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Starring:
Knights Templar


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When Rhonda Williamson-Green, a technology coordinator for Alexander Street School viewed the movie "National Treasure," she was inspired to use its concept as a means of integrating technology into the curriculum.

"I hoped to supplement, extend, and energize the present social studies curriculum in a way that made children want to learn," Williamson-Green told Education World. "Students at this age are naturally drawn to the movies. What better way to reach them than through their own avenues of interest?"

Green joined forces with a technology resource teacher coordinator for the Newark (New Jersey) Public Schools, Jeanette Parham, and Kimberly Griffith, the technology coordinator for Speedway Avenue School, to become the "Knights Templar" and organized the online project Newark's National Treasure.

"Our students had to assume the role of treasure hunters and step inside the learning," explained Parham. "They had to solve riddles that would lead them to the treasure, and the tasks were designed to allow them to learn loads of facts along the way. Instead of just reading about history and landmarks, they had to unearth information on their own."

Students uncover historical mysteries in a project based on the movie "National Treasure."

With the intriguing task of finding treasure at the heart of the project, the students solved challenges related to history and social studies and improved their research and keyboarding skills. They communicated via e-mail and developed unexpected ideas, which pushed even the educators to new levels.

"Aside from solving weekly clues, each classroom communicated through eBoard and ePals, tracked points earned through Excel, documented the process through photography and videography, and submitted a weekly class update on the blog," Williamson-Green reported. "At the conclusion of the project, each class also submitted a PowerPoint experience about the journey."

Williamson-Green's role in the project involved creating flowcharts, timelines, and doing video editing, while Griffith focused on structuring eBoard tabs and notes, writing the original text for users, and working directly with students involved in the project.

"My strength was mapping out the project flowchart and making sure each clue would build upon the next and staying on course with the end goals in mind," Williamson-Greene stated. "Instructing the student experts to lead their peers was very challenging. Students took on this role with the fierceness of any teacher. They demanded to know exactly how to do their jobs and rejoiced when their teams did well."

Parham served as "manager" by providing background information and resources and staying in touch with all participants. The three team members worked collectively to design project tasks that were solvable yet challenging.

"The students worked tirelessly any time they could get the opportunity -- before school, after school, weekends, holidays, even during the wee hours of the morning," Parham shared. "What impressed me most was that students were thinking about their own thinking and revising their strategies based on those understandings."

It was the students' level of enthusiasm for the project, which she characterizes as almost fanatical, that thrilled Griffith. Though only a few students had some prior knowledge of the history and locations that were addressed in the project, all of them had good learning outcomes.

"In my case, this particular group of students had a very hard time working cooperatively throughout the year, yet the project seemed to give them a sense of community and class spirit, even while they gained content knowledge they previously considered boring," she said. "In response to the challenges, they produced high-quality products and became very aware of the consequences of time constraints."

Some students who took part in the project reached descendants of John Hart, a representative from New Jersey and signer of the Declaration of Independence, through e-mail, and their communication was posted on the eBoard. One of those students was a girl who required abundant encouragement from her teachers. She was so honored to participate that the project raised her self-esteem, and she became more engaged in other school activities as a result of her active participation in it.

A highpoint in the project for Williamson-Green came when the fifth graders at her school took a three-day trip to Philadelphia and Colonial Williamsburg (Virginia), and were able to observe firsthand what they encountered through the treasure hunt.

"One of the students was walking through the Liberty Bell exhibit taking notes and looking at the picture of the Liberty Bell, not knowing what is was," Williamson-Green recalled. "When she came to the end of the corridor where the bell was housed, she looked down at the picture and up again at the bell. Then smiled and yelled, 'Look, this is the same thing! It's the Liberty Bell!' At that moment I knew that all of the late nights were definitely worth it."

Although Newark's National Treasure began as a technology and social studies project, it quickly became more for those who "lived" it. Griffith saw many changes among her students throughout the endeavor.

"I observed students who were very aloof and introverted come alive and become visibly excited about learning. I observed students who could not tolerate one another working together in partnerships in order to meet deadlines and win points. I observed students who at the beginning of the school year had few computer skills not only using applications, but teaching their fellow classmates in order to complete challenges. I observed teachers and fellow technology coordinators as excited about the learning as the students were," she added. "In short, over a five week period, I saw the very best of education unfold before my very eyes."

 

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected].

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

1/15/2008