What can you do with online educational projects? Well, you can teach multiple standards by using an integrated curriculum while encouraging peer collaboration with the use of real world situations. Whew, that was a mouthful, wasnâ€™t it! But, with so many online projects out there to choose from - which one is right for you? There are 10 factors to consider when choosing an online project:
- Cost (itâ€™s a shame that this has to be such a high priority!);
- The main curriculum focus (history, mathematics, etc);
- Interweaving of other curriculums;
- Standards (national/state education standards);
- Quality of project;
- The amount of time;
- Collaborative or not collaborative;
- Personal benefits;
- Other benefits;
- How many can participate.
Letâ€™s look more closely at each.
- Cost: I have found there are many (make that â€œmany manyâ€) free, excellent online educational projects. Yes, there are some amazing projects out there that do cost money, and they are worth it, (JASON, comes to mind) but there are also a lot of wonderful free projects. Space Day and Listening to the Walls Talk are great online projects that have a lot of good things going for them, and theyâ€™re both free!
- The main curriculum focus (history, mathematics, etc): What do you teach? This might determine your main curriculum focus, but thatâ€™s not a hard and fast rule. For example, I teach technology, so I usually have to decide- which academic area am I going to focus on? Mathematics? Science? History (Social Studies)? Language Arts? Art? Music? I might include other subjects, but I find it best to focus on one single subject.
- Interweaving of other curriculums: How many (and how well?) are other curriculums woven together in the project? I believe itâ€™s hard for students to understand the interconnectivity of subjects taught independently. Yes, students need to understand mathematics, but then, they also need to see how it will be used in the real world. They need to understand how to write a 5-paragraph essay, but they also need to know that the essay is a viable form of communication that easily allows others to see the results of research.
I prefer projects that focus on one subject but that easily include and interweave other subjects. For example- â€œListening to the Walls Talkâ€ (http://www.millennium.scps.k12.fl.us/walls.html)is a project whose main focus is social studies. The goal of this project is to teach students basic geographic and research skills. A secondary, but possibly more important goal of this project is to record the history of houses and neighborhoods around the world.
Occording to the National Historic Trust: Historic sites have fascinating, engaging, and compelling stories to tell. Preserving these places, listening to their stories, and learning from them are essential to our understanding of who we are.
But the project includes lessons on science (Urban Ecology), mathematics (drawing maps to scale), technology (making Web pages), and language arts (how to write a good story/essay).
- Standards (national/state education standards): This is extremely important. When choosing a ready-made project, I always check to see if it follows National Standards. When creating a project, I first choose which standards I want to teach, *before* creating the project.
Education World lists several national and education organizations that have taken on the challenge of creating educational standards or guidelines to be used on a national level, including the following:
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
National Council of Teachers of English
National Geographic Society
National Council on Economic Education
National Council for the Social Studies
Center for Civic Education
Consortium of National Arts Education Associations
National Center for History in the Schools
International Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE
National Academies of Science
For state standards, visit Education World
- Quality of project: Are you looking for something simple that a teacher created during a five-minute break during a meeting, wrote on a notepad, and sent into a teacher resource page; or are you looking for a full-fledged project with ready made lessons, quizzes, activities and other goodies? In the case of projects, you donâ€™t always have to pay to get quality projects. I know many free projects out there that rock!!
Take ENO, for example. ENO, or Environment Online, is a global Web school for environmental awareness. It studies four environmental themes (dimensions of sustainable development) within a school year (Social, Natural, Cultural Environment and a sustainable way of living) on a weekly basis. The ENO Program (http://eno.joensuu.fi/) is a strong and active network of schools. Up and running since 2000 and administrated by the city of Joensuu, Finland, it has received support from National Board Of Education and European Commission.
- The amount of time: Letâ€™s not kid ourselves. With all the requirements facing us in the classroom, it is hard to find time to incorporate projects. Plus, we do have lives beyond the classroom. Do you really want to give up your quiet Saturday afternoon to fully read through a project, check it out against your standards, and see if it is compatible with what you are teaching?
My humble opinion is â€œYes! Give up that Saturday!â€ for the proâ€™s outweigh the conâ€™s when it comes to online projects. I have found that even though I might have to give up some time now to read through a project, there are rewards. Often there will be ready-made and useable lessons, alignment with standards, and even ready-made assessment tools.
One warning â€“ do check out all the requirements to determine if you have class time available. I have had to drop out of projects because they required too much of our time. But, on average, the amount of time that I really have to give to online projects is minimal. And worth it!
- To collaborate or not to collaborate: That is a question. I believe that if you are going to go all out and do a project, then make it fun! And collaboration is not only good for the students, itâ€™s fun! According to most dictionaries, collaboration means to work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort. When you assign research imagine the benefits of seeing students in Florida coming up with some information while their partners in Norway come up with different (yet, still correct) information. This gives the students the chance to see how much information is out there, and how people can have different ideas about the same project.
But donâ€™t get me wrong. Collaboration actually takes more time than working individually. Actually we all know that; just look at our own meetings and committees. You have to be able to constantly steer the students into academic exchanges, and keep them focused. But, the extra effort is almost always worth it, for the students come away with more than new friends; they learn future work and social skills. Collaboration teaches students how to cooperate and be part of a team.
- Personal benefits: Do you LIKE the topic? Liking the topic makes it personally more fun to come in, day after day, and teach. If I am teaching something I like, I spend more time learning about it. â€œHey, today I am teaching about historic preservation! I get to talk about preservation, restoration and adaptive re-use.â€ Ok, thatâ€™s something I like, and it worked with one of my projects. Before I was finished, the students were even interested because I infused so much of my personal enthusiasm into the project.
Does it lessen your load? I am expected to teach technology, but my principal appreciates when I throw in mathematics, as it helps our FCAT (state testing) scores. I constantly look for projects that incorporate math and technology as it helps to lessen my personal load.
- Other benefits: Back to my principal, who likes that I use mathematics often in my classes. I like to make my principal happy, because if the principal is happy, everyone is happy. Then there are some projects that offer awards or even prizes! Not many, but a few. Thatâ€™s always nice. Remember, even if the award is just a little certificate, kids love awards, even little certificates.
- How many can participate: When I first checked out projects, I was surprised to see that many are designed for single classrooms or small groups. I donâ€™t have one classroom; I have six. Therefore I have many small groups, rather than just one small group. I donâ€™t even bother with any project that restricts the number of students who may participate. Of course, this goes back in a way to #1above, or cost. For some of the really amazing projects you might want to pay for a few students. But I personally would rather do without rather than have any child not get the opportunity to participate. Some teachers choose just their best and brightest students to do projects; but I have found that itâ€™s not always my â€˜star studentsâ€ that do the best. I have even had EMD kids outshine our advanced placement kids. Thatâ€™s the nice thing about technology and online projects â€“ they level the playing field a bit for all students. So after realizing this quirky little fact, I now believe that its totally unfair to deny opportunity to some students while giving those who usually get the best of everything the extra opportunities.
Below is a sampling of projects, including three of my own, as well as a few in which I regularly participate and really like.
Listening to the Walls Talk
Looking for Dark Skies
http://www.millennium.scps.k12.fl.us/walls.html Take Someone to Dinner
http://www.millennium.scps.k12.fl.us/myweb3/dinner.html Space Day
http://eno.joensuu.fi/ CERES Sâ€™COOL PROJECT
http://asd-www.larc.nasa.gov/SCOOL/SCOOL.html Project Harmony
Classrooms in both the United States and in Armenia study the same curriculum packets and discuss these packets in Project Harmony-facilitated forums. At the end of the forums there is a chat between the students. Past Online Collaborative Projects have included the topics of Arts and Culture, Geography and Economics, and Armenian and American Studies. NASA Quest
Talk about great! I love these lessons, plus you can usually find a chat with a real NASA expert. I did another NASA Quest just this year in which my students designed life-forms capable of surviving on Mars! It was a collaborative project where the students worked with others and researched what makes a planet habitable for humans. Then the students chatted with NASA scientists about extremophiles and what it would take to live on Mars.
I havenâ€™t participated in these, but have read wonderful things about them. Flat Stanley
http://www.enoreo.on.ca/flatstanley/ Ultimate Iditarod
http://www.ultimateiditarod.com/index.html National Math Trail
Even old hands at online projects may not know the multitudes of places to find them! Here is a list of my very favorite project registries. Global Schoolhouse
One of the older and larger registries. Teams LACOE
TEAMS Distance Learning is one component of the Telecommunications and Technology division of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, or LACOE. Blue Webâ€™n
Blue Web'n is an online library of 1800+ outstanding Internet sites categorized by subject, grade level, and format (lessons, activities, projects, resources, references, & tools) European SchoolNet
This is Europe's premier educational community. Take a look at curriculum resources and school practice ideas or meet European teachers, trainers and students through collaborative school projects. Study Plans
This Web site is designed for educators who want to find lessons, ideas, projects, and information on the Internet fast. I like their monthly navigation. OzProjects
Oz is the Australiansâ€™ fond name for their homeland. This is a sibling site of EdNA Online, a service that aims to support and promote the benefits of the Internet for learning, education and training in Australia. The OzProjects site assists you to find suitable online curriculum projects and provides access to a host of resources to support your involvement. Achieve Online Australia
Achieve Online has been developed to provide a range of educational tools, utilities, and reference materials in one convenient location. Houghton Mifflin Education Place
eMINTS stands for â€œenhancing Missouri's Instructional Networked Teaching Strategiesâ€ ISTE
So, now that you know what it takes, go do it! But donâ€™t forget to choose something that you want to learn about! Then write me about it. I want to know your ups, your downs, your finds and your pitfalls. Email:Rosemary Shaw