BOX 9.6 Monsters, Mondrian, and Me
As part of the Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project, elementary teachers Lucinda Surber, Cathy Chowenhill, and Page McDonald teamed up to design and execute an extended collaboration between fourth-grade classes at two elementary schools. In a unit they called “Monsters, Mondrian, and Me,” students were directed to describe a picture so well in an e-mail message that their counterparts in the other classroom could reproduce it. The project illustrates how telecomunication can both make clear the need for clear, precise writing and provide a forum for feedback from peers.
During the Monster phase of the project, students in the two classes worked in pairs first to invent and draw monsters (such as “Voyager 999,” “Fat Belly,” and “Bug Eyes”) and then to compose paragraphs describing the content of their drawings (e.g., “Under his body he has four purple legs with three toes on each one”). Their goal was to provide a complete and clear enough description that students in the other class could reproduce the monster without ever having seen it. The descriptive paragraphs were exchanged through electronic mail, and the matched student pairs made drawings based on their understanding of the descriptions.
The final step of this phase involved the exchange of the “second-generation drawings” so that the students who had composed the descriptive paragraphs could reflect on their writing, seeing where ambiguity or incomplete specification led to a different interpretation on the part of their readers.
The students executed the same steps of writing, exchange of paragraphs, drawing, and reflection, in the Mondrian stage, this time starting with the art of abstract expressionists such as Mondrian, Klee, and Rothko. In the Me stage, students studied self-portraits of famous painters and then produced portraits of themselves, which they attempted to describe with enough detail so that their distant partners could produce portraits matching their own.
Another example of the tutoring approach is the Sherlock Project, a computer-based environment for teaching electronics troubleshooting to Air Force technicians who work on a complex system involving thousands of parts (e.g., Derry and Lesgold, 1997; Gabrys et al., 1993). A simulation of this complex system was combined with an expert system or coach that offered advice when learners reached impasses in their troubleshooting attempts; and with reflection tools that allowed users to replay their performance and try out possible improvements. In several field tests of techni-