Transforming Projects
Extreme sports stretch our ideas about competition and physical limits. We need extreme thinking to take our technology-rich classrooms to the next level. "Computer diving" might not be your idea of fun, but there are many other ways to diving into teaching and learning.
Students think their life is tough. All that "copying and pasting" can be rough on the pencils and erasers, but does it really "work out" the brain?
In 2000, I worked on a committee charged with developing an instrument to evaluate student projects. Our first task was to identify the characteristics of exemplary projects. We were surprised to find a wide range of mediocre and even acceptable projects, however we found very few that expressed the high level thinking we were seeking. Many used technology, but they focused on the "bells and whistles" rather than using it as a challenging thinking and communication tool.
Transforming Projects
Expanding Projects
Exploring Complexity
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Some of the best student projects are available for everyone to enjoy. Check out the ThinkQuest project. and the Cyberfair project. One of the ThinkQuest winners for 2001 used the book Holes, by Louis Sachar as a focal point for a series of activities. Rather than writing a traditional book report, students were asked to create a web project to inform, instruct, and persuade others about the book. Explore this winning Holes Project and look for the many ways that students shared their experience. Some of these are listed below:
"experience" the book
create the questions
bring the room alive
promote interests
write instructions
explore issues
address real-world issues
debate issues
hold a mock trial
read online resources
write letters
write persuasive essays
write descriptions
share history through music
apply real-world math
draw interests from book
do real-world science
give credit
Sky+surf = Skysurfing
It's time that we combine what we know about effective teaching and learning. Combine what we know about critical thinking, learning styles, multiple intelligences, motivation and creativity with technology. You'll get synergy and a higher level of meaningful learning.

Think about your classroom activities. Many technology-rich projects are low-level, time-consuming projects. Why? We rarely get beyond the technology to the thinking. The problem relates to focus. Rather than focusing on PowerPoint, sounds, transitions, and pictures, we need to ask, why? How does a picture enhance a persuasive writing project? How can PowerPoint be used to tell about an event or experience. It's not the PowerPoint presentation that's important, but the message that it conveys.

The solution to low-level, technology projects is to focus on thinking and solving problems. Start with "high level" words from Bloom's Taxonomy. For example, start with the word "justify" and consider how technology can help a student address a specific learning indicator or standard. Students might interact with an online expert to help them collect information to justify their perspective. Teacher Tap: Expert contains ideas for developing this type of activity using the Expert Central website along with other online experts. Or, they might create a video to persuade a legislator to vote a particular way. PowerPoint is a powerful tool for holding debates. Use the Thomas website to collect information about current bills in Congress or locate addresses of government officials.
Be Realistic
Although these types of activities are exciting, they can be time consuming. Explore ways to cut the low end activities to provide time for high end projects. Think about ways to turn topics into themes. Themes can provide motivation, hooks, and connections that make learning meaningful. Look for themes that add a human dimension to a subject area topic. For example, in the book Officer Buckle and Gloria, you'll find the themes of safety and friendship. In the book Buffalo Soldiers, you'll find history, but also themes such as freedom and heroism. Check out the 42eXplore: Buffalo Soldiers page. Rather than focusing on traditional subject areas, connect a topic to a theme such as Dustbowl and hardship, Civil War and courage, tornado and loss, picnics and friendship, and pollution and activism. Then, consider ways to cross content areas to include reading, writing, social studies, science, and fine arts. Let's reinforce the work of other teachers.
Essential Questions
Meaningfulness is an important element of learning. Ask yourself: What are the key questions that bring meaning to this experience? How can we link outcomes, standards, and meaningfulness? For example, if students are reading a book about the Japanese Internment Camps. Students might focus on the following questions: What was life like in Japanese Internment Camps? How can we prevent human, civil, and legal rights abuses from happening in the future? According to McKenzie in his online journal, From Now Own, answers to essential questions can't be found… they must be invented. Students must find meaning and create insight.
Start with a Product
Consider ways to focus on "extreme thinking" types of projects. Start by generating an essential question. Get students involved with generating meaningful questions. Then, consider starting with a product or focus that is tangible. For example, give students a movie, online article, or student report and ask them to transform it. They might start with a video and compare it to a book using a concept map in Inspiration. They could start with a student report they locate online. Then, defend one of the ideas using a PowerPoint presentation. What about starting at the Spark Notes website and critiquing the materials using their eforum?
WebQuests are an inquiry-based approach to learning environments that involve students in meaningful, high level projects. Unfortunately, these projects can also be time-consuming. Explore examples of webquests and consider how they could be adapted to include many learning outcomes across content areas to make a good use of time. Each 42explore project lists webquests in the activity section. For example, explore the Invasive species 42explore.

Develop technology projects with a purpose. Ask yourself: What do you want students to be able to do or talk about? How does technology contribute to the project? Check out the following Inspiration example. What do you think?

Start with Standards
As you begin a new project, start with standards: Content Area Literacy, Information Literacy, Technology Literacy, and Life Skills. Exactly what do you want your students to do? Use "extreme words" from Bloom's Taxonomy for ideas. For example, rather than a "presidents report", compare the contributions and collaborations of presidents. Start with President information and use Inspiration to compare accomplishments, controversies, or approaches to presidency. Try a presidents webquest that asks students to reexamine Mount Rushmore.

Consider a project for your visual learners. You might start with a photograph from the PBS president series, then ask students to be a biographer, a politician, a historian, or a futurist. These are the types of activities that can't be copied. They require students to "think." Ask students to create visual glossaries, class projects, and other collaborative activities that ask students to apply what they know about a person, place, or thing to their understanding of the "bigger" picture. Use the images section of google to create visual glossaries. For example, ask students to identify a picture that represents the vocabulary word "Appeasement - the policy of granting concessions to potential enemies to maintain peace."


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Created by Annette Lamb, 02/01.