Date Added: Jan. 31, 2003
Though the story changes slightly from version to version, "Class Project" e-mail chain letters have been around for years. Unfortunately they usually fail by being too successful.
Hello! We are in the 8th grade at Alston Middle School in Summerville, South Carolina. We are located in Dorchester County, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina in Dorchester School District 2. Our social studies teacher, Mrs. Joelle R. King, is helping us by using her e-mail address as our e-mail receiver.
We have decided, after seeing this done at another school, to map an e-mail project. We are curious to see where in the world our e-mail will travel via the Internet, between the period of November 12, 2000 and February 12, 2001 (only 3 months). This is not a pen-pal project, so we will not write you back (unless you request it). We would like your help. If you receive this message, we ask that you:
1) E-mail back at email@example.com and tell us your city/state/location so we can plot it on our map
2) Send this letter on to everyone you know so that they can send it on to everyone they know (and so on) to help us reach even more people. We don't mind receiving repeats so send it on to everyone. We're tracking the number of responses we receive by making a graph in our math classes using the numbers received by state.)
We will post our results on our school's web page after our deadline so that you can see how we did. With your help, we can make this a very fun and exciting learning experience. PLEASE help us.
Thank you for any help you can give. Our e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alston Middle School's Eighth Grade Students (Team 8-1) (Mrs. Joelle R. King's Social Studies Classes) 500 Bryan Street Summerville, South Carolina 29483
Thanks to the students and teachers of Savannah Grove Elementary School in Effingham, SC for sharing this awesome activity.
This is just one of dozens of variations of the "class project" chain letter, with new ones starting each year. Late winter and early spring seem to be a popular time for such projects as new letters surface each year about that time. Here's one that began in January, 2003 and was started by a single student as a science project:
I am a 5th grade student in Orange County, California. I'm working on a project for our science fair which will be held on Feb. 18th, 2003. My question is how fast and how far information can travel on the internet in 3 weeks? I will be keeping track of how many e-mails I get back, and what cities, states, and countries they are coming from. I hope you will be willing to help me in my project.
1. Please send an e-mail to the following address:
In the subject of the e-mail, please include your city, state, and country. Please no names and only reply once.
2. Please forward this e-mail to everyone on your mailing list. I will be tracking the number of responses, as well as locations. Therefore, send them even to people in the same town.
Most class project chain letters are well-intentioned and genuine - at least at first.
It's a great idea on paper: an easy, interactive project to teach students about geography and how easy global communication has become. Unfortunately, it does more to illustrate the hazards of e-mail chain letters than the contours of the map.
They also become startling illustrations of exponential replication. If you send the letter to ten friends and they each send it to ten more (assuming no two people sent it to the same recipient) you have 100 copies of the letter. If each of them send it to 10 people with no duplications, you now have 1000, and so on. In just six generations, the letter can reach as many as 1 million people! These projects have been known to generate more than 20,000 responses a week!
Most of these projects quickly outgrow the capabilities of their originators. Most of the students that have tried this project rely on free Hotmail and Yahoo! e-mail accounts or existing AOL, Compuserve or other services, which have very little tolerance for this type of chain letter and will close any account used for the purpose.
Some use a teacher's school-provided e-mail account, but neglect to get permission from the school's e-mail administrator and are similarly shut down. Even if their e-mail account survives, they are usually overwhelmed by the volume of response and voluntarily end the project when they can no longer handle the volume of responses.
Joelle King, one of the originators of the first example above, told BreakTheChain.org that she and her students learned some very important lessons from this project, but not exactly what was planned:
My students did get valuable information. The problem came with keeping up with the responses. My mailbox was jammed, rejecting messages, and eventually closed down. My school's secretary was bombarded by phone calls. Our district email server was overloaded by those who actually took the time to look up the school to see if it was "real." It was a fantastic learning experience that I will NEVER try again. I apologize to anyone who received the email letter from my class.
The prospect of helping a whole bunch of children with little or no effort is appealing. So much so that many people forward it first, then try to send it back to the school. Only then do they find out that the letter is no longer valid. At that point, most are too embarrassed to tell anyone of their mistake, and so the chain gets longer. Add to that the complication that most teachers and students re-use previous chain letters to start their campaign and you can see why these chains are hard to break... but let's try anyway.