The Road to Success: Learning from the Winners
Solomon, Gwen, Technology & Learning
Hoping to involve your students in a technology-based contest? Thinking of entering or nominating somebody for a teacher recognition program? Here's inspiration from past winners.
What's the appeal of educational technology contests? "It's not really the prizes," says Yvonne Andres, whose Global Schoolhouse runs the annual International CyberFair competition. "A contest creates the venue that's an incentive for teachers and students to do their best and to be acknowledged. It validates the achievement when others recognize it. Often the certificates are even more important than the prizes."
Educational technology contests are designed to promote excellence. They encourage teachers to find the best ways to integrate technology into the curriculum and motivate their students to learn new things in new ways. They allow fellow educators to learn from successful models, and provide new, and sometimes surprising, opportunities for the winners. We'll look at several popular competitions with examples of winning entries, and we'll take a look at what makes a chosen entry a winner.
Competitions Involving Student Teams
"Share and Unite," the theme of the Global Schoolhouse's International CyberFair contest, encourages schools and the communities in which they live to use the Internet to share resources, establish partnerships and work together to accomplish common goals. Says GSH president Yvonne Andres, "We want a safe and strong community in which students live and learn together. We want to teach our students to be good global citizens who appreciate and respect the diversity of the world around them. Information technology can facilitate these goals."
Students ages 5-18 work in school-based teams to learn about their community and share that information with the world on Web pages. Each team chooses to focus on one of eight categories--from historical landmarks to environmental concerns to local music and art. First- through fifth-place schools plus honorable mentions are named in each of the categories, with a variety of prizes awarded by contest sponsors.
The key to this contest is a peer review component. The Web pages are evaluated by six other teams, in addition to a panel of expert judges. And since a jury of one's peers is the hardest audience to please, you know that the winners have done a great job.
Although all the work for the CyberFair Web site must be completed by students, the entry must be submitted by a supervising adult from the students' school. In addition to displaying the student sites, coaches must write about the process, learning objectives, and impact. "This narrative," says Andres, "really explains the process that goes on behind creating the Web site; a compelling story is more important than technical bells and whistles. Teachers should show how students have personalized information; what the impact is on student attitude, learning, and behaviors; and how inclusive this project has been. The greater the participation--among students and community members--the better."
The impact on students is obvious in "Local Leaders Sailing to the World" (cyberfair.gsn.org/panchiao/index. htm). Students from Pan-Chiao Senior High School in Taiwan interviewed 15 local leaders in various fields. The resulting Web site teaches the qualities of leadership and profiles people who exemplify them. Students met with political figures, artists, members of the media, environmentalists, and even worked with the Ministry of Education. They say that Chinese students often give others the impression of being silent and passive. This project broadened their perspectives and helped them to overcome the shyness they felt when interviewing important figures. Students report, "It was an entirely novel experience for the students and teachers who participated in it, and for Panchiao Senior High School; and it is an experience that we will remember for the rest of our lives. …