Zanker Elementary School Reflection:
The Environmental Concerns in the Community Project was a huge success for Zanker School's fifth graders. The project fit very well into the standards for their grade level: persuasive essay writing, citizenship, and competency in the use of technology tools for student research and productivity.
The students began the project by conducting research into environmental problems in their community. This was the students' first exposure to conducting authentic research into a real-world problem. Students often react to research and report writing with reluctance. It can seem like a daunting or dull task. The power of the Internet, though, is in providing students access to up-to-date, real-life information from many sources. Using the Internet for research highly motivated the students. They enjoyed the process, rather than completing the project reluctantly. As one student stated, "Doing research on the Internet was fun!" When a student finds a learning activity fun and engaging, their willingness to learn skyrockets.
Next, Zanker fifth graders learned how to write persuasive essays, and then wrote them on environmental topics based on the research they conducted. This was a highly valuable experience, because the students made a connection between their writing, and an authentic real-life topic. They were more engaged in the writing process because they had done the research and, therefore, had a high level of investment in their writing.
The culmination of the project was the creation of public service announcements, using digital video. At this point, students had become "experts" in the environmental concerns they had chosen to research and write about. They used this expertise to create authentic PSAs. They students absolutely loved participating in video production teams. They learned the roles of producer, director, cameraperson, and writer/storyboarder. The students' level of engagement was at its highest. Students could not wait to see the finished projects.
Students also had their first experience working with students from other schools through online communication. They enjoyed giving and receiving feedback from their partners throughout the project. This experience can be used as a building block for further collaboration skill-building in the future.
Overall, this project is evidence that when a project involves students in problem solving and learning that centers around a real-life, authentic topic, students become more engaged and maintain a high level of interest throughout the project. They also master many different skills, and meet state standards, without learning them in isolation. Rather, they learn them "along the way" to completion of the project. While working toward completion of the research, essays, and PSAs, my students worked on mastery of research, writing skills, oral and multimedia communication, technology tools, and group cooperation. One student in particular summed up the students' experience, ending her own reflection by saying that the project "was fun!!!" Knowing that students are engaged and excited about learning assures me that students have taken ownership of their own learning, which is the key to students becoming lifelong learners.