return to 4teachers  return to KidSpeak contents

Missouri team wins ThinkQuest silver!
Students in Savannah learn more about their local river, the wide Missouri.
By Alicia M. Bartol

Ever dream that you could win $500 by doing your class work? That's just what some Savannah, Missouri students did this year! David, Nicole, Shaina, Katie, and Nick formed a team and entered ThinkQuest, the popular competition where students develop educational Web sites for monetary prizes. The team worked on the Missouri River Quest project in their GEMS class with Gifted Teacher, Mr. Williamson.

If at first you don't succeed . . .

The students didn't hesitate when Mr. Williamson suggested doing an interdisciplinary ThinkQuest project, even though they'd entered the year before and lost. David says, "We all wanted to do it because it was fun the year before."
      As with many skills, researching, designing, and producing good educational Web sites takes practice. Katie explains, "The first time we were beginners ... we had a lot of errors and the second time we knew more what to expect." She says, "It's a really good experience and you learn a lot, and you get better at it as you progress."

Each student worked on topics that interested them and reflected some aspect of life on the Missouri River. David got his idea while talking to his folks one night. "My dad's grandfather made a scrapbook of the flood of 1952 on the Missouri River. And so I brought those and scanned a whole bunch of pictures and articles off onto it and we just sort of got our parents involved."
     Nicole joined the team a while after the school year started, so she came to the project without previous experience. "At the beginning of the school year, they decided they were going to do ThinkQuest ... then later I came and they told me to choose a topic and I was given a few suggestions, and I chose to do wildlife." In all, the students covered riparian wildlife, the history of the river, the expeditions of Lewis and Clark, Missouri steamboats, and the Flood of 1952.


 Shaina's logo for teh River Quest home page
 Shaina's logo for the River Quest home page.

Starting the research

After they decided on topics, the team began their research. Nicole describes the process: "First, we had to gather our research and write a rough draft and then make a final draft and then we typed it up on the computer. And then we put all of the reports together on the Web page and then added other stuff to make the Web page more fun." According to Katie, they began in October and finished up around March, working one day a week for three or four hours. They did most of their research in the school library or on the Web.
     Each month, however, the students would travel to the river for field work. Nick reports, "We measured how fast the river flow was: the flow rate. And we would take the temperature and try to catch some wildlife." According to Nick, they "got a frog and ... a moth and a snake skin." Other times, they simply observed the wildlife to help them create their reports and illustrations.
Nicole explains: "We drew our own pictures, except for the ones that David got out of the scrapbook." Enhancing the reports with graphics was a big plus for the team, but the site needed other design aspects as well.
     Shaina says, "I did the part on steamboats and I was the graphic designer," which meant she "picked out the background colors and ... did the layout of the pages, like where to put pictures." She also created the logo on the home page of the Web site. The other team members liked having one person handle these design considerations.

Overcoming technical difficulties

The entire team tackled the technical chore of putting all the reports online. David explains: "We all sort of designed the pages on our own, but we got help often from Mr. Williamson and each other." The team used a variety of programs, including Adobe Page Mill, to produce the Web pages. David says that Page Mill "just makes it really easy to make your Web pages."
     For students who are just starting a ThinkQuest project, Nick advises "not to get frustrated if the Web site doesn't work at first. And you have to spend a lot of time on it, more than you would think."

     Nicole agrees. "It wasn't easy but it wasn't hard. I think the hardest part was getting your research and actually getting the report done. And then actually transferring it onto the Internet."
     "What took us a really long time was just getting it all together ..." says Katie, "everything on the Web site -- making sure that everything worked!"


Nick advises "not to get frustrated if the Web site doesn't work at first. And you have to spend a lot of time on it, more than you would think."
Although most of the kids had a lot of previous computer experience, Shaina says that, " I didn't really have very much experience but the one I did last year helped me do this one better." They learned that some programs were more useful than others, and they had a better sense of how to make the project complete. Shaina explains that this year, "All of our games and stuff worked and we had better reports -- longer reports and more pictures."
     She also says that, "The year before we did quizzes and we wanted to do those again." They added a lot of extra features to the site to make it enjoyable and educational.
     Katie describes the extras: "The quizzes were [for] after you read the report. You would fill in the bubble and at the end, it showed your percentage and how you did. And Mad Libs we just made one for every subject, and then we made a big Missouri Mad Lib which was on every subject. And then treasure hunts: what you did is you made a couple of questions up and you put a couple of Web sites on it. You went to those Web sites to find the answer."


Lessons learned

Each student gained a lot from doing the project, aside from the $500 prize, which almost all of them put quickly into the bank! Nicole, who was unfamiliar with Macs, says: " The biggest thing I learned was probably how to run a Macintosh computer and how to work all of the programs."
     Nick says he "learned how to use even more programs on a Macintosh," whereas Shaina and Katie are impressed with all the things they learned about the Missouri river. They had always been so close, but learned a lot of things they'd never known before.

     David agrees with all of them: "It was interesting. I got to learn a whole bunch of new stuff about [the flood]. I never really knew that there had been a flood in '52 until my dad told me about it and we looked through the scrapbook. Actually, I had never used half of the computer programs that we used in it and so I learned a lot about some of the software."


All that learning paid off. Nicole says that when they finally completed their ThinkQuest entry, "We felt pretty confident; we knew it was good. But I don't think we were expecting silver. I was a little shocked." It took a few months for the judging, but since ThinkQuest posts the winners online, the kids knew as soon as they were announced.
     Shaina says, "It was good because I hadn't really won anything before and we got $500 and a cool trophy!" Mr. Williamson and the school also received monetary awards. Not bad!
All of the students say they'd encourage other students to take on the ThinkQuest challenge. Nick says the experience was useful "because computers are a big part of our lives now."
     Nicole agrees, "It's a lot of fun. Even though it was kind of a group project, you can have control of whatever part you were doing. I just thought it was a lot of fun and a great learning experience."


kidspeak logo

Students interviewed for KidSpeak are nominated by teachers. Send nominations to the editor.

Copyright. © 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997 ALTec, the University of Kansas