Introduction Getting Ready
Learning Circles Teachers' Guide
Open Circle Plan Projects Share Work Publish
Close Circle Overview

Phase 3: Planning Learning Circle Projects

Learning Circle Projects

One of the goals of this guide is to help you find a way to integrate the Learning Network into your existing curriculum. Learning Circle projects are most successful when they are part of a larger framework of activities that you organize in your classroom. The project that you sponsor should ideally be drawn from or easily integrated with your curriculum. Your students will also have the opportunity to participate in projects sponsored by other classes. Depending on your own time constraints, there are many ways to organize how your class will respond to other projects. In this guide we will suggest ways to participate that help teachers work within their own curriculum. We suggest that you read this section carefully for ideas on how to integrate Learning Circle projects with your specific educational goals.

Sponsoring a Learning Circle Project

"Sponsoring" a Learning Circle project means selecting a topic to examine, proposing the type of information you want to receive from the other sites, organizing the project material exchanged on the network, and preparing a summary of your project for inclusion in the Circle publication.

Responsibilities of the Project Sponsors

Select a project topic. Let your partners know why you selected it and how it is related to the educational activities taking place in your classroom.

Describe the type of information. . Your students will need to let the other classes in the Learning Circle know exactly what type of information you want them to send for your project (essays, surveys, data collection, questionnaires). The sponsors should provide an example that can help guide the distant collaborators.

Examine the information. The students who sponsor an activity are responsible for using the information received and make comparisons across the different regions or for collecting and editing written material that is requested.

Organize and summarize the information. The sponsors of a project are the ones who create the project summary for the Circle publication for distribution to the other schools. This can be done online or in print depending on the arrangements make by the Learning Circles.

An effective way to integrate Learning Circle projects into your curriculum is to begin with your own teaching plans. Consider the activities or demonstrations that you use to involve your students in their lessons. It is likely that one or more of these activities would be much more informative with input from students in different social situations and from different geographic regions. The comparison of local and distant information can provide a rich learning experience for your students.

As you consider project ideas, it is helpful to think about the characteristics of successful Learning Circle projects.

Participating in Projects Sponsored by Others

"Participating" in a project means responding to an information request from another classroom. Each class in your Learning Circle will sponsor a project on a topic of their choice. Your students will have the opportunity to send information for all of the projects sponsored in the Learning Circle. Your Learning Circle partners will be expecting to receive some information on their project from your students unless you indicate otherwise, or there is another arrangement for the Learning Circle. This does not mean, however, that you need to have your whole class respond to each project.

There are many ways you can organize your students to assure that they will be able to respond to requests from other classrooms. If the information request fits well into your curriculum, you may want to involve all of your students. If it does not, you might make it an extra credit project for a small group of students who finish their regular classroom work.

Other classes and students at your school may want to be involved in a particular project. Perhaps a science, math, or foreign language teacher at your school is working on a similar topic and would welcome the opportunity to become involved in the Learning Network exchange. You might find that one of the activities sponsored by another classroom is perfect for students in your school's computer club. As a Learning Circle teacher, your role is to organize the project responses from your school and to provide your partners with weekly updates so that they know when to expect the information for their projects.

The Learning Circle Coordinator can suggest ways to modify project ideas. Some projects involving detailed research may be easier to organize with a small number of classrooms in the Learning Circle who are able to commit additional time. If a teacher proposes a project that appears to involve more time than you have, let him or her know immediately. This will enable the sponsoring class to decide whether to proceed with a smaller group or scale the project down to make it possible for more groups to be involved.

The important thing to remember is that your participation is a vital part of the Learning Circle. Your partners in distant locations will be eager to hear from you and your students. If you log on and read messages but do not respond or send messages of your own, no one will know you are there. So, let your partners know you're there and you appreciate hearing from them!

Selecting Your Learning Circle Project

The last question on the Classroom Survey asks what project your class would like to sponsor. This question serves as a transition between the "Opening the Circle" introductory activities and this phase of "Planning the Learning Circle Projects."

Planning Learning Circle projects can be done by either the teacher or the students or it can be a team effort of both. Involving the students in the planning phase gives them a sense of ownership that often results in higher motivation. Integrating the network activities with something you already have planned in the curriculum gives you the advantage of extending the learning by using your own teaching materials.

Ideas for, examples of, and resources related to Learning Circles projects are arranged according to themes. This material is designed to help you create a Circle project related to your teaching style and curricular goals.

Lesson Plans for Projects listed by Circle Themes:

There are also many sites on the internet that list projects that might serve as sources of ideas.
California State University, Northridge have collected sites, resources and lesson plans from the Internet for teachers to use in their classrooms.

Ask-Eric Lesson Plans and Teacher's Edition Online lists lesson plans by subject area. At Education Place (Houghton-Mifflin) there is a great activity search by grade and curriculum.

Please remember to review your project idea against the criteria for good Learning Circle projects.

Your Sponsored Project in the Classroom

The sponsored projects take place both in the classroom and on the Learning Network. Your classroom activities on your sponsored project can be as involved as you and your students want them to be. You might arrange for a classroom visitor, a field trip, books, films, or other enrichment materials. As the sponsors, you and your students will be the "primary investigators" on the project. You are the ones who keep the process moving and who evaluate, compile, and share the results in a way that helps everyone learn from the project.

Your Sponsored Project on the Network

The students in your Learning Circle partner classes may benefit from hearing about your classroom activities, but they are not likely to have the time to participate in all aspects of your sponsored project. The project you sponsor will need to include a simple activity that can be done by all of the participating classrooms in a relatively short amount of time.

For example, the Learning Network project might involve contacting a local government, community, or social agency or taking a trip to a special region. Your class might want to create a short survey for students or they might be looking for interviews of community representatives on their topic. Your students could request "position papers" from their Learning Circle partners on their topic.

Generally, the request for information should be something that a small number of students in other classrooms can complete across two class periods. It is a good idea for your students to respond to their own information request before they send it to their Learning Circle partners. This way they will be able to tell others how long it took to collect the information and make any modifications in their request based on their own experiences.

If you have an idea for a more involved project, you might want to invite other schools to co-sponsor the project with you. This reduces the overall number of projects in a Learning Circle. Or, if you have an idea for a project that has wide appeal in your Learning Circle, the other classes might want to make it the only project in the Learning Circle. Your group may have already decided on a their Learning Circle projects.

Introducing the Learning Circle Project to the Circle

The Learning Circle project can be introduced to the circle by either the teacher or the students or both. Teachers can make the decision based on the needs and abilities of their students. Some teachers like to begin with a rough idea for a project, introduce it into the circle for comments and then have their students propose the final project. Other teachers prefer to have students take this role. There is no right or wrong way to introduce a Learning Circle project. Each teacher and class can decide how this will be accomplished at their site.

Teacher's First Planning Message

Once you have a rough idea of the Learning Circle project you want to sponsor, you may want to send a teacher's project planning message. This message describes the project and the type of participation you would like from the other classrooms. It is often helpful to have the teacher take an active role in planning activities and participating in activities planned by others. Please be aware that your Learning Circle Coordinator has volunteered to help facilitate the interaction in your Learning Circle. He or she is not responsible for creating it. Each teacher is the team leader at their specific site.

Students' First Project Planning Message

Students need to introduce themselves as the sponsors of a particular project and describe the information they would like to receive. Sample messages from students describing their projects may be helpful as you and your students organize your planning messages about the project you have selected.

Keeping Track of Project Work

The longest phase of the Learning Circle is devoted to the exchange of work on Learning Circle projects. But this time goes by very quickly. It is important to begin right now with procedures for monitoring the group progress toward the goal. This is a shared responsibility. It is part of the work of a team to be aware of the goal and to know at each point what all players are doing to advance toward the final goal.

Weekly Classroom Update

You and your students should send a weekly " classroom update " message to everyone in your Circle on how you are doing on your project and on their project requests. Others will find it easier to read the message if you divide it into clear sections. If you know you will be unable to check mail during any week, please let your partners know before you disappear. Unexplained silences on a network are frustrating for everyone. Learning Circle success depends on your regular participation.

Weekly Circle Update

A weekly Circle Update message helps everyone to keep track of what is happening on each of the projects in the Circle. Sending an updated projects chart as part of the weekly update is very effective. This is often done by the Learning Circle Facilitator, but anyone in the Circle can volunteer to do it. In some Circles, a different teacher does it each week. Ideas for how to display this information will be included in CIRCLE NEWS messages received online.

Project Time Line

It is important for each classroom to select and plan their projects quickly to assure enough time to for other classes to participate. If common interests make it possible for more than one classroom to co-sponsor a project, or sponsor different aspects of the same project, this reduces the number of projects in the Learning Circle. A smaller number of projects makes it easier to complete all of the project sections for the Circle publication within the time set aside for the exchange of work.


Teacher Comments...

Teachers comment on their experiences in planning Learning Circle projects.

The Project Planning Checklist

The "Project Planning" Checklist will help you see if you are ready for Phase 4: Exchanging Student Work on Projects.


Copyright © 1997, 2002, Margaret Riel