As a computer resource teacher, it is Nancy Barger's responsibility to find ways to incorporate technology into the learning experiences of her elementary students in Newington, Connecticut. She provided the core idea and assisted in a project that became "Newington: Highlights of History," a PowerPoint and oral presentation created by fourth-grade students at two schools in town. Performed for classes of students and parents during technology night activities, the virtual tour of the town and its heritage opened to rave reviews!
"Last year I thought of doing this project to provide students with a visual teaching tool to help understand the history of their town," Barger told Education World. "We started by taking digital pictures of historic sites in town and scanning others from a bicentennial calendar of Newington. The students created the slides and practiced presenting the slides in front of third-grade classes. This [project was] a great way for students to practice oral presentation skills while learning subject matter."
Verne-Marie Kozak, a teacher of fourth-grade students in a talent pool enrichment program of gifted and high-achieving students at Anna Reynolds and Elizabeth Green Schools, became the "director" of the multimedia presentation. She hoped that the project would provide an alternative to the traditional field trip, make use of available technology, and promote appreciation of the town of Newington and its history.
"The students learned how to use the appropriate software to create a virtual field trip of the town of Newington," Kozak explained. "Students discovered the heritage of Newington through research of its early history. On completion of the project, the students presented it -- dressed in Colonial garb -- to each third-grade class and to parents and guests at our two 'Tech Fairs.' [Though] creation of this presentation provided a meaningful challenge to high-achieving students, it also resulted in a learning tool for children at a variety of learning levels." A framework was created to show students how the presentation would be organized. "Initially, Nancy Barger and I met and selected about a dozen sites in town which played a role in the history of Newington, said Kozak.
They wanted locations that existed today and were familiar to the children. A 'storyboard' was created for each 'page' of the presentation, first with pencil and paper and then transferred onto the computer with Clarisworks. Those computer copies were then mounted on a large piece of foam core board. "There were 15 pages in all, including the title page, which featured a copy of the town seal, and credit pages, which included pictures of each of the creators in Colonial garb," added Kozak.
The next step was to photograph each of the locations with a digital camera, Kozak explained. "Working in pairs, the students selected the site they wished to research. We have published books that served as resource material. The children were to complete the storyboard by selecting important facts along with two or three details for each fact of the historic locations. These facts were then turned into the 'bullets' for each page, and the details became the information added orally during presentation."
PowerPoint provided the option for students to add the "bells and whistles" that helped their presentation grab and hold students' attention. "The students learned how to use the digital camera and took pictures of one another in Colonial garb for the credit pages," said Kozak. "Pictures of how the various locations looked in earlier days, where available, were scanned into the computer by the students also. The pairs of children completed each page, adding sounds where appropriate." The railroad page received a train whistle, a fire siren blew on the fire department page, and the sound of a waterfall accompanied the page about Mill Pond Falls!
The last important aspect of the project was to write the lines the students would recite during the presentation. "Using the bullets and details, a script was written," explained Kozak. "Then the children practiced clicking the mouse at the correct moment to bring in a picture, bullet, or sound at the appropriate time during the program. The details became their oral commentary. They presented to each grade-three class and to parents at the Tech Fair at each school. The project was a large undertaking, but it was a HUGE success as well!"
In attendance during the Tech Fair was Richard Frank, principal of Anna Reynolds School. He was impressed by the ease with which the students used the computerized equipment. To him, they also appeared to be comfortable with speaking to the public during the performance.
"The students were poised and handled the equipment very well," recalled Frank. "They were well rehearsed and spoke clearly, and the PowerPoint presentation provided the visual component that helped to make it a very interesting report. They had developed the report using PowerPoint, but the ease with which they spoke to the pictures was most impressive."
Frank anticipates that "Newington: Highlights of History" won't be alone as a PowerPoint project created at his school. "I certainly encourage more of this type of work," he said. "Integrating technology with our curriculum provides students with an interesting way to learn. It enhances understanding. Providing visuals with the auditory is important when developing concepts."
One student who worked on the railroads portion of the presentation found that presenting the project to the parents during Tech Night was the most rewarding aspect.
Through the activity, this student discovered new and interesting information about his town. The most intriguing facts he uncovered were about the library's history. "I learned that the land for the library was donated to the town and the building was named after the donor's mother, Lucy Robbins Welles," he said. "The Mill Pond waterfall was used for energy to run a sawmill."
He recommends this type of project because it is "really, really interesting, and you learn a lot." The student's parent attended a performance to see his work.
"The students took their performance very seriously, dressing in period dress, standing straight and tall, speaking loud and clear. It was very impressive," said this parent. "I was surprised by how at ease the students were speaking in public. This is a great experience for the students. It is wonderful that they can feel so comfortable with the PowerPoint presentation."
The second student assigned to research the town's railroad also enjoyed giving the presentation for parents most of all. "My partner and I collected information about the railroad in Newington and then put it into the computer," said the student. "We put pictures and sound effects in our part of the presentation."
This student liked discovering little-known facts about landmarks of the town. "I learned about the Belden house and the children who were bound servants," the student said. "I learned the town hall of today was once Newington High School. I also learned that there were once two stations at Newington Junction. The Belden House was the most interesting site in town because I didn't know what bound meant versus slavery."
At the Tech Fair, the student's parent found the presentation a real delight. "The performance was creative and well thought out and showed an excellent use of PowerPoint," this parent commented. "We were impressed with the scope of knowledge the children had on the history of Newington and how well they mastered PowerPoint. We would like to see more of this work with all students. The use of technology made teaching history creative, fun, and interesting."
"Newington: Highlights of History" is getting great play in classrooms again this year. "The presentation will now be used this year and in years to come with second-grade classes as an introduction to their study of the history of Newington," added Verne-Marie Kozak. "A curriculum change moved the study of our town from grade three to two, but we knew that going in and kept our audience in mind when creating it."
This is not likely to be the last PowerPoint project at the Newington elementary schools. "I was surprised how easily the students learned how to use PowerPoint and became quite creative in designing their slides," said Nancy Barger. "As more and more teachers become proficient in using PowerPoint, I think they will use it as a teaching tool that will enhance the curriculum."
Article by Cara Bafile
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