It’s a small world

July 20-Aug. 2, 2006
It’s a small world
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
Syracuse students communicate with students in New Guinea

The world seemed larger to the seventh grade class of 30 students at St. Anna Primary School in Papua, New Guinea last January. They had just received a shipment of five computers and a printer for their classroom and were learning how to communicate with three schools in the Syracuse area. Most of the children had never seen a computer.

The computer equipment was purchased and delivered to the students through Project 9000: Face of the World, which connected Syracuse students at St. Charles Borromeo School, Our Lady of Pompei School and Solvay Middle School with students at St. Anna Primary School in New Guinea through the use of technology. The goal of the project was to enrich the students’ learning by bringing a global dimension to their academic experiences and to foster a deeper appreciation and respect for diversity. An additional goal of the project was to enhance the teachers’ skills for integrating technology resources into lesson plans and classroom learning activities.

The project was funded by a $17,500 grant Le Moyne College received from the John Ben Snow Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to make grants within specific focus areas to enhance the quality of life in Central and Northern New York State. Historically, the foundation has made grants in the following program areas: arts and culture, community development, education, environment, historic preservation and journalism.

Father Charles Vavonese, assistant superintendent for Catholic School Advancement, said Project 9000 was an exciting opportunity for the students to learn about different cultures. Because the children in New Guinea had experienced the tsunami, the students in Syracuse learned about the disaster through their exchanges on the Internet. “It brought the reality of the tsunami up close to the children in our area,” said Father Vavonese.

Students at Immaculate Conception School in Fayetteville contributed $3,000 to Project 9000 last December. By participating in the “Pennies from Heaven” campaign, the children brought in their extra change as their contribution to the relief fund. “We did it to kick off the beginning of Advent,” said principal Sally Lisi. “We were happy we could help out.” Under the Project 9000, a computer lab was built in the St. Anna School in New Guinea. The computer room was built to allow for insulation from the near-by ocean salt water. Computers, a digital projector, web cam, printer and digital cameras were airlifted into the village of Aitape, the location of the school.

The teachers are attempting to get more children at the school exposed to the new computer equipment. It’s common for six children to work at one computer at the same time. “The project has made a big difference in the lives of these kids,” remarked Father Vavonese. “The benefits have surpassed what we expected.” With the use of their new computer equipment, teachers and students at St. Anna School learned how to create PowerPoint presentations, audio clips, digital photos, MS word documents, correspond via e-mail and conducted on-line research. “They acquired extremely valuable skills,” said project coordinator Dan Bartlett. “This was groundbreaking for students in New Guinea, many of whom had never seen a computer.”

Project 9000 got underway last fall after Cathy Leogrande, chair of the education department at Le Moyne College, and Cynthia Choi, assistant professor of education at Le Moyne, developed the telecollaborative project. Leogrande and Choi asked Bartlett, a mathematics professor at Onondaga Community College completing his master’s degree in education at Le Moyne College, if he would be interested in acting as a liaison to all the schools that were involved in the project. “I told them that I would,” said Bartlett. “It was a wonderful opportunity.”

The first of the two phases of Project 9000 began last fall and ran through December 2005. Activities focused on logistics, planning, development and training. The second phase began in January 2006 and continued until the end of the school year in June. Each of the four schools researched the other schools using their computers. Then the students corresponded via e-mail. They wrote about themselves, their communities and their schools. “The students were in utter amazement,” remarked Bartlett. “Our students here thought it was amazing that the children in New Guinea ate crocodile. The exchange between the students was nice.”

Bartlett and Dr. Choi developed a web log to facilitate the various educational activities in which the students and teachers in both the U.S. and New Guinea participated. Activities on the web log included “Cultural Handshake,” “My Hero,” and “Current Events.” When the students participated in the “My Hero” activity, they were asked to explain what the word “hero” meant to them. A student at St. Charles Borromeo School said that a hero is not necessarily a superhero that wears a cape and flies, but instead, a hero could be an everyday person who is helpful and kind. Principal Sister Donna Driscoll, MFIC, said the participation of the children and adults in the project was a tremendous experience. Fourth grade homeroom teacher Sister Carla Thomas, MFIC, enjoyed the exchange between the students and teachers at St. Anna School and St. Charles Borromeo School. “It was marvelous because we realized most of the students in New Guinea had never seen a computer,” said Sister Carla. “We were so thrilled. We wrote back and forth and they sent pictures of their progress.”

Solvay Middle School fourth grade teacher Nicole Bloodgood led her students through the “Cultural Handshake” activity. The students were asked what the handshake meant to them. One participant said, “To me, this symbol represents cooperation and sharing. I think that all four schools working together to achieve common goals and share experiences is such a unique way for our students to learn!” And a participant at St. Anna School responded, “A handshake requires a mutual reaching out, a trusting that each one will be held in respect. That is what is happening in Project 9000 — you have extended your hand in friendship and peace and we joyfully extend ours in return.” Bloodgood’s students created a scrapbook of photos of objects in the Syracuse area and mailed it to the students in New Guinea. The students there responded by sending the students in Syracuse a newspaper they had created about their community. “It’s helped the children to have a better perspective of the world,” said Bloodgood. “They learned so much about a culture that is so different than theirs.”

Students at Our Lady of Pompei School took part in the “Friendship Flag” activity, along with the New Guinea students. Teacher Kim Byrne said the children created a flag to symbolize their relationship with the students in New Guinea. When they designed the flag, they incorporated symbols from the American flag and New Guinea flag. “It was a good experience for them,” said Byrne. “The activity was integrated into our social studies curriculum. The students in New Guinea also created a flag. In order to do this, they had to have a good rapor with one another. It was an awesome experience.”

Several other activities were included in the Project 9000. Solvay Middle School, St. Charles Borromeo School and St. Anna School participated in the “My Invention” and “Cultural Mythology” activities.

Bartlett said he would like to see Project 9000 continue. “We’re in the process of securing funding and the schools’ commitment,” Bartlett said. “I am confident the project will continue. We want to broaden its scope with a math/science curriculum.”

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