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More 'Class Project' Chain Letters
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Dateline: 10/20/99

By David Emery

It may not be the savviest approach to teaching grade school geography, but it's new and it's high-tech, and it certainly makes an impression on kids.

What approach is that?  Launching an email chain letter and collecting responses as the message circles the globe.

What's so impressive about it?  How quickly it gets out of control.

We saw two examples earlier this year when fourth-graders at Sieden Prairie School in Illinois and fifth-graders at Mill Cove District School near Halifax, Nova Scotia were literally overwhelmed by the volume of replies they received to the chain letters they sent out.

The Sieden Prairie students logged over 20,000 messages in two months. During the final week of the project they were receiving a thousand a day. Mill Cove's email address had to be shut down completely just nine days into its project because replies were coming in at the rate of 150 an hour. The students received 18,000 messages, all told.

So much for the plan of sticking a pin in the map for every person who writes back.

Well, a new school year is underway and I'm here to report that so is a new round of email geography projects. Could this be the wave of the future? Let's hope not.

Mr. Hershberger's seventh grade Social Studies class at Scott Middle School in Lincoln, Nebraska sent the following message out on August 30:

We are in grade 7 at Scott Middle School, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. We are doing an email map project. We want to chart all the places in the world our email will travel by the Internet. Our project starts August 30th, and ends October 29th. If you receive this message, we ask that you:

1}Email back and tell us your location so we can plot it on our world map

AND

2}Send this note on to more people.

Please reply to the following address. sstars@lps.org

Thank you for your support.
Mr. Hershberger
Social Studies
Scott Middle School
2200 Pine Lake RD
Lincoln ,NE 68512
sstars@lps.org

The project is far from over, but according to a school district newsletter the class had already received 22,000 replies as of the end of September. Please note: with 28 students in the class, that works out to 785 emails per student.

If you're assuming that number will have doubled by the end of October, think again. Because the circulation of chain letters grows geometrically over time, the final count is likely to be triple or quadruple the first month's total.

Those are going to be some very busy middle school students.

On the upside, they've gotten friendly messages from as far away as Bosnia and Antarctica. They've even received photos and postcards by snail mail from well-wishers around the world. But what's the real point students will take away from all this? One seventh-grader, when asked what he had learned so far, said this: "Email travels fast."

Do tell.  Mr. Blevins' fifth grade class at Bill Arp Elementary in Douglasville, Georgia learned the very same lesson. Their version of the email (see below) went out on September 21. It garnered over 27,000 responses during the first two weeks of its existence. Then Yahoo terminated their email account.

Hello!

We are in Grade 5 at Bill Arp Elementary School in Douglasville, GA, which is about 20 minutes west of Atlanta, GA. USA. We have decided to map an email project. We are curious to see where in the world our email will travel by Internet between the period of Sept. 21 - Nov. 19, 1999. We would like your help.

If you receive this message, we ask that you do these two things:

1) Email us and tell us your location so that we can plot it on our world map.

2) Forward this letter to as many people as you can.

Thank you for any help that you can give. Our email address is class5a1999@yahoo.com

Hope to hear from you soon!

Your friends,
Mr. Blevins' Gr. 5 Class
Bill Arp Elementary School
Douglasville, GA USA

Mr. Blevins' fifth-graders still hope to hear from you, but you'll have to resort to snail mail now if you want to contact them. The address is listed on the class's Web page, where they also promise to share details of the "overwhelming response" to their project.

Are class project chain letters a good idea? I hate to be a Grinch, but it seems obvious that they are not. Chain letters are bad Netiquette. They sap bandwidth and clog servers. Most ISPs and email providers – including Yahoo – have strict rules against them. Teachers should think twice before involving their students in activities that many people would regard as spam.

The Internet can be a wonderful tool. It offers a plethora of resources for teaching and learning world geography – resources that ought to be used, not abused.

Learn more:

Previous 'Class Project' Chain Letters
Results of the first crop earlier this year

Chain Letters on the Internet
What they are, where they came from, and why they're so popular


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