Online Network Offers Activities, Curricula

Article excerpt

"'Integrated, curricular activities' were the words for the school year, and this distance learning program seemed the ideal vehicle to accomplish it with sixth graders," says Cathy Kinzer, a 13-year veteran reading teacher at Travis Junior High School in Irving, Texas. "When I learned about using a computer, modem and the WorldClassroom network to collaborate on projects with students around the world, I felt an enthusiasm toward teaching again, and I knew this would be passed on to my students."

Kinzer, the campus' 1990/91 Teacher of the Year, heard about WorldClassroom from a fellow instructor. Targeted for K- 12 students, the online information service, from Global Learning Corp., provides supplemental curriculum materials on science, social studies and language arts using real-life situations and current data on world events and the environment.

WorldClassroom is divided into five categories or conferences: Welcome, Science and Technology, Language Arts, Social Studies and Special, The last one is designed to facilitate multi-lingual discussions. Students access the Welcome category, then "join"a specific subjectarea conference. Different activities, termed items, are offered within the conferences. Users use the system to conduct research, share their findings with peers from around the world, and make decisions.

Kinzer initially purchased the WorldClassroom service with Travis Junior High funds. However, she remembers, "It bothered me to use the campus funds, so I sought funding from outside sources."

A community involvement committee from Hitachi Semiconductors of America Corp. invited Kinzer to discuss WorldClassroom and how she would implement it with her students. Impressed with the opportunities it offered, they answered her request with a two-year commitment toward the project; Kinzer then reimbursed her school with those funds.

Using an Apple IIe computer, a phone line, and DataTerm modem and communications software from Texas-based Applied Engineering, Kinzer began learning new skills in "'telecomputing."

* Projects & Collaboration

One of WorldClassroom's strong points is its flexibility; teachers' ideas can become part of the curriculum. Explains Kinzer, "By the time I became familiar with the software and network commands, it was late September and signs of fall were already apparent. Children would soon begin talking of Halloween and telling their favorite ghost stories. 'This is it!,' I thought. I would seek a way to tailor a reading activity, involving scary stories, that could be shared with our network friends around the world."

With the guidance of WorldClassroom's head moderator and language arts moderator, two weeks of three-way planning sessions--held via the service's electronic mail feature-were conducted. The result of this online collaboration was a special assignment titled, "Catch the Spirit." Students in Luxembourg in the Netherlands also participated in the activity.

In another exercise, Kinzer and her students studied writings on Unidentified Flying Objects. She used the UFO activity plans supplied in WorldClassroom to extend a Science Fiction/Science Fact thematic unit she was teaching her sixth-grade honors reading class.

"Jim Zuhn, WorldClassroom's science moderator from College Station, Texas, had an impressive lesson plan for UFOs," she explains. "Using his educational objectives, I targeted reading skills. …