tried to go to the Public Library. To the surprise of the teacher and the assistant, engaged learning was taking place, students were taking some steps in the control of their own learning. Students started asking and responding for many more topics; they compared and contrasted different ways of living and learning. They were capable to locate countries and cities on a map, but this time those places had meaning. They have kids, with interests and problems like them too!
Other faces of the project were the development of their monster descriptions. Expectations were easy and simple; they were to write and draw a description of a monster, sending the first through e-mail, the second through snail mail. Two weeks later, some of the students got up to twenty or more drawings and descriptions! They knew that they have to respond to each of the student's participant. Some of them wanted to quit the project, others were very happy to have many friends in other parts of the planet. The teacher was not part of the work now, the work was in the student's hands, and eveyone was working at different levels of the various projects.
As the year evolved, questions and answers were raised daily. The students, thanks to their e-mail buddies, were having trouble understanding the different weather conditions in another part of the world. As a result of that a group of heterogeneous students were assigned with the responsibilities of finding in the WWW information related to the weather in Aurora, and the Weather Trackes Project was formed. Once there was enough data collected, students were in charge of doing charts and upgrading them on a monthly basis. Those charts were posted around the school, increasing the number of questions, but this time from students in another classrooms. A positive increase of the students' self-esteem was noticed. This project provided enough data to understand charts temperature and weather conditions in our hometown. Also this part of the project supported most Math school district curricula. The contribution of this part was an innovative way to cover some material, emphasizing engaged learning with the help of the WWW.
Almost at the end of the third quarter, the teacher decided to introduce some notions about the Hyper Text Markup Language, students were expected to design, write, encode, scan, and type all the possible materials. Once the Personal Student's Homepages were published on the WWW, 50% of the students were not happy with the results and they wanted to improve them, 25% of the rest had more ideas for more homepages and the rest were happy with the results. For the evaluation of the students' homepages, a performance rubric was used.
By the closing of the school year, and with the help of two more computers in the classroom, students were writing and reading with a little more confidence. Their English abilities looked better, according to their scores. They were reading each other's journals and some were criticizing them without asking permission from the teacher. Some of the students needed several notebooks to keep up with the amount of writing in their journals. They had written stories and they wanted to publish them in the Internet. Students had learned about communities that exist with regular people, like them. Graphs were not a mystery anymore; most of the students were capable of making their own graphs with little help from the instructor. Searching and retrieving information on the WWW was a simple task. Positive self-esteem was more noticeable around the students in room 207. During the last days of school, one of the students makes a striking comment "What I would miss the most from the school is the Internet."