Issue 4
February 1999













Editorial Staff: 
David Lloyd
Gail Mann 
Ellen Serfaty 
Ann Shlapobersky
Renee Wahl

Around The Country

Ann Shlapobersky

The Millennium Project

by Jack Pillemer

A Monster Email Exchange Project

by Karen Eini

A Dream Come True

an interview with Rachel Arenstein

The gifted school at Ibleen

by the 9th grade students

Using Sub-Titles in Video Programming to Promote EFL Goals 

by Adele Raemer


A Monster Email Exchange Project

By Karen Eini 






A collaborative Internet project called the Monster E-mail Exchange provides an ideal example of an authentic language activity that can be used to enhance classroom textbook teaching. 

The monster project focuses on writing skills to communicate a drawing of a student-created monster into a detailed written description. Students from cooperating schools read these descriptions which have been sent via e-mail and  duplicate the original drawing as closely as possible.  All students in the project experience both the role of creator of an original monster drawing and description, as well as recreating the monster from their e-mail partner's written description. At the end of the project, both the original and duplicate drawings are digitized and published on the web in the Mind's Eye Monster Galleries so that participants can see the resulting drawings for comparison and evaluation of their work. 

The monster project has a positive element of  "cooperation and success" built into its design.  Each student in the project essentially wants his partner to successfully redraw the monster as closely as possible to the original. Thus, each writer is motivated to write an accurate description to help his reader to "see" or envision the monster.  The monster descriptions expose EFL students to vocabulary that they have, for the most part, previously learned in the formal textbook-classroom context. The project demands that they use this learned vocabulary and produce a drawing that reflects their understanding.  The actual reading of the descriptions and redrawing of the monsters is, therefore, an authentic form of assessment of vocabulary and reading comprehension. Also the fact that the students play two roles--that of receiver of information, in order to  recreate the monster; and that of producer of information, in writing their own descriptions for their monsters--enable them to fully exercise their skills and reflect their knowledge and understanding. 

The site designed for this project is user-friendly, well designed and has plenty of explanations and timetables that help participants plan accordingly. In terms of equipment, participants need either a scanner or digital camera and access to an Internet connection. Even if there is only one Internet connection, an overhead projector can be used to show the final results of the monsters side-by-side. 

Partners are encouraged to write introductory letters to each other and it is helpful if the teachers involved specify the levels of English of their students so that native speakers in the project will be more sensitive to their readers’ level. Classroom preparation before the actual exchanging of monster description could include:

  1. the reading of monster stories
  2. monster dictation drawings
  3. review of body parts and  adjectives
  4. the building of a classroom monster  dictionary that could include such words as scars, horns, fangs, fur, claws, etc.
With proper preparation, careful planning and communication between partner teachers, and efficient time management, this project is an excellent experience for the EFL language learner and teacher.  A sample of Monster E-mail Exchange can be seen on-line in the Monster Gallery


Dream Come True

Rachel Arenstein is making her 'dreams come true" in Maalot. ETNI News talked to Rachel about how she began working with her elementary school students on computers, e-mail and the Internet, and where she is now!
 

ETNI NEWS:  Many readers think that you walked into a computer lab set-up "to die for"...tell us the history of what you have and how you got there.

Rachel: Until June 30, 1998, we had thirty 286 computers without hard disks. In the library we had an additional four computers, two of which had modems and were connected to an ISDN telephone line. The 30 computers were on a network and the main use was drill-type programs via Rama 2.  I was working with twelve students on four computers, which was difficult, to say the least. 
Last November, we were advised that we had been accepted into the Machar 98 project and that we would be getting 56 computers.  The procedure is that schools receiving over 50 new computers will get them   over a period 2 years. 
Many meetings and discussions were held as to how best use the computers. It was finally decided to put twenty in the old computer room and three in the science lab and one in the teachers' room.  After looking at many programs, the school decided to take the Sal Patuach from Matach. This means that nearly all their programs are available for use before a final descision is made after a year. 

ETNI News:  Can you describe your hardware, software and technical support?

Rachel:  Our school became computerized through Machar 98 over the summer 1998 holiday.  This meant that we returned to a new computer room with 20 state-of-the-art computers, a projector and a flat bed scanner. The computers are on a network with an NT server and are connected to a frame relay line, which means that we have instant 24-hour connection-- all of which sounds wonderful! 
The software package includes the Sal Patuach from CET, Office 97, Explorer and Netscape Communicator and an anti-virus program.  The computers were purchased through CET, which means that they provide our technical support. A phone call to Tel Aviv means that the technician arrives within 48 hours usually.  We have noone onsite (except me) to deal with minor programming problems.  I find this frustrating as I am sure that a short course of 28 hours could teach at least 3 teachers in school how to cope with these problems without having to rely on an outside person all the time. 

ETNI News:  Can you describe how your role at the school has changed this year as a result of the new technology?

Rachel: I am now responsible for CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) in school as well as teaching English.  This year I am on sabbatical so am only working 10 hours, all of which are spent in the computer room. 
A decision was made in Maalot this year that all schools were to concentrate on achievement levels. In our school, this means that every fifth and sixth grade class has one hour per week of CALL. In addition, I have groups of fifth and sixth grade students for Internet and CMC studies again one hour per group. 

ETNI News: What is your present program and how did you build it?

Rachel:  I spent much time considering all my options for planning my own program. I was also involved in general school policy decisions regarding the computers. It soon became obvious that as most teachers lacked any computer skills, the computers would continue to be used mainly for closed programs. By these I mean programs that require minimal computer skills, usually clicking on correct answers or dragging them to the correct part of the screen. These programmes do not use open tools like Word.
Some teachers decided to use Matach projects that required use of a word processor and e-mail. I have become the unofficial technical person for that project.

ETNI News:  What was your biggest challenge?

Rachel: I decided that I wanted to avoid all closed programs if that was feasible.  I followed up all suggestions for projects that were posted on the ETNI list and spent many hours surfing through sites to see what might be suitable.  I realised very quickly that the level of English required to cope with the easiest sites was in many cases beyond the ability of my students.  I had thought that the Too Cool For Grownups  electronic newspaper would be a great site for the kids. Some of them managed to struggle through a few lines but for most of the class it was impossible.  I have now chosen a few projects and each class has their own.

ETNI News:  Tell us about your ongoing projects…

Rachel:
 - One sixth grade class is involved in the CET M@il Me project.  This is an email project which requires correspondence with a school abroad.  The accompanying site has great ideas for teachers and games and worksheets for the kids.  It encourages the kids to use English in a real situation.  The kids are enjoying it and our first letters are in the planning stage. 

 - Two classes--one fifth grade and one sixth grade--are building virtual portfolios.  We are using the Netscape Composer to write them. Each student has written an identity card as the opening page. 

The fifth graders' portfolios will be teacher-guided, in that we will choose the work to go into the portfolio. We are using Beginners' Files in school and the book has portfolio exercises. Some of these will be done on computer instead of in a notebook. In addition I have prepared a list of tasks based on the textbook. The pupils are required to choose four of them. The sixth graders are allowed far more choice. They are given guidelines for writing. For instance, in the textbook Changing Channels, there is a conversation in a shop where one of the characters buys a t-shirt. For the portfolio, I asked the kids to write a similar conversation. The stronger pupils chose a picture from the Clipart collection and wrote a conversation around that. The less able students used a template from the workbook. The sixth graders will also write mini projects based on subjects in the class book and use Internet as their source for information.

- Another fifth grade class is involved in the Monster E-mail Project. This meant that we had to draw and describe monsters and then send the descriptions to a parallel class who did exactly same. Each class has to draw the others monsters according to the descriptions received. 

 - My Internet groups center round teaching basic skills such as simple searches, saving and use of material, and e-mail.  The e-mail sessions were great. I sent letters to all the pupils in English and asked them to reply.  This meant that they had to write in English as well as using email.  I am hoping that the kids will prepare projects using Power Point.  Although these will be written in Hebrew, many of them will be based on information found in English.

ETNI News:  We understand that your school is involved in unique work with the students in a nearby Druze village.

Rachel:  Fifteen sixth grade students are involved in an e-mail project with a nearby Druze village. The project is in its second year. The two groups correspond in English on basic topics- myself, my school, my town.  In addition there are real meetings. This year we have decided to build a joint site on the Olive tree. The site will probably be in three languages- Hebrew, Arabic and English.

ETNI News: What are your biggest problems?

Rachel: It all sounds great but there are a lot of challenges.  Some kids have no computer skills at all and need individual attention. Fortunately, the kids are very willing and able to help each other.  It also means that some students who are weak in English but do have computer skills can shine and be stars for a change.  I have to draw a line between what I am supposed to teach, and what the kids want to learn.  For instance, the kids would happily spend several lessons choosing the backgrounds and pictures for their work.  In a regular computer lesson, I would have no problem with that--but they are supposed to be learning English.  I have decided that if they complete a given exercise then they can spend a lesson looking for graphics. 
The Monster Project was way to hard for the kids. The descriptions were very difficult for them to write. I have just received the descriptions from the States and realise that they will almost have to be translated for my students to cope with them. 
Another problem is keeping pace with creative ideas to engage thestudents.  When I am out of ideas or worksheets, there is the excellent Go On Reading programme from CET.
Another concern is teaching the students how to work with computers, and cooperate in project work.  The students resent any time in the computer room not spent on the computers. As this is the only place I meet with them it is unavoidable. Some aspects of all the projects have to be discussed before the work can begin.  On the whole the kids know this and see that the quicker they are cooperate with me, the faster they will get to the computers. 
The biggest problems are undoubtedly those of a technical nature.  It is very irksome to find that even the most basic tools are missing and have to be downloaded from the net.  I have no experience of network management so it is all trial and error.  Slowly but surely I am finding my way around and discovering where to download files (the network drive as then the setup files can be opened on all computers); where to keep backup files (on the d: drive so material will not be affected by problems on the c: drive; and not be affected by that drive being reformatted); and  how to reconnect computers to the network.  They always become detached when you want the kids to save work (Murphy's Law!).
 

ETNI News:  Do you think students are improving their skills in English through use of computers?  Has their motivation changed?

Rachel:  There is no doubt in my mind that the computers, and particularly Internet, are great tools for the teaching of English. First, the kids are having to deal with real English in a real situation, whether it is finding information or writing letters.   They are more willing to struggle with English in order to find information about their favorite subjects.
 I have no problem with them looking for information on the Hanson Brothers or Leonardo di Caprio.  The main thing is that they are reading or scanning English--and English that is real, not especially written for them.  I have in fact prepared worksheets that require them to scan sites for information on pop groups or film stars. 
Internet is a great motivator. The pupils are also motivated to write in order to prepare home pages.  And they exhibit more motivation in reading to find information.
Another problem is teaching basic computer skills. The students have to understand the structure of a computer in order to save their work ( and find it again) and to save pictures which are to be inserted into their work at a later time.  These skills have to be taught in Hebrew. They are worthwhile skills that the students will always need and use, but it is not strictly English so, I get a guilty twinge when I teach them.

I am finding the whole experience challenging. Seeing how far I can push my own technical knowledge. Helping solve my problems as well as other peoples, and most of all, pushing the kids.  They are willing to work way beyond lesson time if what they are doing interests them and it would seem that computers are interesting. 

The gifted school at Ibleen  -

 written by the 9th graders

In October 98,the gifted school at Ibleen opened for the seventh, eighth and ninth grades, for pupils who have passed the special exams for gifted pupils.

We are 80 pupils studying topics such as English using computers, mathematical thinking, film making, diseases, science and technology.

Mr Husam is the head of the school, which has its classes on our free day, Friday.

We come to Mr. Elias’s “college” every Friday.Some of the subjects are optional and this is what we like so much about that school.  The classes are more interesting and taught in a different approach than in our regular schools. We prepare projects on topics that we wish to research and there are no exams.

From a personal viewpoint I see myself privileged to be an English teacher at Ibleen gifted school .  I teach all the lessons in the computer lab and I try to find activities on the Internet which will improve their written proficiency--we started a keypal project with students their age from America and some pupils are in the process of building their homepages.

If you have any ideas, comments or thoughts I'll be glad to hear them, so E-mail me:
Zohara Barzilai