Guiding Essential Question: How can students from urban and rural communities use an online writing space to connect with others while still keeping the focus on learning?
Funded with grant money from the National Writing Project's Technology Initiative, the aim of the Making Connections project was to provide teachers with an opportunity to explore the world of blogging and to bring those tools into their classrooms in urban and rural towns in Western Massachusetts so that students could better understand the world outside of their own communities.
Implemented with a mix of hands-on professional development for teachers and collaborative development of both a free Summer Camp for students and a unit of curriculum integration for the school year, the Making Connections project provided in-roads to technology in communities where computer labs were mostly reserved for standardized testing and online writing sites were looked at with concern by school administrators.
Over two years time, which included expansion beyond the first two communities, more than 20 teachers were involved and hundreds of students were using the closed blogging space for writing and sharing stories, discussing books in online literature circles, engaging in collaborative science experiments that led to the publishing of scientific abstracts, and even cross-grade/cross-school mentoring, with high school students working with elementary students.
For many of the teachers in Making Connections, this was the first time they were immersed in the world of technology. And for many of the students from the poor communities that the project strove to reach, the initiative was an opportunity to introduce emerging technology to young writers in a meaningful and creative way.