Turtles, fairy tales and pen-friends:
socialisation, autonomisation and creativity through e-mail in a primary school

Background information on the observation site

The primary school "Mario Musolesi" is located in the village of Panico, some 20 Kilometres away from Bologna, in the municipality of Marzabotto. In the area, several paper industries, farms and the railway crossing the fields and leading to Porretta thermal baths, in the Apennine mountains. It is a small school, a one-floor construction, yellow walls outside (shabby!), a grassless courtyard and a very steep slope, this one covered with grass. Inside, five classrooms, for 6 to 10 years old kids, not very numerous, ranging from a minimum of 4 (!) to a maximum of 18 pupils per class. Pedagogical activities are sometimes organised in mixed sub-groups. For lack of space, some of them often end up taking place in some corner of the corridor. The main subjects taught are: Italian, history, geography, mathematics, English, sciences, education to images. Special projects, integrated in the pedagogical curriculum, include identity formation and sexual education, civic education and several activities related to the use of e-mail and computers, these latter being developed in the framework of the Kidslink project.

Launched in 1990 by two researchers in astrophysics in the National Council for Research (CNR) based in Bologna, on a pure voluntary basis, Kidslink original aim was to link some of the schools of the city and province of Bologna, through the server of the CNR, to allow the kids to exchange messages on themes that particularly interested them, with kids all over the world. The success of the experience, and the enthusiasm shown by a lot of teachers (and by the kids!) made it possible to overcome the numerous financial and structural problems: the experience is growing in number of spontaneously participating schools and richness of activities.

The technological equipment available and its localisation in space

The technological equipment was rather poor, until the recent donation of three additional computers. There were only four computers for the whole school. Two of them had been purchased with money raised through the organisation of school parties by teachers and kids. The computer and the modem for the connection was purchased through a donation of the municipality of Marzabotto. Four computers are now located in the fifth grade classroom and made accessible to all pupils during normal school hours. This means that, from time to time (i.e. almost every day), the teacher and the kids in the fifth grade classroom "allow the visit" of the children from other classes, while continuing their regular class activities, to allow them to answer to their correspondents. The three remaining machines, including the one with the connection, are located in a "special room" (1m50 x 1m50, windowless). Access to that room is also allowed in normal school hours to kids, with or without the teacher. Besides, the sub-groups and the teacher in charge of sending via e-mail the messages and the written works to the partner schools use this room.

Description of the activities involving the use of e-mail


Correspondence with the schools in Manchester (UK) and Udine (It)
A correspondence is organised with a class in Manchester, in which a former teacher of the school in Panico is now teaching Italian. Kids are free to write in Italian on whatever subject they wish, and the letters they receive are in English. Only if they feel confident enough, they can write in English, with the help of the teacher. A correspondence is also undergoing with a school in Udine. The e-mail address is collective for the whole school, but the correspondence is individual.

The Turtle
The kids read together with the English teacher some stories in English, some of which are received via e-mail from their correspondents in the UK. They decipher them, discuss them and then re-write them in Italian, with the help of the teacher of Italian. In parallel, they also prepare a realisation of the story, building up a small "theatre" maquette, with the main characters of the story, in hard paper. Then, they perform the story in front of the teacher of scientific subjects, animating the theatre characters, with the help of a narrator, chosen among the kids. Finally, the teacher ask them to draw the main characters on a millimetre paper, before transferring the drawing the computer, using Logo Writer.

The exchange of fairy tales with a high school in Bologna
A high school in Bologna sends via e-mail some fairy tales written by 15-16 years old students to the school in Panico. The kids read the stories with the Italian teacher and then illustrate them, by hand or on computer.
The "Fantasia" conference (or: the story "by several hands")
This is an inter-schools activity. A school starts a story, e-mails it to the other participating schools so that they can develop and conclude it. The continuation is chosen by the initiating schools among all those proposed by the others. When the story is finished, another school takes the lead and starts a new story.

The Journal
Seven groups in seven different schools participate to this project. Each group is in charge of one page of the journal, with a different theme, exchanged via e-mail. One group is in charge of the final layout of the journal. Concerning this responsibility, there is a rotation issue by issue.

Pedagogical issues

There are obvious pedagogical objectives underpinning those activities:

   encouraging the production of texts (correspondence with Manchester and Udine, the Turtle),
   improving literary abilities and encouraging the pleasure of reading (Fantasia conference, the exchange of fairy tales, the Turtle),
   improving the foreign language reading and understanding ability (correspondence with Manchester, the Turtle),
   the acquisition of logical and mathematical abilities (the Turtle).

But not only that: all those activities aim at fostering an "active" learning approach and a learning approach "by project". They aim at encouraging the autonomous initiative of kids and the collaborative learning processes between kids and their peers, kids and their teachers and finally teachers among themselves, through the setting up of interdisciplinary activities. They allow to stress on learning methods instead of the subministration of information and notions. They contribute to reduce the kids' anxiety on school activities, linked to the fear of mistakes and red pen marks on their exercise book and examination sheets. This can contribute to improve their self-confidence and facilitate the expression of their creativity. These activities, finally, blur the border between working and playing and strongly increase the motivation of kids and their pleasure to learn.


E-mail address and contacts

See the Scuola Media Statale Guido Reni site.
For details on Panico, write to : panico@arci01.bo.cnr.it
Contact: Mrs Patrizia Zanasi

Back to the Experiments' Page

last ver. 30.7.98; pdf