Our fifth graders have a new, county-wide required project. Last year my class was one to beta test it and this year my school is one of sixteen to pilot it. Last year I felt rushed and had another huge year end project we did as a school. As a result, I was disappointed in their projects (not that they didn't work hard). The project involves looking at different cultures (we study ancient cultures in fifth grade) to better understand global interdependence and to use technology.
This year we got started earlier, did a lot of prep work ahead of time, and I had a better big picture vision. So far, I have high hopes for how this will turn out next week when they are due.
My kids have found a new search engine they really like: boolify. They have almost all been using it frequently. My favorite thing about it is that it has them thinking more critically about their search terms. They are using the 'and' term and the 'not' term well to narrow their searches. I think that is a difficult thing for kids to do.
Another big improvement this year is that my students are really trying a variety of new technology. Last year they all either created web pages through an awful site or created powerpoints. This year, thanks to their push and my growing knowledge, we have a lot more going on. Many of them are using their own wikis in Blackboard to organize their research, especially if they are working with a partner.
One student is creating a blog using blogger. She wants to put a powerpoint slideshow on it as well as several other options, if she has time to create them. She's using the blog as a place for some text and a home spot for other aspects of her project.
Another student is creating a webpage using googlepages. Her site has inspired kids in my class and in other classes and she will not be alone in using this tool.
Several groups are using Movie Maker or Photo Story to create movies using images they've found (we're still struggling with some copyright issues, especially for those who want to include their movies on a website).
They're pushing themselves as learners with technology, which I find exciting. However, the biggest thing I think they're learning from this project is a broader picture of 'writing'. They are finding that they can use other ways of sharing information than simply writing a paper. And that they still need to do some planning, drafting, revising, and editing of their work, regardless of the medium. I hope that as they head off to other schools next year they will take that knowledge and their skills and continue to push themselves and their teachers (as they have done with me!).