By Catherine Campanella
Left to my own devices, I likely would never have introduced research on the World Wide Web to students below the seventh grade. As a tech coordinator, I knew that even older kids could easily be overwhelmed by the sheer number of results returned in a search. I knew that a mistyped URL could lead to confusion and that youngsters could get lost trying to navigate even the best educational Web sites. And I knew, from myriad horror stories, that filters sometimes fail to block inappropriate content. Nonetheless, state funding stipulations left me no choice: my fourth graders had to use the Internet.
Necessity led me to create my own Web site as a means to foster on-line research skills. "The Day I Was Born" (www.schoollife..net/schools/dayborn) is designed to help students find interesting details and report about what was going on in the world on the day of their birth-including news events, popular songs and TV shows, even the cost of pizza. Suitable for grades 4 and up, the site provides links to such relevant sources as The New York Times Learning Network, The History Channel On-line, and NASA, and gives step-by-step instructions on how to retrieve information. Students can also discover such fun facts as how many days old they are, the famous people who share their birthday, the meaning of their first name, and lots more.
The Day I Was Born borrows components from the Webquest model developed in 1995 by Professor Bernie Dodge, a specialist in Educational Technology at San Diego State University (see http://edweb.sdsu.edu/webquest/necc98.htm). A major difference on my site is the addition of specific instructions for how to use each link, directing students to the exact location of the data they need. To build the site, I took advantage of an offering of SchoolLife.net: free Web sites for teachers complete with an editing tool (CPS) that requires no programming skills. Even a novice can have a site up and running in minutes.
Although the project was, from the outset, a success in my own classroom, it really took off when I submitted it to the Global School House Projects Registry (www.gns.org/pr/index.cfm), a searchable database currently including 452 on-line collaborative projects spanning all areas of the curriculum. Through the registry, The Day I Was Born is now being used by students all over the world who contribute their favorite facts about their birthdays. The results can be translated into 15 languages, from Czech to Welsh, in one grand student-researched, ever-growing, on-line history book. While it is not necessary to join the project to teach with the site in your classroom, we extend a warm invitation to all.
Catherine Campanella is the technology coordinator at St. Philip Neri School, in Metairie, LA.