Recently, I decided to have my students research topics of their choice (relating to weather) with the goal of producing a product designed to educate their classmates on their chosen topic. I wanted students to work in groups so they could bounce ideas off each other, critique each other, and divide the work load so they would end up with a high quality product. Yet, we all know that group work often leads to one student completing the project (or making all of the decisions) and the other group members contribute only passively. To avoid this problem, I decided to allow students to choose their own groups with one catch: they could not work with any student that was in the same science class period as them. Naturally, the students were confused, but I reminded them of all the online collaboration we have already done, and we discussed some of the ways they might be able to work on a project with students who are not in their science class.
Before this project (see links below), the students had used several online resources collaboratively – Gmail, GoogleDocs, a class message board, and blogs. Additionally, the students had discussed the particle nature of matter, air pressure, the water cycle and other concepts necessary to understand weather phenomena. Also, I have worked to help the students become critical analyzers of their own work – by providing extensive feedback during previous projects and having students reflect often on the quality and progress of other projects and their learning in general. I note all of these things to point out that I am not just throwing students out there to flounder, rather I have worked to prepare students for this very open-ended project and would not try such a project near the beginning of the year.
The link below is the project guidelines. This website outlines some of the expectations and provides some direction for the students as they work on their projects.
The next link is a resource page for the students (the previous site also links to this site). This site has links to some instructional videos to help students get started with some of the unfamiliar technology (these were made using Jing, a program I discussed in a previous post).
The students have been using the technology named in the project all year. Unfortunately, when my students logged in today, new network filters installed last week prevented students from accessing Gmail, the class message board, and many other essential web destinations for the project. Needless to say, I am beyond frustrated. Yet, I am hopeful I will be able to resolve the issue and will post the link to student completed projects in a future post.
When discussing this project with a friend, he noted that having the projects online is not necessary, yet the online nature of the products does allow for work at home. Other benefits of the project include increased individual accountability because within each class period each student is working on their own project, increased need to communicate effectively in writing (emails and final product). Also, students will need to make decisions while realizing the affect on others. Additionally, when we discuss the projects in class later, each student is a representative to their class period so they are more accountable to the project. Also, each member of the group brings in perspectives from their own class period (not all classes are identical as the students and discussions are not identical). Lastly, the project is asking students to find and organize information in meaningful ways as well as connect the new information to past learning (of course the online/collaborative components are not necessary for this).
While their are many benefits to this project, I want to discuss some negative aspects of the project. Some drawbacks include: students cannot discuss problems/decisions in real-time, students may believe that collecting info equals learning, student expression of understanding is limited by the use of digital medium and familiarity with the technology and others unforeseen effects. Generating negative aspects seems to be significantly more difficult. I hope that many of you will be able to add to these thoughts and make suggestions. This is the first time I have tried this, and am excited to see how it turns out. I’ll keep you posted.
Please feel free to use any of these ideas or adapt them to your own projects. I hope you will share my blog link with your colleagues – the more comments we get, the more I and everyone else benefits. Also, on a selfish note, the more visits I get, the more motivated I am to post! :-)
Sorry for the long post, I probably could/should have written even more.