Dean, M. A. (2006). Signs of student engagement during hypertext creation of a project-based learning artifact . Instructional Technology Monographs 3 (2). Retrieved <22 November, 2006 >, from


Signs of Student Engagement During Hypertext Creation of a Project-Based Learning Artifact


Mary Ames C. Dean
University of Georgia



Project-based learning is considered a potential approach for engaging middle grade students in meaningful learning. Hypertext creation of learning artifacts for web display is emerging as an educational tool. There is a lack of consensus in research, however, about the advisability of using web authoring in the middle grades. This qualitative study explored the behaviors, experiences, and end products of four 7 th grade students at a college preparatory, private school during the implementation of a project-based learning unit. Participants worked collaboratively in pairs to investigate the assigned question: Why should Americans visit Washington, DC? The results of the study indicated that participants exhibit positive signs of engagement in learning when they create hypertext to showcase their project-based learning artifacts for authentic audiences. The positive signs of engagement include enjoyment, concentration, perceived control and challenge, exploration, curiosity, high interest, and loss of a sense of time.


Literature Review Methods Results and Discussion Conclusions References



The frequent lament of many middle grade teachers is how to engage their students in meaningful learning. Despite the best efforts of those teachers, early adolescent students often balk at instruction, preferring to socialize and avoid academic issues altogether. The years I have taught middle grade humanities have convinced me that providing engaging instruction is less that half the issue. Of equal or greater importance is providing an experience which hooks and engages the student in the learning process. The issue is not a simple one. The metamorphosis from child to adolescent brings a confusing struggle for autonomy and independence, along with the physical, cognitive, and emotional changes of the age. These changes compete with and often overshadow the importance of academic growth in the minds of many a twelve to fourteen year old; yet the changes may lead to new academic capabilities, especially if a teacher can tap the energy and excitement of early adolescence and channel it into meaningful learning.

The age group, however, presents numerous instructional challenges. As students move from elementary to middle grades, they often show a decrease in academic motivation due to a frequent shift from student-centered, elementary models to secondary models which emphasize performance rather than student effort and understanding (Meece, 2003; Meece, Herman, & McCombs, 2003). Traditional instruction often fails to engage these young minds (Meece, Herman, & McCombs, 2003; McGrath, 2002, Paris, & Ayres, 1994). The challenge for middle grade educators lies in capturing the attention of their students and providing the opportunity for challenge, creativity, and student choice (Meece, Herman, & McCombs, 2003; McGrath, 2002, Paris, & Ayres, 1994).

Project-based learning (PBL) provides a means of engaging these students in learner-centered group activities which explore open-ended questions that are critical to the curriculum. Using the PBL model, students work in small collaborative groups and construct knowledge together as they ask questions, research for answers, and create a learning artifact (McGrath, 2002; Liu, 2003). Educational literature promotes PBL as a viable means of stimulating student engagement in learning tasks (Chen & McGrath, 2003), challenging students to inquire thoughtfully (Newell, 2003), and encouraging cognitive and social development (McGrath, 2003; Newstetter, 2000). In fact, middle grade students especially appear to benefit from PBL (Meece et al., 2003).

One distinctive feature of PBL is the presence of an authentic audience for the end product. From the outset of the PBL unit, students know who their audience is. Whether this audience is another class, a group of teachers and parents, or a community group, the students are aware of the need to keep their audience in mind as they work toward their final product (Krajcik et al., 1994; McGrath et al., 1997). Not only does this audience provide an end focus for the artifact, it also provides a guiding focus by encouraging team self-monitoring (McGrath, 2003; Newell 2003). The presence of this audience lends authenticity and significance to the project and encourages students to produce a quality presentation (Krajcik et al., 1994; McGrath, 2003; Newell 2003).

Although PBL does not require students to use technology, education in the 21 st century is increasingly committed to integrating computer usage into the instruction of students. This movement proposes a student benefit greater than simply learning how to work with modern tools (Salomon et al., 1989; Jonassen et al., 1996). Authors note that technology integration increases students’ engagement in learning tasks (Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Newell, 2003) and supports their communication and cognitive skills (ISTE NETS). They also find that its use is quite appropriate in the middle grades (McGrath, 1997, 2003; ISTE NETS).

A specific technology task, hypertext creation, uses web authoring software which allows students to showcase their work on the Internet to a very large and real audience. Researchers note that the process of creating hypertext artifacts supports students’ intrinsic motivation and higher order thinking skills, which are transferable to other contexts (McGrath et al., 1997; Liu & Rutledge, 1997; Liu, 2003). More specifically, these authors also find that hypertext creation can be used in PBL for displaying end products of learning to authentic audiences (McGrath, 2003; Liu & Rutledge, 1997; Liu, 2003, Chen & McGrath 2003).

Hypertext creation, however, presents complex challenges to student learners (Liu, 2003). In addition to the technical know-how and skill needed to design hypertext successfully, high school and middle grade students vary in their ability to use the medium to show relationships in constructed knowledge (Chen & McGrath, 2003). In fact, there is lack of consensus in the literature about the appropriateness and advisability of incorporating hypertext creation in middle grade PBL artifact development, due to the cognitive demands of the task and the self discipline and maturity level of these early adolescents (Liu & Rutledge, 1997; Liu & Pedersen, 1998; Liu & Hsiao, 2002; Chen & McGrath, 2003; Liu, 2003).

Where does this discussion place the middle grade student? As noted, researchers (e.g. McGrath, 2003; Liu, 2003, Chen & McGrath, 2003; Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Newell, 2003; Newstetter, 2000; and Meece et al., 2003) agree upon the advantages of student-directed, collaborative, constructionist learning which middle grade students find in PBL. They also agree upon the benefits of middle graders preparing artifacts for authentic audiences. They acknowledge, as well, the higher level of task engagement and cognitive support which technology use promotes. In question is the creation of hypertext to showcase PBL artifacts in the middle grades. Hypertext creation captures student attention, but several issues arise. Does hypertext artifact creation simply encourage technology play at the middle grade level, or does it promote engaged learning? Is it too difficult a process for early adolescents, who thus fall short of engaged learning; or is it a powerful motivator for engaged learning?

The purpose of this study was to explore whether middle grade students show signs of engagement in learning when they create PBL artifacts using hypertext as a tool. The primary research question is: Do middle grade students show positive signs of engagement in learning when they create hypertext to showcase their project-based learning artifacts for authentic audiences? Two classes of 7 th grade American history students participated in a PBL unit about exploring Washington, DC. They received instruction in inquiry strategies and in web authoring using Dreamweaver prior to the beginning of the unit. In each class two students, matched for reading comprehension and language scores on the IOWA, were the subjects of a case study. The intent of the study was to observe and describe signs of engagement in learning, as the students construct meaning collaboratively and demonstrate it by creating their hypertext artifacts for viewing by all 7 th grade classes at their school prior to the October class trip to Washington, D.C.



Literature Review


Educational literature acknowledges the range in learning experiences from effortless to strenuous, from self-supporting to scaffolding-dependent (Chen & McGrath, 2003; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Ghani & Deshpande, 1994; Vygotsky, 1978; Liu, 2003). Teachers recognize that students may be able to complete learning tasks easily and independently or may require extensive scaffolding to perform at a given level. Due to the transitional nature of middle grade students, their teachers frequently adjust the support provided to meet students’ changing needs. A challenge for middle grade teachers is creating instruction which is challenging, yet engaging for their students.

Project-based learning (PBL) presents students with challenge, choice, and control as they work collaboratively to create artifacts for authentic audiences (Paris, & Ayres, 1994). McGrath (2002) agrees that PBL is motivational and appropriate for middle grade learners; but she and Chen (2003) suggest that evidence shows the creation of PBL artifacts with hypertext is a task better suited to high school students. Might preparatory scaffolding and less complex PBL units assist middle grade students in meeting cognitive demands to perform the hypertext tasks? Might such support facilitate engaged learning?

Very few studies focus on hypertext creation by students, and there is little empirical research on the abilities of middle grade students to develop PBL artifacts using hypertext. Instruction in the use of web authoring software and hypertext creation is sufficiently complex that middle grade teachers may question its effectiveness for their students, given the lack of research information. Since authors note the power of hypertext creation for engaging high school students in learning activities which yield web page artifacts (Chen & McGrath, 2003), this scarcity of information for middle grade students is lamentable. What does current literature say about project-based learning, authentic audiences, and hypertext creation in education?


Project-Based Learning

 Current literature on PBL addresses student engagement, the importance of an authentic audience, and student creation of hypertext. Although there is no single definition of PBL, the characteristics of the model typically include collaborative construction of an artifact that answers an essential question and presentation of that end product to an outside audience (McGrath, 2002). As a learner-centered, constructivist model, PBL offers the potential for increased achievement, cognitive development, and use of higher level thinking skills as students probe open-ended questions and combine their findings to construct new understanding (Liu, 2003). With PBL, as students work collaboratively in small groups to answer the driving question and produce an end product, they demonstrate deep levels of engagement (Chen & McGrath, 2003). Chen and McGrath further state that in PBL, students learn research skills, understand the subject matter at a deeper level than students involved in traditional models, and are more deeply engaged in their work.

A part of the intrigue which PBL holds for middle grade learners is the nature of the topic. Rather than a closed, single-answer question, PBL topics are open-ended, interdisciplinary, and sufficiently interesting to be challenging (Blumenfeld, Soloway, Marx, Krajcik, Guzdial, & Palincsar, 1991). Perkins (1992) refers to the best questions as being “generative,” ones that are at the heart of the discipline and offer many choices for student learning and construction of knowledge. Newell (2003) comments that PBL is learner-directed learning, which emerges from the interests and needs of students, as opposed to teacher-directed learning. “Allowing choice builds intrinsic motivation, and learning becomes natural and meaningful. It is also just-in-time learning, recognizing that the best learning opportunities are created when the learner is interested in them” (Newell, p. 8). For middle grade students, as for all students, the choice and the challenge are key ingredients in learning.

The cognitive and social skills which are developed and used in PBL are important for middle grade learners, as well. Although lower level cognitive skills may often be appropriate for younger learners, analysis, synthesis, and “argument making” are most appropriate for grades 7-12 (Beyer, 1991). McGrath (2003) comments, “One of the main purposes of doing PBL is to engage students in inquiry, analysis, synthesis, and other cognitive processes that lead to deep understanding” (p. 37). As students produce their artifacts, they combine their research, construct new learning, and create a position which they justify. Providing the opportunity for cooperative effort, PBL focuses on clarity in communication, division of labor, group decision making, compromise, and group brainstorming—all appropriate middle grade goals. In fact, Newstetter (2000) notes that cognitive development is supported by collaborative learning, group interaction, and social negotiation.

Another advantage of PBL lies in its emphasis on learner support through mastery goals rather than through the performance goals approach, which emphasizes fact retrieval and competitive accuracy. Meece et al. (2003) note that the transition from elementary to middle grades often entails a shift from the mastery (or learning) goals practices of the earlier grades to the more performance goal approach of traditional secondary settings, even though middle grade students demonstrate an orientation toward learner-centered mastery goals. Combined with these middle grade learning needs are middle grade social and developmental needs:

During adolescence, young people are becoming more knowledgeable and skillful, more independent, and more focused on peer relations and social status. With its focus on the unique needs of all learners, the use of learner-centered teaching practices may be particularly beneficial for creating learning environments that are better matched to the developmental need of young adolescents. (Meece et al., p. 471)

The learner-centered approach is also linked to increased self-efficacy and student achievement. As students work collaboratively, they create supportive learning communities; and they also develop active learning strategies, conceptual understanding, and higher level thinking skills. Finally, as students apply their ideas, select solutions, and create responses, they receive the validation of an artifact “honoring student voices” (Meece, et al., p. 470).


The Audience

 This thought leads to consideration of the audience who will honor those student voices and the role of that audience in PBL. A key attribute of project-based learning is the collaborative construction of an artifact for an authentic, non-classroom audience (Krajcik, Blumenfeld, Marx, & Soloway, 1994). In fact, the end goal of developing a product for an authentic audience is a distinct feature which sets project-based learning apart from more traditional models. Students typically show greater dedication in producing a quality, finished product when they know they will have an audience beyond the classroom (McGrath et al., 1997). Although there is no single definition of PBL, authors agree that the external audience provides a guiding focus as well as an end focus for students (McGrath, 2003; Newell, 2003). Whether the audience is parents, students in another class, students in another country, judges, or an external community of interest, the audience exists to appreciate, perhaps to judge or evaluate, or to question and learn from the artifact (McGrath). “There is a good deal of evidence that students work harder and polish up their projects to a higher degree when there is an audience and a deadline for that visit from the audience” (McGrath, p. 52). This summation of audience importance is affirmed by others, as well (McGrath, et al., 1997; Penuel, Korbak, Yarnall, & Pacpaco, 2001).

In addition to being receivers of the artifact, the audience also plays an important role in the assessment portions of the project. From the beginning, as the driving question and appropriate goals are considered, the students are involved in researching, developing deep understanding, and creating a product designed to show the audience what they have learned (McGrath, 2003; Newell, 2003). As they work, they continually revise their product with the audience in mind. Thus, the audience is a driving force throughout the design phase and in the assessment phase. McGrath even notes that in addition to providing a formative focus, audience awareness reminds the students to avoid wasting time in computer play. Throughout the project then, the presence of an audience reminds the students to maintain focus on content clarity and artifact design for a finished result.


Technology-Based Tools and Hypertext Creation

The benefits of using technology-based tools to design and develop a finished artifact in PBL are acknowledged by various authors and by the development of technology standards for education. Project-based learning which incorporates technology appears to increase students’ motivation, research effort, and product presentation; and the use of technology can help the students maintain task engagement in complex projects (Blumenfeld et al., 1991). Newell (2003) further proposes that PBL “also refocuses the usage of technology from an ancillary or peripheral use to a central and integral part of the process” (p. 5). Technology-based tools are used to support communication and cognitive skills as the students collaboratively conduct research to answer the driving question in PBL and then present their result to their audience. In fact, the extensive use of technology in education has resulted in the creation of national standards by which states may measure their technology infusion. The International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE] offers national educational technology standards [NETS] which have been utilized in some form by more than 90 percent of the state departments of education in the United States (ISTE NETS, n.d.). These standards, which are provided in categories by age group, include technology use as a tool for communication, research, problem-solving and decision-making, all key ingredients in developing a final PBL product for audience appraisal.

Further, hypertext creation by students “is among the most complete and engaging of constructivist/constructionist activities” (Jonassen, Myers, and McKillop, 1996, p. 94). There are numerous advantages in employing hypertext authoring in PBL construction and presentation. The design of the hypertext supports development of thinking skills (Spoehr, 1993) and offers students a creative experience as they use technology to construct learning (Salomon, Perkins, & Globerson, 1989). In terms of underlying skills, the act of designing a learning product supports content learning (Newstetter, 2000) and encourages the acquisition and use of the knowledge (Perkins, 1986). Several authors comment on the positive effects which hypertext construction has on student motivation: increased self-esteem and self-confidence (McGrath et al., 1997; Scheidler, 1993) and enhanced intrinsic goals in learning (Liu & Rutledge, 1997). Further evidence also suggests that collaborative use of hypertext tools to design knowledge artifacts supports intrinsic motivation, self-regulation, and meaningful learning (Erickson & Lehrer, 2000; Krajcik et al., 1994). The design skills and cognitive skills which develop during such processes also generalize to new situations (Flavell, 1976).

As students design and create their end products in hypertext, they develop problem-solving and management skills which are transferable to other learning contexts (Liu, 2003). Carver, Lehrer, Connell, & Erickson (1992) list sixteen separate higher order thinking skills which are related to workplace success and which are incorporated in multimedia and hypertext design. These include question posing, deciding on the nature of the problem, construction of new information, information analysis and interpretation, timeline creation, allocation of resources and time to different segments of the project, role assignment, segmenting and classifying information, developing a product structure, developing media choices, transferring the content design into a presentation medium, developing a structure, juggling constraints such as time and equipment, soliciting peer feedback, articulating intentions, and public presentations (Carver et al.). Liu concurs that these higher order skills are employed in hypertext design in PBL. Using these skills, students focus on the demands of the project and the expectations of the audience as they consider the problem, develop the response, and finally transfer the response into a public presentation medium for the audience (Liu). In addition to displaying this student product publicly, hypertext that is published to the Internet carries the artifact to an even wider audience than traditional forms of display, thus increasing the consequence of presentation and its significance for the learner.

Despite the benefits, there are challenging considerations involved in student authoring via hypertext creation. Collaborative hypertext design is a complex task with many social, cognitive, and process demands (Liu, 2003). Any task that is quite complex in terms of cognitive and management demands requires more student buy-in (Perkins, 1991); and for many unprepared students, those demands may exceed their independent ability levels. The necessary higher-level thinking skills are quite challenging, and students often lack the intrinsic motivation to engage in such cognitive activities voluntarily (Blumenfeld et al., 1991). In addition, students typically require extensive teacher scaffolding as they confront the demands of design technique and multimedia tool usage (Liu). Adding to the discussion of task demands, Heller (1990) notes that students may lack the technology skills required to create hypertext and to deal with the complexities of the medium. Current web authoring software facilitates the process by reducing the creators’ need to write code, but the task of web page creation still remains complex. Therefore, students typically require explicit instruction, coaching and modeling by the teacher or another more knowledgeable individual, practice of design skills and higher level cognitive skills, and continued formative feedback (Liu; Liu & Rutledge, 1997; Carver et al., 1992). Commenting on the time required, Chen and McGrath (2003) state that most PBL units which use hypertext design last for two to four months. With regard to time requirements, Liu notes the importance of repeating hypertext design skills with new projects to generalize skill usage; and he also notes that the process takes at least one semester for students to learn the independence, responsibility, and self direction which are necessary for success. Liu further discusses student needs which must be considered in order to have successful hypertext design in PBL: the high level of cognitive skills, the ability to use multimedia tools, the ability to work cooperatively as a team, resource management skills, time management skills in terms of working toward a deadline, commitment, the collaborative skills necessary to resolve conflicts productively, and communication skills.

Considering these challenges, several researchers have studied the use of hypertext authoring in elementary, middle, and high school grades. Commenting on a comparative study of elementary students who learned and applied hypermedia design and those students who did not, Liu and Pedersen (1998) found that students involved with hypermedia demonstrated increased planning, creativity, and collaborative skills, despite a lack of difference in the final product quality of the two groups. The students using hypertext in the above inquiry also stated that they valued activities which employed greater thinking. Elementary students who use hypertext design show increased motivation and use of higher order thinking skills as they work (Liu & Pedersen). With respect to middle grade students, Liu (2003) notes that time management, resource management, and regulation of effort are especially difficult during hypertext authoring activities; however, he also notes that the middle grade students demonstrate improved process skills with time and experience. In fact, after one semester of intense and repeated work as hypermedia designers, the middle grade students showed that they were aware of the importance of planning, designing, and testing their solutions in hypertext creation (Liu & Hsiao, 2002). It is important to note that Liu and Hsiao studied design, less as a process for simple project display via hypertext and more as a process for multimedia presentation of a more complex end product, including creation of digital video and audio clips, animation, and graphics.

As students mature, their abilities increase; and high school students require less effort and are able to produce more complex and more complete artifacts using hypertext design (Liu, 2003). A study of ninth grade history students revealed their ability to design and collaborate effectively as well as their ability to increase time on task, again with skills improving over several projects (Lehrer, Erickson, & Connell, 1994). As design tasks become more complex and reflect the hierarchy of informational relationships and the structure of concept maps through chunking and linking of information, high school students face a greater challenge in hypertext design.

In a study by Chen and McGrath (2003) involving complex design of hypertext to reflect this relational structuring of information for the concept water, high school students stated that they experienced greater difficulty and less perceived control with such a complicated conceptual task. The large number of links to and from subordinate concept pages, the complexities of showing the structure and hierarchy of concepts, navigational issues, and “the constantly changing interrelationships among concepts” appeared to cause some design teams to have difficulty “presenting their projects with clarity” (Chen & McGrath, p. 410).

Even with older students, then, it is most important to consider the abilities of the students and the demands of the task. Students with less developed cognitive skills or with less organized knowledge structures may focus on the more concrete aspects of media design rather than more abstract considerations of knowledge design (Lehrer, Erickson, & Connell, 1994; Chen & McGrath, 2003). “To promote optimal learning and engagement of all students, it is important to consider individual students’ skill levels and the challenges involved in the tasks of hypermedia design” (Chen & McGrath, p. 416). Thus, the use of PBL and hypertext creation in instruction should match the abilities and needs of the learners with the nature and demands of the task in order to encourage and enable students.

The use of hypertext creation empowers students and encourages them to learn with hypermedia, not just from it (Jonassen et al., 1996). Beyond the collection and display of information gained through Internet research, hypermedia tools can sustain cognitive engagement in the learning task, as well as student motivation (Chen & McGrath, 2003). Chen and McGrath further state that current research in motivation is compatible with the theory of flow. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) describes a state of flow, in which deep concentration and highly focused involvement in a task which is both challenging and achievable will result in a sense of enjoyment and effortlessness. Studying people working with computers, Ghani and Deshpande (1994) found that the flow experience is related to the level of perceived challenge, the individual’s willingness to explore computer use voluntarily, and his/her sense of being in control and not at the mercy of the technology task. Working with enjoyable and highly focused effort, willingness to explore voluntarily, and being in control and not at the mercy of a task are positive states for students—states that enhance intrinsic motivation and engagement in learning (Ghani and Deshpande).

Learners, however, frequently encounter instructional demands which are more difficult. When students are pushed to work beyond the independent level of their ability, the teacher must consider necessary assistance. Vygotsky (1978) proposed a zone of proximal development in which students are able to achieve at more difficult levels with assistance. When supported by appropriate scaffolding and when performing within this zone, students are more likely to increase their abilities to reach higher levels than they could independently and to experience a more enjoyable and focused learning experience. As capabilities and positive experiences increase, the zone moves higher. It follows that in order for hypertext authoring to reach its potential for increasing the engagement of students in PBL, the students should have experience in hypertext creation, as well as the confidence and sense of control that such experience brings. High school students benefit from having simple design experience and exploratory opportunities, and then they are better able to prepare for the more complex task of ordering information (Liu, 2003). This raises the issue of providing middle grade students with a similar opportunity to explore and gain experience in working with web authoring software to showcase artifacts for their audience, without demanding the more complex and abstract aspects of design.

In their high school design study involving hierarchical structuring of concepts related to water, Chen and McGrath (2003) note that the activities of researching to locate and select appropriate information and then relating and organizing the information were the most engaging design tasks, as measured by student report of enjoyment, concentration, control, exploration, and challenge. The more abstract and complex tasks of chunking, linking, and naming paths were regarded as less enjoyable. “Their perceived enjoyment while working on the [research and organizational] task appeared to increase their willingness to engage in this complex learning process” (Chen & McGrath, p. 410). The research skills for locating and selecting information and the skills needed to organize information are appropriate middle grade goals, as well; and this simpler aspect of project design should promote positive signs of middle grade engagement in learning. Another aspect of hypertext design which should support the needs of middle grade learners is the availability of immediate visual feedback and options for immediate change. Chen and McGrath note that hypermedia tool use appeared to support the students in their attempts to visualize and present their knowledge in their web page artifact by providing a flexible way to make changes. The choices and immediate feedback heightened the students’ sense of control and play. “This engaging process resulted in the students’ perception of hypermedia as an expressive tool, and they often regarded their projects as their self-reflections” (Chen & McGrath, p. 415-416). When PBL tasks are cognitively and experientially appropriate, middle grade students may also experience this level of engagement in learning.

What, though, does engagement in learning look like? How does a teacher recognize this desirable condition? Just as there is no single definition of PBL, there is no single definition or description of engaged learning, though educators and researchers discuss and pursue it. From Piaget’s study of equilibration in cognitive development (Woolfolk, 1987), to Vygotsky’s recognition of the higher level of learner enjoyment and success that is attainable in the zone of proximal development when more knowledgeable others scaffold appropriately (1978), to Csikszentmihalyi’s description of the deep yet effortless state of flow (1990), authors have theorized about and investigated the intense and highly productive state called engaged learning. This engagement, however, is an internal brain function which is difficult to define or describe.

Despite the lack of consensus, authors agree that students demonstrate indicative behaviors during highly focused learning activities. Noting Csikszentmihalyi’s flow state with its deep concentration, sense of control, and response to challenge (1990), Chen and McGrath regard engaged learning as an active state and define engagement as enjoyment, concentration, perceived control, exploration, and perceived challenge. They also note the presence of student curiosity, deep involvement, and loss of a sense of time during periods of learning engagement (2003). McGrath notes that learners who have an authentic audience for their end products demonstrate engaged learning by maintaining focus on their content clarity and artifact design (2003). McGrath also notes that student engagement in inquiry and analysis leads to deep understanding and promotes research and knowledge construction (2002, 2003). Liu (2003) remarks on increased student engagement which is related to management and design skills. Paris and Ayres discuss self-regulated learners who are “active participants in their own learning” (1994, p. 26). For students who direct their own learning, Paris and Ayres found that they exercise choice in goals and strategies, have a need for challenge, take risks to achieve more, control their learning, collaborate as they read and write, construct meaning, take ownership for their learning, seek rewarding experiences, and self-monitor their performance and progress. Depictions of engagement in learning, such as Chen & McGrath and Paris & Ayres present, follow a common idea of focused and worthwhile concentration with a purpose. Despite agreement about the importance and general nature of engagement in learning, however, there remains no commonly accepted definition or description.



Project-based learning is proposed as a potential solution to the issue that students demonstrate a decline in motivation in middle school (Meece et al., 2003). Working collaboratively in small groups to investigate a driving question which is open-ended in nature, students exercise choice and control in their learning decisions. They use higher level thinking skills as they develop strategies, solve problems, make decisions, and construct knowledge together (Liu, 2003). An important element throughout PBL is the creation of a learning artifact for an authentic audience. Consideration of this audience, in fact, helps the students remain focused on the requirements of the project and encourages diligence toward the final consequence: the final presentation. The challenge and intrigue of PBL is heightened by student creation of hypertext to display their final product on a website. Agreeing on the motivational benefits of hypertext authoring, various studies (e.g. Chen & McGrath, 2003; Liu; Liu & Hsiao, 2002; Lehrer et al., 1994) have found high school students to be most capable in hypertext design and middle grade students to be noticeably less capable. The nature of hypertext design tasks may vary, however, from simple showcasing of an end product (Liu & Pedersen, 1998) to more complex management tasks (Liu). Those tasks may also include highly complex content design of web pages which graphically depict the relationship of knowledge structures via levels and sublevels (Chen & McGrath). In short, hypertext creation tasks can range from a simple web page display of an artifact to a complex design of a website which reflects the hierarchical structure of the content information.

To design a PBL unit allowing students to work within their zone of proximal development, learners’ skill levels must be matched with the demands of the task to avoid frustration at one end of the continuum and boredom at the other. Spitzer (1996) remarks that most learning tasks are boring, and it is important to include motivators such as actions and hands on learning, choice, social interaction, error tolerance, feedback, challenge, fun, and recognition or consequences in learning contexts. As noted throughout this review, hypertext authoring in PBL provides Spitzer’s motivators. Hypertext creation also increases motivation toward learning, encourages creativity, and supports the development of cognitive skills and design skills; further, hypertext authoring challenges students to consider the needs of the audience and develop strategies for constructing their information in a hypermedia artifact for presentation (Liu, 2003). The creative problem-solving and decision-making potential of hypertext creation for artifact display in PBL is powerful.

The literature, however, does not agree upon the suitability of hypertext design in the middle grades, largely as a result of the different types of design tasks which have been utilized and noted above. On one hand, the use of hypertext design in PBL has the potential at all levels to increase student challenge, creativity, intrinsic motivation, engagement in meaningful learning, and development of transferable skills, as discussed. On the other hand, complex design requirements can include advanced problem solving, extensive scaffolding and teacher guidance, broad resource management skills, higher level technical skills, and challenges with time constraints. Since student ability should be reasonably matched with task demand to minimize frustration and potential failure, perhaps the simpler aspects of media design for project display are appropriate starting points for middle grade students, rather than the more abstract demands of knowledge structure design. Rather than utilizing PBL units which require two to four months for completion, middle grade students might be well served with shorter, more manageable tasks in order to gain the skills and confidence needed for more advanced hypertext design tasks later. The opportunity for technical exploration should allow for the development of skills, appreciation of the creative possibilities offered by web authoring technology, and increased self confidence in learning with technology.

As noted in this review, the literature focuses on studies of longer PBL units, more complex design tasks, creation of multimedia products, and the greater difficulty which middle grade students may have with these tasks. A gap in the current literature exists concerning middle grade creation of hypertext in PBL for the simple purpose of showcasing artifacts for the audience via the Internet. Will such PBL units allow for positive levels of engagement in learning with technology for middle grade students? The proposed applied project sought to investigate signs of middle grade student engagement in project-based learning when the duration of the unit is less than one month and when the students design hypertext as a vehicle for the display of constructed knowledge.




Qualitative Research Paradigm

Researchers employ qualitative methods when seeking data that is based on open-ended observation in a natural setting, rather than based on measurable results of hypothesis testing (Creswell, 2003). In order to explore possible signs of engagement in learning, this study focused on student activity in the classroom and computer lab and described patterns of behavior which emerged during hypertext creation of a PBL artifact. Qualitative research was appropriate for this study because it focused on understanding the participants’ experiences in context. Further, qualitative research allowed me to explore descriptive data which emerged during the study and interpret that data. As the 7 th grade students engaged in a PBL unit to construct meaning collaboratively and design the web pages to showcase their end products, I observed and described their behavior carefully for analysis. Because there was little research on signs of engaged learning in 7 th graders as they create hypertext artifacts for authentic audiences in PBL activities, the exploration which qualitative research provides was indicated.


Strategy of Inquiry: Case Study Design

 Since the case study is a strategy of inquiry which explores the process and activities of participants, it is especially appropriate for this study. Based largely on the observations of and the interviews with the participants, case studies allow the researcher to explore, collect, and describe data which is open-ended and emerges throughout the study. The intent of qualitative research which employs case studies is to describe developing themes from the data and to analyze the data for verifiable interpretations (Creswell, 2003). Stake (1995) discussed the value of using the case study for exploring the process of one or more individuals via a variety of data collection types for a given period of time. This case study focused on four students during a three week long PBL unit and will include careful observation and rich description of their behaviors during the study, analysis of their hypertext artifacts, examination of the students’ reflective responses to open-ended questions in journals, and interviews with the participants during and at the end of the project. The data collected from these four sources underwent analysis for themes or categories which may or may not emerge concerning engaged learning in the 7 th grade participants.


Researcher’s Role

Creswell (2003) notes that “qualitative research is interpretative research, with the inquirer typically involved in a sustained and intensive experience with participants” (p. 184). Each qualitative researcher brings personal experience to a study, and the interpretations which emerge are shaped to some extent by his or her own background and prior experience. My six years of experience as a middle grade teacher have shown me how unpredictable early adolescents can be. As their cognitive and social/emotional skills develop at uneven rates, they gradually become more capable academically. Yet during this time of great physical and intellectual change, they often exhibit declining motivation in academic areas, due to a shift from the mastery and learning goals of elementary years to performance goals in most middle school models (Meece, 2003; Meece, Herman, & McCombs, 2003). With its emphasis on active learning that is relevant and meaningful, constructivist instruction focuses on learning goals and centers more on challenging the critical thinking of students in a social context of exploration than on performance and competition. I believe that capturing middle grade students’ attention and imagination in a collaborative learning environment is important in designing instruction for them. I felt that brief PBL units, which incorporate hypertext creation as a means of reaching a wide authentic audience, might hook 7 th grade learners. The question before me was whether they would play with the technology, become frustrated with the demands of the task, or become engaged in meaningful learning.

Glesne & Peshkin (1992) note the care which is essential in “backyard” research, or research in ones immediate work setting. Confidentiality is vital in maintaining student privacy, and the inquirer must guard against bias and inappropriate interpretations by using triangulation to verify findings and interpretations. All of these considerations were honored in this study. I explored this area in an honest and ethical manner while protecting the rights and interests of my students. I obtained permission to conduct the study from the school where I work; in fact, my principal stated interest in the process and its implications for future student technology use. Students and their parents received explanation of the study and signed a release form to participate in the study. Of the students who volunteered to be included in the study, and whose parents also agreed in writing, four were covertly selected, having been purposefully matched for language and reading comprehension scores on the IOWA and for demonstrated compatibility in collaborative work. None of the students knew who was included in the study, and students chosen for the case study were referenced by numbers. All students in both American history classes participated in the PBL unit and presented their artifacts in hypertext for viewing by the entire 7 th grade in their school. The data collected via observation, student hypertext documents, student journals, and interviews was analyzed and compared to verify findings and patterns which emerged.


Location and Context:

The study took place in each of two 7 th grade honors American history classes in a suburban, college-preparatory private school which includes pre-K through 12 th grade. Each class had one pair of students in the study, and they worked together in two person collaborative groups, which is typical of PBL. Since the school uses a modified block schedule, the students participated three days each week in 50 minute periods and one day each week in a 90 minute period. Working in one of three computer labs, each student had access to networked personal computers with high speed Internet connection and with Microsoft Office and Dreamweaver software installed. The students saved their work on the school’s server in password protected folders to prevent access and alterations by other students. The study lasted three weeks.

Each year the 7 th grade students in this school take a four day school trip to Washington, D.C. to learn about the nation’s capital. In preparation for this trip, students have traditionally participated in a two week unit of study involving lecture, extensive note completion, and familiarization with pictures from a 12 page guide book, followed by a 200 item true/false, scantron test. Students in past years reported lack of interest in the study. The principal and the social studies department had expressed interest in changing this unit. This year the students in my two honors American history classes participated in the PBL unit to explore via the Internet the locations and information about Washington. They used inquiry strategies to guide their research, and they selected their own topics for inclusion in the html documents they created and presented to the entire 7 th grade the week prior to the trip. They collaboratively constructed knowledge about various aspects of Washington, DC which they presented via a website to an authentic audience of their peers, teachers, principal, and parents. This activity formed the PBL unit purpose, content, and audience for this study.



 Four participants were selected from two classes of 7 th grade honors American history students in a college preparatory, private suburban school in the southeastern United States. Representing diverse ethnic backgrounds, the students achieved above average reading comprehension and language scores on the IOWA in order to be placed in the classes.

Selection of participants was governed by student willingness to be included, parent permission, self pairing of students, and my choice in order to offer as balanced a collection as possible, given such a small pool of participants. During the second week of school, I explained the upcoming project to the students. All thirty-seven honors American history students in the 7 th grade at the host school volunteered to be included. At the PTO open house night, I explained the project and my need for parental permission to the parents, and I answered their questions. The parents of all students of European American and Indian origin and all but one African American student and one Asian American student gave permission for their students to be included.

The students were instructed to consider possible working partners during the next week and be prepared to form partnership pairs by the beginning of the project a week later. Due to the odd number, there was one class with a group of three. As my students announced their preferred working partners, I analyzed each team for learning variables and for IOWA scores in reading comprehension, total language, social studies, and total scores, in order to achieve as much cognitive parity yet individual diversity as possible among the students selected. Rather than observing four students each working with other partners not in the study, I decided to observe students working together in pairs, since collaboration is an important aspect of project-based learning and an aspect noted by Chen and McGrath (2003) and Paris and Ayers (1994) as influencing engaged learning.

Although all teams would have been excellent choices, one pair from each class emerged as the project participants. For the purpose of the study, these four volunteer students were not informed of their selection. All students participated in the PBL activities, but only the four initially selected, based on matching scores and demonstrated collaborative compatibility, were a part of the case study.


Central Question

 The purpose of the case study was to explore the following question: What signs of engaged learning emerge during hypertext artifact development by 7 th grade students for authentic audiences in project-based learning? For the purpose of this study, hypertext artifacts were the knowledge end products in project-based learning, which were developed using the web authoring software, Dreamweaver. The sub-questions included:

  1. What learning behaviors and attitudes do students exhibit when they collaboratively design hypertext format, including the appearance and technological features of the medium?
  2. What learning behaviors and attitudes do students exhibit when they collaboratively construct hypertext PBL artifacts, including constructed knowledge?


Data Collection Process

The case study explored and described

  • observations of demonstrated behavior and activities during PBL activities, performed by myself as an observer and not a participant,
  • artifacts in the form of student created html documents,
  • interview information obtained by student-written responses to reflective, open-ended questions in student journals, and
  • interview information obtained through informal conversations between me and each participant throughout the unit and through a more formal interview at the conclusion of the unit.

During the three week course of the PBL activities, I engaged in continual observation and recorded the participants’ behavior every 3-4 minutes minimally, and as changes in demonstrated behaviors and activities occurred, using an observation form (Appendix E). The students stored their research notes, artifacts, and student html documents electronically on the school network for security, and I collected them on my website for analysis and for public display after student completion. Students reflected upon and responded to open-end questions in their student learning journals for the project. I collected the individual journal sheets daily for analysis. Each day as the students worked, I conducted informal discussions, requested clarifications of student statements, and scaffolded as necessary. At the conclusion of the unit, I interviewed at least eleven students from each class in order to covertly analyze the take-away impressions of the four participants. All students remained uninformed about the identity of the four participants in the case study.


Data Analysis

The data was collected daily and analyzed for emerging patterns as the study progressed. Analysis of the data included rich, detailed description of the behaviors. I collated results on an ongoing basis to discover any themes or categories of behavior which emerged. Since, as an inquirer with possible bias, I could have undoubtedly filtered the data through the personal lens of a middle grade teacher, I triangulated findings and used caution in interpreting results. I also employed peer debriefing with two veteran middle grade teachers, one well versed in educational technology and the other not experienced in the use of technology in the classroom. Although their comments did not provide a basis for analysis and are not be included in the study, the impressions of these two individuals alerted me to potentially biased judgments on my part and assisted in balanced and neutral interpretation.

The four means of data collection were analyzed as follows. I carefully documented the observations of student behavior and demonstrated attitude during PBL activities for hypertext creation. Findings were categorized by date, by student, and by task; included descriptive notes and reflective notes; and were studied for signs of engaged learning and interpreted for emerging patterns or themes. Each day I noted the progress toward completion of the artifact; and upon completion of the project, I analyzed those student html documents for content quality, constructed meaning, and signs of engaged learning. The students completed personal learning journals for reflection upon their experiences. They were encouraged to write their impressions spontaneously, but they also received open-ended interview style questions which they also addressed in their journals. These written views and opinions were collected daily for analysis of student statements and descriptions of their learning experiences. Finally, interview notes were analyzed daily for evidence of frustration, play, or engaged learning. These informal student comments were collected for a day by day view, as well as an overall view of their process. The closing interview was also analyzed for the students’ concluding impressions of the value of their experience.



There are several limitations to this study. First, since the four selected case study participants have above average reading comprehension and language scores and are such a small sample, the study is not generalizable to all 7 th grade students in their graduating class. Also, given the fairly rapid physical and intellectual growth which many 12 to 13 year olds experience during the 7 th grade year, the findings of the study are limited to the performance of these students during their second month in the 7 th grade. In addition, since the research was based largely on interpretation of data analysis, I considered it necessary to observe carefully, record precisely, and confer frequently with my peer debriefers to avoid bias in my interpretations.

Few researchers have explored the capabilities and engaged learning behavior of 7 th grade authors of hypertext PBL artifacts. Of those who have, there is lack of consensus about the advisability of using this web authoring tool with middle grade students to facilitate engaged learning. These students change so quickly as they mature. Despite the limitations of this study and the lack of generalizability, it provides a forum for the discussion of signs of engaged learning and for newly emerging questions .  



Results and Discussion

Case Study Participants

One pair of girls and one of boys presented fairly matched IOWA scores between the two teams and a representative variety of learning and performance styles (see Table 1). G1 and G2 formed Team 1, and B1 and B2 formed Team 2. Each team was composed of strong academic achievers, with one student having higher IOWA scores than the other that are beyond the standard error range. G1 and B1 show a preference for visual or visual/auditory learning and for more teacher guidance and feedback than their counterparts. Both G1 and B1 display more inquisitive and thoughtful behavior in class than their counterparts. Both G2 and B2 show greater independence, academically and socially.

Table 1: Demographics for the Four Participants











Mid 12

Young 13

Mid 12

Almost 13









African American

Euro American

Euro American

Euro American




Diagnosed mild auditory perception disorder (tolerance fading*)



Duration at school


7 years

1 month

9 years

2 years

Preferred learning style

Mixed auditory visual, takes excellent notes in class and during reading, creates graphic organizers


Reads and takes adequate notes independently; analytical; listens
in class attentively

Visual, kinesthetic; takes excellent notes in class and during reading,
uses prepared graphic organizers

Reads and takes notes quickly, independently; analytical; listens in class attentively

In-class academic independence style

Seeks teacher guidance and feedback,
continues discussions after class


Independent worker, occasionally requests teacher response, seeks peer feedback


Seeks teacher guidance and feedback,
continues discussions after class

Independent worker, occasionally requests teacher response

IOWA Stanines






Class grade






Writing skills


complete information


usually complete information

complete information

Very good, brief, usually complete information


Approach to content in class

Highly focused; questions, comments, and discusses freely; relates previous knowledge


questions, comments occasionally with class; frequently chats

Highly focused; questions, comments, and discusses freely; relates previous knowledge

Highly focused; gives analytical comments, discusses freely, seldom asks questions

Academic attitude

Firm work ethic, determination to
do well, desire to understand

Determined to achieve high
grades, motivated by approval


Highly motivated
to understand concepts, firm work ethic

Pursues both content and grades, motivated student of history

Social interaction style

serious, pleasant

talkative, highly involved socially


Pleasant, talkative, finds humor easily

Outgoing, athletic, serious in class

*B1’s auditory focus is diminished by background noise, he has difficulty discriminating speech sounds for words although his acuity is normal, and he has a short term auditory memory deficit which causes him to forget the beginning of spoken presentations without visual accompaniment, while recalling the ending portion clearly.

All four students received a nine week exploratory course in the sixth grade focusing on technology skills. Basic word processing and presentation skills were addressed with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, and the students learned simple applications of Inspiration for organizing information. They learned about Internet safety and the importance of evaluating the reliability of websites. Team 1 had a social studies teacher who did not integrate technology into instruction; team 2’s social studies teacher incorporated technology almost daily, in class or for homework. None of the four have been on the school’s web construction team, and none of them had prior experience with Dreamweaver.


The Project-Based Learning Unit

 The unit unfolded in two major sections: preparation for artifact creation and the actual creation of the web pages for the audience. Beginning on the Monday after Labor Day, this PBL unit had already generated substantial curiosity in the two classes. Students said they were eager to move from text books to computers, which they felt would offer more potential for exploration and interactive learning. G2, B1, and B2 expressed confidence in their Internet exploration skills, while G1 remained somewhat quieter about the prospect. The students began by sharing what they already knew about Washington, DC from previous experiences and knowledge. After collecting all ideas, and posting them for the class on the computer lab overhead TV screens, I introduced the school media specialist (SMS). SMS gave a PowerPoint presentation which she created for this class about productive Internet exploration using Google’s Advanced Search. The PowerPoint also modeled eye-catching and thought provoking information and pictures about Washington, to further intrigue the students about the possibilities that lay before them.

Having already explored Internet resources, I urged the students to limit their searches to .gov and .edu sites to increase their likelihood of finding excellent resources on Washington, DC quickly and efficiently. I did not mention the pornography sites which use Washington names with .com URLs. In this way, the seventh graders were able to use the Internet productively without triggering the school firewall, which might have triggered further unsavory exploration at home.

Following SMS’s presentation, the students began exploring the Internet for information about Washington and began to note additional topics for the project. At the end of that class, I gathered all of the proposed topics, led a discussion to discover any relationships or categories that emerged, and shifted the amassed list into thirteen topics via student suggestion and text manipulation in Word, shown on the overhead TVs (see Appendix A). Next, the student pairs requested their top four choices for a topic to pursue and then received their final topic. The pair of boys was able to get their first choice since they were the only students to rank Military Memorials as their number one preference. They laughed, gave each other high-five hand slaps, and immediately began designing their site, prior to further research. The two girls picked two topics that were popular, and they received their second choice: What kind of government do we have and how was it formed? They told me they thought the topic was important, but they were not sure how to begin their research. They did not begin planning their web page but, instead, talked about how to locate needed information.

Next, all students considered how explaining their topic would contribute to an answer for the overarching question for the entire project: Why should Americans visit Washington, DC? Each pair developed a set of key questions which they hoped to answer as they prepared their projects. B1 and B2 agreed that their questions about the World War II, Iwo Jima/Marine, Korean War, and Vietnam memorials should include the following:

  • “What happened and why did they make it?”
  • "When did it happen, why did we fight, and did we win?”
  • Why should we learn about it now?”
  • “Why did the builder make it look like this?”

During the first round of Internet exploration, B1 had learned that the 19 statues of soldiers reflected in the mirrored surface of the Korean War wall produced 38 images, which represented the 38 th parallel. He expressed curiosity to learn if the other monuments had stories about the reasons for their designs, as well. B1 and B2 each expressed excitement about the project and impatience to begin. They told me they realized they would have to research carefully to discover their answers; they would have to reduce a lot of information to a description in their own words; and they would need to organize their efforts and work collaboratively. Thus, the pair of boys demonstrated curiosity, perceived challenge and control, deep involvement, and a desire for exploration even before reaching the web page construction stage.

Initially curious about their topic and sure that it was important for a successful explanation of the value of knowing about Washington, DC and its role in American government, the girls decided to learn about America’s form of government and how that government was formed and is currently run. Their questions included

  • “What kind of government do we have?”
  • “Is our government different from others? Why?”
  • “How did we get this kind of government?”
  • “What do the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution say?”
  • “Will we see anything on the trip that helps us understand our government?”
  • “What do my friends want to know?” (Awareness of audience)

As they resumed their research, however, G1 and G2 discovered that there was too much information at the high school and college reading level and too little that they could find easily at their 7 th grade level. They began to understand that their topic could be very complex and extensive, and they expressed concern to me. Since our class studies had only gone through the colonial stage prior to the start of the PBL unit, neither girl had formally studied the Revolutionary War or the founding of the federal government since the fourth grade. Both girls sought additional guidance from me, with G1 stating fear that she couldn’t find material and G2 stating that there was nothing on the Internet on their topic. Rather that allow them to select another topic, I suggested that they go talk with SMS about database searches. They returned to the lab ten minutes later, and worked together on one computer for the remainder of the class time, reading and discussing the selections they found and planning their course of action. They each had two books that they had checked out of the library, as well.

The next day, armed with more understanding of their topic, they returned to the Internet for information. I periodically went to their stations to inquire about their progress and answer questions. When possible, I answered their questions with simpler questions which they could answer themselves. Although the pair of girls began with a spirit of commitment and excitement for learning about and explaining their topic, they quickly encountered difficulty and realized they had a much more complex topic than they had thought. Scaffolding from me and from SMS aided them in locating information about their research questions, as well as meaningfully relating their findings to their questions. The girls’ initial curiosity had been quickly replaced by a sense of dread and inadequacy. Appropriate scaffolding reinstated their sense of capability and ownership of their learning outcome. Both said they knew they would have to work harder that some other teams with easier topics. Their response to the challenge and success after the scaffolding assistance seemed to deepen their commitment again.

When both classes had topics and questions to guide their research, I instructed them in electronic storage of their work, creation and use of a resource file for their research, and basic Dreamweaver instruction (see Appendix B) as preliminary scaffolds to support their PBL work. Storage on the school server insured protection from inadvertent tampering by other students. Furthermore, this type of student storage insured that students could not work on their projects at home—that I would be able to observe all of their work. Next, I instructed them to open and save a Word document titled Resources which would be used for research findings. They were directed to save the titles and URLs of relevant websites, along with brief identifying notes, as they explored the Internet for information and images. When they felt they had gathered enough sites, they could return to the resource page, connect to the sites via the links created by the URLs in Word, and add notes and paste in small copies of pictures which they could consider using in their own web pages. They were cautioned that images would not be copied and pasted into Dreamweaver and that pasting a picture onto the resource page was for reference only. I advised them about discovering and avoiding copyright protected images, and I cautioned against cloned sentences with slight rewording efforts and other issues of plagiarism. The copyright and plagiarism information were review items for these 7 th graders since they have received instruction on honor code issues in academics since early elementary years.

Since the students would undoubtedly complete their preparatory tasks at different rates, I guided them in setting up their Dreamweaver sites and learning basic web authoring skills, including correct image saving procedures, prior to in-depth research. Appendix B shows the student handout for later referral. B1 and B2 showed animated gestures and facial expressions as they learned the basic techniques of font and background choices and the steps for saving images to their newly established image folders in their Washington Dreamweaver folders. B2 continually returned to the Internet during the demonstration, and he had saved three pictures by the time the other students were instructed to locate and save one. B1 remained on task, asked me to see the picture he had saved, and asked if I liked the font and color selections he had made. Both girls appeared hesitant, as shown by deep concentration, looks at each others screens, tentative efforts, and requests for one-on-one guidance. They quickly projected a sense of control and confidence as they achieved success, and were soon exploring the Dreamweaver options.

For the next few days, students worked at individual rates to locate resources and relate the information they found. Soon they were trimming unneeded sites, images, and information, and they began forming answers to their questions and designing their web pages. During this time, I facilitated learning efforts as needed and continued to observe for signs of engaged learning in all students, but especially in my four participants. Although my research questions would be addressed more in the second part of the project when the students began their actual web page construction, I felt this portion of the project illustrated the learning styles of the participants and especially their collaborative styles. G1 and G2 worked in tandem, in a highly orchestrated fashion. They discussed each goal for each day, worked on self assigned and agreed upon portions, discussed their results, and completed their journals carefully each day. B1 and B2 each claimed two monuments to research and worked independently of each other, with comments made when something unusual was discovered. They appeared to save their collaborative efforts for the hypertext portion of the project. B1 frequently called me over to his station to view his progress and ask for my feedback. He was observed to ask B2 for feedback on several occasions, but most comments to B2 were for sharing something surprising rather than asking for assistance or confirmation.

I also noted the variation in the level of scaffolding which was needed by individual students during this first part of the project. The G1 and G2 requested scaffolding during this information gathering and concept development phase more than the boys. I feel that their requests were based on the complexity of their topic and lack of substantial prior knowledge to guide their efforts, rather than on lack of ability. They had chosen a topic which is addressed in entire courses on government in high school and college. By seeking help from their two more knowledgeable others, SMS and me, they had found a way to deal with their dilemma. They had searched until they realized the enormity of their task. They self monitored their lack of progress and sought assistance, rather than collecting inadequate and unrelated information. During this time of information gathering and consideration of new meaning, all four participants concentrated on their tasks, were deeply involved in their tasks, and worked hard to construct new meaning instead of copying and pasting information to fill space. All four expressed surprise each day at how quickly the class time passed.

As the students neared the end of the information gathering and assimilating portion of the project, I reviewed them once more on the basics of Dreamweaver usage, reviewed again the power of the Page Properties section, and showed, the classes how to use tables to place text and images and how to create hyperlinks and named anchors, via a reference tool (Appendix F). All previous excitement was diminished compared to the new level. G1 and G2 said that they recognized the links and anchors features from professional websites they had visited. They chattered in an animated manner about the links and anchors they would employ. B2 immediately grasped the application of tables and worked on B1’s computer to show him the design advantages of using tables. As many other students did, G1 and G2 initially stated confusion about the need for and creation of tables until I created a sample table using their own materials to accomplish what they wanted but were unable to achieve without tables. Seeing the technique work in their own context convinced them of the design advantage in using tables.

As the students began creating their hypertext artifacts, they occasionally called on me to share achievements, to request assistance on technical matters, or to solicit feedback on their progress. Overall, however, they appeared highly focused on their work and largely unaware of time passage or background noise. The level of intense student attention to their tasks allowed me the opportunity I needed to observe carefully for signs of engagement in learning during their hypertext creation. By scaffolding early in the PBL unit in both content and technology areas, and by encouraging the students to explore the Internet, the process of information organization, and Dreamweaver functions prior to hypertext creation, I had set the stage for learner application of those skills. The time of playful exploration was past. The students showed signs of working intently and in a most engaged manner toward a goal: creating an artifact which would answer an overarching question and be viewed online by their 7 th grade peers.

Each day I collected data via direct observation, informal interviews accomplished through conversations, student comments in journals, and viewing the artifact under construction. In order to avoid flipping papers and calling attention to my actions, I kept with me a clipboard with my field notes. At four minute intervals or as specific actions were noted, I stepped back from the students and logged my observations. Many times I missed my four minute target because a student or team requested my attention, but I recorded as quickly and as much as I could. After their initial difficulties conducting research and answering their self posed questions, the two girls appeared to settle solidly into creating their artifact in hypertext format. Both boys focused on their web page formation even before finishing the collection of their information and transforming it into their own new knowledge. As a result, they were forced several times to renew their research and assimilation efforts. In the end both groups completed their artifacts to their stated satisfaction, with the boys finishing one day before the girls.

Reviewing my observation notes, I found that all four participants showed signs of engagement in learning as they created their web pages. Table 2 presents eleven indicators of engaged learning which were observed during the first two days of hypertext creation. These signs of engaged learning behavior or affective response to engaged learning are among those noted by Chen and McGrath (2003) and Paris and Ayres (1994). Some of the behaviors were visually observed, such as attention to task, collaborating, and maintaining focus on content or artifact design. Other, more internal behaviors or attitudes, such as enjoyment, deep concentration, and curiosity, were noted by overhearing conversations between partners and by my noting simultaneous facial expressions. Initially, G1 and G2 indicated less enjoyment, focus on design, and curiosity and exploration of choices. B1 and B2, on the other hand, demonstrated less concentration, focus on content as constructed meaning, and less awareness of their audience.

Table 2 Signs of Engagement in Learning During First Two Days of Hypertext Creation

F = frequent and recurrent O = occasional indication I = infrequent or missing







Attention to task






Deep Concentration












Exploration of choices












Loss of sense of time






Awareness of Audience






Maintains Focus on Content






Maintains Focus on Artifact         Design





Constructing Meaning












Self-monitoring Progress






During these first two days, the girls appeared to be exerting more effort in managing the content of their artifact, and they did not appear to be as at ease as the boys. G1 and G2 demonstrated fewer smiles, more intense stares at the monitors, and less exploration with the style features of Dreamweaver. They did, however, appear quite intent as they concentrated. B1 and B2 initially attended less than the girls to the content and more to the style features, including tables, image manipulation, and searching for animated images to introduce their page. B2 asked me to show him how to eliminate some of the background in an image, so I showed him the cropping technique in Macromedia Fireworks MX 2004. Both boys expressed the determination to get the program at home.

By the end of the hypertext creation period, the girls had caught up with the boys in Dreamweaver style application, and the boys had returned their primary focus to their content. Both groups understood and capably used tables, links, and named anchors to facilitate content placement and audience ease of use. Table 3 reflects this greater technical confidence which the girls gained and the greater attention to content and final preparation for the audience by the boys. Once they felt they had capably addressed their content, G1 and G2 focused more on the design aspects of the artifact development and demonstrated increased enjoyment, curiosity, and exploration. After exploring the design aspects and including high-interest visual components such as exploding fireworks and zooming helicopters, B1 and B2 became more aware of their content needs and increased their concentration on constructing meaning for their audience.

Table 3 Signs of Engagement in Learning During Last Two Days of Hypertext Creation

F = frequent and recurrent O = occasional indication I = infrequent or missing







Attention to task






Deep Concentration












Exploration of choices












Loss of sense of time






Awareness of Audience






Maintains Focus on Content






Maintains Focus on Artifact      Design





Constructing Meaning












Self-Monitoring Progress






Although G1 maintained a sense of caution and concern about completing the project at the level of excellence she wanted, she outwardly relaxed more, laughed more, and demonstrated visible relief when I agreed to let her and G2 work after school on the last day to complete their finishing touches. B1 and B2 were heard to discuss concern with each other when they realized that they had not answered all of their questions. Their self-monitoring skills increased after that discussion. Although the two groups varied slightly in the type and intensity of engaged learning behaviors which I observed, both teams exhibited active learning with a response to challenge and a commitment for growth.

The student journals were not as productive as my direct observation, but several interesting affective responses emerged. During the research and knowledge assimilation stage of the PBL unit, both girls wrote fairly extensive responses. Once they began the hypertext creation, they either lost track of time or lost interest in journaling. Despite my five minute warning at the end of each class to save, log off, and journal, the four participants worked on their computers until the bell, and then rapidly wrote a few responses. I wondered if electronic journaling would have produced better results. Both girls expressed a “need to work faster” and a concern about having enough time to finish their work to their satisfaction. By the last two days of hypertext creation, G1 wrote, “This is starting to be fun!” and “Our website is going to look really good J .” G2 echoed those feelings in her journals. Another comment which both G1 and G2 made several times was excitement about what their friends would think about the web page. Most of the boys’ comments were quite brief: “Great,” “Good work,” “Need a flash drive,” and “I think we did really good today.” B1 commented at the end of the second day of Dreamweaver use, “I think we should ask you for a clarification.” The next day he asked me to view his and B2’s screens and tell them if they were on track or not. This was the time when I asked them to review their driving questions for their topic. Widened eyes and an “Oh yeah!” response resulted. Thus, the journals did not add significant data, but did confirm G1’s stress reduction and increased confidence and enjoyment, as well as provide B1 with the opportunity to remember self-monitoring.

The interview process was quite productive in terms of data collection. Informal conversations on a daily basis yielded data which confirmed the observed indicators of engagement in learning noted in tables 2 and 3. These informal conversations revealed student excitement, concern, and desire to create excellent web pages on their topics. Team 1 requested extra assistance with Dreamweaver use, especially in understanding the use of tables. They also sought reassurance that they would have the opportunity to complete the project. I told them that their interest would result in extra time after school, and their smiles indicated satisfaction. Initially unsure about using the technology, in the end, they felt that creating their end product in hypertext was the highlight of the project. The use of scaffolding supported Team 1’s efforts, and the extra work time which was provided revealed the team’s persistence and commitment to their learning project.

The members of Team 2, who were initially interested primarily in the technology, each stated that learning about the content, the memorials, was one of the things they enjoyed most about the project. Both B1 and B2 expressed a lack of pressure and a feeling that their prior experience with technology created a good comfort level. Both boys mentioned having had technology projects with Mr. A last year. My inquiries with both the two boys and with Mr. A revealed that he routinely gave a number of assignments which incorporated Word, PowerPoint, and Inspiration. He did not use hypertext creation with his classes. Neither of the girls had Mr. A in the 6 th grade. Thus, for these participants, the possibility exists that comfort with technology increased Team 2’s level of confidence as they learned new technology skills.

During the exit interview, I asked each of the participants questions to probe for specific take away impressions of their learning process. I maintained participant anonymity by asking all students to answer the questions in writing. I then talked with small groups to follow up on comments, clarifying the comments of the participants as I proceeded. Though individual responses varied, all four participants agreed that they had positive experiences when asked about enjoyment, concentration, ownership of learning, control, exploration, and challenge. G1 remarked, “I loved this project because I learned a lot while having fun!” B1 concurred by saying, “I enjoyed this project a lot because I love working with computers.” When asked about having a sense of ownership and control over their work, G1 commented, “I love being an independent learner, so this was a good project for me.” Interestingly, all four participants expressed having moderate initial curiosity about the content of their topics, but great curiosity about creating their artifacts using Dreamweaver. That curiosity continued and appeared to motivate the participants to persist through early stages of the project. All four agreed that they had been anxious to complete research portion so that they could begin their web pages.

Each of the four participants agreed that they had felt increased interest in the project because of the authentic audience, collaborative learning, and the way they “lost track of time a bunch” (B2). G2 commented, “I wanted people to know [G1] and I worked on an amazing web page,” and B1 observed, “I knew someone would be watching and if they didn’t think it was good then it would be terrible!” B2 succinctly stated the collective opinion about having the entire 7 th grade view the web pages: “That’s cool!” All four participants also appreciated the sharing of responsibility and the social negotiation of joint decision-making inherent in collaborative learning. They expressed their enjoyment of having a partner for sharing ideas, problem-solving, and celebrating small victories. B1 noted, “…it helped us both concentrate on what we were doing, and it made the project much better.” Typically a quiet and more solitary worker, G1 remarked, “Yes, I enjoyed it very much!!!!” Additionally, the participants all felt that time rushed by in each class. Each day the participants were startled when I gave the five minute warning, and in the exit interview they agreed that they had been so deeply involved in their projects that they had consistently lost track of time. “The classes seemed to fly by because I was so focused in the project” (B1). Thus, the students collectively expressed that having an authentic audience and working collaboratively had promoted their focus, their enjoyment, and their engagement in the learning tasks, resulting in the loss of time awareness.

As the PBL unit reached its concluding stage, the final source for data collection became available: the hypertext artifacts. I had visited all computer stations several times during each class to view the students’ progress, and I had noted their own evaluation of their projects. In the middle of the next to last class, I instructed each team to save and show their project on the server and then go to three different projects to offer peer feedback. Peer feedback sheets were provided at each station to record comments, praise, and suggestions for improvement (Appendix H). B1 and B2 had already finished their web page, and they had the opportunity to revisit their sight to incorporate suggestions at the end of the period and the next day. Only boys visited B1 and B2’s computer to view their end product on the server. The six surveyors felt that B1 and B2 had accomplished their goal by using “well-written” “very understandable” text and “excellent images” and “great eye-catcher images” to produce a “user friendly” web page with an “excellent explanation.” Suggestions for improvement included recommendations for text style and color choices. B1 and B2 were obviously proud of their site and the feedback they earned from their peers.

The two girls were still working on their page when the peer feedback time arrived; but they stopped to respond to other groups, and they later reviewed and addressed comments about their own website as time allowed. Two groups of boys and one team of girls viewed G1 and G2’s site. In the margins of one peer feedback paper, G1 and G2 had noted the information which they had not yet completed or they wanted to change. The six students felt that G1 and G2 had an excellent opening with “good pictures” and an introduction that is “simple but it’s cool.” Four students felt that some of G1 and G2’s text “sounds a little too grown up” and “complicated.” Both groups suggested making sure that they had not copied and pasted text unintentionally. All three teams reminded G1 and G2 of their unfinished tasks, the introductory paragraph and the five audience quiz questions, and stated that G1 and G2 had “explain[ed] a lot about Washington.” B1 and B2 addressed their changes quickly and were done in less than five minutes. The girls asked if they could stay after school the next day to work in the computer lab to finish their project. I agreed to remain with them so that they could finish. Rather than throw together a quick ending, G1 and G2 demonstrated commitment to completing a quality product to their satisfaction.

Both G1 and G2 and B1 and B2 were aware throughout the PBL unit of the two forms of final evaluation which they would receive: the response of their audience and their performance measured by my rubric (Appendix G). First, all sites were collected and placed on my school website for viewing by the two classes. My students evaluated their own artifacts using the rubric, and then received my evaluation of their end products, also using the rubric and accompanying written comments. Correspondence was high, indicating appropriate self-evaluation. Both Teams 1 and 2 achieved perfect scores on their rubrics, as did many of the students. Screen shots of the two web pages are shown in Appendices K and L.

The students expressed the greatest excitement, however, about the reactions of their school community. Before viewing the web pages, the other 7 th grade students told my class that they were eager to go to the computer labs to view the sites. After they viewed the artifacts, their feedback and response was enthusiastic. A number of students from other classes asked me if they could transfer into the honors class, despite comments from my students about how hard they had worked. The four participant students each shared in class a friend’s positive comments and the resultant pride they felt about their experience.

Because of their excellent explanations of the founding of our American government and the roles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the artifact which G1 and G2 created will also be used by all seventh grade teachers to enhance instruction on the American Revolution and the process which resulted in the Constitution of the United States.




A single definition and description of engaged learning remains elusive, yet it has been recorded that the participants in this study showed evidence of engagement in active learning, as described in the literature (Chen & McGrath, 2003; Paris & Ayres, 1994). As the two 7 th grade girls (Team 1) and two 7 th grade boys (Team 2) created hypertext to display their constructed knowledge about open ended topics for an authentic audience, they demonstrated the enjoyment, concentration, perceived control, exploration, and perceived challenge noted by Chen and McGrath in their article, “Moments of Joy” (2003).

Team 1 demonstrated their academic curiosity early in the selection of their topic. When their research proved to be quite complex and their curiosity diminished as their frustration grew. Both girls commented that they felt theirs was the most difficult topic to research. “This is really hard, Mrs. Dean!” was the comment from G1, as G2 expressed, “This isn’t fair; we’re working harder than anyone else and finding almost nothing on our topic!” They nonetheless deepened their involvement and commitment, as shown by their requested private meeting with the media specialist for further guidance in research techniques. They maintained their focus on their content, despite an increase in perceived difficulty and challenge. As they absorbed the information and created their own knowledge, they moved from initial uncertainty about the web authoring software to excitement in artifact creation. As they amassed and organized information and finally became deeply involved in their artifact creation, both agreed that “This is getting fun now.” Throughout the process, they demonstrated engagement in learning through deep involvement, a desire to impress their audience, and a desire to create a quality end product.

Team 2 also demonstrated signs of engagement in learning, but their learning journey was different. Initially more at ease with the technology, they explored the Internet and the Dreamweaver functions with greater enthusiasm than Team 1. They showed an almost casual confidence in their ability to learn new technology, and they maintained sharp focus on their artifact design even before they had gathered their information and digested it. They gradually became aware of the need to increase the merit of their content. They realized that animations of fireworks and helicopters alone would not address the questions the audience needed answered. When asked what would provide the most meaningful information for their audience, B1 answered, “Our pictures and our information….Oooooh….We don’t have too much information. But I really like the helicopters and the fireworks. We can keep them, right? OK. I get it.” Just as Team 1 moved from a focus exclusively on content to a view of hypertext creation being an exciting way to deliver information, Team 2 moved from preoccupation with the technology to an awareness that display without sufficient content is inadequate. Both groups noted a lack of awareness of the passage of time due to their deep concentration and involvement with their tasks. In the end, both teams ended with balanced artifacts which utilized hypertext to showcase solid content for a real audience.

Both teams also demonstrated behaviors of Paris and Ayres’ self-regulated learners (1994). The participants chose their topics and created their goals. They were all active learners who sought rewarding experiences as they directed their own learning. Collaborating as they worked, they constructed new meaning and were responsible for their process and their results. Though Team 1 expressed more stress in dealing with a complex topic, they stated that they worked toward the reward of praise from their peers, as well as the satisfaction of personal accomplishment. Team 2 was more deliberate in their use of various strategies to accomplish their goals, but both groups created excellent end products as they engaged in the learning tasks. Throughout the Washington PBL unit, the participants demonstrated numerous signs of engagement in learning as they created their artifacts using hypertext, among them: enjoyment, concentration, control, exploration, perceived challenge, curiosity, use of imagination, exertion of effort for an authentic audience, involvement, loss of a sense of time, focus, high interest, and collaborative effort.

In addition to the achievements of the student participants, the response of the 7 th grade American history teachers was worthy of notice. A three year teacher declined using the website with his students and provided no reason or comment. Another, a veteran teacher and coach who has restricted technology use to showing videos in his class, commented that he was amazed the students could do such a good job. He further noted that he used my students’ web pages instead of having his students search the Internet for information, saying that it used limited time better for his class. A two year teacher who is currently earning her masters degree in education said, “Hey, we could almost use this for the whole unit next year!” Her students spent a class period viewing the web pages, also. Although the positive response of two of the three teachers was based on their use of the artifacts and not on the level of engagement that students demonstrated during creation, they viewed the technology use positively and they were impressed by the academic level the students were able to attain in their artifacts. My students felt the reward of their audience’s appreciation, and they expressed the desire to have another hypertext project.

My principal focused more on the potential learning benefits of PBL with hypertext artifact creation. In an email to me after she had viewed the students’ web pages, she wrote,

It’s always exciting to see teachers speaking in the native language of our students – digital! From an administrative standpoint, the unit generated excitement among the students as well as with the other social studies teachers. It was exciting to watch the students take a unit we have done for years – teacher centered I might add – and make it their own. They were able predict and plan for something that was relevant to them. With the added tech bonus, the students had fun while learning!

Thus, my principal noted some of the factors which promote engagement in learning: excitement, ownership, application of skills, relevance, and fun. In a conversation, she stated that she was impressed with the students’ expression of their learning, and she indicated that with a few content additions and the consensus of the other 7 th grade American history teachers, in the future the web page collection and the scavenger hunt might replace the printed paper notebooks which 7 th grade students at the school have studied in excess of the last twenty years. She also asked faculty to view the web pages, and asked department chairs to encourage technology integration with their teachers.

Such response from students, faculty, and administration may encourage the use of student hypertext authoring as a means of creating and sharing PBL artifacts, yet the focus should remain on worthy and engaged learning. Many questions remain. As Chen and McGrath (2003) noted in their study, the participants demonstrated engaged learning by sustaining focus on content, clarity, and design; yet varying amounts of scaffolding were required at different points to support the students in their learning efforts and to sustain engagement. This, however, is often expected in the middle grades as students develop at uneven rates. Further research to study the types of scaffolding required by different learners at different levels is needed. The participants responded to the creation of hypertext artifacts with the active and engaged participation which Paris and Ayers (1994) describe. The four 7 th graders demonstrated a positive and engaged learning experience as they responded to challenge and choice and as they collaboratively generated the web pages. The participants exhibited focused and worthwhile concentration with a purpose. How much of this engagement in learning, however, might be duplicated in other learning contexts and with different participants?

Several important points for consideration emerged during this project. First, in developing PBL units which incorporate hypertext creation, it is important for teachers to know the developmental level of their learners and to understand how the students’ skill levels and cognitive strengths and needs will impact the PBL implementation. The cognitive demands of the task and the complexity of the content appear to be greater influences in PBL success than the technology which is chosen. Furthermore, scaffolding may be the instructional ingredient which allows students to exceed their presumed ability levels and engage positively in web page authoring. Although Chen and McGrath (2003) felt that hypertext creation provided an acceptable learning experience for high school students, they suggested that middle grade students would be overwhelmed. At the heart of their observation, however, is the use of hypertext as a means of showing the hierarchical nature and relationships of concepts through links from primary to subordinate pages. When the focus of a PBL unit is inquiry to answer an overarching question and to showcase the artifacts on a web page for an authentic audience, hypertext creation may indeed be appropriate for middle graders. More important than the type of technology for displaying the end product is the process which leads to that product. Thus, when student choice is honored in the selection of topics and teammates, when students perceive a suitable developmental level of challenge, and when scaffolding is provided at an appropriate level, there is greater likelihood of success in creating hypertext PBL artifacts.

Liu (2003) and Liu and Hsiao (2002) noted that the difficulty which middle grade students exhibit in hypertext creation centers primarily in management of time, resources, and effort. They also noted that the learners’ competencies increased over time, with one semester being the average for achieving adequate personal management levels. Many middle grade teachers, however, are reluctant to devote a semester to increasing student skills in management and hypertext creation. The demands to meet curricular standards and to prepare learners for the next year of study guide most teachers in their allocation of instructional time. Although the results of this study are limited to this group and PBL unit and may not be generalized to other situations, the questions are again raised. Will guidance in topic definition, advanced preparation of the students, and provision of necessary scaffolding enable middle grade students to succeed in project-based learning as they create hypertext artifacts? The experience of the four selected participants in this study suggested that adequate teacher guidance and scaffolding could assist students in achieving active, even robust engagement in learning. Whether the reminder for heighten personal management was a verbal cue or a daily task management log, the participants self-monitored their time, effort, and knowledge construction. The resulting sense of ownership appeared to correlate with the level of positive engagement in learning during hypertext creation, and throughout the project.

Adequate preparation for student creation of hypertext facilitates performance. Allowing learners the opportunity to use various forms of technology on a regular basis appears to build confidence in using computers for academics. As Ghani and Deshpande previously noted in their study of challenge, voluntary exploration, perceived control, intrinsic motivation, and engagement in learning (1994), Team 2’s performance and comments suggested that increased experience leads to increased comfort using technology, which leads to increased willingness to try new applications and increased willingness to explore. Team 1, however, though less experienced and initially less comfortable with the technology, caught up to Team 2’s level of exploration and skill using Dreamweaver by the end of the unit. Once they understood the basic operations of the web authoring software, they began exploring options and quickly built their comfort level.

Adequate preparation also includes the time to for students to explore on the computer. By allowing prior exploration in a given area of technology, teachers may reduce the play behavior of some students during instruction while addressing the needs of others in order to minimize frustration during application. In the case of Dreamweaver use, the participants found the basic functions easy to learn. All four remarked that once they learned how the features were activated, the program just made sense to them. Team 1 required more practice, but they learned the process without difficulty when they learned using their own material to create their own design to meet their own authentic need.

The value of project-based learning in the middle grades is based on authentic learning about real life issues. By making choices and controlling their efforts, the learners become self driven as they create their answers to open ended questions for an authentic audience. In the 21 st century classroom, there is an option for making such a learning opportunity even more exciting and for promoting positive student engagement in learning: creating that end product in hypertext.




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Appendix A: Topics (Size Adjusted)

Hah—Washington Website Topics

Select and sign up for a topic on Mrs. Dean’s master list.

________________ Trip information (rules, expectations, advice, schedule to be provided)

________________ Sights: Military Monuments—(Including military history that is remembered, as well as information about the monument) WWII, Marine Memorial (Iwo Jima), Korean, Vietnam (include The Three Soldiers)

________________ Sights: Presidential Monuments—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt (Why were they chosen?  What was important about them?)

________________ Sights: Smithsonian Museums—including the Natural History, American History, Air and Space, Castle

________________ Sights: Important Presidential Sites (Include important historical information) Ford Theater (inside, outside, balcony), Peterson House, Mount Vernon, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

________________ Sights: Arlington National Cemetery (Include relevant histories) — Lee mansion, JFK’s Eternal Flame and grave, Tomb of the Unknowns, Wreath Laying Ceremony; the Pentagon

________________ Sights: The Heart of Washington, DC: The Mall, the White House, The Capitol (including Statuary Hall, the Rotunda, the Senate and House of  Representatives, Liberty), Pennsylvania Avenue

________________ Sights: More National Sites: The Supreme Court, the Library of  Congress, the National Archives, the National Cathedral

________________Sights: Other Important Buildings: FBI Building, House and Senate Office Buildings, the Treasury Department, the Watergate Hotel

________________ History: Why was Washington, DC chosen? Choice of Washington as a location for the capital city and center of government, early decisions, role in US history, major events in the city’s history

________________ Government: What kind of government do we have? How was it made? Why were the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution written? Why are they important?

________________ Government: The three branches (Executive, Legislative, Judicial), their roles, and checks and balances

________________ Government: Who serves in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches? (Qualifications, duties, length/conditions of service)


Appendix B: Instructions for Storage, Resource Page, and Initial Dreamweaver Instructions

 HAH-Washington Project


  1. Listen carefully and follow all directions as Mrs. Dean gives them.
  2. Login to personal accounts, set new passwords, give copy of password to Mrs. Dean.
  3. Set up Resource File for storage of URLs and notes.
  4. Open and define Dreamweaver site.

Login to personal accounts, set new passwords, give copy of password to Mrs. Dean.

1. On the login screen, enter the information on our info sheet.
2. Follow the directions on the sheet to create your new password.
3. Carefully copy your password on your info sheet and on the copy for Mrs. Dean. Make sure both are accurate.
4. Raise your hand for Mrs. Dean to come receive your info sheet copy.

Set up Resource File for storage of URLs and notes.

  1. Sign on in your electronic storage area.
  2. Open a word file and title it “Resources.”
  3. Click “File,” “Save As,” make sure the drop down window shows storage in your account, not on the computer desktop.
  4. Name the file “Resources” and hit “Save.” From now on, to save work in this file to your account, you will only have to hit “Save.”
  5. Minimize the window so that you will have easy access to the file as you research.

Open and Define Dreamweaver site.

  1. Login to your account.
  2. Locate and open Macromedia Dreamweaver with a double click in the icon that looks like a green circle with a navy blue “d.”
  3. On the new site screen, click once on “Manage Site” in the upper right.
  4. Click “New.”
  5. Click “Site.”
  6. One the Site Wizard page, click “Basic” in the upper left.
  7. Re-title “Unnamed” to “washingtonyournumber .” Mrs. Dean will give you the number to use in the blank. Use only this number; Mrs. Dean will use it to identify your site when she collects all of the web pages. Use all lower case and no spaces.
  8. Click “Next.”
  9. Click “No” for server technology.
  10. Click “Next.”
  11. At the top, click “Edit local site on my machine.”
  12. Click the drop down menu beside the file folder icon.
  13. Use the pull down menu to select the H drive [your login on ‘topper\users’ (H:)]
  14. On the top right, click on the “Create New Folder” icon (folder with starburst).
  15. Locate and click in [new folder], type the name of your site (washingtonyournumber).
  16. Click off the name rectangle to save the name.
  17. Click on the folder, and open the folder.
  18. Click “Select.”
  19. It will show (H:\\washingtondyournumber\)
  20. Click “Next.”
  21. Under “How to Connect, click the pull down tab and select “None.”
  22. Click Next.”
  23. Click “Done.”
  24. Click “Done.”
  25. Dreamweaver will show the folder name in the “Manage Sites” box.
  26. Click “Show.”
  27. Click “Folder.”
  28. Click name of your site.

Create Dreamweaver Image Folder

  1. Right click on “Site Folder.”
  2. Select “New Folder” and left click.
  3. Type “images” in the title box for the folder.
  4. Left click outside the box to save the name.

Save a Picture in the Dreamweaver Image Folder

  1. Locate a picture on the Internet or from a file and right click on the picture.
  2. Click “Save Picture.”
  3. To save, use the pull down tab to select H-drive and double click on your “washington__” folder.
  4. Double click on the “Images” folder.
  5. Click “Save.”

To Double Check the Credibility of a Site and See Who Has Linked to It

  1. Copy the URL into the Google Search box by typing “link://URL”
  2. You will find a listing of the kinds of sites that are linked to the site in question.
  3. If educational or governmental sites are linked to the site in question, it is more credible.
  4. If .coms (such as eBay or Amazon) are linked to the site, avoid it.
  5. In general, use advanced search and limit your results to .gov and .edu sites.
  6. There may be a few .org sites that will help, but be careful of bias.
  7. Avoid .com sites for this project.


Appendix C: Student Journal (Size Adjusted)

HAH— Washington DC Project—Personal Journal

Name and number_________________________________ Date___________

Goals for the class period:

What my group did:

What I did:

My Thoughts:

Plans for next time:


Appendix D: Student Daily Self Evaluation (Size Adjusted)

HAH—Daily Self Evaluation for the Washington Web Site Project

Name and number: ___________________________ Date ________________

Teammate: ______________________________________________________

Tasks :

Monday _________________________________________________________

Tuesday _________________________________________________________

Thursday ________________________________________________________

Friday ___________________________________________________________

Time on task:

Mon _____/10, Tue _____/10, block day _____/20, Fri _____/10.         

Total for the week: _____/50 points

Quality of work accomplished :

Mon _____/10, Tue _____/10, block day _____/20, Fri _____/10.

Total for the week: _____/50 points

Collaborative effort, respect for ideas of others, contribution to group effort.

Mon _____/10, Tue _____/10, block day _____/20, Fri _____/10.         

Total for the week: _____/50 points

Student Comments: __________________________________________________


Mrs. Dean’s Comments: _______________________________________________



Appendix E: Observation Form/Field Notes (Size Adjusted)

Date_______________________ Student #__________ Class Period _____________










Appendix F: Referral Notes to Support Independent Dreamweaver Usage (Size Adjusted)

HAH— Washington Project—Dreamweaver Reminders

Never panic if you do something you don’t like! Click Control “Z” to go back a step. You can also Edit-Undo in most cases.

To see how your web page will look when it’s published, click F12 at the top of the keyboard. You cannot change anything on the page that opens, but you can see how your work will look on the Internet.

To Save a Picture in the Dreamweaver Image Folder

1. Locate a picture on the Internet or from a file and right click on the picture. Make sure it is in a jpeg or gif format. Be sure it is not copyright protected. Be sure you have the source. Select it.

2. Right click, then “Save Picture.”

3. To save, use the pull down tab to select your H-drive storage and double click on your “washingtonyournumber” folder.

4. Double click on the “images” folder.

5. Rename the title of the image if necessary.

6. Click “Save.”


To Set Your Page Properties on Dreamweaver

1. Click on the “Page Properties” button at the bottom of the page in the properties pane.

2. Use the “Appearance” view listed in the top of the menu to the left.

3. Set the font style and size, choices about bold or italics, background.

4. Click “OK” if you are just beginning, and “Apply” if you’ve started and wish to change what you had.

To Make a Table for Inserting Images and Text

1. First, design your table. Decide which images and text you want to go where in the table. Think about being attractive and reader-                    friendly!

2. Click the icon at the top that looks like a table or window with 6 panes.

3. Set the number of columns and rows you want in the Table dialog box.

4. Place your cursor on a line of the table so that a double line appears. Then drag the edge to enlarge (or shrink) the table row and column sizes.

5. As you place images in the table, it will expand to accommodate the image. It will also expand to fit your text. Resize the picture and click outside the cell to resize the table cells. Work with your text size and placement in the cells to get the size table and cells you want.

To Merge Two Cells in a Table

1. Click in the first cell you wish to combine with another. Hold down the control key and click the two cells you wish to combine.

2. You should see additional lines around the two selected cells—white or red against darker backgrounds, and dark against lighter backgrounds.

3. In the lower left corner under the word “Cell,” click the icon that shows a box with a dotted line down the middle. Your two cells will merge (combine) into one bigger cell.

To Split One Cell into Two Cells in a Table

1. Click in the cell you wish to split.

2. You should see additional lines around the selected cell—white or red against darker backgrounds, and dark against lighter backgrounds.

3. A window will ask if you want to split into columns or rows, and it will ask how many. Make your selection.

4. Click “OK” and the cell will split accordingly.

To Make a Hyperlink to an Outside Website

1. First, copy the URL you want to link to.

2. Next, in Dreamweaver, decide what color you want the link text to be.

3. Click the Page Properties button at the bottom of the Dreamweaver screen.

4. In the Category menu on the left, select “Link.”

5. Set the Link font, size, and color. You might want to have a visited link turn a darker or lighter color, but be careful about getting too wild. You want your links to inform your reader, not distract. You may have your links underlined or not by using the pull down arrow to make that choice. Click “OK.”

6. Highlight the word or words in your text that you want to make a link to a web page on the Internet.

7. Type or paste the URL of the site into the text box just to the right of the word “Link” at the bottom in the Properties pane.

8. We apparently have two versions of Dreamweaver MX 2004!?! I was informed that some computers have a newer version, but the title of the program at the top of your screen still says MX 2004. I’m sorry, but you will have to see which of the following instructions work for you.

If you have the first kind, place your cursor on the circle with the crosshairs (point to file) to the right of the box where you just placed the URL. Left click and hold as you drag from the circle to the word in the text that you wish to be your link. Release when you have the line on the highlighted link word or words.

If your computer has the other version of Dreamweaver, simply click on an empty place on your page after you have highlighted the link word or words and dropped the URL into the link box.

9. Your link word/words should now be underlined. Save.

10. Click F12 to preview your web page on the server.

11. Click on your link, and it should take you to the web page on the Internet.

To Organize a Long Page by using Named Anchors

1. To allow your reader to link from a menu word or title at the top of your Dreamweaver page to a section of text further down the page without having to scroll, you will create a link (top) to a named anchor (text further down the page).

2. Write the text, or anchor, down toward the bottom of the page.

3. Place the cursor where the named anchor will be located. This is the area of the page where the user will jump to when he or she clicks the link at the top.

4. Select Insert and then Named Anchor (half way down the list)

5. In the Named Anchor dialog box, name the anchor (the link word at the top) and then click OK.

6. Highlight the link work at the top of the page.

7. Place the cursor on the link circle icon (point to file) in the Page Properties pane, and drag the link line to the shield with the anchor on it where you placed your anchor.

8. Save.

9. Click F12 to see your web page. Click the new link, and the page should jump to the named anchor section.

10. To allow your audience to “Return to top,” do the same series of actions, but this time place the link at the bottom and the anchor at the top.


Appendix G: Rubric (Original is in landscape format and is contained on one page with narrow margins. Criteria are listed, instead of shown by number.)

Honors American History Rubric for Washington, DC Project

1=Appearance, 2=Content, 3=Writing Quality, 4=Digital Savvy, 5= Resources, 6= Overall impact and answer, 7= Individual contribution to team effort (from teacher and team rating Double points)


Fantastic! 5 pts

Really good! 4 pts

Good job. 3 pts

Needs work! 2 pts

Uh-Oh! 1 pt




Creative use of design, font, images, and colors. Visual elements reveal the topic and mood of the site, and are readerfriendly. WOW!

Creative use of design, font, images, and colors. Visual elements relate to the topic and mood of the site, and are reader friendly. Very good!

Good use of design, font, and colors. Visual elements relate to the topic and mood of the site, and are reader friendly. Lacks sparkle.

Design, font, or color minimally support the topic and mood of the site. The reader gets information easily.

Design, font, and color not used to support the topic and mood of the site. The reader must work hard to get information.




All info is accurate and answers the question superbly. No unrelated info included. Intro, body, resources, pics, 5 review questions.

All info is accurate and answers the question well. No unrelated info included. Intro, body, resources, pics, 5 review questions.

All info is accurate and addresses the question. No unrelated info. Intro, body, resources, pics, 5 review questions.

There is one minor inaccuracy or there is some off-topic information. Intro or questions are missing. Has intro, resources.

The page has 2 or more inaccuracies or there is substantial information that is off-topic. Two items are missing: intro, body, resources, 5 ?s.




Writing is clean of major grammar errors and has no more than 3 minor mechanical errors. Sentences are well formed with vivid vocab. No fragments or run-ons. Spell binding.

Writing is clean of major grammar errors and has no more than 8 minor mechanical errors. Sentences are well formed. No fragments or run-ons. Writing sustains reader interest.

Writing has 1-2 major grammar errors or has no more than 10 minor mechanical errors. Sentences are mostly simple and lack variety. Only one fragment or run-on. Lacks interest.

Writing has 3 major grammar errors or has no more than 10 minor mechanical errors. Sentence quality suffers. Reader must work hard to keep interest. Only one fragment or run-on.

Writing has major problems that keep the reader from being able to read for understanding. More than 2 fragments or run-ons.




Website is correctlyconstructed in Dream-weaver and has at least 5 hyperlinks/ anchors and 8 pics. All links work. The images and text are cited.

Website is correctly constructed in Dream-weaver and has at least 4 anchors links and 6 pictures. All links work. The images and text are cited and linked.

Website is correctly constructed in Dream-weaver and has at least 2 anchors/links and 4 pictures. All links work.

Website requires reorganization by teacher because group did not follow directions. Group requests help. Or, there are no pictures or links.

Instructions for creating the page in Dream-weaver were not followed. The group did not attempt to correct the project to follow directions.



At least 8resources are cited.

At least 5 resources are cited

At least 4 resources are cited.

At least 3 resources are cited.

Fewer than 3 resources are cited.



Completely answers the essential question: Why should students learn about my topic for Washington, DC? Contributes to the overarching question: Why should Americans visit Washington?

Answers the essential question: Why should students learn about my topic for Washington, DC? Pretty good text and visuals. Contributes to the overarching question.

Minimally answers the essential question: Why should students learn about my topic for Washington, DC? Reader has to work too hard.

Partially answers the essential question: Why should students learn about my topic for Washington, DC? Something is missing.

Fails to answer the essential question: Why should students learn about my topic for Washington, DC? Explanation is insufficient.



Demonstrated focused attention, solid work effort, and substantial contribution to the team’s project 10 pts

Demonstrated off task behavior a few times, but worked hard (over 50% or 33%) to make the team’s project great. 8 pts

Demonstrated off task behavior many times, but contributed fair share of the work. (50% for group of 2, 33% group of 3) 6 pts

Had to be redirected to the task frequently, contributed less than the fair share (50% or 33%) 3 or 4 pts

Contributed little to the team’s efforts and end product. Required excessive teacher redirection. 1 or 2 pts


Appendix H: Peer Feedback Form (Size adjusted)

HAH— Washington Web Page Peer Feedback from ________________________________

Topic: ___________________________ Team Authors: ____________________________

Give your friends constructive feedback about their web page. Be sure to address the following points.

Area of the web page being addressed:

This is what I really like about this area.

This is what I wish you might do to make this area even better.

The introduction has a clear title and menu, is attractive and attention getting, and sets the tone for the topic.




The introductory paragraph explains how the topic will help the audience learn about and appreciate

Washington , DC .




All text is well written, informative, interesting, and appropriate for the 7 th grade audience. The audience is better able to understand the topic because of the content of the text.



The text is clearly the writing of the team and gives no sign of copy-paste plagiarism.



The images add interest and meaning to the page. The audience is better able to understand the topic because of the content of the images.



All images have sources noted.




All hyperlinks and internal anchors work.




The artistic and design decisions make the page user-friendly and appealing.




The web page accomplishes the goal of explaining why the audience should want to learn about and visit Washington, DC.



Peer Feedback, Continued on back of page in the original:

Suggestions for revision:

Suggestions for editing:


Appendix I: Self and Teammate Evaluation (Size Adjusted)

Washington , DC Project: Team and Self Evaluation

Look at your project as you evaluate your work and the work of your team members. If you worked with one person, there will be a line that you do not use.

My name ________________________________________

Teammate #1 ____________________________________

Teammate #2 ____________________________________

1. Look at the appearance of your web page. Does it reflect the feel of Washington, DC and your topic? Is it creative, colorful, and reader friendly?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

2. Consider the content of your web page.

A. Is the information accurate?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

B. Is your site free of plagiarism and “clone sentences”; is it all in your own words and does it show your                   thinking about your topic?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

C. Does the content answer your guiding question clearly? Can the reader understand your writing easily?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

D. Did you include 1) the introductory paragraph telling the audience why your topic is worthy of their attention and 2)                      at least 5 review questions for your audience?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

E. Is your content free of unnecessary or inappropriate content or visuals?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

F. Did you observe all copyright guidelines?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

3. Consider the grammar and mechanics of your site.

A. Is your writing clean of major grammatical and mechanical errors?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

B. Is your writing free of run-ons and fragments?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

4. Consider the technical correctness of your site. (Did you follow technical directions?)

A. Is your page constructed correctly in Dreamweaver with only one page?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

B. Does your site have at least 7 internal anchors or hyperlinks that work?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

C. Does your site have at least eight pictures?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

E. Did you include image sources so that your reader can identify the site from which the picture came?

Not really ____ Kind of ____ Solid yes ____ Absolutely! ____

F. How many resources have you listed?

2-3 ____ 4-5 ____ 6-7 ____ More than 7 ____

5. Consider the overall impact of your site.

ZZZZ ____ OK ____ Pretty good ____ WOW! ____

Now think about the work that you and your teammate(s) did.

 Finding Research:

I did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

T #1 did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

T #2 did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

Finding images:

I did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

T #1 did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

T #2 did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____


I did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

T #1 did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

T #2 did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

Design of the site:

I did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

T #1 did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

T #2 did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

Revising and Editing:

I did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

T #1 did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

T #2 did not much ____ some ____ much ____ a lot ____

What I would do to make our project better next time:


  Appendix J: Probe Questions for Final Interview

Did you enjoy this project? Please explain.

Did you concentrate a lot while working? Did you have to concentrate to do your job well?

Did you enjoy having a sense of freedom, ownership, and control, over your work?

Did you feel like you had control over your decisions and what you did?

Did you feel like you could explore as much as you wanted to?

How much challenge did you feel with this assignment?

Was the level of challenge about right for you?

Were you curious about your topic?

Were you curious about creating your web page with Dreamweaver?

What captured your imagination the most about this project?

Did having a real audience who will look at your web page next week cause you to work differently? Please explain.

How do you feel about the entire seventh grade viewing your web page next week?

How involved were you with your project?

Did you ever lose track of time? Did class time seem to drag on, fly by, or feel normal?

Was it hard to stay focused on your work?

What was the most interesting part of this project for you?

Did you use any strategies to help you research, select your images, create your content, or design the web page?

Did you ever feel like you were taking any risks? How did you feel about it, if you did?

Did you enjoy working with a friend to research and create your web page?

Did you monitor your progress, areas you needed to improve, and successes?

How would you rate this project?

What have you learned from this project?


Appendix K: Team 1 Screen Shots

A Content Header (mdean1.jpg)

 Screen Shot


Team 1 felt that a study of Washington, DC should include a section about the development of the American system of government since Washington is the only national capital in the world built exclusively as a seat of government. They initially thought they would describe a representative democracy, tell about Washington as the site of government activities, and review “a little history” (G1). The participants had not yet studied the American Revolution and the subsequent years leading to the Constitution. As they researched, they realized how big their topic was, and they became quite anxious. They never gave up on their chosen topic, however, and their web page includes the pursuit of human rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, Shays Rebellion, the Constitutional Convention, major provisions of the Constitution, and the development of a people’s government.


An Anchored Portion with Active Hyperlink to an External Website (mdean2.jpg)

 Screen Shot

Team 1 undoubtedly worked longer and harder than any other group on their research and their content. They collaboratively worked to understand a mass of information, condense it, and construct new knowledge which they could share with their audience on a single web page viewable in five to ten minutes. Their sustained focus, concentration on their task, loss of sense of time, and response to the challenge they faced testifies to the high level of engagement in learning they achieved. When they began the hypertext design portion of the unit, they were hesitant at first in exploring and applying the Dreamweaver features to their project. They quickly grew in confidence and became quite absorbed in selecting features and creating their layout. Their excitement over their artifact at the conclusion showed that they considered their experienced to be quite rewarding and worth the effort.


Appendix L: Team 2 Screen Shots

Introduction to Korean War Memorial Section (mdean3.jpg)

Screen Shot

Team 2 began their project with substantial time and attention on technical aspects and limited focus on content, answering driving questions, and creating new knowledge. Their comments and lively gestures showed their enjoyment of exploring both the Internet and the features of Dreamweaver, and they appeared often to be driven by technical curiosity. They were the first group to apply tables in their web page construction and to inquire about image manipulation in Macromedia Fireworks. They were the only group to actually alter an image in Fireworks without further assistance after I demonstrated the procedure.


Active Hyperlink to a Virtual Tour of the Vietnam War Memorial on the Internet (mdean4.jpg)



B1 was consistently intrigued with learning about the monuments and the history they represented, but he was equally involved with the technology. B2 was initially competent but casual about including information and much more involved with locating and including animation on the web page. The opening section includes numerous starburst fireworks exploding, and the Vietnam Wall section includes helicopters which zoom across the web page. These features are not included in the screen shots because they did not show well when still. The team searched the Internet for virtual tours which could be hyperlinked for audience edification. After demonstrating engagement through their enjoyment, curiosity, desire to explore, and involvement with technology, the team refocused their efforts on improving their content and answering their key questions. Initially showing more engagement in learning about and using the technology, Team 2 ended the unit by exhibiting engagement in learning as they focused on content development and concentrated on meaningful topic presentation for their audience.