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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Web 2.0 Collaborative Projects in the Middle School

I am the library media specialist for my school and part of my job is to assist my faculty with the integration of technology in the curriculum. As such, I am always searching for new ideas to use in collaborating with my classroom teachers. Showcased below are a few of the Web 2.0 tools I have used with classes along with details of specific projects I have helped students to produce.


Cacoo is a free online diagraming tool which allows real-time collaboration. Teachers can sign up for a free Academic Plan which allows them to add student users. *Please note the Academic Plan is free through June 30, 2012 after which it will be half the price of the Team Plan.

The Project:
After studying Georgia's barrier islands for the term, students used Cacoo to create a food web of native plants and animals. The class was divided into groups of four students. All four students in each group had individual Cacoo accounts and were required to work collaboratively via Cacoo to design one food web. As an added challenge, group members were not allowed to talk about the project but were required to “chat” online within their Cacoo accounts instead.



My Observations:
Teaching the kids how to use the program took half a class period as students caught on very quickly. We had a few problems with students returning permission forms, forgetting passwords, and one group not working well together. Since group activities and the guidelines for group work were very familiar to students, group problems were quickly resolved. I found no technology problems with Cacoo at all and will use the tool with future projects. I do wish they would reconsider the upcoming price increase for the Academic Plan.

Weebly is a free site which allows users to create websites and blogs using widgets. Weebly for Education enables teacher users to create free accounts for students to build their own websites.

The Project:
After studying all year about New York City, our 8th grade gifted groups take a five-day guided bus tour to the Big Apple. Upon their return, students create websites about their trip and are required to use their own digital images. Requirements include at least four categorized pages on the site and a minimum of 10 articles about New York City.

My Observations:
Teaching classes to use Weebly took one class period and required mini-sessions during the week-long project for some reteaching of the multimedia and blog sidebar items. Good web design techniques(compared to bad) as well as using complementary color schemes were also a part of the lesson. Since students had been studying the topic all year, they already had a vision for the content. As soon as I completed instruction, kids quickly got to work on their designs. Weebly was a very simple tool for their websites and I would use with students again.

Photo Story 3 is a free software download from Microsoft which enables users to create slideshows using your own digital pictures. The program allows you to edit photos, include text, add motion, insert narration, and create your own soundtrack. Please note the program is  Windows-based and is not available for Mac.

The Project:
Students created book trailers on their favorite fiction book to share. Similar to movie trailers, a book trailer is a video advertisement for a book produced to encourage viewers to read it.

My Observations:
I always start with a project introduction a week before we begin working with Photo Story 3. To grab their attention, I show several examples of trailers and talk about persuasive advertising techniques. Students work on storyboarding for the next week in the classroom to graphically organize their thoughts. Once they come back to the media center, teaching how to use Photo Story 3 takes one full class period before they can begin creating their book trailers. More details including examples, a rubric, and a project timeline can found on my book trailer post.

One of my 8th graders chose to create his book trailer on Peak by Roland Smith.


Fotoflexer is a free online image editor which allows you to perform basic editing options as well as some advanced features. You can create an account to save a project you are currently working on to login later to complete.  


The Project:
Students must select an online image to edit and employ techniques taught during the Fotoflexer Media Literacy lesson.


My Observations:
Most of my students have no idea how much editing is done to photos. I start my lesson by showing some before and after celebrity photos. We discuss that our perceptions of a normal body image are impacted negatively by these examples. 





I also show classes how edited photos are used to manipulate the way we think. After our class discussion, I show students how the pros edit photos. 


I use Fotoflexer because it is very simple to use but it also has some advanced features under the “Geek” tab. My favorite tool is the Smart Scissors which allows you to cut out a portion of an image for placement in another. The kid’s favorite is the distort tab which allows a plus-sized model to lose 30 pounds with one mouse click.


About the Guest Blogger:
Denise Borck has been teaching for 20 years at the middle level, the last twelve years of which have been spent in the library media center. She loves being able to share her love of reading with her students as well as her interest in technology. Denise has been selected as the 2012 Teacher of the Year for her school and the 2010 Media Specialist of the Year for the Coastal Region District of Georgia. You can follow her at http://dborck.wordpress.com or at http://wjms.bulloch.k12.ga.us/media_center_home.

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