Making a Difference: Extending Digital Literacy Through Participation in Online Advocacy and Social Action Projects

A Post from Jill

I’m excited to be heading to see Lara Lee’s new feature film Cultures of Resistance on Thurs. June 30th at City College in Berkeley, CA.  The film takes viewers on a journey across five continents as it documents the personal stories of creative change makers who aim to inspire engagement and social action around issues of social justice worldwide. The idea of this film caused me to stop and think about our efforts to educate students in meaningful ways that make a lasting impact in our collective lives.  It occurred to me that the Internet should be used not only as a source for information  but also as a means and a vehicle to spark action in our communities and around the world. When I reflect on social media use during the recent revolution in Egypt, I am struck by  how globally connected and interdependent we are locally, nationally, and globally. It brings to the forefront of my mind the need to prepare students with an orientation and a commitment to using online information and advocacy to improve our global community.

To help achieve this aim, this post focuses on several school-friendly social action projects that make strategic use of the Internet to connect people around the world.  These projects provide a promising means for engaging students’ intellectual potential, curiosity, and social networking skills to make a lasting change on important issues of the day.

Global Climate Change

To help kids better understand global warming, the Pew Center recently collaborated with Nickelodeon to research kids’ and parents’ attitudes and behaviors toward the environment and have made several great resources available (see Such efforts have helped sparked several action campaigns led by adolescents and young adults.  One such effort is iMatter (see iMatter began as a simple video, created by a 13 year old, that covered the problems, consequences and solutions of climate change. Now, it’s grown into a global campaign meant to unite the voices of a generation on the most urgent issue of our time.

Additional efforts such as Young Voices on Climate Change showcase the many creative and innovative ways young people are shrinking the carbon footprint of their homes, schools, and communities. This effort began as a series of short films from Lynne Cherry, author of The Great Kapok Tree, and  feature the inspiring work of young people who seek to increase climate change awareness and action. It then expanded to a book entitled How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming.  Both the iMarch and Young Voices websites feature several ways students can get involved and make a difference. The inspirational trailer for Young Voices can be accessed here.

Cyberschool Bus Global Teaching and Learning Projects

The United Nations Cyberschool Bus Global Teaching and Learning Projects website encourages students and their teachers to engage in world wide social action projects. This portal offers curriculum resources to support finding solutions to combat world hunger, ending racial and ethnic discrimination, and providing universal human rights. Through collaboration with classes worldwide, students can participate in finding solutions that may impact the realities of tomorrow. Placing students in the role of problem solvers empowers them to find ways to use what they are learning in school and their communities to change the reality of the world around them.  The quizzes and games section includes interactive simulations such as Against All Odds (aimed at increasing students’ awareness and knowledge about refugee situations by putting players in the position of a refugee) and Stop Disasters (that encourages problem solving by teaching players how to respond to different disasters) are excellent ways to increase students’ awareness about global crises and ways to combat them.

Bucket Buddies

Bucket Buddies  is a curriculum-based inquiry project available on the Internet for elementary level students. In this project, students team up with other students from around the globe to test fresh water samples in their community. Students collect samples of water from local ponds to answer the question: Are the organisms found in pond water the same all over the world? In this project, students attempt to determine whether or not the same fresh water macro-invertebrates will be found in different locations. Participating classes collect samples from ponds near their schools and use a variety of resources to identify the macro-invertebrates (animals lacking a backbone and visible without the aid of a microscope) in the samples. The students then share their identifications with other project participants and use the collected data to answer the central question: Did classrooms sampling fresh water sources around the world find the same organisms? Finally, the students publish their conclusions in a report, which is posted to the project web site. Additional collaborative project ideas that address water quality and water conservation issues can be found by visiting

International Schools Cyberfair

International Schools Cyberfair is an international learning program that encourages youth to connect the knowledge they learn in school to real world applications. This project has brought together more than one million students across 100 countries. Its purpose is for students, their schools and their local communities to use the Internet to share resources, establish partnerships and work together to accomplish common goals. Students work collaboratively to research and then showcase online what is special about their local community. Local and international collaboration through information and communication technologies is a key aspect of the program. Students are also encouraged to serve as “ambassadors”, sharing what they’ve learned in a way that contributes back to their local communities. Award-winning projects showcase people and programs that are actively providing solutions or solving problems.


Projects within iEARN are designed and facilitated by participants to fit their particular curriculum and classroom needs. Upon membership, the iEARN network is open to all teachers and students at a school, with resources available for finding iEARN projects across age levels and disciplines. iEARN features a Learning Circle, which contains highly interactive, project-based partnerships among small numbers of schools located throughout the world. All iEARN projects involve a final “product” or exhibition of the learning that has taken place as part of the collaboration. These have included magazines, creative writing anthologies, websites, letter-writing campaigns, reports to government officials, arts exhibits, workshops, performances fund raising, and many more examples of youth taking action as part of what they are learning in the classroom.

Participation in social action projects provides opportunities for young people to transform the world around them and makes it possible for them to see themselves, their abilities, and the activities at school in a different light. Not only does this give students the opportunity to affect change in the world and gain valuable experience with the new forms of online communication and social networking that are quickly defining our world, but it also builds confidence that the skills they are learning have value beyond the classroom.

Digital Book Trailers: A Welcome Alternative to the Book Report

A post from Bridget.

I was an avid reader beginning in third grade, when my parents finally allowed me to ride my bike to the local library on my own (those were safer times). Once a week, I would collect as many books as I could fit into my bike basket and pedal back home with my treasures.  My friends didn’t know I was a voracious reader (I didn’t want to appear nerdy and enjoyed my private reading world).   Perhaps more surprising is the fact that my teachers were unaware of my love of reading. I deliberately kept them in the dark for fear that I would be asked to write the “dreaded book report”, a genre that I found incredibly boring. Even worse, I might be asked to stand up in the front of the class and give an oral book report.

Happily, in today’s media rich world there are alternatives to the traditional book report.  Digital book trailers are becoming increasingly popular with kids, teachers, authors, and publishers alike.  What is a digital book trailer?  While definitions vary, a popular form of digital book trailer is a short digital video (less than 2 minutes) that combines characteristics of a movie trailer and a book advertisement.

In the following section, I highlight some wonderful examples of book trailers created by students (and in one case, by an incredibly entertaining teacher and librarian), and provide some links to resources.

STORYTUBES:  Young children are in on the act of creating book trailers

The annual STORYTUBE contest is sponsored by several ALA libraries.  Open to children from ages 5 to 18, students submit their digital book trailers in January/February.  In addition to the winners selected by a panel of judges, the online audience votes for their favorite.

Take the time to view two of my personal  favorites in the 5-7 year old category.  The first features “A Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats and the second features “ The Story of Edward Tulane” by Kate DiCamillo.   In “A Snowy Day’, a young girl is videotaped as she introduces the story, falls asleep to enter into the story world where she re-enacts key scenes from the book, and then wakes up to close with a message to read the book.  The Edward Tulane video is more complex in video production, involving a green screen, hand-drawn illustrations, and props.  Both are terrific!
StoryTube website

Middle School Students at Veterans Park Academy post digital book trailers to their school blog

Book trailers are ideal for middle grade children who have seen and enjoyed many movie trailers and are eager to merge this with the book advertisement.  Check out the digital book trailers created by Mrs. Hansen’s students using Photo Story 3. While there is no live video,  Rachel’s book trailer for “Rules ” by Cynthia Lord shows how images, sound track, and text can work together to pique your curiosity and make you want to read the book “to find out what happens…”

The Digital Book Talk Center 

The Digital Book Talk Center’s motto is “ Creating a community of avid readers, one video at a time”.  Led by Dr. Robert Kenny of Florida Gulf Coast University and Dr. Glenda Gunter of the University of Central Florida, this award-winning site offers 113 digital book talks (with more coming from K-12 and university students).  There is an array of book trailers that will appeal to adolescent learners, either as an enticement to read a new book, or as an introduction to a book they have already selected to read.  You may also  download the U-B_the_Director curriculum, and view other instructional resources, such as the “how to make a book trailer” video. 

Everybody is doing it, even teachers and librarians!

I can’t end this post without calling your attention to a very entertaining book trailer, MouseSpace:  Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, 2008 Librareo Winner

I laugh every time I watch this video about a teacher who runs into the library moments before the bell rings for class to find the book that she absolutely MUST HAVE for her lesson.  Unfortunately, she can only remember that it has something to do with a mouse.  See how many titles you recognize as this knowledgeable librarian runs through a multitude of ‘mouse-related’ book titles!

And, that’s a wrap, folks!

Classroom Websites for Literacy

District and school websites are ubiquitous, particularly in view of the reporting requirements on student achievement. For example, in California, a law was passed that dictates the type and quality of achievement data that must be reported and most districts report this via website. This is nice, but how are districts, schools, and teachers using websites for instructional purposes? In this post I will present two websites in some detail, but at the end of this post is a list of several websites that may be used as resources for your planning.

Mrs. Renz, Redmond, Oregon

Mrs. Heather Renz of Redmond, Oregon, has had a website since 2000. If you link to you will arrive at the home page for her fourth-grade classroom. On this home page, you can see choices of links for students, parents, and other teachers. You can also meet Mrs. Renz and find out about her 31 years of teaching, a little about her life, and her interest in establishing a website. There is also a list of awards that Mrs. Renz has won for her teaching, including Disney Teacher of the Year honoree for 2006 and Microsoft Innovator 2005.

Under links for students, one finds math website links, past classroom projects, pen pal project, class creed and a host of other topics to link to. On the “Stars Page” students can access both literacy and math puzzles and games.  Under “Alex and Pearl’s Page” students can find science, math, and reading and listening sites to visit. Example of a science link:  Trees are Terrific—a Movie (it is really an audio-enhanced slide show, which is new to the site. Travel with Pierre is a series produced by University of Illinois Extension, from their Urban Programs Resource Network.

Under the parents’ link, one finds information for parents, the classroom schedule, each child’s classroom projects and photos, tonight’s homework, field trip schedules, and other information useful to parents. There’s also links to the teaching team and awards Mrs. Renz has won. There is also an Open House handout and slides from previous Open Houses. There’s a place to contact Mrs. Renz.

Site for Teachers

Mrs. Renz' Site for Teachers


Under the teachers’ link, there are a number of resources that teachers will find useful. With Mrs. Renz’ permission, I’ve made a screen shot of the teacher’s page for our information. She is incredibly generous in sharing her resources!

Mr. Coley, Murrieta, California

As we have seen, one of the uses of a class website is to share with parents what students are learning about. Instead of the teacher updating the website, students can be regular contributors, by asking students to write about what they are learning on a daily basis. Mr. Coley’s fifth-grade website exemplifies this (

Mr. Coley Homepage

Mr. Coley’s website differs from Mrs. Renz’ website in more than just the organization. There are many departments in the website and many of these feature student postings ( Each day, a student in Mr. Coley’s classroom is assigned to be a “Roving Reporter” who writes a piece about what takes place in class on that day.  The student may use a computer at home or one of the word processors in the classroom. Students word process the article and turn them in to Mr. Coley in several ways (email, CD, etc.).  Students thus get an opportunity to write using technology and the teacher uploads them to The Daily Blog.

With Mr. Coley’s permission we include examples of the blog for May 13, 2011.

Friday, May 13, 2011
Reported by Ethan #6

Hi, I’m Ethan #6, and I’m going to be the Roving Reporter for today.  I got to school at 8:00 in the morning, and I played basketball with my friends until the bell rang.  I ran to class, got in line, and waited for the nice, warm day to start.

First we had Friday Flag.  During Friday Flag, Mrs. Picchiottino, our assistant principal, and Ms. Groff, our librarian, announced Birthday Book Club, the Shark Bite winners, and the Spirit Count winners.  Mr. Fanning usually does a song, but he didn’t do one today.  For the lower grades, Mrs. Romano won Spirit Count, and for the upper grades, Mr. Glendinning won again.

To really start the day we did Fitnessgram testing. In Fitnessgram testing you have to do push-ups, sit-ups, the sit and reach, and the trunk lift.  My partner was Myles, and he went to do push-ups first, I had to count them.  He did 25 push-ups, and over a 12-inch trunk lift.  I was next, and I did 23 push-ups and I also went over 12 inches on the trunk lift.  Myles did 48 sit-ups, and a 10-11-inch sit and reach.  I did 50 sit-ups, and a 13-14-inch sit and reach.  We both did really well on the test.

To relax, we then watched Mr. Henning and his students do the rocket launches.  Each person in that class made a rocket the size of a liter soda bottle.  They put water in it, and then they pumped air into the bottle.  They count down until the student hits the trigger and launches it high into the sky.  Jill’s went the highest.  Drake got second, and Claire got third.

Next it was time for Lit. Circles.  The blue group, Conner, Ryan, Marcus, and I, is reading CloserCloser is the fourth book in the long Tunnels series written by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams.  We have two meetings left, so we decided to read the rest of the book.

It was then time for recess.  I ate a pack of fruit snacks when I was heading off to go play basketball with my friends.  I was on Myles’s team.  It was Mrs. Becker’s class vs. all.  We won 11-10, but it was a close game.  After that was done, we talked about it on the way back to class.

After that, we had to work on our writing prompt. This time we had to write a persuasive essay to convince Dr. Scheer, our school district’s superintendent, whether we should have school uniforms or not.  Most people said we shouldn’t, but some disagreed.

To have some fun after the boring writing prompt, we did Friday Business.  Last week we didn’t have time so we did two games of Deal or No Deal.  Last week’s winner, Emma, got to go first.  Marcus got to click the cases and we began.  Emma took a deal of $72,000, which is three pieces of licorice.  Jonathan got picked for this week’s game and Mr. Coley got to click the cases.  Jonathan stuck with his case and got $400,000, which is 11 pieces of licorice!

Then we had lunch.  I ate quickly so I could talk to my friends.  When Mr. Eddie released us, we ran off to play basketball again.  This time I was on the Becker team.  We didn’t really keep score though.

After returning to class we had to have the nurse, my mom in this case, measure our height and weight.  While one of us was inside doing that, the rest of us were reading outside.  When everybody was done, we walked back to class.

Upon returning to class, we started talking about Pathfinder.  We got a list of what we need to pack, and we talked about what the kids that would be staying behind do. We talked about clothing and other necessary items.  At the end we answered everybody’s questions.

Finally, the bell rang, we stood up, and I walked out the Room 34 door.  Mr. Coley said, “Bye, everybody,” and I was off.  Once again, I’m Ethan #6 and I was your Roving Reporter today.


There is also a Book Blog on Mr. Coley’s site, a place where students can review and recommend Accelerated Reader and Literature Circle books that they are reading. Students log in to to write a short post about the book. is a free site designed especially for students by teachers. Teachers have administrative control over student blogs and student accounts when they set up a classroom site. The site is password protected for the students and only viewable by the teacher and classmates and no student email addresses are required. The site states that no person information from either the teacher or the students is collected and that comment privacy settings block unsolicited comments from outside sources. On Andrea’s blogsite the May 10, 2011 post is on The Secret Garden and a week later there are three student comments posted in response.

A productive use of multimedia that requires students to grapple with new ideas and content is to use podcasting for student presentations. A podcast is a digital recording that can be shared over the Internet, and there are many online resources for creating and sharing podcasts Audio podcasts, usually MP3 files, are easiest to implement in your classroom, even if there is only one computer. Mr. Coley’s classroom website hosts the ColeyCast section, where audio podcasts are posted. We believe that audio podcasting is also composing, because planning and writing must be done to make the audio podcast. At the time of this writing, there are 52 ColeyCasts posted on the classroom website with everything from parts of speech to Amazing America (fascinating facts about the 50 states). You can listen to the podcasts on the website or subscribe to them on iTunes. If you would like to listen to some of the ColeyCasts, please visit the website at

Like Mrs. Renz, Mr. Coley posts information about himself, the class, and specific information for parents. Mr. Coley also hosts his own blog.

Some Thoughts

Both of our featured teachers will tell you that establishing and maintaining a website is astonishingly challenging, but both teachers will also speak about their passion for teaching and learning. If we want to teach our students how to cope with 21st century technologies, then we need to lead by example. What are your thoughts and experiences with classroom websites or other technologies used in your classroom?

Online Resources is hosted by Pacific University in Oregon and provides a great deal of information about setting up a website, including examples and discussion on the topic A free site to make a website with examples posted. This website is hosted by the Kentucky Department of Education and shows various high school websites is hosted by Clark County Nevada School District and is a searchable site for teacher/school websites provides a list of popular websites to link to. Great resources in science for your website and companion are sites for literacy and technology.


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