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Sands of the World: Swapping Sand and Sharing Knowledge

Have you seen black, pink, or red sand? Have you listened to singing or booming sand? Teacher Jane Carlson-Pickering was looking for a way to incorporate technology into one of her favorite units, rocks and minerals. When a grant provided a video microscope, the stage was set for the fabulous online project and Web site called Sands of the World. With the help of her students, this educator has obtained samples of sand from all over the world and has posted up-close images on the Internet. Included: Carlson-Pickering offers tips for creating a successful online project plus ideas for incorporating multiple intelligences into the curriculum!

"Geology was always one of my favorite science topics to cover with my fourth graders, but this project grew so fast and furiously that it took on a life of its own," Jane Carlson-Pickering told Education World. "This project has undoubtedly become one of my greatest passions."

Carlson-Pickering, the multiple intelligences and technology coordinator for the Chariho Regional School District in Wood River Junction, Rhode Island, was talking about the Sands of the World online project and Web site. Through the project, classroom teachers, students, and other interested individuals have swapped sand with her fourth graders. The students use a video microscope to photograph all the submissions, and Carlson-Pickering posts them on the Web site. The results have surprised even her!

"I was shocked to find that sand can be composed of so many organic and inorganic materials -- minerals, metals, shells, bivalves, coral, shark's teeth," she said. "It never ceases to amaze my students, and me, how absolutely fascinating this variety of sands can be -- every color of the rainbow and every size, shape, texture, luster, and clarity that you can imagine. They are miniature jewels that create a world of wonder and further exploration for the students who visit these pages.

"Youngsters have often told me that they find this area of Earth science the most 'fun' unit of the year," added Carlson-Pickering. "They compare examining their crushed rocks and mineral and sand samples to 'looking at treasure.' That couldn't be truer; when I first started this project four years ago, I basically thought sand was sand. Period."


In 1997, Carlson-Pickering was selected to participate in a statewide technology training program for Rhode Island educators called the Rhode Island Teachers in Technology Initiative (RITTI). Participants received two weeks of intensive computer training, a laptop computer, and technical assistance. In return, the teachers involved reworked an existing teaching unit and enhanced it with technology.

Carlson-Pickering chose to explore ways of teaching fourth graders about rocks and minerals. Sands of the World was born!

As coordinator and teacher for the M.I. Smart! Program -- M.I. for multiple intelligences and smart to help children understand that they are all smart in many different ways -- Carlson-Pickering incorporated materials appropriate to all learning styles. Project goals include promoting the use of technology with students and encouraging communication and collaboration between educators and students throughout the world. The Web site offers rocks and minerals lessons and resources and addresses science benchmarks in grades K through 12.

See Rocks and Minerals lesson ideas.

"I work on this unit with my students in a variety of ways each year. We usually approach the content through a dozen or more activities that address each of the intelligence areas," said Carlson-Pickering.


Students, teachers, and other rockhounds collaborate by sending sand samples to Carlson-Pickering's class; the students reciprocate by forwarding a film canister of Rhode Island sand. The variety of the sands and the unique beauty of their images make the project very effective. The students start to question why the sands are so different, and they study what the sands are made of and why.

"The best part of this entire project is reaching so many people!" said Carlson-Pickering. "Many times when we receive sand samples, people will include a history of the sand, its origin, its composition, and even photos of the area from which it was taken. When my students travel on vacations, they are sure to take along film canisters so they can gather samples to bring back to our classroom. Others, not so fortunate, have their 'rich' relatives and friends bring the sand back for them."

Other exceptional donations of sand have come by way of Carlson-Pickering's close friend. "A dear friend of mine has risked much to bring me samples from places as exotic as East Africa and Antarctica!" she explained. "Last year, while on safari in Tanzania, my friend reached into her camera bag to load her camera with a fresh roll of film. Instead, she poured a canister of sand into her camera, which was worth more than $1,000 dollars, and totally destroyed it! I can't even begin to think of the names she must have been calling me at that moment, but our friendship remains strong today despite that horrendous accident. The photo of my Tanzanian sands makes me think of the saying 'A picture is worth a thousand words.' In her case, it was probably a thousand obscenities first!"


While doing research on sand for her project, Carlson-Pickering found that another Sands of the World Web site existed! She contacted the owner of that site, and they decided to offer links to each other's sites. The Webmaster of the other Sands site is Dr. Dave Douglass, a geologist at Pasadena Community College in California. The fourth-grade students began e-mailing "Dr. Dave" and his graduate students with all kinds of questions about sand.

"During the fall of 1998, WNET-TV in New York and the Disney Learning Company contacted me and asked if they could feature our site, my students, and me as part of the Internet in Action series for educators," recalled Carlson-Pickering. "They came out to our school for two days and filmed us going through all our geology lessons. I was also asked whether I would be willing to have my students participate in a video conference with Dr. Douglass. Using CU-See-Me software and a small video camera, we were able to see and talk with Dr. Douglass. This was very exciting for my students because he answered many of their questions live."

Carlson-Pickering added, "As part of our ongoing communication, we swapped sand samples, and Dr. Douglass provided us with a kit that included many unusual samples from all over the world. It was a very generous donation and served as a foundation to our ever-growing collection of sands."


Beginning with the design of the opening page, Carlson-Pickering tried to keep the various intelligences in mind when creating her project's Web site. The opening page was designed as a "lure" for visual or spatial learners and the logical/mathematical mystery seekers with its "unknown image." She has a background in art and graphics, so it was important to Carlson-Pickering to maintain visual continuity and a user-friendly design throughout the resource.

Many of the site's pages state the primary targeted intelligence, which was done to attract the attention of students who possess a proclivity for that strength area. Sandy Sentiments focuses on literacy and language arts, and Sand-Sational Facts deals primarily with data for the logical or mathematical individual. The imported sound clips of the ocean, singing and booming sands, and frog sand appeal to students who possess musical and rhythmic strengths.

"I believe it is critical to include a variety of entry points by incorporating MI [multiple intelligences] strategies because no two students learn in exactly the same way," explained Carlson-Pickering. "In order for technology to become a seamless tool within an educational setting, it must meet the needs of all learners, no matter what their preferred learning style is."

She continued, "One of the strengths of technology is the autonomy that it gives to students -- they are in control, making their own decisions about where they will go on a site and how much time they will spend there exploring its content. Their interests will drive them -- some are drawn to the images; some to the text, data, and facts; others to sounds...."


Comments from the Net!

Read some of the comments people have typed into the guest book at Sands of the World !

"The rocks ROCK!"
-- Joshua G.

"This is a cool Web site! It made me learn more things about rocks and minerals. And I think that it is a good Web site for all ages. I will tell you that it was the most interesting Web site I have ever seen!"
-- Christina B.

"I love your Web site. It has helped me with my Earth science homework and is fun to use."
-- Lauren

"I have been collecting sand for a long time. I now have samples from around the world. My most recent acquisition is sand from Egypt. A former student whose parents had an employee who visited Egypt gave it to me. Sometimes the stories of how I received the sand are as interesting as the sand itself."
-- Bob McD.

"This is so perfect for my special education students, as they love to do hands-on things. There is nothing more rewarding than to see their faces when you tell them to go ahead and touch something."
-- Irene F.

For Carlson-Pickering, one surprising outcome of Sands of the World is the number of people who have discovered the site and the many reasons they give for visiting it repeatedly. She receives letters each year from students, parents, and teachers who continually tour the site to fully appreciate its depth. They often remark how much they enjoy the variety of content and the incorporation of the different learning styles.

"I love it when students write to tell me how helpful the content has been to them with regard to a project they have had to do for school," said Carlson-Pickering. "As indicated by the entries in our guest book, the reasons folks visit the site and enjoy it are as diverse as the folks themselves. It is my goal to continue to build on this site and create others like it with the help of my students and input from other teachers and the general public."

Common responses from students regarding the online resource include such flattering words as cool and awesome, but others focus more specifically on the material featured on the site.

Carlson-Pickering suggests that connecting to so many rockhounds while exchanging sand samples is an exciting way for students learn about geology.

"The generosity of total strangers is unbelievable!" said Carlson-Pickering. "It's so rewarding to know that the work my students are doing now has touched the lives of so many other individuals -- through the donations we have made to children's museums and the connections we have made networking with colleges and graduate students or simply by keeping in touch with educators who share ideas and activities related to this unit. Incorporating technology and multiple intelligences in the development of online curriculum has been a win-win situation all around."

To find out how to join the Sands of the World project, visit the site's home page. The process is simple: Mail a sample of sand to the students, and they will send you a sample of Rhode Island sand. If it is possible, the class welcomes a photo of the area from which the sample was taken or some data about it. Background makes the specimen even more interesting!


Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2001 Education World

Updated 04/03/2007