Volume I Number 3, July 1994

Department: K-12

Bob Zenhausern
Anne Pemberton
Lois Elman
Michael Holtzman
Sheila Rosenberg

Summertime, and the Living is Easy!

Anne Pemberton

Well, at least for teachers and students in most of K-12land! Summertime is for vacations and family and friends and sun and water and sloppy good foods!

Summertime is also time to think about what worked this year and begin plans for a new school year. In this issue you will meet two new members of the editorial staff of this section, Dr. Sheila Rosenberg, and Tom Holloway, Director of Chatback UK. Both Sheila and Tom have brought some very special young people to the nets, and the nets to some very special young people.

There is also a brief note on the new Deaf Education gopher, a note about free books on the Internet for K-12 schools, and an announcement for a new resource for K-12 teachers in Pennsylvania.

If this column seems a bit short, it's not just the summer heat, but the fact that I'm knee-deep in housework getting ready for Tom Holloway's first visit to Virginia. As soon as this column is finished and on it's way to you, I'll post invitations to my students who have chatted and enjoyed Tom online and are anxious to meet this witty Brit in person. As exciting as it is to make net- friends, it is even more exciting to finally meet them in person! Have a Happy and Hot Holiday One and All!

Chatback and Inclusion

Sheila Rosenberg, Chatback Editor

Welcome to ITD. I am your Chatback Editor. As the Director of Chatback USA I have been privileged to meet an international team that is working to benefit students with special needs around the world. A brief introduction to Chatback and the people who make it all possible is the first order of business.

Chatback is an online planning group that provides a unique forum for professionals who work with students from kindergarten through grade twelve. The forum is dedicated to support curriculum- based projects that enable students to relate to the world with "global awareness" and sensitivity to our mosaic of varied cultures as well as our physical environment. A recent project was the "Far Star Alien" project where students engaged Z-Man and SHEROSE through e-mail. The enthusiasm for this project extended beyond the first year in order to enable a wider group to participate. "Project STEEL" engaged youngsters nationally as well as internationally as they documented the course of ten yachts that followed the route of Magellan around Cape Horn and its return to Southhampton, England.

"Kidintro" and "Talkback" have been two successful projects where special needs students have received support from peers as well as professionals. Many students who are identified because of their academic challenges find a level playing field where they are welcomed warmly and professionally. The range of projects introduced each fall consistently work into curriculum areas that we are all responsible to develop as well as communication skills that need to be stretched and expanded. The online process provides an environment that enables teachers and students to monitor growth and development through the automatic archiving process housed at St. John's University in New York, where the forum is housed.

Dr. Robert Zenhausern, International Director, has provided leadership for the professional planning group on Inclusion. The philosophy of inclusion reflects the activities that support an environment that enables a student with a variety of disabilities to succeed along with his peers without being isolated to receive instruction. The Content Mastery environment of a Pueblo school as well as the Learning Lab of a New York middle school are two environments that provide a place for the curriculum-based projects where gifted as well as academically challenged students sit side- by-side, supporting one another in computer skills and global activities. Recently, text-based Virtual Reality activities have been added to the professional discussions. Successful engagement of a wide range of students has been noted.

Authentic assessment and portfolios have enabled teachers to provide the Inclusion in both the physical and the virtual reality world. Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) can be designed by the educational evaluator to include the content rich activities as well as the communication skills needed for growth and development. The archiving process offers a unique opportunity to monitor and provide feedback to all the members of the diagnostic-instruction team.

Tom Holloway, the UK Director, is another key leader who is determined to create an environment that both the physically and the academically challenged can succeed. He describes e-mail as a process that was "once a solution looking for a problem." He describes how Chatback projects provide support for an important communication gap. Now his vision of special students with both communication disorders and physical disabilities functioning as total members of the global village provides a platform for each of the directors to spring forward into the twenty first century. I will be sure provide _ITD_ readers with many opportunities to learn more about the work of Tom in both the UK and globally. The work of several other directors will be shared as space allows.

In the fall I will be talking to you about the introduction of EASI K-12 as well as sharing the project for the 94-95 school year. In the coming months I will be providing examples of these projects as well as the strategies that teachers find most useful to incorporate these projects in their classrooms. In addition I will be describing the parental responses to the addition of online forums to our K-12 environment.

By way of introduction, I am a middle school consultant teacher in New York, where I provide both direct and indirect services. As a teacher educator and as an educational evaluator I look forward to sharing information about the wonderful successes of Chatback and the many students, both here and abroad, who are touched daily by it.

Chatback is for Kids

Tom Holloway, Director, Chatback UK

Once seen as "a solution looking for a problem," electronic mail (e-mail) is now emerging as an exciting new way to cross cultural barriers and provide motivation to children with low skills in written English. It also fills an important communications gap for the speech impaired and hearing impaired children of the Chatback Project.

Mike Burleigh, a teacher at a school for emotionally disturbed children, was becoming increasingly concerned about the new boy, "Ross." The lad appeared bright enough, but he was withdrawn in the presence of all adults and most children and, even worse, in spite of every inducement he continued to be totally and obstinately mute.

"Ross" was willing to write however, especially on the word processor, so Mike decided to apply for a mailbox funded by CHATBACK - a charity set up to provide electronic mail (e-mail) support for children with communication impairments.

It worked. Chatback extended his opportunities for writing, providing him with a wider audience, and also gave him a reason for communicating with the other pupils of his school, in demonstrating his use of Chatback. One year later he was so communicative that he was able to be integrated into mainstream education.

The school as a whole, and not just "Ross," felt a great deal of pride when they saw an article they had written on the environment published in a scientific newsletter produced by adult students with learning difficulties attending Selkirk College, British Columbia. Faced with a wide audience, they had good reason for redrafting and revising their work before sending it.

Chatback is a free electronic mail service for children with speech, hearing or learning difficulties, supported by IBM, British Gas and British Telecom. The children will already have access to a computer through their schools; Chatback supplies them with a modem, networking software, and an electronic mailbox.

E-mail is especially useful for children and young adults who find difficulty in communicating by speech. Indeed, it has become speech for them. E-mail enables them to establish contact with other people and form relationships, just as if they were in a school playground. Their language does not need to be Standard English, with correct spelling or punctuation, as long as their meaning is clear, just as their speech in the school playground might not be in Standard English. By electronic mail, they are able to chat with each other, exchanging information about themselves, which they otherwise might find difficult. Indeed, communication through Chatback might be their only means of contact with the outside world, if they live in a remote area, or if they have physical or emotional difficulties.

A key aspect of Chatback lies in the fact that it encourages speech impaired or communications impaired children by means of simple everyday education projects. The current project, called _Breakfast -- Second Helpings_, asks the 200 plus children of Chatback to tell each other about their breakfast. _Breakfast -- Second Helpings- has received e-mail replies from children in this country as well as from computer pals in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA, Europe and the Soviet Union.

It makes no difference between the child who has difficulty in learning, and the child who is physically able, nor is it possible to tell the colour or age of the person replying -- each reply is interesting in itself. One of the questions in the project was to imagine having breakfast with a famous person. The persons chosen varied enormously, but all descriptions of breakfast with them were vastly entertaining!

Another recent project, _Remembering_, involved pupils in interviewing someone who had been a child during the years 1940-45. The pupils had then to draft an account of the person's life as a child during the war, and send it into the project. Again, pupils from Europe as well as the United Kingdom participated in this project, which proved very illuminating and fascinating.

Several pupils wrote about the blackout. "All the houses were blacked out and wardens used to shout at people `Put that light out!'" "People were often unhappy because it was very dark. They had to put black paper on the windows because if planes came over they would know where they were. Lights had to be out. If you disobeyed, the police would knock on your door to tell you to do what you were told."

Others wrote about the shortages: "There were no bananas and there was not that much fruit...my gran never had chicken or turkey at Christmas. At Christmas they had steak pie... Clothes were rationed too. One of our friends told us a barrage balloon blew up and landed in her garden-they cut the material and made dresses with it."

One frightening incident came from Belgium: "My grandfather and his brother were young during the war. They went to school on foot. Under the bridge, there were two sentries and on the bridge there were horse droppings. My granduncle took the droppings and threw them over the bridge. ..onto the sentries. They ran for their lives. Some other boys got caught by the soldiers (but they were innocent) and these poor boys had to stay in prison for one day. My grandfather and his brother were too scared...Luckily the other boys were released the next day.'

In another school, pupils with learning disabilities, using their Chatback mailbox, have enjoyed writing letters and searching databases to obtain information for their projects on the environment and on the rainforests. Any disabilities these pupils might have are bypassed by using technology, which they are able to do on a par with their more able-bodied peers. This is a tremendous boost for their self-confidence, such an important factor for youngsters with learning difficulties. In the same school it was found that a girl with Downs Syndrome could communicate her feelings much easier by writing than by speech.

Recently a group of students travelled up the Orinoco river in Venezuela and e-mailed reports about the plant life there and their curative effects to pupils in this country, who compiled a book on all the information they had received. The pupils also asked their grandparents about old country remedies they had heard of, and read a compilation of remedies in the book _Folk Medicine: Fact and Fiction_, by Frances Kennett.

When two schools from Cambridgeshire visited the Isle of Wight during the halfterm, they sent back information via Chatback software and lap-top computer for those remaining at school to use in their project about the island. From the text sent by e-mail, the children remaining at school were in immediate contact with those adventuring on the island; when they returned, they compiled a book about their trip with the help of their own teachers and a teacher on the Isle of Wight with whom they are still in contact by e-mail.

Through Chatback and their Computer Pals the world is truly becoming a "Global Village," and through communication, perhaps the "Villagers" will understand and appreciate the differences which make each individual "Villager" so valuable to the village. For many teachers, electronic mail has seemed to be "a solution looking for a problem." For the children of Chatback it is more than just a solution, it is also a new way of learning.

New Deaf Education Gopher

A gopher has been established by the Bureau of Research, Training and Service of the College of Education at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio. One of the major sections of the gopher concerns Deaf Education. The gopher address is: shiva.educ.kent.edu

Free Book for K12 Schools

We publish Ed Krol's _The Whole Internet User's Guide & Catalog_. We have just released a second edition, which means we have a good quantity of the first edition in stock. We'd be very interested in donating copies of the first edition to K-12 educators for course or training material. We can't send single copies out but instead are looking for schools and organizations to which we can send books in bulk.

Those interested in receiving donations should send e-mail explaining how they'd use the books to Olivia Bogdan at olivia@ora.com.

Many thanks,

Brian Erwin, brian@ora.com
O'Reilly & Associates
103A Morris Street, Sebastopol CA 95472
707-829-0515, Fax 707-829-0104

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