July 25, 1999
Welcome back. Last week a teacher posed a question about
how to best use Surfing the Net in the classroom. Can you
help her out with an answer?
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Monitored Chat Rooms
Ask any kid what they like most on the Internet and the resounding
answer (and one that sends waves of anxiety through parents and teachers)
is "Chat!" But don’t throw out the computer with the bath water.
Although our grown up concerns about stranger danger are real, they are
not insurmountable. First, we must teach our kids the rules of the road
(see Larry Magid’s Family
Contract for Online Safety) and then guide them to safe situations.
Each of these chat rooms is monitored by an adult (not just an automated
swearword filter) and has posted chat rules. So play by the rules, stay
safe — and have fun!
"The rules for playing a chat room story game are
simple. The idea is to prolong the game for as long as possible, adding a
gazillion twists and turns. Anyone in the chat room can add to the story at
any time," explains sixteen-year-old Victoria Dobbs. Victoria’s mom,
Diane Dobbs, runs the About.com forum focusing on Creative Writing for
Kids, and her daily chats often include story games to fuel the imagination
of young chatters.
Disney’s celebrity chats cover lots of territory with guests such as
Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, award-winning authors, famous pop
musicians and animated characters such as Winnie the Pooh and Alice in
Wonderland’s White Rabbit. Special activities include video-based drawing
lessons given by Disney animators, and an announced but-not-yet available
chat-based quiz show. Transcripts are available for many previous chats.
Continuously monitored by adult Chat Jockeys (CJ’s), FreeZone has five
kids-only chat rooms. In addition to the open topic chats, speciality
chats (such as Pet Chat, Writers and Readers, Comedy Club and Music Chat)
are scheduled throughout the week. Registration is required for both kids
and parents. Kids can become Jr. CJ’s by attending a one-hour training
session held every other month. Jr. CJ’s volunteer in the chat rooms one a
hour a week and help out by welcoming new chatters.
Headbone Zone has nearly ten hours of chat daily, all of them monitored
by Headbone-trained parents. In addition to the Kids Room, and several
Teen Rooms, Headbone has a word game that includes chatting (what fun!)
The day I dropped in with my son, their monitor did a great job keeping the
conversation on the straight-and-narrow, and helping us when we didn’t know
what was going on. Headbone has an ignore option, so you can tune out the
occasional obnoxious jerk. And to report someone breaking the rules,
simply click the Chat Zap button.
This is not your run-of-the-mill chat, but rather
something quite out of this world — an opportunity to chat with NASA
experts. The schedule varies from week to week, but here’s a sampling of
what’s happening this summer: a weekly course on Robotics led by the JPL
Mars Rover team; Sustainable Seas Expedition from the Florida Keys; Mars
geology and photography; a chat with crew members from the Shuttle
Columbia. Wow! If you’re new to chatting, you can get your fingers wet at
the weekly Practice Chats.
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© 1999 Barbara J. Feldman