Phase 3: Planning Learning Circle
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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