District: Choctaw Tribal Schools
City: Philadelphia, Mississippi, USA
Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Six, Seventh, and Eighth Grades
Their ages were: 5-14 years of age
Our "local community" is the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The Choctaw Indian Reservation consists of approximately 24,000 acres of trust land checker-boarded over five counties in east central Mississippi. Over 5,500 of the tribe's 8,000 members live on or near the eight separate reservation communities in Mississippi. The others live throughout the country. The tribal population is a young and growing one, with 39.6 percent of the population under age 14 and 19.6 under age six. Over 90 percent of tribal members are full-blooded Choctaw. The tribe is proud of its special cultural heritage and is taking steps to ensure that this heritage is passed on to future generations of Mississippi Choctaws. It is also pleased to be able to share its culture with others.
Only two of our classrooms have access to the Internet, and they have only dial-up access using 28.8 modems. One teacher has an account through NASA SpaceLink that utilizes the Lynx browser, providing access to e-mail, gopher, anonymous ftp, and text-based web browsing. The other teacher has an account through Mississippi State University. This UNIX account provides for e-mail, gopher, telnet, and ftp. She has recently obtained access to a graphical web browser; but since the call is not local, it can only be used on a limited basis.
Although two classrooms in our school have access to the Internet (one for two years and the other for one year), their dial-up access only supports text-based services. None of our teachers or students had ever used a graphical browser prior to becoming involved with this project. Several students worked with our technology coordinator and looked at the sites from last year's CyberFair winners included on the ThinkQuest CD to learn what a web site could contain and how it operates. Then we had to learn a little about HTML. We used the HotDog program; so we didn't have to spend a lot of time learning HTML codes. By working on this project, though, the students who prepared the web site have actually learned quite a few HTML tags.
We also didn't have a server to host our web site. Choctaw Central High School is in the process of getting a T1 connection, but it wasn't up in time to use for this project. We finally decided that we would ask the Global School Network to host our site. We still don't have a host for the school homepage we are developing; but since the tribe has a "Memorandum of Agreement" with NASA for educational services, we think they will be willing to put it on their server. Completing this project hasn't been easy, but it has been really fun.
This project has united our school and community like no other project we have undertaken. Every class in the school participated, and the community volunteers who visited the classes all said they are eager to come back again.
The Choctaw Tribal School System includes Choctaw cultural objectives for each grade as part of its approved curriculum framework. Our project coordinator Ms. Nettie Moore went through these objectives for each grade and made a list of the ones that could be addressed by participation in this project. The objectives stressing Choctaw music, dances, and history were identified. After preliminary discussions about possible project activities, she sent all the teachers a memo and told them about our plans for this CyberFair project. They volunteered for the activities they would like to work on with their students and begin contacting community resource people to invite them to visit their classes.
Students conducted activities and research projects, led in the activities by Choctaw (native-speaking) assistants. They had opportunities to practice interviewing, researching, writing, and proofreading skills in a "real" setting. They learned to use the digital camera and scanner and several new software programs. Because they knew their work would be published on the Internet, they wanted to be sure they were doing a "good job."
To complete their project, students used a wide variety of hardware and software tools. They contacted community resource people by telephone and documented the visits with 35mm, digital, and video cameras as well as tape recorders. They consulted some print reference materials to supplement their interviews with classroom visitors and used MicroSoft Works to prepare the rough drafts of their reports. Since Mr. Thompson was unable to visit the school, two students interviewed him in his home. Students used a scanner to convert 35mm pictures and drawings to a digital format and edited their images with Photo Enhancer and LeadView. The final web page construction was done using Hotdog Pro. Students used both laptops and desktop computers.
The most popular hardware/software combination was the digital camera and image editing software. This enabled students to easily document the classroom vists and immediately see the result. The digital camera had been purchased earlier in the school year, but no one had really taken the time to learn to use it until they began working on this project. All tools are readily available to students and will continue to be used.
In working on this project, our students functioned as "ambassadors" by talking to relatives and other community members about they work they were doing. Several students talked to their grandparents about beading, basket making, and chanting. Two students even interviewed an elderly tribal member in his home because he wanted to share his experiences but was unable to come to the school, himself. Tribal administrators who have already had the opportunity to preview the site have praised the students for their work, and a request has been made to have the site presented to the entire community at a meeting being held later in March.
In a larger sense, the students have functioned, and will continue to function, as "ambassadors" for the tribe and its music and arts through public appearances at public schools, arts council festivals, pow wows, nursing homes, hospitals, and our Internationally famous Choctaw Indian Fair. Choctaw music and dances are also integrated into our local radio and television advertisements.
The community volunteers who visited the school to work with the students all said they were eager to return to the school to work with the students again. The tribal information officer was extremely excited about the web site. In fact, she said she would like to include some of the students' pictures in upcoming advertisements and use the web site as an information resource since this site is the web's first documentation of Choctaw music.
One unexpected benefit of this project has been the "rediscovery" of a valuable cultural artifact. One morning after speaking to the fourth grade class about Choctaw chanting, Mr. Billy Amos came to Mrs. Moore's classroom with a "present." He had a tape which his father had made at least 20 years ago, a tape which a family friend had given him only a few months ago. The tape, he said, contained the story of chanting in the Bogue Chitto community and a collection of chants from the Conehatta community. Mr. Amos gave his permission for the tape to be copied and shared. This was important, since the tape is entirely in Choctaw, and is a document that was previously unknown. Dr. Patricia Kwachka, with the Choctaw Language Program, was particularly pleased with the find and is now having the tape transcribed.
Many cultural resource people from the community assisted the students with the preparation of this project. Chanters from three of the reservation's six major communities participated. They were Billy Amos, Carl Willis, Ricky Willis, Mary Morris, Mable Jackson, Bessie Frazier, Elsie Hickman, and Arch Mingo from Bogue Chitto; Alvin Nickey and Thallis Lewis from Pearl River; and Charlie Denson from Standing Pine. Bogue Chitto community members Norma Thompson and Ellis Thompson taught students about basket making, and Effie Bell and Faira Thomas taught about beading and sash making. Even Bogue Chitto's principal, Dr. Kenneth York got involved in ensuring that the students were learning more about their cultural heritage.
Rick Smith, the Choctaw Tribal Schools' Instructional Technologies Coordinator, provided technical assistance, working closely with students to help them learn to use the scanner, image editing software, and HTML authoring program. We would like to say a special, "Thank you" to all these individuals who helped make this project a success.
The most significant physical "discovery" made as a result of this project was the tape that Mr. Billy Amos brought to Ms. Moore. Our teachers and students also learned more about working collaboratively on this kind of hands-on project, and cultural resource people from the community learned that the school really needs and wants their involvement.