Techno Tips: Minnesota to the World

The ACIE Newsletter, February 2002, Vol. 5, No. 2

By Robert Broecker, 4th grade teacher, Normandale French Immersion Elementary, Edina, MN



"I go out sledding with my family sometimes in January. I also play on a hockey team. What do you do for fun in January?’

”I play outside in January. My brothers and I go swimming and sometimes my friends and I play soccer in the afternoon.’

”Our family lives in a house in Edina. We have four bedrooms and a big yard. My best friend lives next door. What kind of house do you live in?’

”We live on the fourth floor of an apartment building. My room is right next to my grandmother÷s. She cooks me lunch when I walk home from school.’

The above exchange could have happened between any two ten-year-olds except for several key differences: One student lives in Edina, Minnesota, USA and the other in Abidjan, Côte d÷Ivoire, the conversation was in French, and it took place via email over a span of several days.

Culture and Geography

For several years, the team of fourth grade teachers at Normandale French Immersion Elementary has been trying to tackle a problem. How do we help students understand, really understand, the link between culture and geography? What can we do to help our students grasp that what we do, what we eat, and how we live depend in great part on ”where’ we happen to live? Two years ago, our fourth grade social studies curriculum took an ambitious turn in order to address this key understanding and our team decided to develop a group technical project that involved email interviews, Internet and other media research, and Power Point® presentations.

Using Email and the Internet

Why did we choose email and the internet to undertake this curricular challenge? Our reasons were many:

  • to address the never-ending immersion school dilemma of a paucity of materials in the target language (we have had more trouble finding materials in French for social studies lessons than for any other curricular area);

  • to address the link between culture and geography which is a large part of the Minnesota Social Studies Graduation Benchmark Standard, Geography and Citizenship, placed by our school district in the fourth grade;

  • to meet our school district÷s information literacy requirements for fourth grade students;

  • to address two other graduation standards: Media, Observation and Investigation, which involves research and interviewing, and Technology Skills, which involves data presentation and gathering information from electronic sources.

In the summer of 2000 we were helped greatly in our endeavor when two members of the Normandale fourth grade team received curriculum writing grants from Edina Public Schools to develop ”technology infused’ units for their classes. Once piloted, these units would be made available to the rest of the district. Weeks were spent in development. Though a good foundation was laid during this curriculum writing stage, it must be noted that the majority of the actual curricular development took place mid-stream with major improvements made by all members of the team.

Elements of the Project

  • Students were placed in cooperative groups of four or five, and each group was assigned a different part of the world or the United States.

  • Each student of each group was given two cultural universals (food, clothing, housing, money, languages, past times, products or ethnicity) and one geographic characteristic (location, climate, vegetation, or terrain) for which to develop investigation questions. We find that helping students develop interesting and plausible questions is a valuable learning activity.

  • Students then went online to find email exchange possibilities and Web sites that could answer their questions.

  • After having gathered information, groups then created a Power Point® presentation displaying the results of their research. These presentations were then shared with the rest of the class so that those students who had studied Louisiana could learn about the Republic of Congo and vice versa.


Students were assessed in various domains including information literacy skills, group work contributions, quality and depth of questions and information gathered.


We were pleased with our students÷ excited involvement and the true learning that took place. It must be stated, however, that we encountered enormous difficulties finding appropriate Internet resources for all of the geographic areas we had selected. Although it was beneficial to have sources in French, the reading level was often too high and information not precise enough. Another problem arose when students attempted to conduct email interviews that were to be a key part of the project. Though students very diligently emailed many people, the vast majority did not respond. This year we have attacked these problems by limiting the scope of the research. Instead of five or six different regions we are limiting research to two or three for which we already have classroom email exchanges and informative Web sites established. We feel that we can still address the key concept (culture is influenced by geography) while eliminating dead-ends.

In the end, we believe that the benefits of access to sources in the target language afforded by the Internet and real world communication afforded by email exchanges are a great boon to the immersion classroom and outweigh any difficulties teachers may encounter.



CARLA Mailing List Signup Contact CARLA CARLA Events Donate to CARLA CARLA on Facebook CARLA on YouTube Twitter
Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) • 140 University International Center • 331 - 17th Ave SE • Minneapolis, MN 55414