8/19/2010 note: I’m moving this article from my website to my blog for archiving. This project has continued each year since its inception in various forms as teachers and schools changed. In addition, this project marked the first installation of videoconferencing carts in elementary schools in our service area.
Voices of the Twin Cities Past
A Videoconference Project By Linda McConville and Diane Nye, E. P. Clarke Elementary, St. Joseph Public Schools
This project is shared online with the authors’ permission and with the purpose of encouraging other communities to create a similar project.
Since the publication of the book Other Side of the River by Alex Kotlowitz, the two documentaries “Twin Cities: Understanding the Issues” by WNIT and the “Tale of Two Cities” produced by Michigan Public Broadcasting, and the Jimmy Carter Habitat Build in Benton Harbor during the summer of 2005, there has been a community focus on the need for understanding between St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. In addition, the civil unrest in Benton Harbor in June 2003 that received national attention escalated the need for programs and opportunities to bring a sense of unity to the two cities.
As classroom teacher and media specialist, we designed a research project, Voices of Twin Cities Past, using distance learning to unite two diverse fourth classes and impact their learning about the history of the two neighboring communities. The specific program was to teach and use the Big6 research model to learn about important individuals from the past who made a difference in our Twin City history. We focused on schools and parks that the students attend or frequent. After designing the project we applied for and won a local Rotary Grant to pay for the distance learning equipment for both schools. Our working group consisted of fourth grade teachers from both districts, a media specialist, a social studies consultant, technology coordinators from both districts, and the Distance Learning consultant from our RESA.
Michigan Curriculum Framework
The specific measurable outcomes that apply to Voices of Twin Cities Past were derived from the Michigan Social Studies Curriculum Benchmarks (from the Michigan Department of Education -assessed by MEAP)
- Strand 1. Historical Perspective – Students use knowledge of the past to construct meaningful understanding of our diverse cultural heritage and to inform their civic judgments.
- Standard 1.2 Comprehending the Past.
- Standard 1.3 Analyzing and Interpreting the Past. All students will reconstruct the past by comparing interpretations written by others from a variety of perspectives and creating narratives from evidence.
- Standard 2.1 Diversity of People, Places and Cultures.
- Strand V. Inquiry -Students will use methods of social science investigations to answer questions about society.
- Standard 5.1 Information Processing
- Standard 5.2 Conducting Investigations
To complete our project, we established the following timetable:
- Fall / Winter 2004 — Order equipment and determine project participants.
- Spring / Summer 2004 — Classroom teachers and media specialists from partner schools meet, consult with tech coordinator of each district, receive training, further develop and refine collaborative activities, survey current available resources and develop rubrics.
- Fall 2004 — Begin video conference activities with partner schools, give pretest, help students narrow research choices, teach Big 6 Interviewing and Research techniques, and plan timeline for completion of project.
- Winter 2005 — Continue videoconferences to monitor progress and share resources. Teach skills necessary for completing choice of project.
- Spring 2005 — Assemble and produce projects. Give post-test. Share and distribute final projects.
The methods of evaluation we used to measure the outcomes of Voices of Twin Cities Past were:
A pre and post test were given to the fourth grade students to determine their knowledge of local namesakes of schools and parks. The pretest results showed that more than three-fourths of the students were unaware of the historical connections of names they see daily. However the results of the posttest showed the impact on students’ learning as over 90% of the two classes scored in the satisfactory range. Both classes also showed an increased interest and excitement when discussing the names of schools and parks with their peers and parents. In addition, both classes used the distance learning equipment at other times to connect the two classes. Because of this project, the students were able to develop friendships that were fostered when they met in real time through field trips and other activities. As the project progressed, we quickly discovered there was virtually no material written at a fourth grade level on the names chosen from our local history. Parent volunteers worked closely with student groups on the notetaking portion of the research to help decipher the difficult syntax and content of the primary documents.
The Inquiry outcome was measured using a rubric from The Big 6 Research Skills Model. All students successfully used all steps in the research process to produce the final written project. They also showed increased understanding of the importance of the rich history and stories of our communities.
The students’ final project was to create a “historical postcard” which included digital pictures and corresponding information on each historical figure. A full set was produced for each classroom and each media center. In the future we plan to include other final projects such as booklets, tri-folds, CDs, videos, and web logs.
Community and School Support
We received strong support on this project because administrators recognized that the potential impact of Voices of Twin Cities Past could have on students’ learning of local history, Furthermore, the community was eager to endorse a project that would facilitate collaboration between the school communities. Our superintendent wrote a cover letter of recommendation to the Rotary and our school board president signed our application. Upon receiving the Rotary grant award, our principal attended the awards luncheon with us. The technology directors and the RESA consultant worked closely with us in selecting the distance learning equipment. In addition many community members and our local Historical Society shared with us stories and primary documents of local history to use in our project.
Continuing the Project
After completing the first year successfully, we plan to continue this project with the original teachers and media specialist and the new incoming fourth graders in both districts. Involving other fourth grade classrooms in the two buildings is this year’s goal. This will require adding additional local names to use in the Big6 research process to expand the printed final project. To encourage others outside our local community to replicate this project, we have shared the information that will appear as a vignette in the new updated State of Michigan Technology Plan. We have also been invited to present Voices of Twin Cities Past in March 2006 at the MACUL conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and plan to present at MAME in the fall of 2007. In addition, we are working on a multimedia presentation to share with the community at a local Rotary lunch.