Conference to introduce results from the 100-School Networking Project (Phase II)
Elementary school meeting

Collaboration Based on the Nationwide Germination Map '97 Project for Science Study in Elementary Schools

Makoto Nei, Elementary School attached to Faculty of Education of Miyazaki University

1. Introduction

Talk about the Internet and computer networking is very common these days, with simultaneous lessons conducted using teleconferencing systems and satellites. Effective use of these tools in education can change the way children learn—otherwise, the Internet for education is no better than any other passing fad.

We need to teach children with a better idea of what we can actually do for them, because they are our future.

2. History of Nationwide Germination Map

The "Nationwide Germination Map" project was established to observe plants in various places in Japan, using the Internet. We started by planting seeds at the same time in places all over Japan, then exchanged information about activities at each school using e-mail and home pages. We summarized our information and exchanged it with other schools. We believe this joint learning project is a better way to achieve the aims of our science and social studies classes. Many schools, most of them participants in the 100-School Networking project, responded to our invitation to cultivate pumpkins in FY 1995, cotton in FY 1996, and kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L.) in FY 1997. We started this project when schools in Japan began using the Internet, and have continued despite our fair share of mistakes. I believe the process behind the project has significant value for improving educational use of the Internet.

3. Outline of Nationwide Germination Map '97

We decided what to plant in the project's third year by asking schools participating in the 100-School Networking Project. We received a proposal for kenaf from Honcho Elementary School in Yokohama city.

Belonging to the plant family Malvaceae, kenaf when fully grown is about 3 to 5 centimeters thick at its lower portion, and 3 to 4 meters high. It is cultivated widely in South East Asia, China, along the coast of the Caribbean, and in the U.S. south. It has strong environmental value: in the paper industry, kenaf pulp can serve as a substitute for wood pulp; and kenaf may help in preventing global warming by absorbing significant quantities of CO2. Cultivating kenaf is meaningful not only for science education, but for environmental education. This study has the potential to broaden if conducted properly.

4. Beginning collaboration

Using computer networks, I believe we can offer children new ways of learning. One of them is learning by forming relations by others they wouldn't otherwise meet. Using a networking system, children can meet many different kinds of people. Children have the opportunity to improve their skills, using the diversified human resources they will need to live in the computerized society of the future. Using networks, each child can collect and send information. They can maximize their potential by repeating the process of collecting, processing, and sending information, spanning the globe and transcending time. Teaching materials that give children scope to collaborate in their work should be developed for use in lessons involving networking systems. These materials help in cultivating their intelligence and in improving their lives. In the perfect environment for collaboration, children would be able to share their feelings, stimulate each other's minds, and create together harmoniously.

This project started at noon on May 12, 1997. Children from Hokkaido to Kagoshima planted kenaf seeds in regions with different climates and geographical features, with various thoughts running through their heads.

In the fall, we made paper and postcards from kenaf. Children waited for the chance to send handwritten postcards on paper made from kenaf, instead of sending e-mail.

Collaboration began that day among children from fifty schools.

5. The unit "We earthlings" in science classes for six graders

The goal of this unit is to get children to think about what they have learned so far, to express their ideas, and to recognize their relation to the earth, with the idea that any living creature is involved with the environment of the earth. Children learn that humans, other animals, and plants do not exist in isolation, but are interrelated through food, water, and the air. Another goal is to show children that human beings need plants, other animals, and air and water to survive, and that the relationship between animals and plants is codependent, as plants depend on CO2 given off by animals for photosynthesis and people depend on plants for food.

The kenaf grown in the Nationwide Germination Map project helped children to think about various environmental problems, including such as global warming and deforestation. From the experience of planting seeds together with children from other schools, and exchanging information about their cultivation, children learned comprehensive lessons about life and the environment.

[Simultaneous lesson among four schools] [Presentation at Hirano Elementary School in Otsu city]

Children's remarks (selection)

Hirano Elementary School:
"We made paper from kenaf. This is paper we made."

Fukui Elementary School:
"We will make New Years cards and send them to Miyazaki."

Elementary School attached to Faculty of Education of Miyazaki University:
"We're really excited about making paper from the kenaf we grew, which grew to over four meters. Making paper without wood means a lot, because it lets us protect our forests."

Hitoyoshi-Higashi Elementary School:
"We're doing research on the environmental conditions of Kumagawa River. I hope we can continue to do research about the environment together. Soon, we'll send you some fireflies we're raising."

Elementary School attached to Faculty of Education of Miyazaki University:
"Thank you very much."

Children shared their thoughts with children from other schools, learning through these exchanges the importance of collaboration first-hand. Paper made from kenaf at schools all over Japan was used to make handwritten postcards, which students used to correspond instead of e-mail.

6. Development and extension of the Nationwide Germination Map '97 project

We collected common data about our observations, enhancing the scientific awareness of our students. We also established a bulletin board to allow children to exchange ideas and opinions. Some schools also conducted unique activities.

7. Conclusion

The experience of cultivating kenaf became more vivid and more important by being supplemented by use of the Internet. I think this project showed the Internet's potential for educational use.

Pooling our observations improves our children's scientific awareness. I expect collaboration among students will become increasingly effective sand important, leading into the 21st century.

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