Years ago when I taught 4th grade I participated in a classroom exchange called "Postcard Geography". My students eagerly awaited postcards that we exchanged with schools all across the US. We created a large bulletin board with a map of the US and pinned the postcards next to the city is came from. It was fun to read about the area around the school and we often referred to our postcards as we studied the regions of the US.
This summer I was searching the Internet for collaborative projects and I came across the Postcard Geography project again. I considered doing the project with my 7th & 8th grade computer classes. I figured with all the online resources at our fingertips, the project would be a lot different than the past. Little did I know ....
Welcome to the 21st Century! We received our first postcard last week and the students immediately went to the Internet and Google Maps to located the town. As they were zooming in on the small town in Texas, it dawned on me that we could "pin" the location on the maps in Google Earth. So we switched to Google Earth and found the exact location of the school. As I read the postcard aloud to the class they zoomed out to locate neighboring cities that were mentioned, commented on the amount of trees by the school and the layout of the town. We calculated distance to the Gulf of Mexico and followed a river near the city that emptied into the Gulf.
One student suggested that we write the exact longitude and latitude coordinates of our school on our postcards so other schools can find out exactly where we are located. I opened up the discussion to the students of how they wanted to participate in the project. Everyone agreed that they still wanted to send the postcards the old fashioned way but also create a digital postcard that could be emailed. There were lots of ideas of making a movie, taking photos around town and embedding them onto a map, designing original postcards, and making a narrative slide show.
The enthusiasm was endless. I felt like I just presented an idea to the class and they took hold and went with it. None of the students realized how many geography skills they reviewed during the Google Earth activity (and in computer class - gasp!) or how many computer skills they suggested for upcoming projects. I will allow the students to choose how the class will send "digital postcards" to the other school but I also have plans for using Google Earth to create a virtual field trip to "visit" some of the school and teach them how to read a GPS device.
I really enjoyed participating in the Postcard project the first time around but this time around the technology makes this project more authentic and real.
I overheard two students discussing the Texas school while they were viewing the map on Google Earth ...
Student 1: Look how many tennis courts they have at their school.
Student 2: Well, the weather is nice in Texas (compared to the rain in Oregon) so they probably go outside more.
Student 1: Yeah, but it gets real hot there. Good thing they aren't too far away from the Gulf.
You would swear they were talking about a place they had visited before. They gathered all this information from looking at a satellite map. I can't wait until we receive news from some schools in Australia, Taiwan and Spain.