The CanOz Connection

Traveling Stuffie Website
Teacher Ideas

 
 You may be surprised to hear that there are many different kinds of "Traveling" projects going on between different school districts. Letters, postcards, pictures... souvenir boxes, teddies, and stuffed animals are some of the ways in which classrooms of children are sharing and communicating around the world .

 A little history about the "CanOz" project...
Before we began our "Traveling Stuffie" project, I was already a "snail-mail" pen pal with my buddy teacher down in Australia. It began when my mother took a vacation to Australia. I sent along a letter about myself and my class, with a request that Mom try to find an Australian pen pal class for me. Happily, dear Caroline L. became intrigued and our relationship began. (By the way, to date we have never actually met one another!) Funnily enough, it was another Aussie teacher who showed Caroline a teacher's article on the Internet about exchanging stuffed animals. That prompted her to send along that first wonderful package to me... Effie Emu and a bag of goodies! See what "good networking" amongst teachers can do!

It has taken a few years before we both have become connected to the Internet, but we have already started our investigations into sending "Stuffie e-mail", class letters sent as attached documents, and scanned drawings. My goodness but e-mail is sure faster than snail mail across the equator! This year both our schools are finally connected to the Internet, so we are hoping to expand to classroom email as well!

The Stuffie website project (CanOz Connection) was a sudden inspiration for me in August/99, just before school started. I was looking for a way to share the Stuffie adventures with all my students, past and present, and I was enjoying learning how to create webpages. The Stuffie Guestbook is a wonderfully free program, maintained by an enterprise that knows how to do that kind of thing! Eventually I hope that this guestbook will become an easy way for students at both ends of our exchange to join in from their home computers. My latest addition to the website is a section on links to the respective "real animals". Someday I hope to add interactive student activities about these animals as well... but that will have to wait until I finish several other more "mandatory" projects I am working on!

Planning your project

1. How to get started
2. How to choose your "mascot" Stuffie
3. Basic equipment
4. Personalized items
5. Things to do during the visit
6. The final wrap-up

1. How to get started...
First of all, you will need to find another class to pen pal with! If you are both on the Internet, then you could become "key pals" as well. There are many places on the Internet to find classes wanting to pen pal. For example, you can do a search on the Teachers.Net website with the words "pen pal" and find a variety of teachers looking for pen pals. (If you know of a good Internet source for classroom pen pals, let me know and I'll add a link to it from here!) Roughly plan out your time frame, as some areas have different school holidays, and you have to allow for "unexpected delays" in the snail mail. My buddy and I generally have the Stuffies visit for a couple of months in between her Australian start of the year in January and my Canadian end of the year in June.

If you want a more intensive experience, there are also "high energy" programs available which may involve a group of five to ten classrooms, a committment to keeping on schedule, and a more extensive use of technology (for emailing, sending digital photos, keeping a website etc). One source for these programs is the Projects Chatboard for Traveling Buddies at Teachers.Net. Actually, June/00 marks the first time that I even realized that other teachers were involved in a project similar to mine. Again I have to say... isn't networking marvelous! By virtue of this Project Chatboard, I can learn about other similar programs!

Another idea is to try out the Flat Stanley approach, sending a paper person. If you are not familiar with the Flat Stanley books by Jeff Brown, be sure to check out his website! The Flat Stanley project has become world famous and has hundreds of members! (Being an animal lover myself, I am tempted to adapt the story to something like "Flat Hamster Adventures" instead!) http://flatstanley.enoreo.on.ca/index.htm


2. How to choose your "mascot" Stuffie:
The underlying theme for Caroline and myself was to share information about our countries across the two hemispheres, so we chose to repeatedly use animals representative of our own countries. This fit in well with my personal passion, which is Classroom Animals and Pets!

In keeping with a basic "animal" theme, other ideas might be:
* focus on one animal type, such as birds, fish or insects etc.
* focus on one habitat, such as ocean creatures, pond or forest creatures etc.
* limit the exchange to a Stuffie representing the classroom pet, such as a hamster
* fantasy animals from famous legends or fairytales

Think about what you want your class to learn about. Is it local customs? geography? habitats? weather? Perhaps you have a very specific theme such as "fish" or "endangered species". Perhaps you are more interested in the social/communication aspect and don't have any other curriculum areas in mind. In that case, why not just have a class vote on what to send!

A word of caution: As careful and as caring as a teacher may be, there is always the possibility that your "mascot" Stuffie will be damaged or worse, lost in the mail. Don't send irreplacable or overly expensive items!

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3. Basic equipment:
You can have a lot of fun deciding what to send with your "mascot". You might even make the package a class project (hmmm... I've never tried that myself! It sounds like a good idea!)

* cloth carrying bag (for children to transport back and forth to their homes)
* list of all the items that are in the bag (very important!)
* fake citizenship papers and/or passport (add a little "authenticity" for your arriving "tourist")
* introductory letter (you might add some fantasized details about the "trip" over)
* hard cover diary/journal to keep a log of events, souvenir postcards, photos etc. (note: This book gets a lot of wear and tear!) You might start off the journal yourself with the Stuffie "telling about himself" . This book gets returned to you with the mascot.
* optional: a "fill-in-the-blanks" photocopyable letter, perhaps in a folder or lightweight binder, for each child to complete when having a turn taking the Stuffie home. You decide what information you are interested in (eg. what they ate for dinner, what's their favourite book or song). This allows you to collect some "facts" about the differences between localities, something that doesn't always show up in those delightful journal writings that children do!
* optional: perhaps you have some lesson plans or activities that are appropriate to the type of Stuffie, to learning about your country, or to the overall theme this project represents for you
* non-fiction books about the animal (These are a gift to the other teacher.)
* fiction books about the animal (Include a few fun books, short readers etc.)
* non-fiction books about your own country (Again, these become a resource for your buddy teacher.)

NOTE: Exchanging books can get expensive, but it is really a great way to build up your resources. It is especially rewarding when you partner with the same teacher for several years. I Sometimes I even buy two of each book - so that I can keep one book for my own "resource library" on Canadian animals.
POSTAGE: Keep in mind, however, that postage on heavy books is another expense. You definitely want to make sure that your package is well sealed, clearly addressed, and sent air-mail!

4. Personalized items:
These add a bit of "background" for your visiting mascot.
* A few photos of the Stuffie at your school, in your classroom etc. (Note: Remember that photos of children cannot be posted on the Internet without written parental permission.) I've never had problems with photos in the diary, but be aware if there are any sensitive family issues. I do send home diaries from past years with each child so my parents get to see photos of Australian children etc. and that way become familar with the program.
* letters from your class (This is really great if you can start off the project with a letter from each child. Alternatively, letters can go home with the visiting Stuffie at the end of the visit.)
* drawings from your class
* small souvenirs that can be distributed at the other end (stickers, erasers, bookmarks, postcards etc. that are representative of your country). (Don't forget to send a nice souvenir for the teacher too... like a T-shirt with a fancy logo on it, special placemat)

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5. Things to do during the "visit":
* It's very important that you let your partner teacher know when the Stuffie has arrived! Preferrably, you can send an email. (Why not let the Stuffie be the author!)
* For the most part, you just want that visiting Stuffie to share in your ordinary daily life. Let the children take turns (when appropriate) at calendar time, math, silent reading, and so on.
* Take lots of photos... library time, in the gym, recess, visiting the school secretary and the principal. It's fun to put captions in the diary as if the mascot was speaking... "Hey, today everybody was working really hard on their Science projects. I learned all about Space! Did you know that you are weightless on some planets and very heavy on others? Wow!"
* Field trips! Having your visiting Stuffie along adds a little extra sparkle and makes for super "tourist photos" for the diary. Sometimes it is good to pick up a few postcards too.
* Overnight visits with each of the children often results in some very interesting photos! You might even send along a disposable camera... but specify how many "snaps" are allowed per child! BTW, be sure to send that list of "everything that's in the bag" so that Mom and Dad can check that all is returned.
* I use a "fill in the blanks" letter for overnight visits (although I send the diary too.) The Stuffie always gets a turn for "Author Sharing" the next day!
* Collect drawings and writings from the class as formal activities, and provide the opportunity for extra contributions as well. How about a mailbox for the Stuffie? (You may have to do some discreet sorting, however, before you send all those letters along!)
* Set up a learning center about the visiting Stuffie, with books, maps, posters etc.
* Have a party! It might be a celebration of the country/area where the Stuffie comes from or maybe you might like to open the party up to the children bringing favourite stuffed animals from home.

If you have Internet access:
* You can email regular letters from one Stuffie to another, telling how the visit is going.
* Log onto an Internet weather site and add the weather forecast from the other teacher's locality to your daily calendar activities (or if access is a problem, do this once a week)
* Use a digital camera, a photo-service for developing on the Internet, or just scan in regular photos to send along with some of your emails.
* Set up a webpage on your school website, or on a free server, to share some of the ongoing adventures with parents at home. It doesn't have to be fancy! (Remember... no photos showing the children's faces unless you have written parental permission, and use first names only or no names for artwork/writing.)

6. The final wrap-up
* A "good-bye party" is always nice. I usually like to have an "Australia Day" at the end of the visit. We watch Aussie videos off and on all day, while learning some facts about Australia, and completing activities/lessons sent by my dear buddy teacher. We have a big fruit salad as a treat, along with some Marmite on crackers and ginger candies.
* Organize the books and activities that you were given in a box, along with some short notes on what activities worked well (or didn't!), and when they occured. This makes the next year's planning much easier.
* Gather together the Stuffie, cloth bag, diary, letters, artwork and so on and package them really well before sending them off air-mail. If possible, send some inexpensive individual souvenirs for the other class. Send a separate note or email to let the other teacher know they are on the way.
* Depending on the time frame, I like to give my previous years' Stuffies the chance to rotate through the class on overnight visits as well. I include several books about the (Canadian) animal as well as the books I was given about the (Australian) counterpart Stuffie. That's how I make all that hard "teacher work" of collecting resources beneficial all over again. One year I ran out of time and sent three Stuffies home with three children each night. I won't do that again... it's the only time that my class lost some of those special Australian books! If we run out of time again then the (one) child will have to choose which Stuffie they take home.

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...and that's the "Traveling Stuffie" program!
If you have any questions or if you have some other ideas to share,
please feel free to email me!


CanOz Connection

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