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Students make e-mail pals in Australia

March 14, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Stuffed animals and e-mail are helping an Eastern Elementary School class learn about life on the other side of the world.

Michelle Church's 5th-graders are using computers to correspond with kids from Spence Primary School in Adelaide, Australia.

The two classes connected using "Travel Buddies," a program intended to promote social studies, literacy and other skills.

Before they began writing to each other, the students exchanged mascots.

Last month, Church's class sent "Tigger" and several mementos down under. They received three small Australian ambassadors in return.

"Skippy kangaroo" arrived by mail with "Roo the Joey" in her pouch and "Coco Koala" on her back.

The Australian class teacher, Chris Hossack, sent along a journal so the American students can record the experiences of their furry foreign friends.

Church said all 24 of her 5th-graders will have a turn to take the trio home. Each student is expected to make an entry in the journal for the animals.

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Michael Fredlock was the first host. He described doing homework and eating dinner.

"Michael has a dog named shadow," he wrote. "She kept sniffing us. And his sister wanted to hold us a whole lot."

Under Church's supervision, each student picked a partner in Adelaide. Using the class computer, Church sends and receives their electronic mail.

The project is meant to exercise more than the imagination. "The main thing I'm hoping to get out of this is their reading and writing skills," said Church.

Her students have already learned several Aussie words, such as canteen (a kind of school cafeteria) and cricket (a sport like baseball).

Church's class is also discovering differences in Australia.

For instance, clocks are 17 hours ahead and it is now summer there.

Australian kids say "keen" the way American kids say "cool." They write their dates differently, with the day before the month. They spell the word "mom" with a "u."

Church's students have also learned a little about Australia's geography and wildlife. "A wallaby looks like a kangaroo, but it's not," explained Jacob Maddux.

While there are many differences between the two cultures, some things are similar. One Australian student asked in an e-mail if the American students have portable classrooms.

In the coming weeks, the Eastern Elementary students will write essays about Australia and make a presentation to other classes.

Church plans to take her fifth-graders along with their Australian visitors on a sight-seeing trip to Washington, D.C. They will photograph Skippy, Roo and Coco around the city's monuments and send the pictures to Adelaide.

Tigger will return in June with his journal.

Church learned about "Travel Buddies" from a Boonsboro Elementary School third-grade teacher who tried the program. She signed up for the partnership on a web site (the address is http://rite.ed.qut.edu.au/oz-teachernet/projects/travel-buddies/index.html).

Church said the program teaches her students in several ways. For example, when one Australian student wrote her height in meters it prompted a lesson on metric system conversions.

"It ties into all the curriculum areas," Church said.

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