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The USA Quilt Project: High Tech and Hands-On!


Curriculum Center

Fifty-one lucky classrooms are receiving extra special mail this year -- quilt squares designed by students in each of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia! Find out how students from all over the country are learning together about geography, history, technology, language arts, and the time-honored craft of quilt making by learning more about the USA Quilt Project! Included: Information about other great e-projects and about the value of cooperative Internet learning.

Students at the Pruden Center in Suffolk, Virginia, created this quilt while participating in the 2001 USA Quilt Project. The theme for last year's project was Native Americans.
(Photo reprinted with permission of Betty Jo English)
"In today's classrooms, it's imperative to make learning meaningful to students. Through activities like the USA Quilt Project, teachers are able to bring geography and history to life," noted Betty Jo English, a business information and technology teacher at The Pruden Center for Industry and Technology in Suffolk, Virginia. "The other great thing about the USA Quilt Project is that it teaches students about the connectivity of the Internet," added English, who is also coordinator of this year's project.

The USA Quilt Project is open to all grade levels. Teachers who want to participate in the yearlong project beginning signing up in August, with prior participants given "first dibs." Later, English contacts teacher Web sites and listservs, looking for participants from states that are not yet represented. "Many teachers have been in the project for two years or more," said English, who has participated in the project herself since 1995 and took over as coordinator two years ago. The original developer of the project is Kay Ellison, a library-media specialist at Marshall Elementary School in Vancouver, Washington.


In early fall, after all the participants have signed on, their names are posted to the USA Quilt Project's home page -- and the fun begins!

"As the use of technology has expanded in the classroom, so have the activities related to the Quilt Project," English told Education World. "At one time, each class snail-mailed a picture postcard to each of the other participating classes to mark the October project kick-off. Now we send e-cards!"

Classes also extend their project connections through monthly e-mails, in which they discuss local history and traditions, favorite recipes, and more theme-related subjects. "In this year's project, for example, students are sharing information about their home-state Olympic athletes," English explained. In addition, students share brochures about their state that they create using Internet and local research.

"My desktop publishing students use the recipes they collect to create a USA Quilt Cookbook," English told Education World. "One year, we even sold the cookbooks to raise money for fabric and paint for the next year's quilt. We also gave the recipes to our culinary arts class and got to taste them at the year's final project celebration."

The various components of the project allow each classroom teacher to modify and use the activities in a way that best suits his or her students," English explained.


The project activity that generates the most excitement, of course, is the USA quilt!

At the beginning of the project, each participating teacher is supplied with easy-to-follow directions for making the quilt squares. Students then research, design, and create a quilt square based on a particular theme and representative of their own state. This year, each class created 51 squares -- one for each participating class -- based on the Winter Olympics 2002 theme.

Sierra and Nate, fourth graders at Sherwood Elementary School in Arnold, Missouri, create quilt squares for the 2002 USA Quilt Project.
(Photo courtesy of Jim Boyd, Sherwood Elementary School, Arnold, Missouri)
"It's been a wonderful project," said Jim Boyd, a fourth-grade teacher at Sherwood Elementary School in Arnold, Missouri, "especially in the aftermath of the terrorist tragedies on the East Coast. This project allowed students to express their concern for others in the country through creative output in their quilt squares and through direct e-mail communication with students in other states. Many students were moved to incorporate patriotic themes into their squares, including red, white, and blue colors, stripes, stars, and so on.

"The students also made Missouri brochures," Boyd added, "and we sent one out with each quilt square."

In English's classroom, creating the quilt square was a high-tech proposition! "To create our squares, students searched the Internet for graphics they thought best represented our state of Virginia. They printed the design, then traced it onto the white muslin, using fabric paint to complete each square. Talk about integrating activities!" English enthused.

Students in Jim Boyd's fourth-grade class display the quilt squares they have received from classes across the United States.
(Photo courtesy of Jim Boyd, Sherwood Elementary School, Arnold, Missouri)
Each class completed its squares last month and mailed them out to all the other participating classes. As soon as all the squares are delivered, each class will sew them into a quilt.


"I looped with my class this year," said returning project participant and grade two-three teacher Jenn Spence, from McGinnis Woods Country Day School in Alpharetta, Georgia. "The kids were asking about this year's quilt project in August! The project is very child-centered, and students can do almost all the work themselves. Seeing the kids' faces when the quilt squares start to arrive in the mail makes it well worth the effort," Spence told Education World.

"My grade three through six students loved last year's quilt project," said computer and English instructor Barb Puppe from St. Thomas Public School, St. Thomas, and Valley Elementary School in Crystal, North Dakota. "They were very interested to hear from other schools, and they took pride in what they shared. This is a great cooperative Internet-based project, and it's simple to do."

"My students were able to connect with -- and learn from -- other students," said Mitzi Fontenot, a seventh-grade teacher at S. J. Welsh Middle School in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "Students gained hands-on experience with technology and explored such curriculum areas as social studies, math, and language arts.

"The project brought an awareness of culture and traditions in different states," Fontenot told Education World. "My students realized that other students share some of the same experiences they do. They corrected some misconceptions about our state of Louisiana too. They let other students know that we don't have alligators in our front yards!"

More Online Projects

"Internet projects provide a way for children and teachers to connect and share ideas across the United States and around the world," said Mary Kreul, a second-grade teacher at Richards Elementary School in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. Kreul developed the E-Mail Newsletter Project, in which 220 classes (in 21 groups of 10 to 13 classroom partners) exchange monthly one-page newsletters containing information about their schools and homes, favorite books and games, and even their thoughts about future careers.

"It's an exciting, yet easy, way to take students beyond the walls of their classrooms and help them connect with students at rural, urban, and suburban schools; at public, religious, and private schools; in multi-age, gifted and talented, ESL, and SPED classrooms," Kreul told Education World. "The 'big idea' that students come to understand is that they have more in common with their new e-mail friends than they realized. I believe that that understanding will help children function more successfully as adults in the world community."

Online Project Resources

  • BJ's Internet Projects
    Betty Jo English describes projects her multi-media communications classes participate in and provides links to help other teachers integrate the Internet into their classrooms.
  • SchoolWorld Internet Education Projects
    SchoolWorld's Internet Projects page offers links to free projects designed by SchoolWorld members and collaborators.
  • The Global Schoolhouse
    This site's project page allows teachers to search for appropriate projects by age, start date, curriculum area, project difficulty, and/or technologies used. Visitors can also post information about their own projects.
  • World Links
    Designed to help teachers and students use information and communication technologies to improve teaching and learning, this site offers a searchable project database, descriptions of recommended projects, help for finding collaborative project partners, and links to project participation resources.