Establishing Guidelines and Goals

It's Time To Decide

You have established contact with a teacher or perhaps several teachers and now must make some decisions together on several issues.

  1. With how many classes do you want to work? - It will definitely be easier to work with one partner class for your first exchange. There are downsides to this as well as benefits. You might choose one teacher's class from several who responded to your request only to find out that this teacher cannot continue the exchange for one reason or another. You must decide what will work best for you and your class. Having three classes work together might help in some circumstances.

    Keep in mind that:

    • Classes rarely have the same number of students to pair students one on one.
    • Classes do not often have access to computers in the same frequency as their partner class.
    • Students will be absent at times and some will transfer to another school during the course of the year.

  2. What are your goals and objectives for the exchanges? - When your new partner teacher(s) writes back to you be sure to discuss your objectives and goals. Do you have any common goals that you can work toward? Write to each other about your curriculum and see if there are ways that you can support each other. Discuss curriculum topics that would be easy to address in keypal messages. Be creative and brainstorm together. Develop a list and timeline of things you hope to accomplish. Two math teachers' list might look like this:

    • October: measurements: metric and customary (standard)
    • November: problem solving
    • December: geometry

    In the sample introductory letter the teacher is a math teacher (grade 5). Using that example here are some thoughts for bringing math curriculum into the keypal exchanges. Be sure that your students are also aware of the goals and objectives.

    • As the students send their introductory messages have them include their height. If any students do not know their height this is a good time to have a lesson on measurement. Once the messages begin to arrive your students may see a mixture of metric measurements and standard or customary measurements. Here is a chance to use the WWW and convert the measurements so each student can have a better understanding of his/her keypal's height. A good place to go on the WWW for unit conversions is: WWW Unit Converter Once the students have converted the measurements to the same unit they can chart and graph the data. Students may also include weight in their e-mail messages for a comparison of weights as long as this will not cause any problems for the sensitive child who is overweight or underweight.
    • Students will give only the latitude and longitude of the location instead of the name of their city or town. Students on both ends of the exchange will try to locate each other on the map using only latitude and longitude as their guide. This might mean that each teacher needs to develop and plan a lesson on latitude and longitude before the messages are sent. Astrodienst Atlas Query gives will identify latitude and longitude for a location. Type the name of the city in the box that says, "Birth Town."
    • Encourage the students to see how far apart their cities are. Are they too far apart to engage in real time interactions? In what time zones are the keypals? The World Clock webpage contains time zones around the world. Students can look through these links to discover how many hours separate the keypals. By using math skills, students will be able to determine if it is possible for them to have a real time chat with their online friends.
    • Students can send each other "Math Puzzles" and try to figure out the answer. This can be a fun way to use math and develop searching strategies at the same time.
    • Keypals from two different countries can describe (in mathematical terms) and compare flags. In a geometry lesson students can look for shapes in flags.

  3. Will you pair students to make sure that all students are receiving e-mail? - You and your partner teacher might want to pair the students in both classes by sending class lists and matching the names before the students begin e-mail exchanges. You can match names for keypals or, if you like, let the students describe themselves and their hobbies and let the kids decide among themselves. Just be sure that all students in both classes have someone to write to who will write back faithfully to them. Keep in mind that the chances of finding a keypal class with exactly the same number of students you have are rare. How will you address this situation? Students will be absent at times and some will transfer from your school. It might be a good idea to have several students writing to each other to eliminate disappointments.

  4. How will students send and receive email? Will students send and receive e-mail from their own student e-mail accounts? Many schools do not allow elementary students to have their own e-mail accounts. Will teachers send and receive e-mail for the students in their accounts? Plan how and where (in a computer lab or classroom with laptops or Palms?) students will type their messages and send them to their partners.

  5. How often do you expect the messages to arrive? - Decide with your partner teacher how often you desire to have e-mail exchanges. Do your students have access to e-mail every day? Do they have access only once a week? It is important to let each other know right from the beginning how often students will be looking for mail. If you are writing to students who do not speak your language as their first language be sure your students understand that it will take their keypals longer to respond if they must write in your language. Students who are writing in English to friends in Norway, for example, must understand that their friends are translating the incoming messages and then composing replies in a language that is not their own. This takes time.

  6. Will you be sending attachments such as images or sounds? - Students enjoy seeing pictures of each other, hearing the voices of their friends and also sending drawings. If you plan to do this among your keypals be sure to establish some guidelines. You do not want to send large attachments to anyone (and never to a listserv) without asking permission or at least alerting the receiver first. Sometimes people have size limits for attachments. Some people have limited space for e-mail and large attachments will lock their e-mail system. Be polite and discuss this before you begin your exchanges.

    The secret for attaching files to e-mail messages is knowing where those files are stored. Make sure that students are fully aware of the directory where their files are kept and how to find it. Students may have their own directory on the hard drive or perhaps they are saving files to a diskette.

    When attaching a file to an e-mail message you will need to review the directions or help file for your particular software. Generally the logic is the same. The important thing to remember is the location of the folder on your computer where the file can be found.

    Be sure to remind students that:

    • It is not a good idea to send anyone a large attachment without asking first.
    • Attachments should not be sent to mailing lists.

  7. Will you try to include real time interactions? - Real time exchanges can be lots of fun and educational as well when supervised by a teacher and designed around specific topics. If students are left to chat idly among themselves a log file of the chat might show little depth to the discussion. When students are chatting with online friends who do not have the same first language it is important for them to remember to give their online friends time to process what they are typing. Chats that move too quickly will be frustrating for those who cannot write quickly in a language that is not their own.

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Patti Weeg
April 17, 2004