My work in K-12 staff development has shown time and again that one of the most effective ways to develop Internet expertise is to involve teachers and students with online projects. Well-designed projects provide learners with in-depth opportunities to hone telecommunications skills, use online tools and resources, and gain educational experiences that cannot be duplicated through any other medium.
I have introduced numerous kinds of Web-based projects in every curriculum area to individuals and groups, including real-data simulations for tracking satellites in orbit, electronic publications where students contribute the content, and real-time expeditions to ocean, jungle and Arctic environments. Some require fees, such as the subscription-based projects offered by Classroom Connect, but many are free, including teacher-initiated programs. Online projects have also been done as assignments, illustrated by those from the Davidson County Schools in Lexington, N.C., techcenter. davidson.k12.nc.us/web.htm, or for competitions such as Thinkquest. The outstanding Global Schoolhouse Projects Registry categorizes projects by topic, grade level and start date.
Bridges to School Collaboration
Among the most powerful online projects are those that require collaboration among students and teachers in various locations, including other states and countries. Such experiences are typically organized around a real-world problem or issue that requires collecting, organizing and interpreting data for a common purpose. For example, I recently worked with a consortium of school districts on an acid rain project, where rainfall acidity measurements were shared in a central database for later interpretation, as storms passed from West to East, from one school to the next. Volunteer experts secured through the Electronic missary Project, emissary.ots.utexas.edu/emissary, guided the classes. Some teachers became inspired to propose their own projects with schools in other countries that they found through directories such as Web66, web66.coled.umn.edu.
Related examples include the legendary Save the Beaches Project that started in Connecticut with six schools and grew to an annual Web project with teachers and students on every continent, now headquartered in Brazil, pekids.nlink.com.br. Similarly, the Generation www.Y, genwhy.wednet.edu, project in Washington, where students helped teachers develop Web-based curriculum materials, expanded to every state. The resources below will help you add information on current online projects to your staff development calendar.
Odvard Egil Dyrli, firstname.lastname@example.org, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.