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The News of the Century -- Reported by Your Students!

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Extra! Extra! Read all about it! The News of the Century contest is in full swing. And it's not too late for your students to share in the fun and the learning. Find out how one class's participation spanned the curriculum and opened students' eyes to the world. Included: Students tell what they thought was so great about the project!

Editor's note: The News of the Century contest, sponsored by USA TODAY Education and The Copernicus Education Gateway, celebrates the new millennium by challenging students to create an online newspaper about the important events that happened during one year in the past century. The contest, which is open to students in grades 4 through 12, began on November 3 and will end on March 31 -- which gives you plenty of time to sign up. But you'd better hurry! It's an opportunity you won't want your students to miss.

A contest that spans all areas of the curriculum and provides students with a unique look at the past -- it sounds terrific, doesn't it? But will the contest really benefit you and your students? To find out, Education World talked to Beth Protich, a teacher at Goodyear Middle School in Akron, Ohio, whose seventh-grade language arts class had almost completed its entry.

"I decided to become part of this project while looking for ideas for using the newspaper in the classroom," Protich told us. "When I approached the [the students] with the idea, they were very excited. So we decided to sign up!"

USA Today randomly assigns a year for each completed registration form, and Protich and her students were assigned the year 1961. The contest rules require participants to write nine news articles about the events of the assigned year. Those articles include these:

  • a news article highlighting the major news event of the assigned year;
  • a news article highlighting an important national or international news event;
  • a money article highlighting a major financial, business, or technological event or person;
  • a sports article highlighting a sporting event, a game, a record, or an athlete;
  • a lifestyle article highlighting a major entertainment, educational, technological, or scientific event or a newsmaker;
  • a weather feature demonstrating the impact of a weather event;
  • an "impact on today" article that relates a current news story to the top news event of the assigned year;
  • an "impact on tomorrow" article that predicts what the world will be like exactly 100 years after the assigned year; and
  • an opinion article that shares an opinion on a major event of the assigned year -- which may involve interviewing someone who was alive during the assigned year.

HOW THE CONTEST WORKED

"I broke the class into nine groups and assigned each student to a group," Protich said. "This helped assure that the work would get done and that students would remain on task. Each group was given a copy of the Student Toolkit [click on Student Toolkit on the News of the Century site] and a folder to keep their work in. Each group was also assigned one of the nine articles."

Once the organization was complete, Protich noted, "the groups surfed the Net and used other sources to find information about events that happened in 1961. They took notes as they researched; then they selected the topics for their articles. Those topics included the Berlin Wall, Gary Player, awards given out in the field of entertainment, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy's inauguration. Finally, when the articles were written, typed, and proofread, the students entered them onto the contest Web site."

With the exception of one particularly troublesome article, the entire project took about two weeks.

"The students enjoyed sharing their work with one another, and they worked remarkably well together," Protich said. "In addition, as a teacher, the project gave me a new approach to teaching research skills. It also showed me how helpful my colleagues can be. Joy Dial, the school librarian; her assistant, Debbie McDonald; and our gifted and talented teacher, Karen Brandt, were a great deal of help throughout the project. Many other teachers also offered suggestions, brought in books, or stopped in to help out.

"The students and I decided that if the year 1961 is ever a category on Jeopardy, we can definitely sweep the category!" Protich proudly noted.

THE STUDENTS SPEAK

According to the News of the Century contest Web site, students who participate in the project,
  • work collaboratively to build an exciting, unique online publication;
  • gain skills in writing, research, editing, and designing layouts;
  • develop experience and abilities that translate into other school-based editorial activities;
  • build real-world job skills for the editorial, journalism, writing, design, and Web publishing fields;
  • benefit from the practical advice of professional editors and journalists;
  • compete for thousands of dollars in prizes and nationwide recognition;
  • gain a sense of achievement by carrying out a hands-on Web publishing project from start to finish; and
  • make a lasting contribution to World Wide Web resources by chronicling the outstanding events of the 20th century from the point of view of a new generation.

Does the contest fulfill those promises? Protich thinks so -- and to make the point, she shared some of her students' comments with Education World.

  • "It turned out to be more work than I thought, but working with a partner made it less stressful."
  • "I actually used books from the library that I never knew existed, like Current Biographies."
  • "I learned that when you do research using multiple sources, the information is not always exactly the same."
  • "When I couldn't find information quickly, I learned what patience was."
  • "I actually came across some Web sites that were very poorly set up, they appeared to offer a lot, but they let me down."
  • "It was hard to write in past tense. I kept wanting to write like it was a report, not a newspaper article."
  • I'm glad I already have had computer class. This made typing easier."
  • "I didn't really like the year we were assigned because I wasn't even alive, but it did give my parents and grandparents an opportunity to tell me about what they were doing in 1961."

MORE ABOUT THE CONTEST

According to Mary Barnes, an associate editor at USA Today, approximately 450 classes have signed up for the News of the Century contest so far. All you have to do is visit the site and register. (It's free!)

At the contest Web site, you'll find rules, information about prizes, and a number of other online resources. The Teacher Toolkit, for example, includes tips for running the project, lesson plans, and curriculum guides.

The Student Toolkit provides hints for selecting important stories, sample topics and headlines, discussions of how a newspaper operates, explanations of different types of news stories, discussions of how to report geographic or scientific events, tips for writing unbiased articles, and much more.

With all those resources, along with the knowledge, skills, and experiences your students will derive from participating in the project, you can't lose. And, who knows, you might even win "nationwide recognition" -- or $1,000 from Copernicus Interactive!

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

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