By Johanna Riddle
Johanna Riddle is Media Specialist at Samsula Elementary School in Smyrna Beach, Florida
I was thrilled when I received a Fulbright Scholarship enabling me to travel to China. Once the reality of the award set in I began to reflect on the most meaningful ways to include my learning community in this upcoming adventure.
Students in our school were accustomed to working with technology. They began learning in kindergarten by matching digital photographs with text from a particular work of literature. Their familiarity and comfort levels grew steadily through their years in elementary school. They learned the use of filters, created digital stories, and responded to literature in textual and visual formats.
I established a structure for problem-based learning. With a work of literature at the center of the process, students read, researched, and wrote; photographed, and digitally manipulated visual information in the context of problem based learning. Adobe Photoshop Elements, with its capacity to digitally manipulate visual information, enabled students to develop and synthesize layers of textual, visual, and iconic information. It was the software centerpiece of our particular brand of dimensional learning.
State curriculum mandated studies of Asia in the social studies standards, so the tie in benchmarks was obvious. A Single Shard by author Linda Sue Parks was the foundation of our spring semester study of Asian geography, culture, and history. Since third graders had learned the rudiments of Internet research, they applied their fledgling skills to the subject of Chinese dynasties, posted their findings and reader reviews of A Single Shard to our newly established weblog.
Outfitted with a newly acquired lightweight laptop computer and a digital camera, I left for several days of orientation and training in Menlo Park, California. While in California, I created and posted a few entries. I was successful! I received some student responses. We were connected, and cooking.
Once in China, I took advantage of a few user-friendly tools to keep my readers informed and engaged. Blogger.com made it easy to embed links, enabling my students to learn independently. I used a few web tools, such as Picture Trail to build slide displays of experiences and locations. Google Maps provided link friendly maps that allowed me to track my journey through ten cities and upwards of 21,000 miles, to add place markers, comments, and a travel log, and to refine my students map skills as they followed my journey.
The following school year, we drew from the information posted on the weblog and continued our shared journey of learning. We revisited the blog as a class, about fifty percent of the students had visited the site over the summer.
Further study and student interest catapulted a research and technology project that we christened “Time Tunnel”. Using the weblog as a springboard for further research, students chose a particular place or site to investigate from information on the weblog Google Map. I asked my pupils to consider their location from two perspectives—the past and the present.
Each student developed a first person narrative reflecting the changes of that location over time. Creative play, multiple literacies, and digital photography skills integrated as they used the artifacts and souvenirs I collected in China to take photos of each other in (none too authentic) Chinese garb.
Adobe Photoshop Elements provided the tools for the next piece of our project. Students selected photos from digital albums of my travels and developed layered photos. Photos from their research site formed the first layer of the image. Student portraits comprised the second layer. The third layer paired the photos on a background, and a fourth added their original texts as well as a graphic timeline.
Some students captured additional images from educational sites and added them to their timeline. The resulting pieces served as a demonstration of mastery in the areas of research, writing, and technology. Students used weblog technologies as they uploaded their finished projects and written summaries to the site.
Our weblog continues to play a role as a learning and communicative tool for our current third graders as they begin their studies of ancient China. Photos, entries, and links allow students to learn independently, while student projects serve as models for peer teaching. Children in our community, and in others, may log on at any time to relive the journey, cultivating reading, writing, research, and technology skills as they embark on their own virtual travels through the fascinating land of China.
Check it out for yourself! Log onto www.mrsriddle.blogspot.com