The following frequently asked questions have come from teachers, children, and parents involved in a project that introduced most of them to e-mail and the Internet. The project, TEChPLACEs, is one of the Macomb Projects and is in its first year of funding. During the 97-98 school year, TEChPLACEs staff worked closely with teachers and children in four classroomsča pre-k, two kindergartens, and a first gradečin four west central Illinois communities. As often happens, the enthusiasm of the children affected their parents, causing many of them to become interested and involved also.
As the children corresponded with children in other classrooms via e-mail, helped in the development of the "All About Us" Web pages, and contributed to the current construction of "Our Community" their curiosity and need to know produced many questions and problem solving situations. The questions are real and the answers are solutions resulting from the creative thinking and collaborative efforts of those involved in the project.
1. If your friend sends you a message while you are sending a message, do Internet messages bump into each other?
While it may seem likely that they might crash into one another, Internet messages do not collide. It could be said that these messages, much like regular mail trucks going in opposite directions, pass each other and arrive at their destination unharmed.
2. How do I e-mail with all the children in my class?
Each teacher will have to discover what works best with each group of children. Some teachers may be able to connect to a large television monitor making it possible for all the children in the classroom to view incoming mail and join in the composition of outgoing messages. Some teachers may have better success with their group reading and sending mail three times a week rather than every day. Depending on the amount of mail received, some may find it easier to read and reply to a portion of the messages as a large group and have smaller groups respond to the remaining correspondence. Other teachers may find it works best to generate outgoing messages and read the incoming mail as a group but then designate a smaller group, which changes frequently, to answer any mail messages. Very young children pose their own challenges. Teachers of these children may find it works best to read one or two messages as a group and rather than construct a reply at the computer, prepare the message away from the computer. The teacher then enters the children's words and sends the message at a more convenient time.
3. How do I help three and four year old children understand where e-mail messages go?
The idea of regular U.S. Postal mail is hard for most children to understand, but even more difficult is e-mail since it is an abstract practice that even some adults cannot grasp. One teacher found a way to ease the confusion for the children in her classroom. As a group, the preschoolers prepared and sent a message to the building principal. The teacher and the children then visited the principal and watched as she opened the e-mail message. Lo and behold, it was the same message the children had composed in the classroom and sent earlier in the day.
4. How do I send e-mail to my child at school?
First of all, you must have e-mail capabilities and there must also be Internet access and an e-mail account in your child's classroom. In addition, you must know the e-mail address for the classroom. Knowing this, it is likely to depend on how the classroom teacher wants to handle the children receiving e-mail. In many cases, it is easy enough to designate the recipient of an e-mail message by including that information in the subject area of the message. For example, if the message is for your daughter Cara, you might put "To Cara from Mom" in the subject box. That helps the other children, many of whom recognize each other's names, know that that message is for Cara. In the message itself, by greeting Cara and her classmates, you will send a special message to your daughter and a message to the entire class, all of whom like to receive and send mail. By doing this, the message includes all the children, even those who may not receive their own personal greetings from their parents or family members.
5. Doesn't e-mail in the classroom and use of the Internet interfere with established curriculum?
In a word, the answer is No. Even though it might seem likely that using e-mail and the Internet might be invasive, quite the opposite is true. In one class, sending and receiving e-mail supports an interactive method for discussing the parts of a letter and writing a letter. By using a large monitor (either a large computer monitor or a television monitor connected to the computer) all children will have the opportunity to see and participate. The form and structure of incoming e-mail can also be reviewed and examined, and the resulting discussions might target absence of some letter components, the various greetings and salutations used, and the inclusion of unusual "emoticons" such as :-) and ;o) and :-( in the letter.
Using the Internet has brought a world of resources right into the classroom. From zoos to Winnie the Pooh, web sites have been explored that support a child's curiosity and enhance the curriculum. As class members pose questions, the entire class has the opportunity to engage in research and become actively involved in the process of acquiring an answer.
6. How do you LET children send e-mail?
At first glance it seems unlikely that young children could author and send their own e-mail messages. The reality is that indeed, young children can successfully send e-mail messages with little real help from an adult. For three and some four year old children it may be necessary for the teacher or some other adult to type the message for the child. We received messages from those children in the exact words they used and know the teacher had to struggle to not "fix" what was dictated as she typed.
To facilitate their own efforts, an address book could be prepared (there should be one in the browser application [Netscape Communicator or Internet Explorer] used to access the Internet) that contains addresses for other classrooms and their family members. By trial and error and with a little encouragement, children will soon learn the process used to send e-mail. It is interesting to be on the receiving end of early messages, the ones that may challenge a person's interpretive skills, and then receive later messages from the same children that show some impressive changes.
7. How do I make the words in a letter bigger?
The default settings for font size in word processors is 12 point and the same is true for most e-mail options found in Internet browser applications. While 12 point is fine for printed text it is rarely suitable for viewing by a group on a computer monitor. To enlarge the size of the text, highlight the contents of the letter and then select a larger font size; 18 is good but 24 is better. What really works best is to form some sort of agreement with regular correspondents. Promise to send all messages to them in 24 point and ask them to do the same for you. If, by chance, you forget to use 24 point, don't be surprised if you receive a message reminding you of the agreement to use a larger type.
Text, in dark, bright colors, makes any message more exciting to read and possibly more likely to be remembered. That becomes very clear when a message becomes known by its color.