Frog makes a splash on the Web
By day, Christian McCulloch teaches nursery school. In the evenings, he is the English language adviser at the Bank of China.
But on weekends, faster than a speeding tadpole, he turns into 'Frog' - director of traffic at the Discovery Bay International School Internet site, Frog's Pond.
Frog, and his friends Toad, Herman the iguana and Fatty Piecrust the terrapin, keep things hopping on the child-centred site, which Mr McCulloch believes was the first primary school-sponsored one of its kind in Hong Kong. The focus is on fun and education.
'I think of it as eye candy - lots of visual presents, trivia, artwork, all kid-oriented,' Mr McCulloch said.
But behind the 'eye candy' are serious bites of education - environmental tips, some geography and language-enhancing children's reading.
For the three and four-year-olds of his Circus Nursery class, it is a chance to see themselves - and wave to overseas family - on the Net.
There is something special on each child's page. Their parents can visit the site and learn of any special events for the week.
Older pupils present their art projects and an account of how they approached the piece. (Mr McCulloch also is the school's art teacher.) They can read and reply to feedback lodged by e-mail to the site.
Visitors from around the world and around Hong Kong are invited to tell Frog where they are from. The most exotic contact is a staffer from a weather station in Alaska.
Mr McCulloch hopes the children eventually will be able to mark all these places with a flag on Frog's map.
But it is the e-mail link-ups and noticeboard functions which add new possibilities to the page, for both parents and children.
'It's a big opportunity for communication - an area we need to look at as teachers,' Mr McCulloch said. 'It is something that could blow open the whole of education.
'It is not just there for fun. For example, there is a chance for children doing the same curriculum to collaborate - let each other know how they do things and compare the end result . . . this means they must be analytical about their work. And I think they get a valuable sense of 'the world is looking in'.' Occasionally, Frog finds himself in the role of counsellor. Children are invited to make three wishes when they first visit. 'Some children wish to win the lottery, but sometimes it is really sad. A little boy wrote in saying his father had left home, for instance.' With a wider involvement in the Internet, educators could reap high returns. 'It is something teachers need to have a closer look at,' he said. 'It is not necessarily more work - although you have to be committed to learning a bit about it - but it is different work, and very rewarding.
'For instance, James' Daddy messaged me from Singapore the other day, and I was able to reply with a little story about him from school that day.
'It gives you a line of communication that falls between report cards and nothing. I enjoy hearing from the children and the parents - and grandparents - and all the other feedback.' For Mr McCulloch, also an artist and published children's author, that is the reward for the weekend and evening vigils by the computer.
Like all frogs, Mr McCulloch started small. Having been inspired by the possibilities, he spent last summer holidays learning the technical skills to put together the Web site, and he has built it up over the past school year. Examples of his art and stories are included on the site.
There are no plans to teach computer programming at school, where the priority is on language development.
However, when the planned school network is installed next financial year, Mr McCulloch is hopeful more children - and teachers - will be able to make a splash in the cyber pond.
You can find Frog's Pond at: http://www.intercon.net/ ~frog