June 8th, 2006 13:07 EST
Primary, secondary school students write articles, newsletter for peers French, Arabic Translation of Science Web Site
Washington -- A science and environment Web site for primary and secondary school students and teachers now is available in French and Arabic, thanks to funding from the U.S. State Department.
The Boston-based Urban Ecology Institute (UEI), an educational nongovernmental organization, manages the Web site, which features student-written articles about topics in science and the environment, a student-written science newsletter called Greentimes and teacher guides with instructions for classroom experiments.
The UEI effort began in 1991 with Greentimes, written by teens for fifth-grade students. Today, the newsletter is distributed free to teachers and fifth-through-eighth-grade classrooms in and around Boston, along with Greentimes JR, for second-through-fourth graders. Greenscreen.org, the Web site, was established in 1997.
In 2005, the State Department Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) began looking for a mechanism through which to establish a peer-to-peer, person-to-person dialogue about science between Americans and people around the world, and found greenscreen.org.
“We offered to provide [UEI] with seed money for the initial translation into French and Arabic of their Web site and their Web-based materials,” said Robert Senseney, senior adviser in the OES Office of Science and Technology Cooperation.
The purpose of the informal educational tool is to build peer-to-peer contact between U.S. and overseas students, encourage science writing and critical thinking, and give teachers guidance on simple scientific experiments for the classroom and topics for discussion.
“We were looking for ways to break down the barriers between people,” Senseney added, “particularly students, because they all use the Internet, a perfect tool for getting people to talk to each other.”
UEI had to make sure their funding organizations would provide ongoing support for the translations after the initial development, and then find translators to do the work.
“We had never done anything in a language other than English,” said Greentimes Program Director Heather Freeman, “but a lot of the students we work with speak English as a second language, so the opportunity to spread their work to a wider audience was pretty exciting to us.”
Another job for Freeman was to sift through 15 years of articles written by Boston-area students -- on everything from Earth science and energy to health and the environment – to find those that would appeal most to an international audience.
With a State Department/OES public diplomacy grant, UEI translated into Arabic and French materials featured on the Web site – including student-written articles from Greentimes and teacher guidance materials on science and environmental topics.
With that effort behind her, Freeman said it will become much easier now to add other languages to the Web site.
“We have started to pursue Spanish,” she said, “because it’s very relevant to our local audience here in Boston, but it’s also relevant to so many countries across the globe.”
On May 6, the State Department sent a cable to its embassies around the world, introducing the French and Arabic versions of greenscreen.org; even before that, greenscreen.org was receiving international visitors.
“I’ve been watching the usage statistics for the Web site,” Freeman said, which shows the 400 most-viewed pages of the Web site. “There are French and Arabic sites that are now in the top 80 -- the French is in the top 60.”
Greentimes teacher guides in Arabic and French are available online in PDF format; a sample of a teacher guide in English is online, and more English PDF editions will be posted by summer.
Teacher guides help develop student skills in subject areas such as science, math, language arts, art and music. The materials give step-by-step, how-to instructions on carrying out student projects and scientific experiments in the classroom.
By establishing links between U.S. students and schools and science clubs overseas through the Web site, the United States hopes to build bridges through a shared interest in science, technology and environmental issues.
“We have an opportunity to reach millions of people,” Senseney said, “and in an extremely cost-effective manner. We’ll be connecting millions of kids to each other, in a very nonpolitical way.”
The greenscreen.org Web site, and the French and Arabic versions, are available online.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)