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The Colonies Project

The Colonies is a very successful project created by a fifth grade class at Balboa Magnet School. From its inception, the project was intended to be presented at the LAUSD InfoTech Conference and the seriousness, planning and sophisticated technology that went into it, were all geared to justify this important goal.

Every year, students conclude their Social Studies work with a final project about the thirteen colonies. In most cases it is either handwritten or typed up using a word processing application and embellished with images. The teacher, who is very technology savvy, decided to use the new Web 2.0 technology, that students have been using in the lab this year, to create a multimedia version of this project. She wrote a project specification document, divided the students into teams and assigned roles for each team member.

Students started this project by researching their colony. Guided by principles for evaluating and validating information, they stored their valuable resources into a ‘Colonies’ folder in Zotero--a research management tool. Their reading focused on finding information about past events, important people and important facts. To make their reading as focused as possible, students used an observation tool--a digital version of the note card--writing short sentences of the most important ideas in the text, as they reflect their project goals. The tool was collaborative and all students in the team could contribute into a common pool of notes, that they could all see, learn from and critique. Questions that arise while reading the text were recorded in the Questions tool, generating a collection of questions that all could contribute to. The assignment tool helped students record all team assignments in one common spreadsheet, that they could all follow for task completion. Students’ notes, questions and tasks were embedded in the site, making the entire process transparent for team members and visitors alike. Today, these documents are missing from the site because many students have either deleted them or forgot to share them with the public.

As students got ready to work on their site, they used their collective notes to work on their assigned tasks. The site, a combination of narratives, simulations and mapping of life in the colony, were laid out in the following pages: Project Overview, Colony Mission, History in the Making, Who’s Who, Just the Facts, Past Events and Resources. Most sections contain short narratives describing life in the colony. ‘History in the Making’ is a collection of simulations created with DoInk--a web-based drawing and animation tool--that students used to depict important scenes from the life of the colony. Each team was expected to design and execute at least three scenes and embed the output into their site. In ‘Past Events,’ students used the Google Maps’ placemark tool to mark important locations in the colony, with an image and a short description of what took place in that location.

The outcome, a product of hard work and student collaboration, turned out to be amazing. In terms of technology, students gained an extensive set of skills that covered, expert handling of web 2.0 applications, such as Google Apps, using and manipulating Google Maps and working with a web-based drawing and animation tool, such as DoInk. Student understanding of the topic at hand improved as well, when faced with the task of identifying and analyzing the main components of important scenes in the life of the colony.

Students accompanied their teacher to the InfoTech Conference and proudly presented their project to conference participants from other schools. The projects won first place in the  Elementary level and could only be compared to middle or high school projects, in skill and level of sophistication. The Virginia Colony is one of the best projects created in this class.