1) What information tools & technologies did you used to complete your CyberFair project?
The information tools and technologies the students used were different depending on the various phases of the project.
The first phase involved a great deal of student preparation. This began with students using traditional print and library materials. After initial research students were given lessons on reporting skills.
Students were given specific lessons on web page design and development. The students actually produced small web pages projects to practice their skills. Additional lessons were given on the use of digital cameras and video recording. After this the students were divided into task groups. Students functioned as: Reporters, Roving Reporters, Photographers, and Video Operators.
On the farm visitation days the students performed their various tasks while at the farm. Reporters took turns asking questions while the farmers showed their farms. Photographers and Video Operators were in the background capturing images on their predetermined list as well as photographic opportunities. All information was collected in one and a half hours or less.
The final phase was web page construction. Back at school students worked to type up their notes or process photographs. Specific student writers pieced together all the information to form a narrative describing each farm.
Web page design was discussed and a general format was decided for all the farms. Text were examined by students and teachers to determine the best way to construct web pages. In some instances it was decided to use multiple web pages for each farm.
Photographers and Video Operators processed pictures and video for inclusion on the web pages. Colors were selected, graphics were researched and the web pages were pieced together under teacher instruction.
The web pages were posted on the Internet each day so that students and parents could monitor the progress of our work. It took about three weeks of one to two periods a day to complete the web pages.
2) In what ways did you act as "ambassadors" and spokespersons for your CyberFair project both on-line and in person.
The students had to act as ambassadors for our school district at almost every phase of the project. In fact, the project was designed as a vehicle to strengthen school-community relationships. The agricultural community of the township is a group that has often been at odds with the school district particularly in the area of taxation. New Jersey has a unique situation when it comes to school budgets. Citizens of the township vote directly on accepting or rejecting the school budget every year. Close school-community relationships are very important to the school. Any opportunity to strengthen those ties is extremely critical to the success of the school.
Over the past few years the school has used the Internet and technology as a way of bridging that gap between the school and the community. The school district has entered into a business agreement with a private Internet Service Provider. The arrangement is set up so the school sells access to the community and the provider locates a T-1 access line in the school building. When community members sign up for the service they help support the school district in receiving very low cost Internet access. Community members actually have the opportunity to have the school’s homepage as their Internet portal. Local history projects are an excellent vehicle to encourage community members to see what the school is doing on their behalf.
Students had to develop skills of interacting with local farmers. They actually visited their homes, interviewed them, and reported on their findings. The students often made phone calls back to the individual farmers to double check their information.
After the project was finished the local farmers were invited into the school to view the finished project and to review all the information. The farmers were presented with Certificates of Appreciation at the reception held in their honor.
3) What has been the impact of your project on your community?
The “Historic Farms of Franklin Township” project was very warmly received by the community. A local newspaper, The Hunterdon Democrat, ran two major articles on the project. The first focused on the school receiving a grant for the project and the second focused on the final project.
The project was recognized at a School Board meeting and recognized by the Town Council. Another article was also published in the New Jersey Agricultural Society’s quarterly newsletter. This newsletter was distributed to teachers and farmers throughout the state.
A very unexpected result of the web site has been the number of emails we have received from people who have run across our site while doing research on family members. We have received emails from people all over the United States and Canada who have been researching family heritage. Names and locations in our web site have been picked up by major search engines. We knew that the web site would have an impact on our local community and we have been very pleased that the world community has also found our web pages to be a good source of information.
The success of this project and its reputation has allowed my teaching partner and myself to secure a further grant to continue the second phase of this project. This project will add six more farms in the spring of 2001.
4) How did your project involve other members of your community as helpers and volunteers?
The “Historic Farms of Franklin Township” project drew upon the expertise of a group of local community members. Help was needed to identify six farmers who would be willing to invite students to their farm and work with the students to develop this project. Since we did not have a model to work on we thought it best to draw on the expertise of community members.
Susan Blew of Oak Grove Plantation has developed an excellent reputation as a farmer who works with schools to develop agricultural awareness programs. She was asked to be one of the first farmers to participate in this project. She was also instrumental in providing suggestions on fellow farmers to include. We also consulted the town's local historian, Ed Stoudt, for historical information.
In addition, the local farmers themselves were volunteers. We contacted August Knispel, a former town mayor and outspoken member of the community; John Peterson, of the Peterson Farm; Dr. John Grande, of the Snyder Research Farm operated by Rutgers University; Linda Pearce and Karl Zschack, of Brass Ring Farm; Samuel Leon and Wayne Berger, of Leon’s Sod Farm; and Ted and Susan Blew, of Oak Grove Plantation.
5) Discoveries, Lessons and Surprises (Optional)
When we began this project we were quite certain that the students would be capable of learning the technology skills needed to complete the project. What we were amazed at were the complexity of skills that the students were able to integrate. The students' ability to learn processing of digital pictures and their ability to take video and convert it into QuickTime movies amazed us.
Another satisfying result of this project was the way it was so warmly embraced by the community. Many of the farmers who participated in the project became our best spokespersons to the community. They took every opportunity they had to tell their neighbors and fellow community members. Word spread throughout the community of the contribution the students of Franklin Township School were making to the community.
Another added benefit of this project was that I was able to speak about this project to a group of international teachers at the International Education and Research Network’s (iEARN) Seventh Annual International Conference in Beijing, China. At that conference many teachers from different countries were looking for suggestions on Internet projects that could be accomplished in their home towns. I presented a workshop on local history projects that featured the “Historic Farms of Franklin Township.” I found that projects that bridged the ties between agriculture and schools proved to hold many possibilities for many of the participants, particularly those is less developed countries.