I'm pleased to present this article by one proud high school teacher explaining how his students produced a marvellous ThinkQuest project. I'm frequently asked to highlight individual ThinkQuest projects in NeatNew, but with so much good work being done for ThinkQuest, singling out individual projects seems unfair to others that are equally outstanding.
If you're not familiar with the project, "The ThinkQuest Internet Challenge is an international program for students ages 12 through 19 that encourages them to use the Internet to create information-rich Web-based educational tools and materials." For more information about ThinkQuest and the other student projects it has produced, visit http://www.thinkquest.org/library/.
THE MAKING OF A THINKQUEST PROJECT:
Why is the Mona Lisa Smiling?
by Steve Feld, John F. Kennedy High School, the Bronx, NY
Three years from its launch, the Mona Lisa website built on 15 year old Tandy computers by inner city Bronx High School students in collaboration with peers from Borlange Sweden, has expanded into an award winning multilingual internationally recognized teaching and learning resource. Beyond its initial research discussion/exploration of the identity of Mona Lisa, the web site has expanded its parameters to explore the following concerns: Art History, Scientific Inquiry (http://library.thinkquest.org/13681/data/science.htm), Problem Solving, Scientific Method, multicultural distance peer discussions, Leonardo as Futurist (http://library.thinkquest.org/13681/data/links/clarke.htm), Leonardo's inventions including his Bronze Horse and the Mona Lisa Bridge, his musical compositon, the Codex, and his place in art history.
How was this dynamic engaging resource developed from such digitally challenged equipment and inner city resources? What inspired these innercity Bronx High School students to design and maintain this continually developing cyber space compendium?
The decision making process behind it
The students' fascination with the identity of Mona Lisa was the result of a primary source site encounter (Albany, New York Learning Technologies Fair) with noted researcher Lillian Schwartz. She is a computer graphic specialist at Bell Labs.
The students were inspired to test her theory through a morf, a digital capacity unavailable to Lillian in 1992 when she presented her theory in her book published in the same year, The Computer Artist Handbook. She posits her theory that the model for the Mona Lisa was Leonardo himself.
The students noted that within Lillian's book, she demonstrates and checks her hypothesis through the alignment of halves of Leonardo's self-portrait with that of Mona Lisa. This alignment confirms that the facial halves match. This matching inspired my students' decision to create their web resource which would share, with Lillian Schwartz's copyright permission, her theory, and include their morph sequence to demonstrate her theory digitally. The DOS program RMorf, a public domain program cost a dollar, was used to create the Morf.
The students also wanted to include a short musical tune which was written by Da Vinci to highlight this little known aspect of Leonardo's talent.
While the inner city Bronx John F. Kennedy High Students coded the site with a random generator, their peer partners in Sweden researched the web for the best Leonardo web resources for the Leonardo Learning Links. We decided to present these links randomly to bring some fun into research.
The research process
After the site development was publicized in a local Newpaper -- the Bronx Shopper, Rina de Firenze, author of Mystery of the Mona Lisa contacted us and shared her book a work of fiction-- The Mystery of the Mona Lisa published in Italian and English with my students. Her theory of the Mona Lisa portrait identity is in stark contrast to that of Lillian Schwartz. She posits that the model of the Mona Lisa is the artist's mother Caterina. The student team compared and contrasted the dual conflicting perspectives using the criteria of scientific inquiry.
They gathered evidence, not only through their own problem construct solution process, but through contributions and comments from the field and guestbook. Data contributed to our research from adult visitors included: an email from one web novice who has identified Leonardo portrait of an unknown musician (http://library.thinkquest.org/13681/data/learn/music1.htm)
Another contributor from the field sent us a view of the Mona Lisa Bridge being built in Oslo Norway.
The research evolves naturally. We received an invitation to attend the unveiling of Leonardo's Bronze Horse at the Tallix Foundry and documented Leonardo's Dream now realized (http://library.thinkquest.org/13681/data/museum/horse.htm)
With each new addition to the information and discussion of Leonardo, the students designed new project pages to reflect these activities.
The Design Process
The students wanted the site to be viewable with all browsers, and accessible to the hearing impaired. The experience of using old equipment sensitized us to universal accessibility.
The inherent design governing the Leonardo project would give all those who visit the site full content. One component, the interacrive quiz would have a java-applet version as well as a cgi version for Lynx and older browsers users.
Another design consideration was to present text large enough for visually impaired visitors to read, and yet an additional factor was to select contrasting backgrounds which are visually appealing.
Students tapped into the multitasking capacities of the browser by using Frames. In this way were used to have the music playing while the hand signing gif continued to animate. There was also a "no frames" version of this page (http://library.thinkquest.org/13681/data/link3.htm)
The students also added interactive site components such as an interactive guestbook and site survey to gather feedback and offer free musical multilingual postcards in 23 languages (http://library.thinkquest.org/13681/data/link3a.htm#postcards)
Process of involving the School Community
It takes a whole school community to keep the Mona Momentum moving. The original project team members were assisted by a teacher in the Music Department, who helped us transcribe the da Vinci music, and a teacher from the Special Education Department who worked with Hearing Impaired students. She assisted us with the hand signing translation.
The students were also exhilarated by their JFK Peers who visited the web site and signed the guestbook. The site itself became motivation for students in various other subject content courses to produce web site constructivist learning projects. The student designers of Leonardo became unofficial design consultants for peers and teachers in the school. The team leader was hired as a tech assistant for the school after his graduation.
The success of the Leonardo web site brought four new computer labs to John F. Kennedy and served as the rationale for Bronx High School Superintendency funding of an Internet Training WorkShop for 17 teachers. The teachers learned to research the web and create web pages in their own particular subject areas. They later contributed these resources to our Study Helper.
Ultimately, the Mona Lisa web site which originated in the computer graphics lab, effected, energized and engaged the whole school. multidisciplinary community in Internet teaching and Learning. That's Why Mona Lisa Lisa is Smiling!
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[We tell] netters [they] just have to learn three basic rules: "Information costs," "You can't get something for nothing," and "You only get what you pay for." Just two problems with these arguments: One, they aren't true. Two, everyone knows they aren't true. Millions get quality data free from the Net and its Web every day.
Barbara Quint. "Back to Work on the Web Products." Information Today, October, 1997.
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Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.