A Special Project for a New School

Some History and a Little Memory Helps:

Every so often in education, and that includes the Internet kind, you meet someone who has ideas that match your own.

Not too long ago, while researching some Sites of the Day for TechLearning, I discovered an interesting project source for creative student international projects. Unfortunately, the timing was not quite right for me, because my teaching assignment didn't give me the opportunities to join or create the projects offered. So, I wrote the Site of the Day and recommended this unique site to other educators. Now, as Instructional Technology Specialist for the new Reed Intermediate School, I finally have the opportunity to do some things I could only dream before. I was able to write the site's creator, Torigoe Genshi, to discuss international projects.

I really wanted to initiate the new school's computer lab experience and all of its technology in a special way using a special project, one that would allow me to assess a great many technology concepts and give students a meaningful topic too.

The Letter and a Kind Invitation

I wrote Torigoe Genshi an Email requesting information on his latest projects and he returned the following invitation to my school and its teachers and students:

Konnichiwa teachers at the Reed Intermediate School in Newtown,
I am TORIGOE Genshi, an elementary school teacher in Okayama, Japan. I have been coordinating online global learning projects with educators from Australia, NZ, Hawaii, Denmark, Germany, and Japan since 1998. Children from more than 20 countries have participated in our projects so far.

Our dream is to build an exciting online educational community "e-village" for children around the world to easily join. e-village is an online community where various cultures meet. In the e-village, we respect and share the diversity and similarities of the marvelous world in which we live. We treasure spirits of "respect, sharing, creation." e-village will be improved and updated by participants' creative ideas and suggestions. Please visit our projects http://www.e-village.jp/

Here are ongoing projects on the e-village site:

  • Nature and Culture
  • Water Project
  • Picture Dictionary Project
  • Tree Project

We welcome enjoyable, creative, and exciting project ideas shared by children from around the world.

We truly hope you will be interested in our projects and wish your participation.

Project Director of e-village

Creating a New Project

While I liked their on-going project called TREE, I asked if we might offer a new project and host it instead. I kept thinking that this was so typically American of me, to immediately suggest something else right from the start. Genshi didn't skip a beat and returned a quick Email that allowed me to get started. So, we wrote a brief introduction of our school, and we were ready to begin.

I put together an idea called Then and Now. It was more of an intermediate school project for my 5th and 6th graders, but one that younger and older students could do too. I wanted students to interview grandparents, elders, or a respected older person. The aim was to compare student life today with that of their grandparents and elders. The information and stories would make a great primary source history. Students could choose from one of two topics, but could also do both if they wanted. Both would involve Primary Source Stories from grandparents and elders reported by their grandchildren and younger family members. In topic one, the students would compare treatment of common illnesses today, like colds, fever, stomachache or headache with those of their grandparents and elders. Topic two involved comparing school today with that of their grandparents, elders, or respected older person.

I told the students that they could use any format they wanted from question and answer to story to narrative. Some actually chose expository. I also said that when interviewing to remember the newspaper style who, when, where, why, and how questioning. I also said not to forget to ask follow-up questions.

I started off by relating the story of my own mother's schooling. I shared that she had attended a one-roomed schoolhouse with all the grades, walked to and from school, stoked a pot-bellied stove for heat, and used outside facilities for a bathroom in all weather conditions.

I stopped short of saying that she also had to build her own desk. As it turns out, some of my fifth and sixth graders said that their great, great grandparents did the same.

Two things happened during this project. First of all, the students discovered interesting information about their grandparents through their own words. Students are amazed at what their grandparents had to endure! The other thing is that the project puts a wide smile on the face of the grandparent or elder being interviewed.

This project done in a classroom or a computer lab, locally, would have been enough, but adding an international component, well that was truly spectacular. Immediately, the pride of hosting and the determination to post the best work drove the plan.

Originally, I had hoped to teach my students Web page construction using DreamWeaver, but the lack of that software on student machines made it impossible. All was not lost though. Genshi's projects are unique in that they offer students the possibility of a very simple, safe, secure, and password-protected online page creator. By registering your class or classes, you get permission to use the online page creator. Registration brings with it a greeting from Genshi, along with easy directions for success.

For my project, students did everything, except type in the password. I felt that I needed password control and I suggest it to you too. It takes a nanosecond to type it in and may save you difficulties later. Genshi worked with me on this because I had so many students doing the project I needed to make sure of the organization and control for all. He set up different IDs and passwords for me in the various subtopics my student research could fall into. In my case the topics went from general to more specific. The students had to decide the best placement for their work.

All the work was done in class or lab, except for the actual grandparent interviews, which of course had to be done at home. I refused to call it homework and instead called it International Project. Some students were lucky enough to be able to speak directly to their grandparents, while others used telephone, Email, and chat conversations. And in a few cases, students actually waited for some snail mail responses.

I also had some students who couldn't interview grandparents, elders, or other older adults. These students interviewed their parents or guardians and teachers in school.

One teacher went so far as to bring in an elementary school yearbook to share his school experiences with a student who had no one to interview. Thus everyone was able to do the project.

More about the Online Page Creator:
The whole project requires an online connection, and is, of course, cross platform.

Pages can be seen at school, at home, and even by grandpa in California or anywhere. The great thing about the online page creator is that students can preview the page before creating it, and after creating it, revisit the page for editing, revisions, and additions.

The online page creator lets you choose from three formats. The first is really easy and allows for one image and text, the second format lets students create a page with four images and text, and the third possibility will let more advanced students use HTML to build the page. My students are using the second format. There are four places to type or paste information and stories. Students can draw pictures, scan or take photos and upload them for insertion into the page. Although students can also insert voice or video, I don't usually have the time to do the video with them. But the voice is easy. By using a very inexpensive plastic microphone and the sound recorder usually located in the accessories software of all PCs, students can speak and save some of their interview as simple sound files for uploading to their page.

Other students around the world can visit the pages, read the stories, hear student voices and see pictures or photos. The format of the page I used was simple and allowed one font style, three font sizes, a few font colors as well as a few background color changes. My students did want more elaborate backgrounds but were quite satisfied when I explained that the most important thing in this project was the words and stories.

I did need to include a note to parents too, informing them that: "While the Then and Now project is secure and safe, and only first names or initials will be used for identification purposes, the entire project can be done without the Web page component. Please send me a note or an Email to share special needs regarding this project."

Some Sample Excerpts:

Sample One:
"My grandma and Grandpa would play games at recess like Kick the Can, baseball, jump rope, Annie Over, Red Rover, and Jacks. My grandma's school was made out of brick, and my grandpa's school was made out of wood.
"At the one room school schoolhouse there were 30-40 students. They had desks with pencil grooves and ink wells, and each desk had a seat for the person in front of you attached to the front. The school could have grades from 1-4. At school they read books, practiced writing, wrote stories, they did math, learned geography, history, civics and science. If you were bad during the school day you would be spanked, hit with a ruler, or have your ears or hair pulled. They would use a leather strap, ruler, or anything they could get their hands on to discipline you!"

Sample Two:
"What was your school like?"
"My school was really old with a bell tower and everything. We had different teachers for different subjects like you do. In Social Studies we learned about Eurasia. In Math we learned about fractions and decimals."
"What did you do for fun?"

I would sneak up to the bell tower and grab a bat by the wings and go down to the main entrance. When I got there my friend would ring the bell and everyone would come back inside from recess. When I saw one of the girls I liked I would throw the bat at her. Then the English teacher would come out and yell at us. Then after school he would make us clap erasers."

It's interesting that grandpas and grandma's always have a good story to tell, and it sometimes gets better after each re-telling. I commented to Genshi recently that it is interesting how close cultures really are. In the TREE project students of all nations share nature, and in our own Then and Now project they honor their grandparents, as well as discover the children they once were. We are not so different and sharing helps make that obvious.

Try an international project so that your own students can make these discoveries too. Torigoe Genshi's e-village is waiting for your creative project ideas too. And while you're there, add to our Then and Now project.

Email: Ken Royal