One of the greatest benefits of using the Internet in the classroom is to provide educational opportunities for students based on their abilities and interests. For example, I can teach a basic lesson on a writing strategy and allow a student who is interested in and motivated by baseball to find examples of the writing strategy on a baseball-focused Web site. This lesson suddenly becomes more motivating, exciting, and memorable to this student.
Brain research shows that individuals remember events and facts in more detail for a longer period of time if there are emotions involved in the initial learning experience. This concept of emotional memory is highly useful as we use the Internet in our classrooms. Due to the timeliness and currency of the Internet and the fact that students can find information that naturally interests them, the Internet can increase the emotional impact of lessons, and making learning interesting, fun, and meaningful to students.
This seminar discusses the use of individual and class projects using the Internet to help students experience the joy of learning for themselves. As students gain experience learning for the pure joy of learning, their emotional interest, intrinsic motivation, and hunger for knowledge also increase.
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Types of Projects
There is no one right way to use projects in your class. Some teachers prefer to schedule time in the weekly schedule for students to work on projects. Some teachers have students do the majority of project work as homework or as extra credit work. Still others like to use a mixture of classroom time and homework time.
Projects can be divided into several different categories, all of which can be used to enrich the curriculum, strengthen Internet skills, and provide integrated and thematic learning opportunities. Each type of project can be structured as individual student projects, in-class collaborative learning groups, or class-to-class interactions. Don't feel that you must use all of these types of projects. Classroom time is precious and you may want to only use one or two types of projects all year.
- Information Literacy Projects — These projects relate directly to the skills discussed in Welcoming the Internet Into Your Classroom. Students choose a subject they would like to learn more about and progress through the six skills. Students are asked to submit proof of all stages in the information literacy spectrum beginning with identifying the big picture task and ending with a product.
- Curriculum-Focused Projects — Projects are based on the curriculum content areas and are designed to enrich and teach students about a specific subject. Students are provided with a list of Web sites that can help them complete their project. Remember to have students write down the Web sites they use to complete their project.
- Theme-Focused Projects — Projects are based on the theme being used in the curriculum and/or classroom. Projects are supplemented with visits to specific Web sites that relate to the theme. For example, you may have an endangered animal theme in which you could ask students to choose an endangered animal to study and make a presentation about.
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The use of projects has been one of the most motivating teaching techniques I have used, while simultaneously being one of the easiest and most efficient. When students work on individual projects, they strengthen research and organization skills while being responsible and self-motivated — all skills they will need in the Information Age.
The use of short- and long-term projects provides individual learning opportunities for students tailored for their growth and academic achievement. Projects provide students with choices, meaningful context, and valuable learning time to make sense of the information they are learning. As students work on their individual projects, I have time to provide immediate feedback on an individual basis, reducing the fear of failure which many students naturally bring into the classroom.
I found that before I could have students work on independent projects, I needed to teach them the skills of independent work habits.
- Setting a time line for completion of project: I provide students with a calendar and teach them how to use the due date as a starting point and then plan backwards. We discuss that a rough draft should always be completed three to five days before the due date to give time for last minute changes and editing.
- Self-assessing and self-editing: I teach students the different editing symbols and have them practice editing their own work.
- Expectations for behavior when time is given in class for project work: Project time is a very quiet time in my classroom and we discuss that movement and talking need to be at a minimum.
- The different resources of information available to students: I take a few days to discuss different information resources available for students. We discuss the Internet and tie in the discussion with information literacy skills. One of these days includes a trip to the library to review how to look up books, the different resource books available, and how to ask the librarian for help.
- How to present work creatively and neatly: Last, I talk to students about their final presentation. We discuss neatness, spelling, and punctuation, making their project visually appealing, and having a professional look. I use examples of student work from years past to show positive and negative examples of final products. I also use a collection of brochures and posters from businesses and the media to show examples of professional final products.
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In-Class Collaborative Projects
It seems that book after book discussing future workplace skills focuses on the abilities to work effectively with others and to manage information (Thinking in a Future Tense, by Jennifer James, 1996). By teaching students information literacy skills and allowing them to work on projects, students are able to strengthen their skills of managing information. Yet how do we teach kids to work effectively with others? One technique is to integrate projects with in-class collaborative groups. These collaborative teams are designed using heterogeneous student groupings, with each team member having specific roles and responsibilities designed around Internet research and projects.
In-Class Collaboration Steps to Success
- Lesson Goals and Objectives: Identify what you want students to learn and be able to do through their collaborative project. This includes identifying the end product and clearly articulating this to students.
Internet Resources: Select Web sites that enhance the project, or develop collaborative learning opportunities based on available Internet projects. Scholastic's Internet Field Trips, Web Hunts, and Research Starters are great resources for finding teacher-approved Web sites grouped by subject.
- Team Identities: Create teams using heterogeneous groupings of students. Change groups on a regular basis so that students have the opportunity to work with a wide range of individuals. Have each team choose a name to foster a team identity.
- The Big Picture: Make sure teams understand their eventual goal and the time line for completion. Help team members identify their individual roles and responsibilities in order to reach their team goal. It is also helpful to have teams write down the different tasks that need to be addressed and in what order.
- Working Time: Give teams time to work together, both on and off the Internet. Some groups will need constant supervision, while others will enjoy the independence of working together.
- Timely Reminders: Provide time updates so students aren't caught off guard by an impending due date.
- Celebration of Learning: Have teams share their end product and what they learned in a presentation to the entire class.
- Reflection Time: Let teams "debrief" by discussing first as a team and then sharing their results with you or the class. Have teams reflect on their group interactions and how effectively they worked together. Let students write down what they observed as the team worked together. Did everyone do his or her job? Did everyone contribute? The power of this type of reflection is that it brings group work into a more conscious light when team members realize they might be receiving indirect feedback from their teammates.
The Internet also provides wonderful opportunities for you to work with other classrooms and individuals throughout the world on a common project. These types of collaborative projects come in many different sizes and colors. Remember to start small; join one to two projects a year and see how it goes. As you search for the right project, keep your curriculum and learning objectives in mind.
Collaborative Project Types
- Electronic Correspondence: Keypals. This type of project is the equivalent of pen pals and is one of the most common types of projects used in classrooms. These correspondences can be done on a student-to- student basis or as an entire group. Visit the eMail Classroom Exchange site if you are interested in participating in or just want to learn about keypal projects.
- Data Collection and Analysis: Some projects ask participants to participate in the collection and analysis of data. This can be as simple as completing a survey, or you may be asked to report weather data to a central site location each week. Check out "All Results" in the Kids' Environmental Report Card, for an example.
- Information Exchanges: Classes contribute to compilations of information, research, games, jokes, tales, and other things.
- Student Publications: Students can publish their original work in an online newspaper, poetry anthology, or magazine. Visit Stone Soup or Featured Student Writing in Writing With Writers for an example of a student publication.
- Virtual Adventures: Online field trips bring students into experiences they would never otherwise participate in or learn about. Through the Internet, students can experience the Iditarod or work in the field with a scientist as part of Science Explorations. In many cases, students can exchange ideas or ask questions of the experts as part of the project experience.
While some of these projects require a sponsoring organization to set them up, others can take place between individual classes or among a small group of interested schools.
Successfully Implementing Collaborative Projects
- Keep it simple: Start with an easy electronic mail project in which students or your class can exchange small amounts of information.
- Once you join, stay involved: Since these projects are collaborative, it is important that you and your class stay committed to the completion of the project. Follow through on your promise to submit information or data.
- Be flexible: You will always experience new challenges every time you use the Internet due to its constant evolving changes. Be flexible and keep an open mind.
- Ask for help: Don't be afraid to ask for help if you are experiencing difficulties using the Internet or are confused about what is expected of you once you begin a project. Contact the project administrator or get a more experienced teacher or parent volunteer to help
Planning a Class Project
- Select a topic.
- Establish learning outcomes.
- Investigate potential projects online.
- Select the project which best fits your learning outcomes.
- Decide on teaching/learning strategies.
- Clearly identify what is expected from you and your class in the project.
- Plan a timetable.
- Share your collaborative project with your parents.
- Evaluate what your students learned through the project.