Global Projects and Student Engagement

A blue moon in Johannesburg!

Towards the end of 2010 I was approached by Walter S. Smith, Helen DeVitt Jones Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction College of Education, Texas Tech Universityvia an email to ascertain whether I was interested in my year 7 or 8 class participating in a global project on the moon -the Moon Project. Always keen to experiment and try out global projects that would improve student learning outcomes and provide problem solving techniques, I agreed. However, to my dismay, I do not teach the younger students this year. Instead, I gave the project to my year 9/10 ICT elective class who will be studying the phases of the moon, working with approximately 16 teachers and 683 students from three states in Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, The Bahamas and several states in the U.S.

Last Friday, these students sat a pretest on their knowledge of the moon. Students were all happy to complete the test as it was online, featured many dropdown text boxes for quick answer selection, mutliple choice quesions, requiring a dot clicked in the appropriate radio button and little text was required to be keyed in.

They were then given a parent permission slip explaining the project and the Student Handbook. When students found out that they were going to have to look for the moon each night for 2 1/2 months, I was greeted with opposition from some of the class! Wishing I had not agreed to put them in the project, we started to discuss the moon and its effect on the activities of the human race. Some of the boys are keen fisherman and talked about having to study phases of the moon cycle to determine the best nights to go fishing and catch eg gummy sharks. Some year 11 boys were also in the computer lab and they added to the discussion.

By the end of the lesson, students had agreed to look for the moon over the weekend, complete the charts requiring the time, position and sketching the appearance of the moon and determine the participation after this time.

On Monday, I have those students for a double lesson after recess. Prior to this lesson, I was pleased to learn the following:-

  • four students at varying times before recess, came up to me to say that despite looking for the moon each night they could not see it. (Nor could I!)
  • a parent also approached me and said that they had gone out with their child at 10:30pm and failed to see it.

Wondering how I would get on with my reluctant class, I was amazed to discover that one boy had got up at 3am and 1:30am on two different occasions, found the moon and had completed the worksheets for those nights. To my even greater amazement, one of those year 11 boys also had seen the moon on each of the three nights on his way to milking cows at 3am and 4am. He is willing to complete the worksheets and share what he finds with my 9 and 10 class.

What does this say about the power of global projects?

  • Parents are happy to be involved if they are kept informed and see the project of importance to their child’s education and future employment prospects.
  • Students are willing to study topics that hold their interest and research and document them outside of school hours.
  • a realistic audience, authentic tasks and projects that appeal to students will encourage them to work with the technology that they enjoy using.
  • Age no longer needs to be a barrier to grouping in education.
  • Students will take the project into their own directions eg many asked if they could have a go at taking photographs of the moon.

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