1997 - 1998
Although I bought my first computer, a Pentium 166, in May 1997, I only started using it during July holidays after my teenage son had deigned to spare some time to explain how e-mailing and the Internet worked ... much too quickly for my abilities. As a teacher I noted this incident down as a reminder.
After technical difficulties , many frozen screens and panic at a hypothetical virus onslaught, I managed to survive and moved ahead contacting several teachers I had found on the E-pals site. I was extremely lucky to meet some extraordinary people, some of whom I have become close friend with and to whom I owe eternal gratitude for their patience, help and support (thank you, Mr Erickson). We planned together a framework within which we would operate. My students had had two years of English (EFL) and I wanted them to start communicating in English for real through an e-mailing project with the American schools I had made contact with. The students reacted very favourably when I told them about it and most were thrilled to participate. I had three classes of about 25 students each, some students willing to correspond with 3 or 4 students from different schools at the same time. It was an excellent exercise for all in organization, deadlines and follow-up.
At that time at school, we only had 2 computers in the teachers' room so the first months I almost wore my fingers out as I typed , at home, most of the letters the students had given me on paper in class. As soon as the answers started pouring back, I had practically become an extension of the computer since the children couldn't see me walk down the corridor without asking "is there anything for me today? or "could you send this letter for me?". The students were reading, comparing their letters, asking for vocabulary, writing back and practising their English all the time while my typing skills improved enormously, my mail-box was sometimes filled with more than 90 incoming messages and the printer was spitting out paper all day long. Some of the questions the students received provoked reactions as they had the impression that students abroad equated Brazil to the Amazon jungle.
At Christmas we exchanged books the children signed, photographs, little souvenirs and cards with the participating schools. This was a very special moment.
Our enthusiasm and the USA being on the program in different subjects made me plan a trip with the same classes the following year so that the experience would not belong to the virtual realm only . E-mailing was crucial to make contacts, set dates and arrange all details. In the meantime, voluntary students participated in a writing project in different languages with Sycamore school and both schools filmed their neighbourhood, several student activities in class and a students' fashion parade so that the correspondents would have a better idea of what the others were like and how they lived and reacted. Lots of cultural perception and discussion there. Great for informal oral work.
We started school in 98 with 7 new computers in the library and a computer room with 8 machines used mostly by the Physics and Biology teachers (none of which with an Internet connection, though). Many students already had a computer at home so the letters from then on had to be on floppy disks. The students used Word (their parents family or friends helped them as at that time this was not on their curriculum at school), saved their work, which I collected, scanned with the latest anti-virus, copied, pasted and sent from home. We kept correspondence with the same schools so before the students travelled in October 1998, they had found information about the places they would visit and had arranged to meet with two of the schools involved.
The whole trip was documented live online, thanks to the Physics teacher, Mr Mores (who accepted to be the webmaster and taught me informally and very efficiently the basics to most of what I know today). Almost every night during our 15-day trip, after the students had been put to bed at the hotel, the photographs (taken with a digital Mavica we had received before the trip) and messages of the day would be sent from a cyber shop(Kinko's) to our webmaster back in Brazil. We felt like Indiana Jones and every time all went well....the little tune of the film would come to my mind.
The students organized an exhibition, during which they showed a film and sold a CD Rom with all the information, work and material gathered during the trip. Feedback from students and teachers was published in an article in the November issue of the school magazine.