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.

If Only

Do you find yourself saying things like if only I had new computers or if only our Internet connection were faster or if only we had a Smartboard or any other if onlys? I definitely do this because the equipment in our lab is very outdated or sometimes non-existent but then I have to stop to remind myself of what we are able to accomplish even with our outdated equipment! Here are some of my Wow – Look at what we HAVE or WILL be doing items.

The theme in the Computer Lab this year is It’s A Small World and in addition to learning the basics like: Internet Safety, Parts of the Computer, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Keyboarding, we are participating in collaborative projects with other students around the world. This is where one of my If Onlys definitely comes in. Google Earth is an amazing way to introduce a project like this because you can fly around a 3D world to all of the places where schools are located. Unfortunately, the computers at school do not have new enough graphics cards or enough memory to support Google Earth. I have been able to use the 2D version of MSN’s Live Search Maps to show where the other schools are located. It’s not as impressive and doesn’t run really fast but it does at least give the students some idea of the scope of the project and where the other schools are in the world.

Kindergarten and 2nd Grade are working on a project called Online Autumn which is a project to have students in Kindergarten through 4th Grade share art work and creative writing about Autumn. 2nd Grade started this project using an on-line brainstorming tool and are currently working on pictures of the things they like most about Autumn. We will be creating either an interactive book or a VoiceThread from the pictures. Kindergarten will also be creating some art work and creating a book or VoiceThread too. There are schools from all over the United States and Canada participating in this project.

1st Grade will be participating in a project called How Tall is a First Grader with schools from all over the United States, Australia and Lebanon. This will be a fun project because 1st Grade will get to explore Excel and read some on-line interactive books and do some writing too and will be able to compare how tall they are to other 1st graders all over the world.

3rd Grade will be participating in a Monster Exchange project later in the year that will let them draw an original picture and write a description of it and then exchange their descriptions with another school to see if the other student can recreate their drawing. This is a project that can be done with or without computers but having computers adds an extra zing to the project because you can see the drawings compared and read the descriptive paragraphs right online.

Last year I discovered the collaborative project called Voices of the World and thought at the time how I would love to participate in it. Schools around the world record the voices of their children singing or saying something – for example: Introducing themselves, singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, singing their National Anthem, etc. These are all shared on a wiki each month. This year 4th Grade is participating in this project along with other schools from the US, Scotland, Australia, Poland, Sweden, Lebanon, Greece, Norway & more! 4th Grade is really excited about this one and loved listening to some of last year’s projects before we worked on our first project for this year. Yes, this one brings an If Only too – we are limited on microphones in the lab and it would be great for every computer to have it’s own microphone. We are recording a lot in both this project and other things with our limited resources but it would be nice to have more.

5th Grade is just getting ready to start their collaborative project called TimeZone Experiences which includes schools from NJ, NY, IL, England and Australia. They will be learning all about Greenwich Mean Time and reporting on what they and their classmates are doing at each hour of the day and during each month of the year and getting to see what other students around the world are doing at the same hour of the day and/or month of the year.

6th Grade has joined a really fun year-long project called A Room With a View with over a hundred participating classes. The project was introduced using Live Search Maps and will involve taking a picture of the campus each month and reporting on the weather and other information about what they observed on the day the picture was taken. All of the 6th graders will also be reflecting on each month in a VoiceThread. I think it will be very fun to look back at the year once we are done. All of the parents can follow along during the year since the entire project will be posted online in the VoiceThread and on a wiki page that will be maintained by the 6th graders. This project and the 5th grade project might have a tiny If Only associated with them since both projects either need or should have a picture taken each month and another thing that I’d love to have is some digital cameras for student use. Now, I just bring in my camera and it works but it would be great to have some in the lab for projects like this.

7th Grade’s project, Human Genetics Project,  was chosen because it ties in with their Science curriculum for the year. They are currently learning all about Google Docs and how to collaborate with others on a document while they write part of the Introduction Letter for this project. They will then be collecting and analyzing data based on certain observable traits and then downloading and analyzing world-wide data about the same traits.

8th Grade isn’t participating (at this point anyway) in any specific collaborative project because they are creating their own Social Studies wiki. This project will hopefully enhance their Social Studies knowledge and help them to learn new useful and fun tools. Of course there are If Onlys with this one mainly because of the low amount of memory and limited amount of bandwidth available. There are times we run into roadblocks because of these things but that just means I have to think creatively or pair students up in order to accomplish what we want!

I’m really excited about some of the sites that the students are using as they complete projects and wait for others to finish. They allow the students to compete with other students around the world or contribute to worthy causes. If you haven’t visited Tutpup, I’d highly recommend it. All of the students love seeing which country they are competing against and don’t even seem to realize that they are practicing spelling skills or math facts. I really like the fact that the students can register but they really are safe because their screen name has nothing to do with their real name and there’s no chatting or anything like that to worry about having to monitor. Both Free Rice and Free Poverty donate to worthy causes based on correct answers in various quizzes. The students love that they’re donating to a good cause and have fun with the quizzes too.

So there you have it some of my Wow – Look at what we HAVE or WILL be doing items. Would these be better If Only? Well they would definitely be faster and there would probably be less outages and some things might be more engaging but better? Not necessarily. The learning going on and the things being achieved can be done (usually anyway) with even our outdated equipment but … If Only … you can’t blame me for wishing now can you?