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

Kids, become a part of Gaea!
—The 1997 Gaea Project—

Kenichiro Fujita, Junior High School attached to Faculty of Education
of Joetsu University of Education

1. Introduction

We named our project the Gaea project, after the Gaea theory proposed by Doctor J.E. Lovelock's Gaea, who participates in a NASA project to explore Mars. According to his theory, the earth is a living organism, and all animals and plants, including human beings, are a part of it. He calls the earth "Gaea," after the goddess of the earth in Greek mythology.

The Gaea project was established in 1995 to offer children the opportunity to communicate online and to research the potential for educational use of the Internet. The theme of this project is: "Earth, Children, and the Future: What We Need to Do as the 21st Century Approaches."

We've done a lot of things these past two and a half years. We've had our fair share of successes and failures. I would like to talk some of them now, particularly some of the things we did in FY 1997.

2. Gaea work group and workshop

The Gaea project was proposed and established by members of the wshop mailing list, an Internet workshop.

The children's community—which I'll refer as the Gaea community—includes a mailing list called ML gaea, which wshop is a part of. E-mail sent to the Gaea project by children and by people generally are delivered to wshop.

Wshop participants become volunteers of the Gaea project, sharing the workload and collaborating with each other in running it.

The ML wshop was established in May 1995 to discuss and report on the potential of the Internet for educational use. As of February 1998, it has 106 participants from a range of fields: including people involved in primary and secondary education; university scholars and students; people from research centers and from media-related jobs; video producers, English juku teachers, urban developers, government employees; and representatives from environmental groups.

In 1997, this project was selected as a school-initiative project of the 100-School Networking Project (Phase II). Wshop was involved in a number of Gaea-related activities, especially in developing comprehensive studies in collaboration with schools using the Internet.

After joining the Gaea Work Group ML, which was established by the 100-School Networking Project (Phase II), participants can share ideas and propose them to the wshop.

We also invited advisors to join our ML to help us develop a more comprehensive study.

3. Establishment of the Gaea project: The Experience of Trial and Error in 1996

The Gaea project was launched in September, 1995, when students from Junior High School attached to Faculty of Education of Joetsu University of Education, and Junior High School attached to Faculty of Education of Chiba University met over the Internet. The students decided on themes to study such subjects as peace, social welfare, and environmental problems and exchanged opinions on these topics. Later, students from Maebashi Daiyon Junior High School joined the project. Students from all three schools gathered information by drawing up and answering a questionnaire.

Another late joiner was Junior High School attached to Faculty of Education of Mie University. Students held a teleconference using a ML, and exhibited students' poems, compositions, music, and HTML on the Gaea project home page.

Recently, we've been collaborating with schools using the Internet to exchange opinions on how to deal with the environmental problem of garbage. By using CGI to create a photo database on environments designed to accommodate handicapped persons, based on an automatic image transmission and automatic HTML converting system placed on our home page, we illustrated some potential solutions to the problem, then had students rank and discuss the solutions offered.

4. Programs conducted in FY 1997 and future plans

The following are programs we conducted in FY 1997 and which the Gaea Work Group is planning for the future.

(1) An exchange of opinions on the garbage problem, with ratings of potential solutions

We've worked on this project continuously from FY 1996.

On the Gaea home page, viewers rank nine proposals on a special diamond-shaped chart using CGI. The ranking is recorded in the server database. Viewers exchange views by checking their own ranking and recording their opinions on ratings by others, and continue studying the problem.

An example of student exchange from the Gaea home page:

"In the first place, the primary goal should be to reduce the amount of waste produced. Companies should cut excess packaging and produce recyclable products."

"But companies need to make profits. The government should be responsible for regulating industry and establishing laws."

(2) Creating a database on environments designed to accommodate handicapped persons, and exchange of views on ratings of park slides for kids

We've been working on this project from FY 1996. In the section of the Gaea home page dealing with handicapped-friendly environments, automatic image transmission and HTML converting system were installed to allow viewers to participate in creating a database with images, without having to know about FTP tools or HTML. They can also check the work they submit through real-time, interactive communications.

In FY 1997, we displayed four pictures of park slides for kids and asked viewers to rank them for ease of use. The resulting exchange of views made it clear to the participants the number of possible viewpoints that may be held on any issue.

(3) Participating in Think Quest (A contest, in which junior high and high schools students from all over the world create a home page that can be used for educational purposes)

The Gaea Work Group now plans to participate in this project.

The research and preparation needed to create a home page for contest submission serves as a comprehensive study. The collaboration of students from different schools as members of the same "Gaea team" promotes the kind of cooperative work that the Gaea project represents. When we're done our preparations, we plan to invite others to join the Gaea team.

(4) A Comprehensive study using imagery of change

The Gaea Work Group is currently planning this study.

For this study, we plan to juxtapose two pictures taken in different times (for example, Tokyo station at present and a hundred years ago) and ask students to consider the differences represented by the two pictures. We plan to ask students to consider the reasons behind the changes, the results of the changes, whether the changes are temporary or permanent, natural or artificial, planned or unplanned, good or bad. We expect students to pick up numerous changes, evident in cars, clothes, and buildings. Becoming aware of these differences should make them more aware of issues such as the environment, energy, social welfare, other people, and the flow of information.

We then plan to ask them to imagine a photograph that may be taken many years from now—the qualities of the future or city they would like to create—nd ask students to share their ideas with us.

We are also considering using a live camera image for the picture representing the present, and also using a satellite picture of the earth.

5. Conclusion

Although it's common for schools to incorporate studies of issues such as peace, the environment, information, international understanding, human rights, and social welfare into various regular subjects, we haven't had a chance to evaluate them or share our findings about these comprehensive, cross-curriculum studies as we have for traditional subjects. The Gaea community has created a place where schools can present results of their activities and evaluate other activities at other schools. Students have begun taking advantage of computers and the Internet as effective tools to share or gather information.

In addition to its many potential benefits, the project presents a number of problems. Differences between school curriculums (time at which each unit is taught) greatly influences student collaboration. We've established a system with some flexibility that allows students to participate at different times, but this solution reduces student contributions. We plan to tackle this problem in the future.

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