Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Square of Life

Today two sixth grade classes came together to share their findings and observations of the plants and animals that grow and live around their schools. This meeting and exchange was a result of an online project called "Square of Life".
As part of this project students measure a square meter of ground and record what they find. I became interested in the project when I read that there could also be a videoconferencing component. I was put in contact with a school district in Arizona and we began the process of partnering some of our classes. Amy Chayefsky the distance learning coordinator from Maricopa AZ is a transplanted New Yorker and I am the mother of a University of Arizona alumni. So, we each had a real connection to each other's environment. One of the classes I found was a sixth grade science class whose teacher who was very interested in participating in the project. Of course we had to wait until the winter finished and the weather turned warmer for the students to explore their squares of life. In NY that means late April.

When our students went outside they observed the many trees that fill the tree lined streets. They measured inside the wrought iron gate that runs around their school where the dandelions and wood violets grow. Queens, New York is an urban community where plants and pavement vie for space.
Maricopa, AZ has few trees mostly desert soil and bush but also snakes and toads can be easily found. Where NY students live in apartment buildings with six stories the students in Arizona live in communities with six houses. Where our NY middle school has 2000 students, Maricopa's whole population is 10,000. So, you see besides learning about the different kind of plants that grow in these two distinctly different environments the students also learned about two different ways of life. There is much to learn from each other and about each other. Both classes prepared powerpoints that they shared with each other. Videoconferences like this are wonderful opportunities for this type of learning to occur. So, in addition to questions like do all kinds of maple tree give maple syrup there are also questions like what languages do the children in your class speak? Tomorrow is another Square of Life session in another one of our schools. I wish their could be more but Arizona schools start their summer vacations next week. Another difference our NY schools are open until the end of June. But just as our students began to moan when they learned about the early start to summer in AZ, I reminded our students that Arizona schools start in early August while New York schools start the second week of September. Viva le difference!