Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Digital City of Stories: Part One

As my second grade team begins to wrap up a unique project-based learning experience with our students, I wanted to bring an in-depth look at the process behind the product to you. Stay tuned for a posting all about the final product in early June.

As a requirement for one of my graduate courses, I was tasked with applying for a grant that would allow me to further pursue instructional technology within the classroom. Since my elementary school is identified as the "School of Choice" within the district, every grade level is tasked with completing a special project involving the community. Previously, the second grade team has done a country study which did not fully connect back to the community or involve participation from the community to the extent that was possible. Recognizing this need within our curriculum, I was motivated to use the grant writing assignment to enable an otherwise impossible activity to take place.

My second grade team was overwhelmingly supportive of this endeavor and was instrumental in our being selected as a recipient of a grant by the Oak Harbor Educational Foundation. As a team we were awarded enough funds to purchase four Apple iPad Minis to use for research, video recording, and movie production. Specifically, our classes goal was to answer the essential questions:

  • What cultures influence our community?
  • How have they influenced our community?
  • How do they continue to influence our community?

We accomplished this goal by grouping our students into four groups that were different from their homeroom assignments to study one country as a unit. The countries/cultures that were determined to have the greatest presence within our community (based on survey data and city statistics) were the military, Philippines, Mexico/Spain, and the Netherlands. We spent roughly one month conducting research on the iPads, as well as in the computer lab. Students then considered the information they had uncovered in conjunction with what they know about our community and with some careful guidance came up with questions to ask several individuals from their respective culture.

The following month included practicing interview manners and videography techniques. We were then ready to interview several members of the community who were generous enough to volunteer their experiences and knowledge with the students. Ultimately, this project will culminate in students using iMovie to compile a variety of their clips into one movie that can be preserved as a Digital City of Stories and shared with future generations. The Island County Historical Society has already requested a copy for the archives!

I am so proud of the work my students have done. They have completely amazed us with their dedication, hard-work, and ability to make meaningful connections between the community we live in today and those in the countries/cultures we have studied. I think we presented our students with a sizable challenge for their developmental and academic level and were impressed by how easily they rose to the challenge. Project-based Learning can seem very daunting and even impossible when considering a class of young learners. However, if we provide the appropriate scaffolding and skills to interact collaboratively and think critically our students are capable of tackling the real world problems they are famous for asking over and over again. (Think of all the Why's and How's you field in a day from your young students? They are already recognizing problems and wanting to gain a better understanding of the world around them!)

Inspiration for this project came from a middle school arts integration project at One Heart Arts.

If you'd like to learn more about our particular project, the full grant application can be viewed here.