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[whitespace] Local teachers win big for cool Internet ideas

Sunnyvale--Curtis Schneider, life science teacher at Sunnyvale Middle School cottoned on to the fact that he wasn't attending a normal school assembly when his parents walked out. He had come to the gathering expecting an antidrug meeting. Instead, he found himself dubbed an Internet Innovator and handed a $10,000 check in front of a school staff, teachers, the mayor of Sunnyvale, and a foot-stomping student body.

"I had absolutely no idea," he says.

Wendi Smith, a first grade teacher at Fairwood Elementary School, caught on a little quicker. On her way to her assembly, she saw a sign congratulating her--not that knowing took the thrill out of it.

"I was overwhelmed," she says.

Schneider and Smith were among eleven teachers to win a contest sponsored by National Semiconductor for the best intergration of the internet into the curriculum. Winners received $10,000 to spend as they wish. Their schools received $20,000 for internet related use.

Joan Scott, director of Community Relatoions for National, says her company wants to encourage internet use by students

"We did this because it's really connected to our businss and we because we believe its the right thing to do," she says.

Schneider designed a site called "The Human Disease Project" which allows students to research diseases and communicate with researchers and sufferers of diseases. Smith's site encourages to study weather. The students "send" a stuffed toy name Arthur on trips around the world. First they study the weather in the various places on the web to see what he should pack. Smith says she hides the toy during his supposed trips and that her students think he has gone--an illusion maintained by posing the doll with friends and emailing the photos to students.

Boredom inspired Schneider. He says he had just read the15,000th report on the skeletal system and could barely contain his yawns.

"I thought there had to be a better way to do this," he says. Now students seeking A's must interview someone connected with the disease, a development made possible by email and one that, he says, spices things up a bit. He says he's got entusiastic responses from students who he has never met, but who have found the site using search engines.

Smith says her students love using her site. "More than anything it gives them an opportuity to travel," she says. "It very exciting to see pictures and to comunicate with other people in countries." She says she hears her students using a level of vocabulary that had never heard in such young students.

Both teacher's sites have lesson plans for other teachers to access via the web.

Neither teacher say they plan to spend the money in wild fashion. Each says they have sunk significant amounts of money into their sites and are glad to recoup some back. Schneider says he's going to buy something nice for his two children. Smith says she's expecting a first child and might buy some baby stuff.
Sam Scott

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Web extra to the November 11-17, 1999 issue of Metro.

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