It Was Just One of Those … Years!

I was really excited about the online collaborative projects amd activities that I had scheduled for my classes this past year. Some of them we had done in previous years, both successfully and not so successfully, and some were new projects that my students hadn’t done in the past.

This just seemed to be one of those years where the planets were out of alignment and many of the projects just didn’t work out the way I had envisioned …

1st Grade: Describe A Snowman

My 1st Graders in 2009 did this activity and it was very successful. They loved making and describing the snowmen and trying to recreate our partner school’s snowmen and then seeing the results. I was excited to have this year’s 1st Graders involved in this activity. My students created their snowmen and recorded their descriptions. Then, we waited for our partner school to post their descriptions and my students recreated their partner classes’ snowmen. Unfortunately, our partner school never recreated my students’ snowmen which was a real disappointment for them.

Will I do this one again next year? Writing skills are being emphasized school wide in the upcoming year so having 1st graders involved in an activity where they have to describe something in detail fits in well with this. That means that this activity is on the “let’s try it again next year” list and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that our partner class participates fully.

2nd Grade: Monster Project

I really love the Monster Project and my students have enjoyed participating in it in the past. This year my students loved drawing their monsters and worked hard on their descriptions; writing and editing with their classroom teacher and then typing and editing again in the computer lab after our 6th graders tried to recreate their monsters. I uploaded the descriptions to the Monster Project wiki and we waited for our partner class to post their descriptions or redraw our monsters but sadly it never happened. Eventually, one of the project organizers had some students redraw my student’s monsters but unfortunately my students never had the opportunity to try to recreate someone else’s monster. Since our monsters didn’t get redrawn until May, I never had the chance to have my students reflect on their experience with the project.

Will I do this one again next year? As I mentioned above, writing skills are being emphasized school wide in the upcoming year so, yes, this project is back on the list for next year. I may have both my 2nd & 3rd graders do this since my 3rd graders didn’t get the whole experience when they were in 2nd grade.

4th & 6th Grades: Progressive Story Project

Both my 4th & 6th grade students had fun writing their contributions for the Progressive Story Project. Each class actually progressively wrote their part of the story in the Computer Lab by moving from computer to computer to add to multiple stories and then voting for the best story starter as a class. My 4th graders drew their pictures in KidPix with two students sitting together at a computer and taking turns to add to the drawing. My 6th graders used the drawing tools in Google Docs to work on their pictures at the same time. Unfortunately (and you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), one of the classes on the 4th grade story never sent in their pictures and none of the classes on the 6th grade story added to the story at all so it began and ended with my class.

Will I do this one again next year? Bet you can guess, can’t you? Yes, I will do this one again because it is a writing project and the students did enjoy the creation process and my 4th graders loved it when we read the entire story. I’m not sure if I will do it with 4th grade in the upcoming year or not because 4th grade is joining the Virtual USA Project but I’m definitely doing it again with 6th grade!

5th Grade: Time Zone Experiences

This was the third year that my 5th grade students participated in the Time Zone Experiences project. This year, they enjoyed creating their podcasts for the assigned times and listening to and commenting on the podcasts from the other school. However, due to schedules and other commitments at our school and at the other school involved, there just wasn’t much interaction this year between the classes.

Will I do this one again next year? There’s definitely writing involved with this project and learning to comment on wikis and work asynchronously with others, but after three years and moderate success with the project, I think it’s time to move on. Sadly, it’s never really gotten off the ground and I think it is a great learning experience but I’m planning to do A Week in the Life Flat Classroom Project with 5th Grade in the upcoming year.

8th Grade: Digiteen

This was the first year that I had any students involved with the Digiteen Project. I had followed it in years past and was always somewhat intimidated by it but decided it would be a great project for my 8th graders. I do a lot of Digital Citizenship related activities with my Middle School students and spent the first part of the year reviewing and introducing the tools my 8th graders would need to know to work on the project. Even with that review and their past experiences, my students floundered and felt lost at times. I don’t feel that this was a failure but it wasn’t the success I envisioned either. My students could definitely have used more prior work on researching skills and the fact that I only see them twice a week for 45 minutes each class was a big issue. It was difficult for them to complete the work that needed to be done in that short amount of time. I think that the Action Projects were the most successful part of the project for my students.

Will I do this one again next year? I still love the idea of this project but I am not planning on doing this again this upcoming year. Based on some things that happen at our school at the end of the year, I feel that it would be better for my students to be involved in the Digiteen Project at the beginning of the year and my incoming 8th graders will not be prepared for the project. So, my plan is to spend the time on research skills and wiki editing and other tools with my 7th graders in the upcoming year so that in September of 2012 they will be ready for the Digiteen Project. I am going to try to do some kind of Digital Citizenship project with my 8th graders this year either on Edmodo or maybe via a blog. If you would be interested in joining us, please email me at

So, that was our adventure in how not to participate in collaborative projects. I refuse to let this scare me away from trying again with some of the same and some new projects for the upcoming year. I’m just crossing my fingers that it won’t be another of those years!

09-10 Reflections: 5th Grade

My 5th grade class this year was small and most of them are pretty good typists already and they will be spending quite a bit of time on typing in 6th grade so typing was something they didn’t do much of this year. There were lessons on Internet Safety because most of the 5th grade students are online on Facebook already even though they are all definitely under 13. I find that while some of the 5th grade act like they know it all about Internet Safety, they seemed to enjoy the activities in the Cyber Cafe and they did learn some new things too. I am exploring other digital citizenship options for next year too. 5th Grade also created artwork for Thanksgiving and participated in World Math Day and filled out surveys created by 7th grade and viewed and voted on their favorite Internet Safety videos created by 8th Grade but most of their time this year was spent on one project.

Online Collaborations

Just like last year much of the year was spent on the Time Zone Experiences project however unlike last year, the students enjoyed the project and they truly felt it was a collaboration with another class. There were really only two classes participating this year and Ann Oro and I tried to make it feel more collaborative this year by having the students Skype with one another as the project began. My students loved this and were disappointed we didn’t have the opportunity to do it again at the end of the year. We also encouraged our students to comment on the projects posted by the others and to read and reply to comments posted by the other school. I personally felt much less frustrated with the project this year but do wonder if it’s worth the time that it takes? The students learned how to write scripts and created animations using Xtranormal or Domo Animate which they really enjoyed and they all created podcasts which included original music made at MyBytes. They worked in pairs or teams and were fairly successful in this. They learned about editing wikis including uploading files. I’m still debating if this is the collaborative project I want to do with 5th Grade next year and if it is how I shorten the time that it takes to complete.

Lessons I Learned

  • Everything really does take longer than I think it will. Last year I was sure it was something that had gone wrong that had the Time Zone Experiences project drag on and on but I think it’s just the nature of that project. There has to be front end time to have the students learn about time zones, there has to be time to write scripts and record them in some way, there has to be time to teach students about posting to wikis, etc.
  • Many of our 5th Graders are on Facebook. Just as I am concerned about 4th grade being on Facebook, I have the same concerns with 5th Grade. Many of  them have our Middle School students or graduates from our school who are in High School as friends. I know what Middle School and High School students post on their walls at time – even the ones that don’t post anything inappropriate can have friends that do. I often wonder if our parents really realize what’s happening on Facebook. Most of the students tell me that their parents set up their accounts for them. I definitely want to do some kind of parent education about social networking next year.

Things I’ll Definitely Repeat Next Year

  • Internet Safety Lessons including some new lessons on information literacy
  • Some kind of collaborative project – maybe Time Zone Experiences and maybe not.

What technology rich projects or activities do your 5th Grade students do? Is there an engaging online collaborative project that you have found for this age group?

Year End Reflections #1: Time Zone Experiences

I am having my older grades complete end of year surveys for me about what they liked and didn’t like this year in the computer lab and what they hope to learn next year. So, as they reflect, I am going to write a series of posts reflecting on some things that I think worked … or didn’t work.

I wanted each of my classes to participate in some kind of collaborative project this year and for 5th Grade I chose the Time Zone Experiences project. I thought this sounded like an interesting project and one that would be challenging but not too difficult for my students to complete.

Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be the case. For some reason this became the project that just would not end! We started working on this in January and the final reflections were completed just yesterday! It was not a popular project with my students either as you can see from their choice of the least favorite project of the year on their year end survey. All three major portions of the project ended up making the least favorite list with the Time of Day portion of the project a resounding winner … or make that loser.

So, what happened? How did a project that I think sounded like fun and easy end up on the least favorite list and take so long to complete?

Wiki Issues:

This was the first ever wiki project for this class and it required that they maintain two different wikis – our class wiki and the Time Zone Experiences wiki. This immediately set up problems as the students had difficulty remembering where they were or where they were supposed to be. To further add to the confusion, they had their own logins on our class wiki and had to be logged in as me on the Time Zone Experiences wiki since they were not members of that wiki. Also, even though, we had a few classes on how to edit a wiki, I don’t believe that I spent enough time on this. In hindsight, I think spending a few more classes on how to edit a wiki and only having them edit one wiki would have limited some of the confusion. We also ran in to wiki limitations when multiple users tried to edit a page at the same time. We did have a class on this issue but I think with all of the new information being thrown at the class this got lost with many of them and caused some frustrations.

How It All Began:

After introducing wikis and having a few classes on how to edit wikis and creating some test pages on the wiki, I introduced the Time Zone Experiences project. I started out by showing the students the wiki and using Google Maps to show them where the various schools involved were located. We then had a lesson on Time Zones and GMT and discussed how to calculate the difference in time from GMT to Pacific Standard Time (since this is the time we were using). The students even completed a short quiz on this information and seemed to grasp it. I also posted a Time Zone Chart in the computer lab so they could refer to it when working on their assigned time to make sure they had the conversion correct. After the Time Zone lesson each student completed a short survey about when they go to bed and when they wake up so we would have that information for use on their time pages.

Time of Day:

Once the introductory lessons and the survey were completed, each student was assigned a GMT time. They were told to convert that to Pacific Standard Time and to check the chart in the lab to make sure they had the correct time. I did spot check the students I felt would have problems with the conversion to make sure they had the correct time but did not check every student. I should have since two students ended up doing the incorrect time and had to redo their work. Note to self: Next time check every student just to be sure to save time and frustrations later!

After they had converted GMT to Pacific Standard Time, they were assigned to write a few sentences about what happens at that time of day on the wiki page for their time. They were told to include: The results from the survey they had completed if they had a waking up or going to bed time, What they would be doing in school if they had a school time, and What they would be doing at home if it were the weekend or a non-school time.

After their written portion was complete, they were assigned to draw a picture in KidPix illustrating something about their time of day, export it and add it to their page on the wiki. Even though we had done exporting of pictures from KidPix before, this proved to be another stumbling block. I wonder if having step-by-step instructions for these things means they are not retaining how to do them?

Once their page on our computer lab wiki was complete, they were told to post that same information on to the Time Zone Experiences wiki. This is where we ran in to the where am I issues and how should I be logged in issues and the conflict issues with editing the Time Zone Chart page of the Time Zone Experiences wiki. Eventually, I just had them edit the actual time pages on the Time Zone Experiences wiki and I copied and pasted their written information on to the Time Zone Chart page.

I tried to make this as easy as possible by having step-by-step instructions online where they could read the instruction and click the appropriate link and then complete whatever needed to be done. These just did not seem to work and after discussions with the class, we ended up with printed instructions where they could cross out instructions as they went. Even with this, steps were missed and there was a lot of back and forth to get the time pages completed. When this project started, I thought it might take them a month to complete their time pages on both wikis but this is the portion of the project that just dragged on and on. In hindsight, I think I should have repeated the wiki lessons and Time Zone/GMT lessons again or addressed these concepts again in a different way.

So, how did the students feel about this after they had finally finished it? Did they like the end result? Not so much according to their end of year survey:


Are you still with me? Once the students were done with their Time of Day pages, they moved on to an activity about each month of the year. For this portion of the project, some of them were paired up and others worked individually. With only 12 months in the year, it wasn’t possible to pair everyone up though I think that those who worked in pairs enjoyed this portion of the project more than those who didn’t work with a partner.

For their assigned month, each student or student pair had to write a script about their month which included:

  • What happens at the school during that month (if applicable)
  • What sports we play at school during that month (if applicable)
  • Average temperatures and rainfall during that month
  • Holidays we celebrate at school or they celebrate at home during that month. They researched the holidays at a site that included real types of holidays and “fun” type of days for each month and they were allowed to include some of these fun days if they wished.
  • What they do during that month

Once their script was finished, they drew a picture in KidPix to illustrate something that happens during their month and again they had to export this. Once both the script and the picture were complete, they created a slide in PowerPoint with a title of their month, their picture and a recording of their script. I then combined these into a single presentation and exported the audio and added it to each month page of the Time Zone Experiences wiki.

This portion of the project actually went much smoother than the Time portion. Yes, there were a few glitches and yes, some of the students did a better job with their script than others but this did not take too much time and the resulting presentation is very fun. Did the students think this part of the project was better? Still not a resounding success but definitely better:


The final portion of this project was to reflect on the project. I have not done much with reflections on projects in the computer lab but I think they are a great idea and a nice way to wrap up a project. First, the students spent some time reading the contents of the Time Zone Experiences wiki for the other schools and then they typed responses to five questions in Microsoft Word. Once they had this completed in Word, they logged in to our wiki and copied and pasted their answers on a discussions tab on the wiki. While some of the students did not answer in full sentences as directed, this portion of the project was completed fairly quickly. The only confusion seemed to be how to download the Word document and how to tell which question they were answering on the wiki. So, what did the students think of the reflections portion of the project?

Final Thoughts:

I think most of my students missed the point of this being a collaborative project with other schools and that is one of the main points I wanted them to get. Yes, they did visit the Time Zone Experiences wiki. Yes, they did look at and listen to the information posted by the other schools. Still, I don’t think it felt collaborative to them. Why is that? I think it might be because even though we were all editing the same wiki, it didn’t happen at the same time and there wasn’t any feedback to them about their contributions. I wonder if it might be a good idea to have the students Skype or chat with the other schools before they really started working on the project or even at some other point during the project. I think asking a student across the country What time is it where you are right now would make the information more real than looking at it on a chart on a wiki.

I know my students really struggled with this project for a variety of reasons. I sometimes wonder if I should have just stopped the project at some point rather than trying to finish it. If I ever do this project again, here are some things I would do differently to hopefully make it run more smoothing:

  • Spend more time up front working with editing wikis so the students were not trying to learn how to do this at the same time as trying to complete the project
  • Spend more time up front working with Time Zones and GMT and time conversion and check that each student has converted their time correctly before they get too far into the project
  • Create video tutorials on how to edit wikis, how to export pictures from KidPix, etc. and have these available for student viewing for those visual learners
  • Have the students maintain only one wiki
  • Have the students work in pairs on the Time of Day portion. It think it could work better to have a pair work on two times rather than each student work individually.
  • Give the students more choices in how they document their time. I think this could lead to a higher interest from the students but could backfire and result in more frustrations.

The bottom line, I still think this is an interesting project and one that could be a favorite of my students – maybe next year.