Innovative Classrooms


Not Guilty: Students Discover How Science Can Free the Innocent

A biology-class project teaches high school students about the real-life application of DNA testing in wrongful-conviction cases.

by Cari Ladd

For eighteen years, Dennis Williams was imprisoned for crimes he didn't commit. Then, while incarcerated on Illinois's death row in a cell located just steps from the electric chair, DNA tests helped prove his innocence. He was released from prison in 1996.
Not Guilty: Students Discover How Science Can Free the Innocent
Not Guilty: Students Discover How Science Can Free the Innocent

Credit: Corbis
At Mandarin High School, in Jacksonville, Florida, exploring wrongful convictions of people such as Dennis Williams has become part of a biology-class project that illustrates the crucial role science plays in our everyday lives. The project calls for students to research a specific incident of wrongful conviction and give a presentation that illustrates the role DNA evidence played as a crime-solving tool in the case.
Mandarin teacher Diane Wagers has used this project in her second-year biology class for six years, and she says many of her students become angry when they first learn about wrongful imprisonment. "They literally will jump out of their seats and ask, 'Why did this happen?'" Wagers says. Getting to the bottom of why innocent people are convicted, she notes, both motivates her students to learn about DNA testing and illustrates the practical application of the biological sciences.
Wagers makes the project part of her biology curriculum because she believes connecting science concepts to life outside of the classroom is essential to good teaching. "Biology is the study of life, and when students look at these issues of wrongful conviction, it comes alive for them," she explains. "It helps them remember what they've learned, because they see it is real."
Student Britney Schank agrees. "In every other class, you just learn about DNA, its structure, how it's built, and all the boring stuff," Shank says. The DNA-testing project, however, showed her more: "I saw how DNA affects people's lives and how it comes into play."

Introducing the Innocence Project

At the beginning of the assignment, Wagers conducts a mini-lesson on DNA and its uses, including the ways people employ it in criminal investigations. Although her Biology II students have a background knowledge of DNA, Wagers says it's often helpful to revisit basic concepts.
After the refresher on the subject, students choose to either work alone or with a partner to research the legal case of someone who has been exonerated by DNA testing. Wagers says she gives students the option to work with a partner because it promotes teamwork and allows students to collaborate with someone who may have strengths different from their own.
To get her students started on the research portion of the assignment, Wagers points them to the nonprofit Innocence Project, which lists nearly 200 case profiles online. Each profile provides a case summary and links to additional information about the common causes of wrongful convictions, such as the unreliable and limited science used prior to the advent of DNA testing. The site also features an archive of audio and video clips that includes interviews with some of the people who've been exonerated.
As the students work, Wagers circulates around the room to ask questions and make sure they understand the science behind DNA testing. "When you go from group to group, you can sit right down and look at a kid and ask, 'Do you get this?'" Wagers explains. "You can tell right then whether they comprehend it." If Wagers believes a student lacks a clear understanding of the science, she provides him or her with additional instruction or invites the student to come in after school. If a number of students seem confused, she'll review concepts with the entire class or refer them to online tutorials such as those created by the Dolan DNA Learning Center. Students also tutor one another.

Presenting the Facts

After an initial in-class work session, Wagers gives students two weeks outside of class to collect information on their case, organize the facts into a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation (Wagers provides an outline), and prepare a discussion of the role DNA played in the exoneration they studied.
During the class presentations, Wagers grades students according to their understanding of DNA and its relevance to the case they researched, as well as the overall quality of their presentation. (See her grading rubric.) Students who worked in pairs must make a presentation together, and both members need to be able to answer follow-up questions.
At the close of the project, Wagers holds a debriefing discussion (see "Diving into DNA: Content and Context" below for topic ideas). For example, Wagers will ask students to talk about the cases they profiled and discuss whether they think DNA testing in criminal cases should receive public funding. Wagers says these conversations bring out a variety of responses from the students.
For some, the power of DNA testing makes a big impression: Several students jokingly tell Wagers they will never commit a crime now because, with DNA testing, they know they'll get caught. Others truly take the lesson to heart. For instance, one of Wagers's students has contacted the Innocence Project to help a relative he feels was wrongfully convicted. "He is taking something we've studied and putting it to use," Wagers says.
Cari Ladd, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, writes articles, develops curricular materials, and manages the production of media resources.

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 4, 2008; Page C01
The four Malcolm Elementary School fourth-graders have their sales pitch polished, just in case the Federal Emergency Management Agency is interested.
Forget trailers and temporary shelters in sporting arenas. The next time a natural disaster strikes, these video-game-playing, Harry-Potter-reading preteens want the government to hand out backpacks that expand into four-room houses.
"It's called THE Shelter," said C.J. Atkinson, 9. "The T stands for temporary. H is housing. E is emergency."
The team designed the shelter-providing gadget for the national ExploraVision competition, which challenges students to dream up technology that will help humanity in the future. The Charles County team's idea was one of 24 chosen as regional winners, beating more than 4,500 other entries. The program is sponsored by the National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba.
"They want us to take technology from the future and make it real," said Timothy "Timmy" Olsen, 9.
At first the team wanted to invent invisibility but decided that if such technology landed in the wrong hands, people could get hurt. "They could kill people or steal stuff," said Billy Burch, 10.
Another idea was miniature robots that could perform surgery, but team adviser Connie Mouton, a teacher at the Waldorf school, said such robots exist. The students also considered a cellphone that plays video games, but some participants questioned how that would benefit humanity.
As they racked their brains for a way to save, or at least aid, humanity, the boys thought about all the people left homeless by Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Indonesia and the La Plata tornado. "Emergency shelters!" they quickly concluded.
They researched the disasters and decided that their shelter would have to be portable, able to last at least two years, large enough for a family and lightweight at first and then strong as concrete. Soon, ideas for THE Shelter emerged.
"They give it to you in a backpack-size, and you let it out of the backpack. Then it's a crumpled up mess on the ground, like a moon bounce before it gets air in it," Billy said.
The shelter would then inflate into a four-room home. The thin walls would contain a plastic substance that would harden upon release, adding strength and form to the structure.
"It's like expanding foam; you just put a little bit in, and it gets really big," said Adam Sachsel, 10.
The boys created a model of the finished shelter, using cardboard, hot glue, house insulation, paint and dollhouse furniture they borrowed from Adam's sister. Now they are creating a Web site to explain the project, using a laptop computer they won.
One aim of the ExploraVision program is to get students interested in science and engineering at an early age.
The Malcolm Elementary team was already hooked, and each member plans to do something science-related when he grows up.
Adam wants to be a software engineer; C.J., a chemist; Timmy, an Air Force fighter pilot; and Billy, a Lego constructor.


The New Face of Learning: The Internet Breaks School Walls Down

What happens to time-worn concepts of classrooms and teaching when we can now go online and learn anything, anywhere, anytime?

by Will Richardson

The New Face of Learning
The New Face of Learning

Credit: David Julian
At some point last year, the Web welcomed its one billionth user. Demographers who study such things determined that this person was in all likelihood a twenty-four-year-old woman from Shanghai. As far as I know, no prizes were awarded.
The striking thing to me about that milestone is not the enormity of the number, however. More interesting, perhaps, is that the one billionth person to jump onto the Web could just as easily been an eight-year-old kid from Sweden or the South Bronx (or, for that matter, an eighty-year-old from South Africa) who sat down at a computer, opened a browser, and for the first time started connecting to the sum of human knowledge we are collectively building online. Furthermore, that eight-year-old had just as much ability to start contributing what she might know about horses or her hometown or whatever her passions might be, becoming an author in her own right, teaching the rest of us what she knows.
It's amazing in many ways that in just a few short years, we have gone from a Web that was primarily "read only" to one where creating content is almost as easy as consuming it. One where writing and publishing in the forms of blogs and wikis and podcasts and many other such tools is available to everyone. One where we can connect not just to content but to people and ideas and conversations as well.
This Read/Write Web, or Web 2.0, as some call it, is transforming the traditional structures of many of our most important institutions. How does business change when markets become lively conversations between the consumers who buy their products? What happens to politics when potentially every voter can give immediately direct feedback to elected representatives on important issues, or to journalism when anyone with a wireless camera phone can report on events both large and small? What happens to cultures when bloggers in Beirut and Haifa can connect while bombs fall around them?
And what happens to traditional concepts of classrooms and teaching when we can now learn anything, anywhere, anytime?
I find these questions particularly intriguing because my own learning and teaching have been transformed since I stumbled across a blog in spring 2001. I became a blogger that same day, and I've been writing and thinking and learning at ever since. That is where my passion for these technologies and their effects on teachers and classrooms is chronicled and archived.
Some 2,500 pieces of published writing later (with almost as many comments back from readers), I can say without hesitation that all my traditional educational experiences combined, everything from grade school to grad school, have not taught me as much about learning and being a learner as blogging has. My ability to easily consume other people's ideas, share my own in return, and communicate with other educators around the world has led me to dozens of smart, passionate teachers from whom I learn every day. It's also led me to technologies and techniques that leverage this newfound network in ways that look nothing like what's happening in traditional classrooms.
In this new interactive Web world, I have become a nomadic learner; I graze on knowledge. I find what I need when I need it. There is no linear curriculum to my learning, no formal structure other than the tools I use to connect to the people and sources that point me to what I need to know and learn, the same tools I use to then give back what I have discovered. I have become, at long last, that lifelong learner my teachers always hoped I would become. Unfortunately, it's about thirty years too late for them to see it.
The good news for all of us is that today, anyone can become a lifelong learner. (Yes, even you.) These technologies are user friendly in a way that technologies have not been in the past. You can be up and blogging in minutes, editing wikis in seconds, making podcasts in, well, less time than you'd think. It's not difficult at all to be an active contributor in this society of authorship we are building.
As usual, many of our students already know this. Kids are flocking to the Web by the millions, enthusiastically sharing music, stories, poetry, video, and pictures (some of which we'd rather not see.) They are communicating online, IMing, gaming, participating, producing. It's like using pen and paper and a printing press in digital space, and they are pushing it, stretching their imaginations, looking to us to do the same. Looking to us, as those well-documented (though still relatively rare) problems at MySpace demonstrate, to teach them how to do it well. And we educators can feel the potential.
In an environment where it's easy to publish to the globe, it feels more and more hollow to ask students to "hand in" their homework to an audience of one. When we're faced with a flattening world where collaboration is becoming the norm, forcing students to work alone seems to miss the point. And when many of our students are already building networks far beyond our classroom walls, forming communities around their passions and their talents, it's not hard to understand why rows of desks and time-constrained schedules and standardized tests are feeling more and more limiting and ineffective.
Regardless, we find this era of the maturing of the digital natives, as Marc Prensky calls them, to be a troublesome time. These technologies scare us, challenge us, and the friction between the old, closed-door classrooms and this new, open, transparent world of learning is becoming more and more apparent. Being on the Web changes things. We fear for our kids' safety, and, as educators, we struggle mightily with the way we're losing control over the content we used to own.
It feels as if the ground is shifting beneath us, and it's made us uneasy.
So our response to this new learning landscape has not been universal joy and a rush to blogging and podcasting. In many schools and even states, it's been, rather, a movement to block and bust: no blogs, no cell phones, no IM. We take away the powerful social technologies our kids are already using to learn and, in doing so, tell them their own tools are irrelevant. Or, instead of using the complex and challenging phenomenon of a site such as Wikipedia to teach the realities of navigating information in this new world, we prohibit its use. In fact, at this writing, the U.S. legislature is in the process of deciding whether schools and libraries should have access to any of the potential of the Read/Write Web at all. When you read this, blogs and wikis and podcasts (and much more) may be things that students (and teachers) can access and create only from off-campus.
The New Face of Learning
The New Face of Learning

Credit: David Julian
And so they might never learn to podcast like the third and fourth graders creating the podcasts in Bob Sprankle's class at Wells Elementary School, in Wells, Maine. They might therefore never publish a local museum tour, an interview with a local celebrity, or an oral history about their town that a billion people could listen to. Nor will they ever get the chance to collaborate in a blog with U.S. soldiers in Iraq, like April Chamberlain's students at Paine Intermediate School, in Trussville, Alabama, and learn firsthand what it's like to be a Screaming Eagle. Or share stories about the places they live at, where hundreds of kids from around the world have started writing and connecting. Or teach calculus to thousands of interested readers from around the world, as do the Canadian students in Darren Kuropatwa's math class at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Nor will they fully understand what it's like to be a ubiquitous, continuous learner in a quickly changing world of information that is challenging many of the traditional structures of education. Like me, they may just have to figure that out for themselves.
Most of us now live in a world where, with access, knowledge is abundant, yet we have yet to reconsider our traditional school model, which is based on the obsolete idea that knowledge is scarce. Take a look at the more than 1,400 courses available at MIT OpenCourseWare (see the Edutopia article, "Crack the Books: Teacher, This Book's For You"), which seeks to "provide free, searchable, access to MIT's course materials for educators, students, and self-learners around the world." It's an amazing array of syllabi, readings, even video lectures from professors that is out there for any of us to tap into, free of charge. It's just one of millions of places where we can learn on the Web, yet most of our students still expect "real" learning to take place only in a classroom.
This is a world where we can easily make connections to ideas and people and build potent learning networks in the process, one where leveraging these networks and tools can yield a powerful online portfolio of ideas and artifacts. Yet we teach in classrooms limited by physical walls, contrived relationships, and mind-numbing assessments. There are a billion primary sources out there -- scientists, journalists, politicians, and the like -- who may know more than we do about whatever it is we are teaching, and, for the first time, we can easily and flexibly bring them to our students to interact and learn. I was a journalism major in college, but when Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Scott Higham, from the Washington Post, mentored one of my students by interacting with her on her blog, she learned more than I alone could have taught her. Even better, we can teach our students how to make these connections themselves, to find the sources and resources they need when they need them, instead of depending on us to provide them.
This is a world where literacy is changing, where readers need to be editors. Now that anyone can publish just about anything in a heartbeat, checking for facts and relevance often occurs after publication. If you don't believe that, go to Martin, which comes up in the top ten Google search results for King yet is published by a white-supremacist group and is intended solely to discredit his work through duplicity and falsehoods. (See the Edutopia article, "Online, on Alert: Teaching Students How to Interpret the Web.") If our students don't know how to find that out, if we ourselves don't know how to do that, I would argue that we are illiterate. Yet our curricula include little if anything that goes beyond the basic reading, writing, and computational literacies.
This is, indeed, a changed world. From the realities of war to the fears of avian flu and the global-warming crisis, these first few years of the twenty-first century have already tested us in innumerable ways, and the tests show no sign of abating in either intensity or frequency. But I wonder whether, twenty-five or fifty years from now, when four or five billion people are connecting online, the real story of these times won't be the more global tests and transformations these technologies offered. How, as educators and learners, did we respond? Did we embrace the potentials of a connected, collaborative world and put our creative imaginations to work to reenvision our classrooms? Did we use these new tools to develop passionate, fearless, lifelong learners? Did we ourselves become those learners?
Or did we cling to old ideas, old models, and old habits and drift more fully into irrelevance in our students' eyes?
Will Richardson is the author of the Weblogg-ed blog (, as well as learner in chief at Connective Learning and the author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms.

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Rockets and real-world skills take off in his class
By Matt Reed, USA TODAYLONGWOOD, Fla. — Teacher Bill Yucuis begins to sweat as he kneels to "fuel" a student's foot-high paper rocket in the sun-baked quad at Lyman High School.
The head of the school's aerospace engineering program flicks on an air compressor and steadies a launch contraption made of white PVC piping. Nine Lyman seniors brace for liftoff.
Fffwiiip! Yucuis twists a pressure valve, and the rocket soars high above the school. His students click stopwatches and peer through green devices that measure the angle formed by the launchpad, their location and the highest point of the flight.
Shortly, the students will return to the classroom, where they will use trigonometry to calculate the rockets' heights and chart their correlation to elapsed time in flight. They'll do it first by hand, then with a graphing calculator.
PHOTOS: See Yucuis and other exemplary educators in action
Yucuis, 55, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot and Academy instructor, expects some odd-looking answers. "From the beginning, I tell them, 'In the real world, things don't come out nice,' " he says. "If they do, it's not a real-world experiment."
In central Florida, home to the Kennedy Space Center and aerospace defense-contracting firms, companies hunger for homegrown talent who can do the math, work well in teams, present results in excellent English and qualify for U.S. security clearance. So that's how Yucuis' classes work.
"The major things I'm teaching here have nothing to do with aerospace," Yucuis says. "I'm teaching an engineer to be able to solve a problem with a group, then communicate solutions through writing and speaking."
A morning in one of his classes reveals an ethnically diverse mix of teens, dressed in baggy shorts, T-shirts and sneakers or flip-flops. They quickly quiet down to tackle their rocket calculations.
"I really love this class, even though the guys don't stop messing with me," jokes Nicole Morales, 18, the class's only girl, who hopes for a career in the Air Force after college. "For some people who can't understand math, it could be overwhelming. Mr. Yucuis, he takes the time, he gives time."
Yucuis says he never pushes students into careers. He advises simply, "Do something you enjoy that you can be good at."
He followed his own advice and now has his dream job, 13 years after a transition from the military into the Orlando area's public schools. While his fellow Air Force retirees pursued jobs as commercial airline pilots, Yucuis thought he'd get bored doing that after years of flying fighter-bombers. So he pursued a less lucrative, and far less predictable, career in teaching.
In his first year as a middle-school teacher in Kissimmee, Fla., Yucuis couldn't control his classroom and says he almost gave up teaching.
"I did lots of hard things in the Air Force, and nothing was tougher than trying to teach kids who didn't want to learn," he says.
Yucuis, who is married with two grown daughters, resigned, entered a student-teaching program, then taught math at another middle school in Orlando for six years. He was hired by Lyman High in 2002 to organize a magnet program for aerospace engineering.
Students from across the school district apply to the program, which emphasizes aerospace in special math and science courses through all four years. For Yucuis, watching the same kids learn and develop over time brings deep satisfaction. But it's a tough program; 15% to 20% of freshmen do not continue in the second year, he says.
He challenges students with a college-level aerospace textbook. And he has enticed them into learning vectors, an advanced science and math discipline needed to determine orbits for spacecraft.
His students collaborated with computer and electrical engineering classes on a project about post-traumatic stress syndrome, which they presented internationally last year. And he has arranged student internships with the U.S. Navy's simulation-research division.
After the rocket launch in the Lyman quad, Yucuis calmly briefs the class on how to use the graphing calculator and check results against those done by hand. Again, he warns against too-tidy answers.
"If results match perfectly, you probably … what?" he asks.
"Copied off our calculator," the class says in unison.
"That's right. You've got to show your work," Yucuis says.
Next up on the experiment list: launching rockets with cargo and deployable parachutes that allow the payloads to land intact.
The student with this day's highest-flying rocket, 18-year-old Austin Pylant, says he probably won't pursue engineering in college like his father and brother. But Yucuis and the aerospace program have given him options.
"He really inspired me … to always do stuff to the best of my abilities," Pylant says.
Reed reports for FLORIDA TODAY in Melbourne.

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Local environmental educator is a national trailblazer

Santone's programs focus on local issues and solutionsWednesday, April 02, 2008BY LIZ COBBS The Ann Arbor News
Susan Santone may have left the classroom, but she's still teaching students about the environment in an innovative way that's gaining momentum locally and around the country.
Through Creative Change Education Solutions, a nonprofit organization she founded, Santone has elementary and secondary students learning about and offering solutions to real-world issues like sustainable development, product life cycles and the ecological footprint - the impact humans have on their environment.
Santone has combined her teaching experience and environmental expertise to create curricula that break down often-complicated topics into lessons that help students understand their communities.
"We have a series of hands-on activities to engage the kids, and we have activities for teachers where we say, 'This is what it boils down to and here's what we want students to understand,''' Santone said during a recent interview in her Ypsilanti office.
Santone's passion for her work stems from her personal experiences, including travels abroad after graduating and earning a teaching certificate from Western Illinois University in 1986.
An Illinois native, Santone has visited India and spent a year in Germany teaching English and working on an organic farm. In Germany, Santone said she became interested in culture, language and international and environmental issues.
"I was very oblivious to all of this until I was in my 20s,'' Santone recalled. "My watershed moment was when I read 'Diet for a Small Planet' (by Frances Moore Lappé), an exposé on globalism and hunger, and that started me thinking about these things.''
Santone has taught social studies in Seattle and Chicago schools, cultural immersion programs for Japanese and Indonesian high school exchange students and language courses for recently arrived immigrants.
In 1993, she moved to Ann Arbor and taught piano and English as a Second Language classes.
Santone moved to Brattleboro, Vt., in 1995 to attend the School for International Training for her master's degree.
She then came to Ypsilanti and landed a part-time job with Washtenaw County's Planning and Environment Department, running a master composter program. At the time, planning officials had revised a comprehensive plan for developing the county.
Tony VanDerworp, director of the department, wanted to get the plan into the hands of students. VanDerworp discovered Santone's experience in curriculum development and talked to her about creating a program on land use.
"Our plan had certain goals, and it became clear to us that in order to meet these important goals we would have to change our behavior and culture as a community,'' VanDerworp said. "What better way to change it than to start with the leaders of tomorrow?''

With funding from the county and the Environmental Protection Agency, Santone developed "Lessons from the Land,'' a two-week high school course and teacher education program on land use, sustainability and the future of Washtenaw County.
Dan Somerville, a program coordinator at Purdue University's College of Engineering, describes Santone as on the "cutting edge.'' He contacted her about two years ago when he wanted to revamp "Our Town,'' an EPA-sponsored, K-12 program on brownfield remediation and economic development. The curriculum is being used in 10 states.
"I think she is one of the more unrealized resources in secondary education, particularly at a time when as a nation we're grappling with sustainability issues and land use issues,'' Somerville said.
In addition to working with such universities as Purdue and Eastern Michigan University, Santone has consulted with the United Nations Global Teaching and Learning Project and was recently tapped by public broadcaster WGBH in Boston to consult on developing environmental programs for children.
"One of the hallmarks of our work is we don't do the 45-minute 'Save the World' lesson,'' Santone said "What we try to do is provide a lot of depth and unfold it gradually for everyone from third-graders to high school to adult learners.
"Teachers are suppose to have rigor, relevance and relationships (in their lessons) to help students learn. We say, let's direct that learning toward sustaining a healthy and creative community.''
Liz Cobbs can be reached at or 734-994-6810.

Students reap benefits of maple syrup project with pancake breakfast

March 26, 2008
Staff WriterDR32508maple-thumb.jpg
KIDRON -- Central Christian School's maple syrup project has all the elements that make for a great lesson: It involves going outside, the outcome is not predictable and the project closes with a pancake breakfast.
Freshman botany students spend five weeks collecting data and sap from maple trees on school property, then they'll analyze that data and write a research paper describing the results.
"The research paper is probably going to be the hardest part," student Johanna Eckenrode said.
Students work in pairs, collecting and measuring sap each day. They also collect climate data such as temperature, she said.
Each team created scientific questions to research, such as whether the diameter of the tree affects the sap produced, or whether trees in the yard produce more or less sap than trees in the woods, she said.
"I've never done this before so it's pretty fun," Eckenrode said.
So far, it appears the tree in the yard, which has less competition for resources, is producing more sap than the tree in the woods, she said. And once the weather warmed up, all the trees produced more sap.
"We collected 150 gallons. When you boil it, it's only going to be like 30 gallons (of syrup)," Eckenrode said. "For so much sap, there's very little maple syrup."
The maple syrup project is the biggest project of the freshman botany course, instructor Von Schrock said.
What makes it special is it provides an opportunity for "authentic or original research," he said.
"Oftentimes ... as teachers we know the outcome," he said. But with this type of project, "I don't know what's going to happen."
Students set up their own research, by formulating their own hypotheses, carrying out the research and analyzing the results, he said.
"It's a struggle to eliminate variables. We do the best we can and recognize that's part of the process," he said.
In addition to teaching researching methods, the project also helps students learn how trees transport water and sugar from the roots to the leaves, where the sugar provides energy for developing leaves, he said.
"I'm a firm believer in extending the classroom beyond four walls," Schrock said.
The school is "very, very fortunate" to have a sizable property where students can carry out experiments such as this, he said.
"Science is out there. We tend to try to do it in the confines of a classroom," he said.
He also expressed gratitude toward school administration, which encourages him to create projects such as this, he said. Another such project is testing the quality of water in Sugar Creek.
Head Administrator Henry Beun said such projects are representative of the type of learning encouraged at Central Christian.
"It's not about the textbook," he said. "They experience information in the field, so to speak."
Hands-on learning increases students' passion for knowledge because it goes beyond facts and figures, he said. But doing so requires having a dedicated staff.
"It takes extra time for faculty. It's not just done during the normal block of school hours," Beun said. "It wouldn't work if the instructor didn't have the passion for student learning."
The idea for the maple syrup project didn't come from within the classroom, Schrock said. Instead, it came from his neighbor.
"My neighbor collects and makes syrup. I was intrigued watching the process," Schrock said. "... And his wife said it gives him a reason to be outside in February."
The first project was done four or five years ago. This year, the school also receives the assistance of a doctoral fellow, who visits the classroom twice a week thanks to a National Science Foundation grant to the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. That's been "a wonderful resource," Schrock said.
Another new aspect, still in the planning stages, is the opportunity for students to present their research to younger students.
And, because the project is "a lot of work," students will celebrate the end of the project with a pancake breakfast, Schrock said.
"One of the fun things is it all culminates in a pancake breakfast with real maple syrup," he said.
Reporter Rachel Jackson can be reached at 330-287-1632 or

Skin Deep

Experimenting With Makeup: What Puts the ‘Ick’ in Lipstick?

external image 27skin600.1.jpgRick Friedman for The New York Times
SCIENTIFIC METHOD Part of the mixing process in the Cosmetic Chemistry class at the Museum of Science in Boston.

Cocoa Mint Lip Balm (March 27, 2008)

external image 27skin190.4.jpgRick Friedman for The New York Times
Maeve O’Malley tests a lipstick.
external image 27skin190.2.jpgRick Friedman for The New York Times
She also made gloss.
[[javascript:pop_me_up2('', '27skin_4_ready', 'width=409,height=600,scrollbars=yes,toolbars=no,resizable=yes')|Enlarge This Image]] external image 27skin190.3.jpg Rick Friedman for The New York Times
Seeing which lipsticks bled.

FOR all those adults who have ever wondered what after-shaves and lipsticks are made of, you can’t beat the insistent querying of a fifth grader.
“Do they really use whale puke in perfume?” asked Maeve O’Malley, 10, a fifth grader from Dartmouth, Mass.
Cornelia Bendel, a sixth grader from Framingham, Mass., had a similarly pressing question.
“Are there bizarre things like pig fat in lipstick?” she wondered aloud.
Along with 10 other girls chewing over rumors of ingredients like skunk oil and pulverized fish scales, the two had traveled with parents in tow to the Museum of Science here three weeks ago to attend a Saturday seminar called Cosmetic Chemistry.
In a basement classroom decorated with a wall chart of birds’ nests and a glass display case containing a stuffed swan, the students performed what amounted to a dissection of various brand-name lipsticks. Then they cooked up their own balms.
Breaking down cosmetics into component parts served to reinforce the basic scientific inquiry process — purpose, method, results, conclusion — a system of logic familiar to any student who ever took a lab course.
PURPOSE With a red apron firmly tied around her waist, Chi-Ting Huang, a museum volunteer, opened the class with a brief overview of cosmetic ingredients. Dr. Huang, whose Ph.D. is in biochemistry, is a scientist at a company that makes cancer drugs.
Dr. Huang, whose mother used to work as a chemist who formulated shampoos, designed the course last year with fifth to seventh graders in mind. She wanted to pique young women’s interest in science by teaching them a bit of chemistry about everyday consumer items, she said.
To stoke the students’ curiosity for cosmetic ingredients, Dr. Huang simply invoked the gross-out factor.
“Cochineal beetles, if you squish them, give you a beautiful carmine red that is used in some lipsticks,” she said. “Why would you want to eat that, right? It’s gross.”
Seated at tables complete with equipment like glass jars, filter paper and wooden stirrers, the students groaned in unison — with one exception.
Rachel Bernoff, 12, of Arlington, Mass., offered her own stomach-churner. “They use the same crushed bugs in sports drinks,” said Rachel, who is home-schooled. (Carmine red is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a food color additive.)
Dr. Huang continued the disgusting revelations about beauty products.
“Some perfumes use ambergris, which is a byproduct of digestion from whales,” she said. “It is whale puke basically.”
For centuries, perfumers have used whale vomit, a waxy substance, to fix scent formulas, she said. Now many perfumes use synthetic ambergris because the natural material is so expensive.
Among the audience, where hoodie sweatshirts and jeans predominated, the response was unanimous.
“Ew! Gross!” said Maeve, who sometimes receives makeup samples from an aunt who works at a duty-free boutique. “I am never wearing perfume again!”
METHOD A pile of lipsticks, in shiny tubes, lay on each table.
The students, unfamiliar with the initials and flower symbols on the packaging that indicated different brand logos, eyed them coolly as mere objects of dissection.
Dr. Huang instructed the class to don thick lab goggles before beginning the experiments she had designed to show how lipsticks that resemble one another in color and consistency may be made using entirely different formulas.
At her table, Rachel picked up a burgundy lipstick and, wielding it like a marker, drew a thick line across a strip of white filter paper. Next, using a paper clip as a handle, she carefully dipped the lipstick end of the paper into a beaker of acetone. The oils in the lipstick quickly dissolved, leaving a rainbow of dye color that ran from rose to carnation pink.
“So you see what colors are in it,” Rachel told a reporter. “It’s like, if you dipped a green marker, you would get yellow and blue.”
At a nearby table, Cornelia had cut a tiny chunk out of each of four lipsticks, using a wooden stirrer to smear them onto little white squares of paper.
Standing by a hot plate, Dr. Huang heated the papers so that each lipstick sample melted into its own blob of colored paste, surrounded by a tiny, widening oil stain. In some samples, the oily halo ran clear; in others, dye had turned the oil pink.
The test was intended as a predictor of how a lipstick, warmed by a person’s body temperature, might spread beyond the outline of one’s lips.
“The more the dye bleeds into the oil, the more likely the lipstick color will bleed into your lip lines,” Dr. Huang said.
The hot-plate test did not win over any converts to cosmetics.
“You would have these big runny lines!” Cornelia said. “You would look like Dracula!”
But the real lesson in this small experiment was that a few of the more expensive department-store lipsticks leaked their colors while a couple of 50-cent drugstore lipsticks did not.
Dr. Huang parsed the situation: “So price is not necessarily a predictor of durability,” she said.
RESULTS The students’ revulsion did not extinguish their curiosity for cosmetics. Now armed with a little basic chemistry and rubber gloves, the girls were ready to make their own products.
Each holding an empty glass jar, they lined up single file, waiting for Dr. Huang to dole out ingredients.
Luci Proud, 12, of Braintree, Mass., decided to make vanilla lip gloss. Into her jar went a spoonful of coconut oil, a spoonful of petroleum jelly and a dollop of aloe vera. Ms. Proud, a seventh grader, said that she had decided to take the class because her mother had recently instituted an organic-only rule at home.
“I am not sure I will wear lip gloss again,” Luci said.
Nearby, Becky Mainzer, 11, of Framingham, Mass., was concocting lip balm. She stood over a pot of simmering water, stirring a jar larded with pellets of beeswax, shea butter and cocoa butter. Goggles pushed onto her forehead, she waited for her mix to melt.
Dr. Huang stood at the ready to prevent anyone from being burned with liquid goo. (Parents should take note.)
Then Becky took her glass jar of liquefied fat back to her table. She stirred in a pink mica powder for color and a touch of peppermint oil for fragrance. Finally, she decanted the mixture and waited for it to congeal.
“Now that I know how makeup is made, I might not wear makeup,” Becky said. “But I’ll wear mine, of course, because I know what is in it.”
Indeed, Dr. Huang neatly summed up the recipe template for lip products. “Basically, lipstick is a tube of fat with some oil and color in it,” she said.
CONCLUSION Clutching plastic containers of waxy lip gloss in varietals of pink, the students gathered their belongings, ready to meet their families.
But Cornelia ’s question had yet to be answered. “What about the pig fat?” she asked, arms akimbo.
Dr. Huang explained that such an ingredient was unlikely in lipstick. “It’s definitely possible because animal fats are oils,” she said. “But animal fats tend to oxidize and turn rancid fairly quickly, so I wouldn’t use it in a cosmetic.”
Cornelia remained skeptical.
“O.K., so there’s no pig fat in lipstick, but people are still spending hundreds of dollars on a tube of fatty goop,” she said. “You could just make that at home.”
Here endeth the lesson.

3/28 No Gamer Left Behind: Virtual Learning Goes to the Next Level
Computer simulations are natural learning tools for a generation of video game players. You have to click to see the video but it's worth the 10 minutes.


Living Legends: Oral History Projects Bring Core Subjects to Life

Students become conduits between history and a person's life.

by Lisa Morehouse

published 3/4/2008
Living Legends: Oral History Projects Make Core Subjects Come Alive
Living Legends: Oral History Projects Make Core Subjects Come Alive

Credit: Indigo Flores
By the spring semester of his sophomore year, I was worried that Steven, one of my students at San Francisco's Balboa High School, was at risk of dropping out. He had a lot of support at school, but Steven's mom worked nights, and he seemed easily influenced by his friends who had already dropped out. As the school year passed, Steven became increasingly absent from class, and when he did appear, he seemed tired and inattentive. My bag of tricks for engaging students such as Steven was coming up short.
But when we started an oral history project for which I asked my students to record, transcribe, and publish interviews with people they knew who'd moved to California, Steven came alive. Steven chose to interview his mom, who had escaped from Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime, and he said that in their hour-and-a-half conversation, she told him stories she'd never revealed to him before. When volunteers came to class to help make the stories publishable, Steven concentrated on telling his mother's story through proper paragraph structure and grammar, and he was careful to represent her respectfully. I'd never seen Steven so focused on anything.
Steven presented his mother's history in her own words: "I wanted to get out of that horrible place. I knew if I stayed there any longer, nobody would survive. Not many of us survived, but we managed to escape -- I was one of the lucky ones."
A similar magic occurred every time I assigned oral histories to my sophomore English classes. Collecting oral histories, or documenting the experiences of people who have lived through a particular aspect of history, allows students to see themselves as storytellers and historians. The process taught my students skills from across the standards spectrum, and it made them conduits between history and a person's life -- an experience that stayed with them well beyond the assignment.
Though oral history projects are typically assigned to secondary school students in subjects such as English or history, they can work well in a variety of classes. "I think they're appropriate from the earliest levels all the way up through college," says William Scott, a former middle school teacher who taught oral histories in his Los Angeles and San Francisco classrooms.
, Scott, now an assistant professor of social studies education and history at the University of Delaware, points to a middle school math teacher who asked his students to interview adults about the ways math comes up in their everyday lives. Scott adds that he has also seen simplified oral history assignments work for younger students. One assignment popular with a number of elementary school instructors helps teach children about their neighborhood by assigning them to interview people who live near them.

Pick the Right Topic

Eunice Nuval, who teaches at a San Francisco continuation high school, says choosing a topic that's relevant to her students' lives keeps them engaged with the project. Last year, for example, her students conducted interviews on racism. "The students immediately knew people who had something to say about the topic," explains Nuval, whose class consists entirely of students of color. "It was an issue that they cared about."
I've found that underrepresented histories or perspectives often make rich subjects for oral history projects. I frequently nudged students to interview people they knew whose stories were rarely told, such as victims of hate crimes and domestic violence or undocumented workers. By reaching out to nonprofit organizations, neighbors, and communities for senior citizens, teachers can help students connect with everyday people who have fascinating stories.
Carefully chosen oral history topics can also help create links between various academic subjects. When he taught at Berkeley High school, in Berkeley, California, Rick Ayers, author of //Studs Terkel's Working: A Teaching Guide//, used oral histories to bridge his history and literature lessons. For a segment on the Vietnam War, while his students were reading , a fictionalized memoir written by a U.S. Army veteran, Ayers asked his students to interview people who had some kind of connection to the war.

Finding Interview Subjects

Teachers who use oral histories in their classrooms agree: Just about anyone can be a great interview subject. Says the University of Delaware's William Scott, "You want someone with expertise, which, when it comes down to it, is everyone."
That being said, Scott recommends that students interview someone they know well and with whom they'll feel comfortable. Teacher Eunice Nuval notes that peer interviews work well because students are familiar with one another, which has the added benefit of eliciting more candid responses. "When they interview each other, they're so honest," she notes.
But pushing students out of their comfort zones can also yield exciting results. In Nuval's class, she reports that some of the most interesting oral histories emerged from students who spoke to people of a different race. Meanwhile, Ayers has asked small groups of students to interview day laborers, which his students initially found intimidating because they'd had limited interaction with these men. "It's about putting them in the community for a reality check," he says. "The students were always amazed at how normal these guys are."

Examples for Every Classroom

Here are some straightforward strategies for integrating oral histories into any lesson plan:
Provide the interview subjects. Invite a guest speaker to the classroom with experience relevant to the curriculum. Instead of having the guest give a lecture, ask the students to interview him or her.
Prepare for the speaker's visit by teaching students the difference between closed questions and open questions. Help students create a list of questions they will ask in an agreed-on order, and direct them to take notes on the speaker's responses. Afterward, ask the students to discuss how their initial expectations of the activity compared with the actual interview, and talk about any differences between textbook accounts of the topic and the speaker's experiences. Students could also use the interview as a jumping-off point for journal entries. Be sure to have students write thank-you letters to the speaker at the end of the segment.
A variation on the assignment is to invite three or four people to the classroom with different perspectives on a single topic. Ask students to prepare questions for each interview subject, then give them ten minutes to conduct interviews with each guest in small groups. Students can share their findings in jigsaw fashion.
Have students interview and compare. Help the class identify a few good interview subjects. Students will then conduct interviews and write down the responses as homework. They can also record the interviews and create full transcripts. After they've completed the interviews, students can share the most compelling or confusing responses in small groups during class time. Then, in groups, they can create summaries of each interview and discuss what the interviews taught them about the subject.
Extend the project. To deepen oral history projects and to make them even more meaningful for your students, follow these steps:
  • Invite a guest to the classroom who has experience relevant to the curriculum and model how to conduct an interview. Before the event, type out the questions you plan to ask, and share them with the students. Carry out the interview naturally, skipping questions that the subject answered unprompted and adding follow-up questions that come to mind. Afterward, ask the students to analyze the interview. This step will help students see their prepared questions as a guide, not a script.
  • After choosing an appropriate subject, the students conduct the interview using a recording device. (I wrote several grants for tape recorders; try contacting small local foundations or corporations for assistance.)
  • After transcribing the interview transcript, students can look over the text and identify topics that need follow-up. They can then conduct and transcribe a second interview. Teacher Eunice Nuval says she initially thought transcribing would elicit groans from her students, but it's turned out to be a hit. "I think it was having to really listen, and also hearing themselves and knowing it was the story of someone they were concerned about," she explains.
  • Students edit their transcripts and craft narratives by selecting the most compelling vignettes and editing them. (Volunteers are often helpful in this time-consuming process.)
  • Through surveys or letters to their peers, ask students to reflect on their oral histories. These written responses can be illuminating for both teachers and students. They can also help refine future oral history projects.
  • Celebrate the end of the project by publishing the oral histories. On occasion, I've done so by securing grants from local education funds to copy and bind the narratives into a book. I've also saved reams of paper on which to make copies of the narratives and then instructed students to put the books together assembly-line style. One year, through a partnership with a local educational nonprofit organization, we published the stories in an actual book titled //I Might Get Somewhere//.
Other strategies for sharing the oral histories with a larger audience include dedicating class or homework time to reading other students' oral histories, sending copies of the narratives to local schools and libraries, or creating classroom or campus exhibits based on the project.
There are a number of innovative ways to transform the oral histories into new projects. William Scott's eighth-grade students, for example, recorded oral histories about violence and subsequently created a play based on them. By combining photography, text transcripts, and streaming audio of the interviews, Nuval's students will make multimedia presentations of their oral histories this school year.

Tips for Success

  • Be prepared to spend time providing context and supporting students through difficult or challenging topics.
  • Consider safety: If students are interviewing strangers, instruct them to conduct the interview in pairs and/or in a public place.
  • Remember that most of the learning takes place during the process of capturing oral histories. "Don't feel you have to control the product to make it perfect," Ayers says. "Let the students do the best job they can."
Lisa Morehouse taught secondary English for twelve years in San Francisco and rural Georgia. She is now a public-radio journalist and an education consultant.

Voices of Experience: Oral History Resources

Visit the Web sites listed here for oral history materials:
The American Memory: American Life Histories page from the Library of Congress offers nearly 3,000 life histories the Works Progress Administration compiled between 1936 and 1940.
//Collecting Community History: A Training Handbook for Educators and Life Stories: Voices from the East Bay Latino Community//
//Drama for Students// study guide for Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992
Foxfire presents a collection of books featuring stories of southern Appalachian culture collected by high school students since the 1960s as well as information about its student-centered teaching methods.
//Keeping the Struggle Alive: Studying Desegregation in Our Town, A Guide to Doing Oral History//
Library of Congress: The Learning Page, Using Oral History offers lessons related to oral histories.
The Neighborhood Story Project, in New Orleans, works with students to document their neighborhoods, including those destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
PBS offers a list of multimedia resources concerning the Works Progress Administration's Slave Narratives project.
Through StoryCorps, tens of thousands of friends and family members from across the country have interviewed each other since 2003. Their stories are archived in the Library of Congress, and you can hear them on the project Web site. StoryCorps has also issued a book and CD called Listening Is an Act of Love.
Voice of Witness offers a series of oral history books that illuminate human rights crises worldwide. The site offers curricula for two of the books.

Source URL:

Copyright 2007 The George Lucas Educational Foundation |


Financial Aides: Teens Become Tax Preparers

A high school opens a tax office, and students run the show.

by Sara Bernard
Teens Become Tax Preparers
Teens Become Tax Preparers

Taxation with Representation:

Junior Nancy Wu, a certified volunteer income tax assistant, helps her client, Danielle Tompkins, file this year's tax return.

As I approached the entrance to the tax office at San Francisco's Philip Sala and Burton Academic High School on a recent Saturday, I was greeted with professional courtesy. "Would you like to get your taxes done today?" a young woman asked with a smile, pen poised above her appointment book.
Though I explained I was a reporter, there to cover the story and not to do my taxes, I admit I was sorely tempted. After spending a few hours alongside accomplished teenagers who tossed around terms such as "1099" and "Earned Income Tax Credit" with the ease of experts and who navigated those labyrinthine spreadsheets free of charge while their satisfied customers surfed the net, I couldn't help but think I should sign up.
Burton's Academy of Finance has an unusual asset -- its very own Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site. The VITA program, a partnership between the Internal Revenue Service and the nonprofit organization United Way, recruits volunteers to become certified tax preparers as a free service to households earning less than $38,000 a year. VITA sites are scattered across the map, but it's rare to find them at high schools -- and even more rare to find one staffed by the high school students themselves.
Teens Become Tax Preparers
Teens Become Tax Preparers

Tax Teachers:

Academy of Finance educators Douglas Knight Singer (left) and Patrick Flannery encourage students to run the tax office themselves.
Credit: Sara Bernard

Vivacious Volunteers

"Here, we let the inmates run the asylum," jokes Patrick Flannery, a former banker who now teaches math and finance at Burton and facilitates the tax office along with colleague Douglas Knight Singer. Flannery and Singer head the Academy of Finance, a two-year program open to juniors and seniors that covers such topics as marketing and business strategy, tax procedure, banking, and credit. The academy accepts students based on an application and an interview and certifies them not only in tax preparation but also in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The program also helps them obtain relevant summer internships.
Started four years ago by former math teacher Becky Gerek, the tax program still runs with the help of local enrolled agent Ed Sutton, who adds his expertise into the mix by coaching juniors from October through December and giving seniors a refresher during December and January. Both juniors and seniors then take the VITA certification exam in January, as VITA requires its volunteers to be recertified each year.
"Think of the most boring thing in the world -- tax law and procedure," says Flannery with a laugh. "And kids are staying awake! They're doing it!"
Not only are they staying awake, but they're grappling with the ins and outs of basic tax returns, learning about running a small business, working collaboratively in teams on complex problems, building speaking skills and self-confidence, and honing multiple academic fundamentals -- including math, computer, and literacy skills -- all in a real-world, high-stakes context.
"What I love about this process is that it gets kids out of the classroom into a real environment where they can apply what they've learned," explains Singer. "We talk in class about what it means to be professional. We talk about sales tax, interest, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). But to actually be in an office and assist someone they've never met before, someone who is looking to them as professionals to help prepare their taxes -- all of a sudden, it feels much more real for students."
Adds Flannery, "On a test, there's no real difference between a 75 percent and a 95 percent. But if someone's sitting across from you, and you're talking about their taxes, you want to get 100 percent! You don't want to make any mistakes."
"It's a little nerve-wracking," admits senior Tracy Chen. "You get kind of tense because you don't want to mess anything up by not giving people enough money or giving them too much."

Earned Credit

The primary goal of the tax office is to help low-income families in the surrounding community receive the federal EITC and the San Francisco Working Families Credit. These refunds often go undelivered because the people who are eligible are often unaware of them.
"I was really happy to X out the box that says, 'You qualify for EITC,'" adds Chen, who has seen her clients leave the office overjoyed. "You get a really good feeling. I guess that's like your grade."
True, there is no real grade for this part of the program -- it is simply a service the school provides. And each student, having gained the knowledge and the certification, is expected to pull his or her own weight. Judging by the reaction of the clients, the kids run a very tight ship.
"It works out well for everybody, I think," says Randy Johnson, who has been getting his taxes done at the Burton office for three years in a row. "I live two blocks down the street, so I just walk up the hill every year and do my taxes."
"It makes me feel like if the students can do it, I can probably figure out how to do it," says client Danielle Tompkins. "This is a learning experience for me, too."
"I wish there had been some kind of program like this for me when I was in high school," declares returning customer Jessie Nguy as she gestures toward the students she recognizes from previous years. "You can tell that they know what they're doing. They know what kind of credits you need, and they try to help you out any way they can."
The students do it all: They market their services, schedule their hours, greet the clients, get the pertinent information, and enter the returns into VITA's contracted online software, TaxWise, funded by partnering organization KPMG, which helps coordinate Burton's efforts with United Way and other VITA sites. (Support also comes by way of the Patelco Credit Union, donators of those snazzy Burton tax office polo shirts.) Flannery says, "They learn that part of running a small business is doing all of the things that are supplementary," which for some students this season has even meant babysitting a client's rowdy children. Flannery and Singer are present during the whole process, of course, but their presence takes a back burner to the work of the students.
"It's fun to see the seniors help the juniors or the juniors who have already been here help each other," says Singer. "I would rather them take a little bit longer on the return and find out the answer from one another than for them to call me over to explain it for the tenth time." He says the two adults are there mostly to keep them confident: "They've passed the test. They are certified. They just need to trust themselves!"
Many clients who visit the office have limited English skills, so the students also provide translation services in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Tagalog. "Believe it or not," remarks Singer, "some of these kids are shy about the fact that they're bilingual." The experience gives them an opportunity to see how invaluable their skills really are in the eyes of both their clients and their peers.

Taking the Initiative

Last year, the program garnered attention from Social Enterprises for Learning (SEfL), an initiative run by the University of California at Berkeley's Center for Cities and Schools. SEfL, along with the Pearson Foundation and the Bay Area Writing Project, is partnering with the San Francisco Unified School District to help facilitate similar school-to-career, community-based projects in multiple school sites across the city.
SEfL's support has, among other things, encouraged Burton's Academy of Finance students to drill down even deeper into their experience and develop their writing skills by completing related assignments in their English classes. Singer says that this increased level of self-reflection helps them "figure out what they're learning instead of us telling them what they're learning."
According to Flannery, the whole process helps students realize something: "They're capable of going out into the adult world and playing a role." The community comes to think of the school as a resource, while the students begin to see themselves that way as well. This is, Flannery and Singer contend, exactly what a school should be doing.
"It's great to learn skills, but it's even better to apply them to help out your neighbors and give back to the community," Singer says, glancing at a classroom filled with students who have the poise of professionals and who speak with the urgency of those engaged in a very real task, as well as clients who look as though they know they're in capable hands.
When the tax office opens, Singer says with a smile, "they just step up and present their professional side. It's nice to see them really being their best."
BOSTON — Never let schooling get in the way of your education, Mark Twain supposedly said, and the latest advances in psychology and behavior science take that to a new dimension — virtual reality and the digital domain.
Virtual characters and digital tutors are helping children and adults develop advanced social and language skills that can be tough to learn via conventional approaches, according to researchers who briefed reporters here last week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Justine Cassell of Northwestern University has found that children with autism can develop advanced social skills by interacting with a "virtual child" that they might not develop by hanging out with real children or teachers.
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Cassell is credited with developing the Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA), a virtual human capable of interacting with humans using language and gestures.
Her "virtual child" is a cartoon about the size of an 8-year-old with whom kids can learn and play on the floor with toys via a [[,2933,331729,00.html#|plasma screen]] projection.

The cartoon looks like a boy to boys and like a girl to girl, and is racially ambiguous, so no one feels left out.
The language skills of children who played with the virtual child improved and their social-interaction skills improved, Cassell's research shows. "They played nicer," doing better at taking turns, she said.
The virtual child has been tested and found to be an effective way to teach autistic children the ability to stay on topic in conversations, take turns at talk and nod when spoken to, she said.
'Baldi' teaches language
Along similar lines, Dominic W. Massaro of the University of California, Santa Cruz, has developed,2933,331729,00.html#|software that presents 3-D animated "tutors" or talking heads that are useful in teaching remedial readers, children with language challenges and anyone learning a second language.
His teachers are less cartoonish than Cassell's, and the focus is on speech accuracy.
One of the tutors (or embodied agents) developed by Massaro, "Baldi," has been used at the Defense Language Institute in California to teach foreign languages to Americans doing military and other work in Iraq.
A handful of public schools in California and Florida have adopted the software to help children learn skills, he said.
Baldi can be programmed to enhance "error-free learning" such that the tutor doesn't say, "That's wrong," when students make mistakes, but instead offers informative feedback that helps students see their error and do better with their next chance to answer a question.
"Working with Baldi can be less intimidating because students don't feel shy about making mistakes," said Massaro, whose Animated Speech Corporation also has produced software with digital tutors that is used to teach vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and speech articulation to children who are hard-of-hearing.
Baldi also features a realistic view of the inside of the mouth complete with tongue, teeth and palate, that play little movies for students to watch on iPods and other mp3 players in various cutaways and angles to help them learn how to form new sounds in such languages as English, Chinese and Arabic.
The,2933,331729,00.html#|videos are based on ultrasound images of speaking mouths and "electropalatography" sensors placed along the palate that are used to create 3-D real-time data.
The goal is to realistically mimic the natural processes of speech observed by Massaro and others in experiments.
Being digital, Baldi is tireless compared to human teachers who get worn out from children's ongoing requests for attention. And Baldi is available 24/7, which is great especially for autistic kids who sometimes keep unconventional sleeping hours.
Toning it down
Digital teachers are better teachers than humans along some dimensions, says Jeremy Bailenson, a,2933,331729,00.html#|communications researcher at Stanford University, who has conducted numerous experiments demonstrating the benefits that virtual environments have over reality.
He has worked with Cassell in the past, though not on autistics nor on the research presented here.
"I think the best aspect of virtual reality (VR) for this application is the ability to build virtual humans that can 'scale' in the amount of socialness they exude," Bailenson told LiveScience.
VR allows participants to send only,2933,331729,00.html#|small amounts of non-verbal or facial expressions to the other person with whom they are communicating, which benefits autistics who often cannot deal with the intensity of face-to-face conversations. Speakers can create renderings of themselves that are toned down or abstract.
"In this sense, communicating in real-time via avatars may be the best way for [autistics] to be social and learn these skills," Bailenson said.
Embodied teaching agents are helpful to specialists who work with autistic students, allowing teachers to match the expressiveness level of the student.
"By detecting the gestures of the student in real-time and then rendering a similar degree of socialness on the embodied agent, virtual humans may be particularly comforting as teachers for students," Bailenson said.
Despite the efficacy of digital approaches to education, there is a reluctance in society for such tools to become widespread, a discomfort with the idea that human teachers might be replaced by virtual teachers on a widescale basis, Cassell said.
"I believe that the reason that virtual reality and other interventions like this scare us is ... because we are scared that we don't have the time to interact with our children the way that we'd like to," she said.
Copyright © 2008 Imaginova Corp. All Rights Reserved.

Monster Mash: Learning Real-World Skills in a Creature-Creating Art Class

A classroom doubles as a special effects tech studio, and students go pro.

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by Sara Bernard

external image BHSFXa.jpg

SLIDE SHOW: Horror High

Produced by Sara Bernard. Photography by Chris Glass.
A ferocious, drooling beast with menacing fangs and sharp claws looms over a roomful of high school students. They don't seem to notice. That is probably because the room is crowded with beasts -- life-size vampires, zombies, aliens, and other grisly creatures -- of the students' own making. And their classroom, filled with the hum of drills and dryers, drifting clouds of plaster, and low conversations about spilling intestines and blue fur, has the look and feel of a special effects studio.
In fact, it is both a classroom and a special effects studio. The Berea High School Visual Effects and Design class, in Berea, Ohio, is a place where students collaborate on masks, props, characters, and sculptures for independent films, trade shows, city spaces, businesses, and private collectors. For two hours a day, for thirty-six rigorous weeks a year, BHSFX students at all grade levels work in teams with a unique set of materials and class requirements (read: silicone, latex, and a syllabus that includes the phrases "eye fabrication" and "hair punching") to produce work of professional quality -- as professionals.
"I don't consider this class an art class," says teacher and founder Jim Bycznski, who started the program soon after he began teaching thirteen years ago. "It's far beyond just art."
Bycznski credits Arnold Goldman, owner of the Cleveland-based mask-making shop Monster Makers, for the "Eureka!" moment that led to BHSFX. An article by Goldman in //Airbrush Artist Magazine// helped Bycznski answer the question "How can I make art class into something real-world based and exciting for my students?" The answer, he decided, was special effects.
Cool Schools: Monster Mash
Cool Schools: Monster Mash

Fun with Fantasy:

BHSFX students pose in front of their very own "radioactive spray chamber," a ventilated room they spiffed up with found objects.
Credit: Chris Glass

"When I proposed the class, there were some who said it's not an art form, it's a craft, and they weren't sure it would stick," says Bycznski. "But I looked at our curriculum and I said, 'Listen -- they're still going to draw, paint, make 3-D objects, and learn about balance and color mixing. The only thing that I'm going to do differently is. I'm going to use moviemaking as the subject matter.'"
That difference has made a huge impact. In a system where, as Bycznski notes, "art is the low man on the totem pole when it's time for budgets to be cut," the class has held its own. BHSFX has accepted collaborative projects and paid gigs that run the gamut from costuming for the high school's production of Godzilla Meets Las Vegas to dozens of hand-carved tiki masks for a local restaurant's patio decor. The longer students participate, the more advanced their project requirements become, and the vast majority stick around for multiple years. In fact, says Bycznski, "I haven't had a kid sign up for the class, take it, and not take it again if they were eligible to."
Naysayers might assume this staying power has something to do with the morbid attraction of designing electric chairs and bloody eyeballs. But the students are the first to defend their trade. Although "kids wouldn't want to join the class if we were sculpting fairies," scoffs senior Amanda See, both she and classmate Melanie Kenzig are well aware of the myriad skills involved. Taking a project from start to finish, particularly when there's more at stake than a letter grade, is no simple task. "We're definitely learning problem solving from this class," says Kenzig. "There's always a situation where you have to say, 'Well, what can I do to fix the problem?'"
Plus, this kind of stuff comes with the territory. "Visual effects is usually blood and gore," offers See. "I mean, sometimes somebody wants a bigger nose; we've done stuff like that, too."
Cool Schools: Monster Mash
Cool Schools: Monster Mash

Credit: Chris Glass

Project Makes Perfect

The class's local notoriety stretches from holiday floats to movie theater displays (most recently to promote the movies House of Wax and X-Men III). Students have constructed props and creatures for such independent films as The Substitute Student, The Cardinal and the Wrath of the Warthog, and Crops, a recent award winner at Ohio's Broken Lamp Film Festival. Classwork also includes the simple mechanics required for animatronics (a hand drill-powered electric chair, for instance), and even filmmaking of their own (a series of shorts is available for viewing on YouTube, and one group won a Gold Key from the 2000 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for their short film Project Cobra Strike).
Though many assignments are paid for, and the district supports the class as best it can, funding still comes largely from grants, donations, and a basic $30 yearly fee for student participants. Still, the more visibility, the better, says Bycznski, whether or not projects come with a paycheck.
"Early on, every time I said that we were a high school art class, that was the last we heard of people," he says. "But now I think that as we're starting to build some steam, we're able to get some of those projects."
The class's enhanced reputation has led to collaborations with high school students at the Polaris Career Center, an institution down the road from Berea High School where students and mid-career professionals can take credit-bearing classes in mechanical engineering or multimedia and graphic design. One of the team efforts was the Pilot Plane Project, created to celebrate the hundredth birthday of legendary artist and designer Viktor Schreckengost. BHSFX students sketched, sculpted, molded, painted, and sewed costumes for a gigantic Schreckengost caricature, along with accompanying dog and cat figures. These and an airplane Polaris students constructed were displayed for months at the Tower City Center, a commercial hub in downtown Cleveland.
Though the "high school" tag tends to keep paychecks on the slim side, what stuns many community members and clients is the caliber of the work. In a recent feature in the special effects publication //Horrorshow//, BHSFX accomplishments are lauded right alongside those of industry professionals. "I show the kids, I say, 'Look: They're selling this for $9,000,'" says Bycznski, flipping through Halloween catalogs. "'Look at the sculpture. Is it better than anything that's in our room right now?' I think if you look at what other people are doing, we fall pretty much in line with what it is that's going on out there."

More Than Monsters

Program alumni have gone on to attend the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, the Cleveland Institute of Art, the Savannah College of Art and Design, and the Full Sail School of Film, Art, Design, Music & Media Production. The class also has visited -- as honored guests -- the Douglas Education Center's celebrated Tom Savini Special Effects Make-Up Program, in Monessen, Pennsylvania. Still, just as a talent for visual art is not a requirement for entry to the class, it is certainly not the only goal, either.
"I tell the kids on the first day of every class, 'It doesn't matter to me whether you end up liking art, or whether you end up thinking that you're an artist,'" says Bycznski. "'My underlying goal is to make you a creative problem solver. Can you solve problems for yourself? Can you think your way out of a problem? Can you think of solutions to things that are thrown to you?'"
Bycznski's mantra, whether regarding an in-class project or a commission for a client, remains, "I'm not going to be the person who's holding your hand." Students have the responsibility to work and communicate directly with clients, he says, and gather advice about sculpture and mold making from each other.
"The tie-in to all of those other disciplines is that we're teaching them to communicate effectively," says Bycznski. "They're dealing with people from outside the building, outside their comfort zone. Many times, those people are adults who have much different demands, restrictions, and expectations than I do, and they have to deal with those people."
This real-world level of expectation makes the academic assessment process take care of itself, says Bycznski. Class grades are based largely on work ethic, and, typically, students are the ones doing the sniff test when it comes to the quality of a finished product, or making sure that everyone on a team pulls his or her own weight.
"Whenever I start a project, I never really think about the grade," says Amanda See. "I just get excited about a project no matter what."
Bycznski's hands-off approach is especially appealing to students who feel limited by high school's typical barrage of top-down assignments, grades, and mandates. Ask a few die-hard BHSFX inductees what their favorite aspect of the class is, and the response is unanimous: freedom.
Cool Schools: Monster Mash
Cool Schools: Monster Mash

Credit: Chris Glass

"The longer you're in the class, the more freedom you have," says Melanie Kenzig, who has taken every art class offered at Berea High School. "In other art classes, it's always, 'Do this project. Do that one.' But here, it's like, 'Come up with your own ideas. Create something. Do something different.'"
Seasoned special effects gurus like Arnold Goldman concur. "If I had had this program when I was in high school, I would have gone nuts," he exclaims with a laugh. "I would definitely have convinced my parents that I needed to move to Berea to get into Jim Bycznski's visual arts program."
This, it turns out, has happened: After hearing about BHSFX, Melanie Kenzig pulled strings and switched high schools. "If I ever had kids, I'd force them to take this class," she says. "I'd want them to have the opportunity I had."

This article was also published in Edutopia Magazine, February 2008


Ashes2Art: Modeling the Past in 3D

By Linda L Briggs
An art history project focusing on the ancient Greek site of Delphi has students themselves using three-dimensional modeling software to create exact renderings of ancient structures. The project is part of a collaboration between two universities called Ashes2Art, in which students use computer modeling software to recreate and study ancient ruins.

Using a range of software including Google's SketchUp Pro, which is free to academics, undergraduate art students in Alyson Gill's art history class at Arkansas State University are setting a first, she said, in creating computerized 3D models themselves of the famed Greek sanctuary at Delphi. While it's become more and more common to have professionals create virtual models of ancient sites, Gill said she thinks that having students do the modeling themselves is a first.

The Ashes2Art project first was developed at Coastal Carolina University and originally studied Renaissance period architecture in Florence, Italy. The project has since grown to include Arkansas State University and the Digital Delphi project.

Building the Past with Technology
The innovative Ashes2Art project combines art history, archaeology, 3D animation, and digital photography to allow art students to re-create exact renderings of ancient monuments online. Research by faculty and students includes site visits to shoot high-resolution digital panorama-view photos, and extensively research to ensure the end products are accurate. The idea, Gill said, is that "you can learn a lot more by building a building, than by sitting passively in a classroom and having digital images flash in front of you."

The stable of tools used to create the 3D models includes Easypano's Panoweaver, and Tourweaver; Autodesk 3DS Max; Adobe Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver, and Director; Google Earth and SketchUp; Maxon Cinema 4D; RealViz Stitcher; and Nemetschek VectorWorks.

Perhaps the most popular tool of all, Gill said, is Google Sketchup Pro. That's because the program has proved to be easy to use--some of the other modeling programs have steep learning curves--and can be put on students' home computers as well as school. Another value to SketchUp, Gill explained, is that models can be created in that program then exported to others for finishing or for other uses.

Funding the Project

The project received fresh funding in 2007 when Gill and an Ashes2Art colleague at Coastal Carolina University, Arne Flaten, who launched the program in 2005 with a colleague at Coastal Carolina, received a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Ashes2Art project has garnered intense interest through papers and presentations nationally and internationally; Gill said that interest from colleagues has been "incredible."

At Coastal Carolina University, the focus of Ashes2Art is on the city of Florence. There, Gill said, the buildings are still well preserved, so virtual reconstruction isn't the focus. Instead, she chose the ancient Greek sanctuary at Delphi for her students, where buildings range from well preserved to partial states of reconstruction.

That posed a different problem from the ones posed by the Florence project, Gill said. Instead of requiring students to look at still photographs of an existing building and make a three-dimensional model from that, "they [would have] to go to excavation reports and learn how to read site plans ... and then build models that are architecturally accurate." Another challenge was that many of the site plans and excavation notes were in French, requiring students to translate them as part of their research.

While complex 3D computer modeling of ancient sites and buildings has become increasingly common--witness the movie Gladiator--having students do the work, and on the sort of limited budget that Gill faced--is virtually unheard of. Larger, better-known collaborative 3D modeling projects include one between the University of Virginia and UCLA called "Rome Reborn" that creates a fly-through reconstruction of the Roman forum and coliseum.

The difference, Gill said, is that those types of projects used professional modelers and generally relied on copious funding. "What we were doing was to try getting some of the same types of results," she said, "using students and incredibly limited funding."

Historical Accuracy
In general, 3D modeling is replacing the sorts of line drawings that used to be common in presenting conceptual drawings of ancient ruins. One issue with 3D modeling, Gill said, is a concern that the models be accurate. Because modeling can quickly create something that appears to be real, accuracy is sometimes lost in the process.

"One of our concerns is a lot of these buildings go up online, and they're not accurate at all"--something, Gill said, that can happen in computer-generated movie scenes, for example. "What we're trying to do is to ensure that [the models] are accurate" with a heavy focus on research, digital photos, and site visits.

Gill said she wants her class to create 3D renderings that "exactly correspond to the site plan," including where stones lie, basing the creation on intense research, including the many ideas archaeologists have about what the buildings at Delphi looked like.

In an ideal project, Gill said, "we'd eventually have clickable switches to allow somebody to say, 'This person believes that it would have looked like this ... and this person thinks it would look like this.' They could toggle between these different versions, all very well supported [by researchers]."

The NEH grant has allowed Gill to add elements to the course such as actually taking students to Greece to work on-site at Delphi, and to visit other Greek ruins. The project is also being coordinated closely with the Greek government, which is often concerned that computer models are accurate in representing the country's many ancient ruins.

Linda L. Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif.

Cite this Site

Linda L Briggs, "Ashes2Art: Modeling the Past in 3D," Campus Technology, 2/13/2008,
January 30, 2008 New York Times
On Education

In the South Bronx, Robotics and Rebirth

At the end of a distinctly pugilistic day of sixth grade, Abdoulie Lemon was escorted by a dean to the industrial-arts classroom that doubled as the detention pen. No sooner had he restlessly settled into his chair than he caught sight of a dozen students gathered in rapt attention around a table at the other end of the room.
Not being the obedient sort at this point in his scholastic career, Abdoulie left behind the dean and the chair to check out the hubbub, he recalled recently. He saw on the tabletop a sort of motorized cart made mostly of Lego pieces.
“I want to play,” he said, shifting from tough guy to eager child with no intermediate step.
“It’s not a toy,” one of the students at the table answered. “It’s a robot.”
The dean begrudgingly gave Abdoulie a five-minute parole to watch the robot scoot to and fro across the tabletop. And in those five minutes, Abdoulie’s life changed.
What he was seeing, he soon learned, was a practice session for the robotics team at Herman Ridder Junior High School in the Bronx. There was practice every afternoon, and more practice or a competition on most Saturdays.
By now, two years later, Abdoulie is a veteran of the team. Last year, he traveled with the Ridder Kids, as their matching T-shirts proclaim them, to a national Lego robotics championship in Atlanta. At the end of this April, the squad plans to go to Japan to participate in an exhibition.
In the process, Abdoulie has solved the mystery of himself: How could a boy smart enough to disassemble and reassemble the family television be messing up so badly in school? The answer: Nobody at school had noticed that talent until the Ridder Kids encouraged Abdoulie to fit together every intricate part of a robot. For the first time, he felt success and approval.
“I used to be hard-headed,” Abdoulie explained at Ridder one recent afternoon. “Now I’m not that way anymore.”
Some version of Abdoulie’s story could be told about nearly all the dozen Ridder Kids, immigrants from Haiti or Pakistan or Gambia, the children of parents toiling on construction sites or in bodegas. An accident of geography delivered them to Herman Ridder, a school with a sad history.
Decades ago, this school, in a turreted castle of a building on Boston Road, admitted only the most gifted of children based on an entrance exam. It was a little bit of Stuyvesant for the Irish, Italians and Jews of the tenements beside Crotona Park.
Generations came and went, and the neighborhood slid into notoriety. When Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan made their respective visits to the abandoned hulks on Charlotte Street, they were within blocks of Herman Ridder. No longer selective, it had become the last resort for families too poor to afford escape.
With the rebirth of the South Bronx, symbolized by the tidy split-levels that now line Charlotte Street, has come at least a bit of rebirth at Herman Ridder. Under its new principal, Claralee Irobunda, Ridder earned an A on its first progress report from the Department of Education. The department’s Quality Performance Review lauded Ms. Irobunda for providing “leadership that continues to take the school forward at a remarkable rate.”
Before taking over at Ridder, Ms. Irobunda led the guidance department at Morris High, a school a dozen blocks down Boston Road that was so troubled its own faculty once advised it be closed. The Education Department finally did the job, turning the building over to five mini-schools.
One of Ms. Irobunda’s colleagues at Morris was Gary Israel, a social studies teacher and would-be engineer who discovered competitive robotics in the late 1990s. It reminded him of the two extracurricular passions — tennis and clarinet — that animated his own school years at George Washington High in Manhattan.
“It’s the hands-on that’s so important,” he said the other day. “When kids are in classrooms all day, they need outlets. They need more than academics. Robotics can be like the old shop class.”
Both before and after retiring from Morris in June 2005, Mr. Israel has introduced almost 60 schools in the Bronx to robotics.
Officially, he does so now as a paid consultant to the Education Department, but he easily exceeds the 80 days of work specified in his contract. He gets up at 4 a.m., goes to sleep at 11 p.m. and spends many of his 19 waking hours with robotics teams. Each spring, his wife makes him sign a letter, which she posts on the refrigerator, promising to really retire; each fall, he annuls the vow.
At Ridder, Mr. Israel has found a kindred insomniac in Harold Smith, a teacher of technology education. Even after 30 years on the job, Mr. Smith rises at 5:15 a.m. to drive to Ridder from his home 45 miles away in East Brunswick, N.J.
Before classes begin on most mornings, the robotics teammates flock to his room: Travis Williams and Azeem Yousaf, Amado Sanchez, Sabrina Fletcher and all the rest. Having built their robot over the first semester, they now are programming a computer to operate it. In every competition, the robot must perform 13 tasks, all related to a theme of energy resources.
For many of the Ridder Kids, the involvement in robotics has transformed their attitude about school. It has given education purpose and utility, something no standardized test can supply.
“TV doesn’t brighten you,” said Carl Jules, an eighth grader on the team. “The robotics team brightens you.”
Mr. Smith concurred. “I believe they are all geniuses,” he said. “Our job is to tap into their genius.”
At the moment, though, even geniuses face obstacles. The Ridder Kids, who won the citywide robotics prize for elementary and junior high schools last year, finished eighth of 82 teams in this year’s final round. Their trip to Japan, which is part of the international robotics program sponsored by First (an acronym standing for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), will cost $30,000. So far, Mr. Israel has only $400.
“I always feel the money will come through somehow,” Mr. Israel said. “These kids are such great ambassadors. Imagine them going to Japan to show what an ‘inner-city’ school can do. Because we get such a bad rap.”

Samuel G. Freedman is a professor of journalism at Columbia University. His e-mail is

2/1 From Our Very Own Carrie Siegmund at Classic City High

I’ve attached a project that uses a playlist I put together on Montage. It seems to be working very well, and the students are taking excellent notes for the project as the watch the video segments. I did not realize until last week that students had access to Montage from their computers. What a great resource! Other teachers in the district may be interested in utilizing this technology as well- especially in self paced settings, or on the lap top carts.
The Road through the American Revolution Picture Map
You are going to construct a picture map that shows important events, concepts, and outcomes of the American Revolution between the years 1765-1791 in U.S. History.

You will use the chapters within this playlist for necessary background information
Note: You will need to log in. Be sure to choose the chapter you need to watch by clicking on the green arrow next to the title of the chapter.
  • Each map must have 14 pictures with a 3-4 sentence description for each picture that corresponds with the 14 events listed below.
  • At least half of the pictures should be hand drawn.
  • Each description should include the name of the event, the year of the event, a summary of the topic/event, and explain how the events in history are interrelated-explain how one led to the other. I would suggest you type up your information as you are watching the chapter(s) in the playlist that goes with each of the events.
  • Each map should use arrows to show the order of events
  • Each map should have an appropriate title
  • Each map should be easy to follow and understand. Each map should be attractive.

Please include the following events in your picture map:
Note- They are in chronological order.
1. The Stamp Act (chapter 1)
2. Declaratory Act (chapter 2)
3. The Boston Tea Party (chapters 3, 4)
4. The Continental Congress (chapter 5)
5. Battle of Lexington and Concord (chapter 6)
6. George Washington and the Continental Army (chapter 7 and chapter 11)
7. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (chapter 8)
8. The Declaration of Independence (chapter 9)
9. Battle of Trenton (chapter 10)
10. Battle of Saratoga (chapter 12)
11. The British surrender at Yorktown (chapters 13, 14)
12. The Articles of Confederation (chapters 15, 16)
13. The Constitutional Convention and the Constitution (chapters 17, 18)
14. Federalists, Anti-federalists, and The Bill of Rights (chapter 19, 20)
Be sure to ask for help if you need help!
Currently we are field testing student access to the Montage system at Classic City High. This feature is not available at other schools at this time. If you would like to use Montage in this manner, please contact James Griffin


Live from the Stratosphere: NASA Initiatives Turn Students into Scientists

Rural students become part of the space age through virtual connections.

by Marilyn Wall
NASA initiatives
NASA initiatives

Like NASA engineers, students in Marilyn Wall’s fourth-grade class construct their own Mission to Mars project.
My school, John Wayland Elementary, population 620, is located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a conservative agricultural area. Shopping is still done in small country stores. The busy street in each town is named Main, and is crisscrossed by county dirt roads. Mennonite horses and buggies pass our school each day.
Living in such an area, my students often think of their futures in limited terms -- working on farms or in poultry houses, driving a truck, or working in a small family-owned business. Stars, planets, and astronomy are topics not usually discussed at the dinner table, certainly not as leading to possible career choices. That is, not until my students and I connected with NASA.
NASA initiatives
NASA initiatives

The students designed, built, and tested their own Mars rover.
Using the Tools of Scientists
I used to be uncomfortable with science, focusing instead on reading, writing, and math. But about five years ago, I happened to attend a technology conference, where teachers described their students' experiences with science through the Internet, and I clicked onto my first home page -- NASA's K-12 Quest Initiative. I heard about students going on a virtual flight aboard the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. And I learned about an upcoming project called "Live From the Stratosphere."
The first "Live From the Stratosphere" telecast included an invitation for students to participate via the Internet in a global star count, and demonstrated how to turn a simple paper towel tube into a "star count" data instrument. Back at school, my students and I followed the directions, made our star counters, and began practicing. The students felt so important using the star counters and protractors. These were the tools of "real scientists"!
NASA initiatives
NASA initiatives

Students also wrote a successful computer program that directs the rover to navigate the student-created Mars terrain.

Seeing New Possibilities

On the night of our star count, students took their parents outside and instructed them on how to gather star data for NASA. The next morning I listened to students eagerly comparing their data, not only with each other but with other collaborating schools online. I knew I had a room full of successful learners. My students felt like real research scientists as they entered data on a star census map. They had learned to collect, analyze, and share information. I will always remember this activity because it was the turning point for me -- the first time I became confident in my own ability to conduct scientific investigations.
As we continued to explore more space projects, parents became curious. So, when NASA scheduled a special overnight observing session for students to link through live video and Internet connections with the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, we jumped on the opportunity to invite parents for a "star party."
When the night arrived and my students came with parents and guests, I saw such a transformation. Fourth-graders took on the role of teachers, escorting adults around our room, explaining their infrared light experiments, demonstrating principles of flight with model planes, and showing their star census data. My students then logged on and found themselves face-to-face with a NASA astronomer. Parents were absolutely amazed to watch their children proudly exchange messages with an astronomer at work.
NASA initiatives
NASA initiatives

Students take on the role of teachers when parents visit school.

Josh's Transformation

I have a last story to share. One student, whom I will call Josh, was a nine-year-old boy, a boy forgotten, with little support from home. He came in each day with an unwashed face, rumpled hair, jeans well worn, and duct tape around his shoe to keep it from falling apart. Josh was reading below grade level, and regularly failed to do homework. He needed to wear glasses but absolutely refused to do so.
Slowly, through the course of our projects, Josh began to change. He became eager to work on the computer. Homework assignments started coming in, and Josh began reading "space" books. The night of our star party, I thought Josh would not be able to attend because his mother worked the night shift. But there he was, wearing his glasses, with his mom as his guest! During the telecast, Josh stood beside me and said, "Look at him," and he pointed to a NASA astronomer. Josh pointed again and said, "He wears glasses -- just like me."
NASA initiatives
NASA initiatives

The Mission to Mars project nears completion.

Budding Scientists

Later that evening, April Whitt, one of the scientists aboard Kuiper, e-mailed my students about how school had not been easy for her, but determination to see "tough things" through got her where she is. Josh came over to me and said, "I'm going to work hard like her." All I could do was hug him and say, "Thank you, NASA scientists!"
For my students in the Shenandoah Valley, technology has become the equalizer, bridging the gap between culturally advantaged urban students and culturally disadvantaged rural students. Though many of my students have never traveled outside our county's borders, never walked through a museum's doors, never looked through a telescope, never felt the ocean waves washing over their feet, never even experienced the moving steps of an escalator or the swaying motion of a train, they have counted stars, shared data with national scientists, participated in live NASA shuttle missions, and perhaps begun to see possibilities for themselves beyond our small part of this fascinating time and space.
Marilyn Kennedy Wall, a teacher for thirty years, has been honored as a NASA Educator Workshop for Elementary Science Teachers Teacher and as a National Science Teachers Association Teacher of the Year.

Phys-ed classes changing course

By Karen Johnson
Times Southeast Bureau
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Tahoma High sophomore Cody Sausoushek digs out a stump in the Taylor Mountain Forest near Hobart. Sausoushek is a part of Tahoma High's Outdoor Academy, a 4-year-old program that combines language arts, science, health and fitness.
Low clouds, icy rain and a mound of shovels and pick axes greeted Tahoma High School students at Taylor Mountain Forest near Hobart.
With a steady hand — and surprising grace — sophomore Ashley Dyche swung a pick ax, hitting the earth and causing an explosion of bark, rocks and mud. Dyche and classmates formed a line along a portion of newly cleared forest. Colorful flags marked the dirt where they were building a trail for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.
On a day when most physical-education classes would be locked in the confines of a gymnasium, 80 Tahoma High sophomores are outfitted in hiking gear and rubber boots, ready to embrace the elements.
It makes sense for the Tahoma School District, which covers some rural parts of Southeast King County, to take advantage of its natural surroundings, health-and-fitness teacher Tracy Krause said.
Krause is one of a growing number of educators who have ditched traditional physical-education curricula, which emphasize team sports, in favor of a new brand of exercise that targets life skills.
Private courses that specialize in teaching outdoor skills have combined education and rugged recreation for years. Now some public schools are following the lead of these programs by offering classes that target the long-term health and wellness of students.
Dyche says she was surprised when she learned she could earn half of her physical-education credits for graduation through Tahoma High's Outdoor Academy, a 4-year-old program that combines language arts, science, health and fitness.
"Other classes are told to write descriptive essays about nature," Dyche said. "We get to experience the outdoors."
"This is very hands-on community service," said Tina Miller, volunteer coordinator with King County. "It's about building social responsibility. Hopefully, this will give students more respect for these trails."
More than gym class
Tahoma High's outdoor program started in 2004 when Krause teamed up with language-arts teacher Jamie Vollrath and chemistry teacher Mike Hanson to create a curriculum that would take advantage of Maple Valley's abundant natural resources. The result: the Outdoor Academy, a yearlong course that combines writing, scientific inquiry and physical education.
This year's class has 84 students, but the list of those who want in is long; more than 100 were turned away this year. Students for the program are chosen at random by a computer.
Three teachers — one for science, one for language arts and one for physical fitness — teach students in the same classroom for several hours a day. The result is an interdisciplinary experience that allows students to connect subjects.
During a fall unit on fly-fishing, students read "A River Runs Through It" and learned about river ecology and aquatic invertebrates. But student Kyle Miller says the best part of the unit was the fly-fishing trip students took in November.
Tahoma High isn't the first school to trade pickle ball for trail building, but it is at the forefront of a growing trend, said Pam Tollefsen, coordinator of school-health programs for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
In the late 1990s, the statewide model for physical education was updated to embrace "lifetime physical activities," Tollefsen said. The goal of the state mandate: Give students health and exercise lessons that apply to life outside of school.
"What are these young people going to be engaging in when they are adults?" Tollefsen said. "Are they going to watch competitive sports on TV? Or, are they going to get out there and ride a bike or go fly-fishing?"
The answer to that question, Tollefsen said, is changing because of programs like Tahoma High's.
Paying for program
The benefits of teaching students practical recreational activities — such as hiking, climbing or fishing — are huge, Tollefsen said, but cost can be prohibitive for urban districts far from the wild outdoors or poor districts that lack money to pay for programs.
Tahoma High has received several grants to help pay for the Outdoor Academy.
Throughout Maple Valley, district officials say, there is strong support for new outdoor physical-education classes.
The district has no plans to expand the high-school program, district spokesman Kevin Patterson said.
At Taylor Mountain, students did a lot of work in a few hours. They built a large segment of a two-mile trail. Two smaller groups installed logs to help with erosion, and others planted native trees and shrubs in a newly completed parking lot.
After all that work and a 15-minute bus ride, they arrived back at school before the final bell.
Building a trail from scratch was tough, but having a whole class working together made it easier.
"I like being outdoors, being with my friends," Dyche said. "It makes me work because I probably would never do this on my own."
Karen Johnson: 253-234-8605 or

New method given an A

Expeditionary Learning to be implemented over 5 years

external image EL_class_1_t640.jpg?a6ea3ebd4438a44b86d2e9c39ecf7613005fe067
Delaware ridge Elementary School kindergartners watch as their teacher, Molly Dykman, right, prepares to release a butterfly the class had studied as part of a learning investigation this semester. Enlarge photo Contributed photo
By Jesse Truesdale
January 2, 2008
Bonner Springs — The first semester is over, but a lot of work is still ahead for the four Bonner Springs-Edwardsville District schools’ implementation of a new curricular model.
Last spring the district’s three elementary schools — Bonner Springs Elementary, Edwardsville Elementary and Delaware Ridge Elementary — plus Clark Middle School were each awarded a five-year, $125,000 grant by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to implement and train teachers in the projects-based learning system developed by the nonprofit organization Outward Bound USA.
Expeditionary Learning stresses active learning methods and the incorporation of character development in curriculum. According to the Outward Bound Web site it takes two to three years for schools fully implement to basic practices of Expeditionary Learning.
District teachers began training last summer in the Expeditionary Learning model, with the same active, team-based methods they’re bringing to their own classes. They’ve also been working with school designers from Outward Bound in incorporating the EL model into their curricula.
Last semester in their first Expeditionary Learning excursions, district students tagged Monarch butterflies, visited old bridges in Jackson County, Mo., to study their structures and studied the tracks of wild animals at Wyandotte County Lake Park. This semester, class projects will include the creation of a Web page on the Bonner Springs city Web site for children to virtually explore the city, a garden and a coffee-table book comparing farming methods of today and a century ago.
All four of the schools have new principals, and Cindy Lockyear is principal of the brand-new Delaware Ridge Elementary. Lockyear previously served as the principal of Bonner Springs Elementary.
Lockyear, like the other principals, said the EL model has brought changes that are visible on a daily basis in her school.
For example, each classroom’s LCD projector show throughout the day the learning target for students that day, expressed in “I can” terms from a student’s perspective.
“I walk through the classrooms and it’s amazing how something that small affects student engagement,” Lockyear said. That’s because, Lockyear said, “they live in a world that is graphic, colorful and interactive. If something was handwritten on the board they might not notice it but this gets their attention and holds it.”
As an example Lockyear mentioned a student in first-grade teacher Cinthia Fletcher’s class who, before going outside for a break, asked her teacher, “What’s our learning target for recess?”
Another change visible each day are the morning meetings each class begins its day with, Lockyear said. The meetings can focus on team-building, she said, or they can be used to talk about issues in the classroom that a student wants to discuss.
Or, Lockyear said, they can be just sitting in a circle and “sharing something they experience since they left preschool the day before.”
The EL model emphasizes five character traits — collaboration, integrity, trust, quality and passion — and Lockyear said her teachers do “a good job weaving (them) into everything we do … So when you walk though our building, you hear teachers ask, ‘Is this quality work?’ And you hear students say that too: ‘Ms. Durbin, I’m turning in quality work.’”
Or, just as important, when the student’s work falls short, “they’ll recognize that they’re not,” Lockyear said.
The new school’s staff includes four first-year teachers, who Lockyear said “have really embraced the idea of EL.”
Lockyear didn’t know if the fact the teachers were brand-new made their adopting EL methods any easier, she said, but the fact “they hadn’t developed their own personal teaching style” may have made a difference.
Lockyear said young people today, including teachers, are more likely to be risk-takers, but that her veteran teachers were also enthusiastic about Expeditionary Learning.
“Our veteran teachers have learned from our new teachers as much as the brand-new teachers have learned from them,” Lockyear said.
The students have taken to the EL model as well, she said.
“It hasn’t taken long at all for them,” Lockyear said, “especially students at the intermediate grade levels. They know that they’re EL — they hear teachers using that title and term with them and they make connection with things in the classroom: ‘Oh, this will be part of the investigation,’ then go into why it’s connected.”
Investigations are the EL term for a type of project. Several investigations go into an actual expedition, which typically is a semester- or year-long project in which an entire class takes part, and which includes material from all the core subjects.
Because teachers are still in the process of learning how to put into practice the EL model, full-scale expeditions at Bonner and Edwardsville schools probably won’t be undertaken until at least next school year.
Last semester second-graders at Delaware Ridge studied native plants at the Grant Bradbury Park in Topeka, kindergartners studied the life cycle of a butterfly and tagged Monarchs in Lawrence, and third-graders studied the tracks of wild animals at Wyandotte County Lake Park.
In one example of the different culture that is part of the EL model, the trips are termed fieldwork, and the use of the term “field trip” is discouraged.
“We call it field work because it’s not just for fun,” Lockyear said. “It’s for the experience of learning.”
Put another way, Superintendent Robert Van Maren said the new term was also meant to reflect that students are not going on class trips as passive observers, but as “little researchers.”
The fifth-graders at Delaware Ridge are putting together a history of the young school, and in a related project, for their investigation the fourth=graders are researching the cultures of the American Indian tribes — the Delaware and Wyandot specifically — that had lived near the school’s location.
Already, Lockyear said, teachers have begun integrating different subjects throughout the school day, with social studies and math the only two segregated subjects.
“We’re becoming more effective at integrating the different core subject areas,” Lockyear said. “I think one of our ideas as we became better at integrating, was that time is a big issue. With anyone in education it always seems there’s never enough time to teach all the state standards so there’s a constant pressure.”
As teachers get better at integrating the core subjects, Lockyear said, it should become easier to teach what’s required in the allotted time.
At the end of the semester, all the school met for a slide show to review the classes’ accomplishments. It was an emotional meeting, Lockyear said, because “I think the first year you’re working away, and you don’t realize what you’ve accomplished.”
The parents Lockyear has heard from have gotten behind the EL program “100 percent,” Lockyear said, which has yielded tangible benefits for teachers.
“We’ve had more parents than any school I’ve been involved with volunteer to help in field experiences,” Lockyear said, “and more dads than I’ve ever seen.”
Principals at the other three schools that have begun to implement Expeditionary Learning model also report good experiences.
“I think it’s going very well,” said Clark Middle School Principal Steve Cook. “I think the teachers are even more enthusiastic” about Expeditionary Learning than they were in the beginning, he said.
“They want it to happen even faster,” Cook said. “It’s a challenge,” and important to remember that it’s a five-year process for putting into place the EL model.
Still the results at Clark are already evident, he said.
“I see a lot of good changes,” Cook said. The way we approach kids, the way they do their work — we’re changing attitudes.”
One change is the creation of advisory groups, to get students’ input on issues such as lunches and scheduling, Cook said.
“It’s just a new way of doing things,” Cook said. “It’s demanding but very rewarding.”
Because he’s new to the school, having formerly served as an assistant principal at Bonner Springs high School, “I don’t have much context to compare it to last year. But it has been an absolute pleasure to work in that environment, because everyone is focusesd on the same goal: to improve student learning in a way that is new and refreshing. We’ve only done this a semester but it would seem difficult to go back to a traditional model.”
Last semester at Clark eighth-graders studied older bridges in Jackson County to see how they were built and maintained, sixth-graders will incorporate their studies of Greek and Roman history into a PE unit.
Kim Mitchell, principal at Bonner Springs Elementary, said her school’s first semester with Expeditionary Learning has gone well.
“It’s gone great,” Mitchell said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better semester.”
Mitchell said the biggest difference visible at her school was the use of learning targets.
“It’s just a nice, natural progression kids have picked up on,” she said.
“The other thing is the way our professional development looks,” Mitchell said of the school’s teacher training. “Teachers when they come back (from EL seminars) are so excited they make you learners.”
At the seminars, which are conducted at EL schools around the country, teachers learn by doing projects called slices, which are similar to the projects they’ll be designing for their classes.
“They put you in a learner role,” Mitchell said. “It’s so valuable to see, so they see this is what we do.”
Professional development isn’t always seen as a positive esperience for teachers, Mitchell said, but the EL seminars have her teachers “bubbling with enthiusiasm and bursting with ideas … Our goal is to have every staff member attend EL professional development.”
The upcoming projects for Mitchell’s students include a Web site linked to the city of Bonner Springs site, which will be created by third-graders and made especially for kids.
“They’re going to take people on a virtual field trip of Bonner Springs,” Mitchell said, and it will include recreational activities, festivals and businesses.
The fifth grade will study global warming by looking at the plight of polar bears, kindergartners will plant gardens in front of and behind the school, and second-graders will study the changes in Kansas agriculture in the last 100 years to produce a coffee-table book.
Overall, Mitchell said she thought the culture of Expeditionary Learning “adds to life of the building, so I think it’s just more cohesive — the curriculum and the staff, we’re all on same page.”
Amy Riebel, the new principal at Edwardsville Elementary, said the school’s adoption of the Expeditionary Learning model was part of the school’s appeal for her in applying for the position.
That’s because, she said, “the professional development opportunities that EL provides and the way that EL structures learning for kids, and takes what we know about best practices as educators into daily practice.”
Although it’s been just a semester, Riebel says she’s far from disappointed.
“At this point it’s exceeded my expectation,” Riebel said of the Expeditionary Learning school design for Edwardsville.
“I think EL provides some common language and design principle,” Riebel said. “It gives something to focus on, and building culture and character. That’s something we’ve really focused on, introducing those design principles.”
Those principles are self discovery, having wonderful ideas, students’ own responsibility for learning, empathy and caring, success and failure, collaboration and competition, diversity and inclusion, thee natural world, solitude and reflection, and service and compassion.
Other changes Riebel said are noticeable in the school are the morning meetings that begin every class and the community meetings for the whole school.
Students have noticed some of the changes, she said, but “the real change for them will come when we begin the investigations” this semester.
Riebel said she wanted to keep what those investigations will be as a surprise for the students, but did say they would be focused on science or social studies, including pieces of Kansas history, weather, the life cycles of living things, economics and other compelling topics chosen by teachers.
Count Superintendent Robert Van Maren as a fan of EL.
“Honestly there are lot of negative things I deal with,” he said, but since teachers at the four schools have been attending EL training, “I enjoy getting these notes … They’re all positive. I can even say beyond positive.”
That’s because instead of just sitting and listening, teachers observe EL model schools in action.
“I don’t think any of our principals got into education because they wanted to do things the way it was when they were in school,” Van MAren said. “That’s why these people got into education.”
Fort Sumner High School <> (this is a PowerPoint that downloads)
The Fort Sumner team of Sharon West, Cathy Fikany, Sandra Wertheim, Scot Stinnett and Patricia Miller formed in the fall of 2005 with a mission to make learning real to students, and to instill a passion that would drive them to do their best work.

The teachers set up a classroom print shop, El Zorro, Ink, and students were given job assignments complete with benchmarks and deadlines. Classroom routines were established to maximize performance and time on task. The team meets on a daily basis to discuss assignments and jobs in the queue, and to determine instructional strategy, action plans and deadlines.

El Zorro, Ink provides design, printing and publication services for the school district and surrounding community. Students receive real career training opportunities while learning 21st century skills and meeting content area standards and benchmarks. Students are also taught how to market their products in order to realize a profit margin.

The initial project began as an idea to build self esteem in conjunction with Fort Sumner Elementary students. Students were chosen from each K-5 grade level, interviewed, photographed and showcased with a full-sized poster in the school cafeteria for all to see. Parents were then given the opportunity to purchase their child's poster to cover project expenses. Profits went towards an El Zorro Ink scholarship awarded during the spring semester.

What began as a kid-friendly, school service opportunity became an entrepreneurial project that continues to thrive and branch into other areas. The attention generated by the student posters brings other customers to the school seeking publication services. Students have learned to place a high value on their own work, and their personal productivity, responsibility and self direction have all increased.

To learn more about the Fort Sumner team's work please download the El Zorro, Ink presentation. <>


Mall School

Reading, writing, and retailingby James Daly

Credit: Hugh D’Andrade
Shamela Armstead jumps off a city bus and heads briskly into Seattle's Northgate Mall. The energetic sixteen-year-old skirts the adolescent allure of the Sunglass Hut and the California Pizza Kitchen before dashing upstairs. It's only eight in the morning, but Armstead isn't skipping school. Just the opposite -- she's attending it.
Armstead is one of seventy-five high schoolers enrolled at the Mall Academy, an offbeat place that gives underachieving students a way to earn their diploma. "We figured that a lot of kids are going to be hanging out at the mall anyway, so why not put a school there?" says Karen Hansen, a humanities teacher. "At first, people think it's just for kids who like to shop. It's not. It's for kids who want to graduate."
The Mall Academy -- technically, the Northgate Mall Education Resource Center -- is part of a chain of high schools established by the Simon Youth Foundation (SYF), an arm of one of the nation's largest mall developers. With malls in thirty-nine states plus Puerto Rico, the Simon Property Group hopes to rapidly spread its schooling franchise. The foundation has enrolled 2,100 students in twenty-one schools in eleven states.
Like all the SYF-affiliated schools, Northgate serves academically struggling students. Northgate attempts to break the downward spiral with a combination of smaller class sizes (typically eighteen kids per class) and increased one-on-one teaching, while emphasizing traditional bedrock subjects such as math, science, social studies, and English.
With the smaller size comes the opportunity for more varied learning. Class trips are frequent; last year's excursions included visits to the Tacoma Art Museum and the Experience Music Project, an interactive museum in Seattle.
The bustle of shoppers rarely intrudes on the quiet academic setting, one floor above the mall's main passageway. The mall is in many ways a partner in the educational experience. Classes in marketing, for instance, are enhanced with trips downstairs to one of Northgate's 125 stores to check on product placement and display. For lunch, kids are issued tickets good for a meal in the food court. Some students also have after-school jobs at mall stores.
The result, while nontraditional, is effective. More than 90 percent of those who make it to senior year earn their diplomas.
Armstead, too, has seen the change. At her previous school, her grade-point average was 2.8. At Northgate, it's 4.0, and she has a new love for reading. "My friends used to think it was weird that I went to school at the mall," says Armstead. "But now I think they're just jealous."


Dollars and Sense: Ariel Community Academy

At this Chicago school, students in grades K-8 hone math skills and learn practical, lifelong lessons in finance by managing a $20,000 class stock portfolio. Go to this website to see a video about this class.
Running Time: 8 min. | //Credits//

Biotech Academy: Challenging Assumptions and Changing Lives

This school-within-a-school puts the emphasis on academics and a future career.

printer-friendly versionby Diane Demee-Benoit
Susan Tidymanexternal image biotecha.jpg

VIDEO: Biotech Academy: A Catalyst for Change

Running Time: 10 min.

When Erica Diaz began high school, she did not expect to graduate. "As a freshman, I just thought I was going to be a single mother and at my age -- at sixteen!" Miguel Villafana thought he would graduate from high school, but college was not in his plans. It turns out neither Erica nor Miguel gave themselves enough credit. Erica graduated in June and hopes to be a doctor. Miguel is attending San Diego State and mentoring high school students. Their lives were changed by their experiences in the Biotechnology Academy at Andrew P. Hill High School in San Jose, California.
Connecting career exploration with academics is not a new idea. Academies have been operating in schools across the country for over thirty years and have a proven record of success. A number of rigorously designed studies, both in California and nationally, have generally shown improvements in attendance, retention, graduation rates, and grades. They also show that both students and teachers like academies better than traditional high schools. (Visit for links to these reports. See Top Ten Frequently Asked Questions [download PDF (44 KB)] for more information about career academies.)
More familiarly known as the Biotech Academy, this "school-within-a-school" was founded in 1999 as part of Andrew P. Hill's medical magnet program. It serves approximately 125 students out of the total school population of 1,923 students. Since the career academy model has proven to be especially effective at reaching students with socioeconomic and academic challenges, over 50 percent of the academy students were selected because of their at-risk status. "The goal of the program isn't to accept 'C' and above (students). I am looking for that 'D' and 'F' student who is capable of being able to do the work but who is, for some reason, not doing it," says Director Mary Metz.
external image biotech_glancem.jpg

SLIDE SHOW: Biotech: At a Glance

Personalization -- A Team of Caring Adults

The Biotech Academy is a work in progress striving to sustain all the qualities that research and experience indicate make an academy successful -- small learning community, college prep curriculum, and post-secondary partnerships. Committed adults -- teachers, counselors, and business partners -- work together to keep students in school, help them plan for the future, and encourage their academic achievement. A critical element of the academy is that every student is known and valued, and that every student has a caring adult in his or her life. Teachers work as a team to ensure that each student is known well and has the support needed for success.
In order to achieve their goals, teachers participate in voluntary meetings twice a week to discuss student progress, to develop curriculum, and to coordinate the many outreach events. As a community, the teachers try to learn about the students' living conditions, family support, and outside interests. For Villafana, the personal connection with the teachers, and the advice they gave, was critical to his staying in school and, ultimately, his acceptance to college. "Biotech, they would not let us go. Whatever they had to do, they would do -- call us at home, tutoring," recalls Villafana.
Students are recruited and enroll at the end of the ninth grade for this tenth- through twelfth-grade program. Academies keep students and teachers together over the course of three years, so students develop close-knit relationships. Diaz notes that the academy's family-like atmosphere promotes familiarity and a sense of comfort. "Since I have almost all my classes with all the same students, it's easier for me to work," she says. "The teachers are always behind you. They talk about you in meetings and they know what's going on in your life."
external image biotech_perspectivesm.jpg

AUDIO INTERVIEWS: Biotech: Perspectives

The Biotechnology Academy staff is dedicated to helping every student reach his or her potential. They believe they make a difference in the lives of the Biotech students and are, therefore, willing to spend additional time beyond the school day, and expend additional efforts beyond traditional teacher expectations. "I tend to spend a lot of my time talking to other teachers, certainly spending more time talking to the students at lunch [or] after school, chasing them down and saying, 'Hey, what are you struggling with?' The reward is to see many of them going to college, many of them coming back and really making something of themselves. When we see their little brothers and little sisters in a few years they are going to have the expectation of 'yeah, I am going to college.' That's a huge reward for all for us, not just for me but for the whole community," says history teacher Doug Schaefer.
Although the curricular focus is on science, English and history courses are also integrated. Students learn through projects, activities, and field trips to local biotechnology companies. A core group of academic teachers works with the students across all grade levels to ensure quality work, attendance, and on-time graduation. If a student is struggling, intervention is swift. "We currently have four teachers who staff an after-school tutoring program where students are required to go for help if their grades drop below a 'C' in any of their classes," says Metz.
(See "Biotech: At a Glance" multimedia feature, and PDFs of the Biology Objectives [download PDF (52 KB)], Science Project Rubric [download PDF (168 KB)], Peer Editing Form [download PDF (44 KB)], Peer Evaluation Form [download PDF (52 KB)], and Making It Happen Q&A [download PDF (96 KB)] for more insights into this school.)
biotech academy
biotech academy

Business partners show students how chemistry and biology have real-world applications.
Credit: GLEF

Personalization -- Business Partners As Role Models and Mentors

The Biotech Academy has established partnerships with several local Silicon Valley companies, including Agilent Technologies, Alza Corporation, Applied Biosystems, Guidant, Genentech, Genencor, Incyte Genomics, Kaiser Permanente, Exelesis, and Stanford Medical School. These companies provide guest speakers, field trips, and job- shadowing opportunities. Some offer internships for students. Some also participate in the mentor program for academy juniors and seniors. Mentors volunteer two hours of time each month and offer academic support, role modeling, and encouragement to students. Often mentors are the "experts" for student projects.
Agilent Technologies has been a partner since the inception of the academy. Terry Lincoln, public affairs director, serves on the advisory committee and says that because of the Agilent focus on life science and bio-science, the business links "perfectly" with the academy. The company has been able to provide two monetary grants: one for $30,000, and a second for $10,000. They sponsor the Agilent After School hands-on science program in which Biotech Academy seniors work with incoming eighth-grade students on science-related projects. When asked about the benefits to Agilent, Terry Lincoln explained: "We want to encourage, inspire, and excite students about science. Hopefully, they will go on and pursue an education and a career in science."
Homero Rey is a product test scientist at Applied Biosystems. As one of a group of volunteers from the company willing to work with the students and encourage their interest in biotech careers, he heard a presentation that Metz made to the company and decided to volunteer his time with Biotech Academy students. "My background is Latino and a lot of these students are of Latino background, so I think it helps to see someone who comes from their culture," says Rey.
Rey mentors two male students, meeting with them twice a month either at the high school or when they visit Applied Biosystems. He views his role as helping them to "understand what it takes to become a successful scientist." He encourages them to focus on succeeding in school and learn what it is they enjoy learning and doing. While sharing his background growing up in Brooklyn with parents of Cuban descent, he asks about their lives and tries to understand their problems and concerns.
Students who visit Applied Biosystems are led through a day-long series of activities beginning with a lecture from Rey about the general skills required to be a product test scientist and the specific knowledge of chemistry, physics, molecular biology, and mechanical engineering that he uses everyday at work. Following Rey's talk, the students conduct a hands-on laboratory experiment guided by other Applied Biosystems employees who have also volunteered their time. They learn how to make a calibration curve using mathematics and how to use scientific equipment such as a hemacytometer (an instrument that counts blood cells in a measured volume of blood), and a microscope. During their visits, students also have opportunities to learn about other careers, such as biochemistry, engineering, biology, and chemistry. Through exposure to the real world, business partners like Applied Biosystems hope to encourage students to stay in school, focus on academic achievement, and plan for future success.
biotech academy
biotech academy

Ninety-five percent of last year's seniors were college bound.
Credit: GLEF

A Better Future

Most of the Biotech Academy students enter the program with a poor attitude about school and a less-than-stellar academic record -- cutting classes, being pressured by peers to be "cool," not believing in themselves or other people. Most, like Villafana and Diaz, who received the "Turn-Around Student of the Year" award from the local Kiwanis Club, learn that perseverance and hard work can lead to a better future. "I felt like I did something, you know? I am getting somewhere and it's paying off. I am getting scholarships. I'm getting known throughout the school that I did do something for myself," Diaz beams.


High Tech in Hawaii: The Real-World Relevance of Technology

Hawaiian students use sophisticated tools to learn and to learn to solve problems.

printer-friendly versionby Diane Curtisexternal image nuuanua.jpg

VIDEO: Hula to High Tech

Running Time: 8 min.

"He was running like an angry dog chasing the mailman. He could hear the booming getting louder and closer. Horses came into view and Tommy almost fainted. Clumpy clumpy went the rampaging horses." --Tamlyn
"Finally it was here the wave in all his dream. It was swirling and twirling! The tsunami came crashing over Tom's head. BOOM went the wave. Tom couldn't even breathe. Tom went down into the deep cold sea." --Quinn

Writing Through Visualization

external image nuuanum.jpg

MULTIMEDIA: Nuuanu Elementary School

There's no shortage of vivid description in stories from Linda Mitchell's third-grade language arts students at Nuuanu Elementary School in Honolulu. And Mitchell thinks that happy circumstance may have something to do with giving her students a number of ways to come to the writing, including through technology.
Before Tamlyn and Quinn did their descriptive writing, they created storyboards about the action they wanted to represent in an assignment on "expanding the moment" -- making the story more intense by describing a fleeting instant in great detail. From their storyboards, they each created a computer animation of the action. Frame by frame, the animation in turn sparked their imaginations and helped them create word pictures. "It gives you ideas about what you see," says Quinn. HyperStudio and Kid Pix were among the computer programs they used.
"What the animation does is it assists the children in visualizing the action," explains Mitchell, who teaches language arts enrichment classes. "The animation is a way of them developing the picture so they relate that to the writing, to what they hear, what they see, what they feel." Technology, she adds, "gives you one more way of teaching something."

hula to high tech
hula to high tech

Kelvin Chun, Nuuanu's technology director, offers guidance to two students editing a video.
Credit: GLEF

Thinking Ahead

At Nuuanu, a 400-student K-6 school situated in a misty green mountain valley above downtown Honolulu, technology is prevalent, thanks in large measure to the school's former principal, Eleanor Fujioka, and technology resource teacher Kelvin Chun. Fujioka pushed for and got funding -- from parents, grants, the district, and others -- for an impressive array of technology, including a closed-circuit television studio. Chun, who has received numerous honors, including being named one of USA Today's 24 Outstanding Teachers in the Nation in 2000, has made it his mission to help teachers incorporate technology into their instruction in a way that makes the final product more interesting and memorable, both for the student and for the audience.
The current principal, Clayton Kaninau, is as dedicated to technology as his predecessor, whether it's having students run their own daily closed-circuit and often interactive school news program or having them use technology to work on real-world problems.
"Looking for real-world relevance has to do with students being interested in what they do, knowing that it's useful outside of school," says Kaninau. "The experiences are not contrived or in isolation, but they're a part of a larger learning activity. Without those connections, it won't be meaningful, and it'll be forgotten tomorrow."

hula to high tech
hula to high tech

Students interviewed relatives about their lives before and after settling in Hawaii. Answers to questions such as, "What foods did you eat?" and "What did you do for fun?" were used to create a multimedia presentation.
Credit: GLEF

Family Heritage

Nine-year-old Matthew couldn't agree more. He is interviewing his grandfather for an assignment on biographies. "What kind of job did you have when you were in Japan?" "How much did you get paid?" "What was it like going to work?" he asks. Matthew will write an essay about his grandfather and use HyperStudio to illustrate the essay with drawings and photographs on a Web site. Matthew says he realized he was accomplishing a number of goals: learning about a different country, learning about a different era, learning more about using the computer, and, most important, "knowing my family history."
The technology, according to Principal Kaninau, is an essential part of real-world learning. If students "are not using the technology when they get into the outside world, they're going to be that much behind," he says.
From the look of things at the school, Nuuanu graduates won't have any trouble understanding major issues of the day or fitting into the twenty-first century.
In the library, first graders are following the progress of Miss Junie 2, an endangered sea turtle they adopted (for 85 cents each) from the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC). Miss Junie 2 started her trip in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, and students regularly click onto the CCC site to check her movements as tracked by satellite and then write about her travels and ocean life in journals. Teacher Erin Okata integrated social studies, language arts, science, math, fine arts, and technology into the project as a way to help students develop an awareness of ocean life and to meet specific Hawaii state curriculum standards.

hula to high tech
hula to high tech

Students share their school experience on Nuuanu's Web site. Video from field trips, pictures of events, and student work are all displayed for peers and community to see.
Credit: GLEF

Student Work on Web Site

The rich technology of Nuuanu is well illustrated on the school's chock-full Web site. Besides the typical announcements, daily menus, and special-occasion pictures, there is an archive of student work from as far back as 1997. Included is documentation of a pioneering 1999 videoconference with a mainland TV station as well as a 2003 student-produced video of a third-grade project, a native Hawaiian plant garden.
Through narrative and video, students take viewers on a detailed survey of the garden project -- determining its purpose of beautifying the campus and preserving native species, consulting local plant experts, seeking plant donations from the local government, enlisting digging help from a parent. "The best part of this project was getting our hands dirty!" says the student narrator. The project crossed a number of disciplines -- English, science, math, technology. Students wrote letters to local officials as well as the script for the video. They learned about different soil types and the oxygen and other needs of plants, created schedules for optimum watering and learned why one schedule was better than another, and developed multimedia projects to share what they learned. The students also created a form indicating how their project should be judged relating to state communication, writing, and technology standards. Their classmates filled out the forms during a presentation of the HyperStudio projects and then the students collected the forms, tallied them, and turned them over to their teacher for a final grade.
A sixth-grade field trip to three water sites -- the ocean, a river, and a small stream near the school -- puts the students in true scientific mode. Clipboards in hand, the team members (leader, materials keeper, recorder, timer, and checker) consulted each other while doing their individual tasks. "I like this," says Marrissa, waiting for a boot-clad peer to report readings of a water sample. "You get to work together." Students took readings for acidity, carbon dioxide, nitrates, and phosphates at all three sites as part of a comparison of the quality of water as it left the pristine mountains and headed toward civilization, with its pollution, trash, and sewage. Overheard conversations at the field sites, which included wading into a bay within site of Waikiki, went like this: "It's a crab." "Get it, get it, get it!" "Eight millimeters of dissolved oxygen in water." "There's not much phosphate." "Good." "No, that's bad." "Boy we're good!"
"Our field trip allows the sixth graders to consider the limited resources and fragile environmental conditions in Hawaii," says the student narrator of "Malama I Ka Wai A Me Ke Kai" ("Care for the Water and the Sea"). "It allows firsthand experiences in the exploration and observation of the common plants and animals that live in our tropical waters. Students are introduced to scientific classification such as phylum, genus, and species." They wrote descriptions of the location and made a sketch. At the ocean, they created a specimen pond to hold some of the creatures they caught. After they took notes on the creatures, they gently returned the plants and animals to their saltwater home. "This is better than class -- way better," pipes up Lauren.

hula to high tech
hula to high tech

Hands-on work, like this neighborhood water sampling project, gets students excited about academics.
Credit: GLEF

A Force for Academic Improvement

"They love it," says sixth-grade teacher Geraldine Kajitani. "If you start with ... hands-on activities and things that are fun, their attention is focused." And once that happens, she says, it's a snap to get them to study some of the drier material because they'll relate to it and remember it.
The students also get a boost because they work alongside real professionals, who refer to the student documentation in their own work because they don't regularly monitor the Nuuanu Stream. "We find [their data] very important because we don't basically have that baseline information," says Watson Okubo, an environmental health specialist with the Hawaii Department of Health. He lets the students know they're doing just the kind of work he does. "They have about a fifteen-year record," says Okubo, "and by looking at the organisms and different species -- the diversity -- they can figure, 'Gee, things are getting better for the fish or not.'" In fact, he says, while water quality has improved "quite a bit" over the past fifteen years, fish life has been declining because of overfishing. By the time the project is complete, "they have a feeling that this is not just lessons; this is real life."
Nuuanu Television News also mirrors what the kids see adults doing, and at Nuuanu everyone gets a chance to participate. Kindergartners are the weatherpeople. First graders do book reviews. Student-filmed and -edited videos are offered. Students in the other grades may do public service announcements or anchor a session with "Tutu Nanny" on a character trait such as responsibility or respect. Or they may do the production -- one at the camera, another in charge of audio, three others at the controls trying to make sure "b-roll" -- pre-taped video -- goes on the air when the anchor introduces it and that the on-air "talent" are following the cues.
The regular daily news also has an interactive element, with students asked to answer questions such as "What day is Easter?" The two students from the lower and upper grades who punch in the first correct answers win balloon art made by technology teacher Chun, who is also a magician.
Teacher Marjorie Tupper says the addition of technology has given all students a chance to excel. Students who might "falter with pen and paper," she says, suddenly have a new outlet that lets them express their knowledge through art, through audio, through ways limited only by the students' imaginations.
"Our students are living in the twenty-first century. They grew up with the technology," adds Chun. "We need to teach them to be problem solvers, how to be lifelong learners, how to go out in the world and utilize this technology."


Tech Lab for the New Century

Students make sense of local history while creating an award-winning documentary, and an old-school teacher finds new inspiration though the Environmental and Spatial Technology Initiative. Find out what the EAST Initiative is all about. on this link to see the video on this project. It's great.


Experimental School Gets Rid of Classes, Teachers

by Larry Abramson
Listen Now [8 min 45 sec] add to playlist
New Country school in Henderson, Minn.
New Country school in Henderson, Minn.
external image icon_enlarge.gifEnlarge Larry Abramson, NPR
The New Country School has drawn observers from all over the world to tiny Henderson, Minn. Students take no traditional classes and work in an office-like environment.
A student studies at New Country.
A student studies at New Country.
external image icon_enlarge.gifEnlarge Larry Abramson, NPR
New Country students sit in an open environment that looks a lot like a typical office.
The open work space at New Country.
The open work space at New Country.
external image icon_enlarge.gifEnlarge Larry Abramson, NPR
Students and staff meet at tables set out in the school's atrium to critique presentations on their projects. Student work is focused on honing individual projects.

New Country Principles:

  • No classes. Students work on projects they select themselves. Projects are tailored to fulfill state curriculum requirements.
  • No teachers. Students consult with "advisers" who are available through the day to guide their work. Advisers do not "teach" in the traditional sense. They guide students' work.
  • No hierarchy. The school is run like an agricultural cooperative. Advisers are owners, rather than employees. There is no principal.
  • No bells, no firm schedule. Time is set aside for lunch and for quiet reading. Other than that, students choose how to spend their time. If they fall behind, advisers help them get back on track.
  • No walls. Students work in an open environment and can confer with other students and advisers as needed. There's no central office.
  • And no janitors. Students clean the bathrooms and the rest of the school themselves.

All Things Considered, October 19, 2007 · Enter a typical high school, and the first thing you see is the front office. It's the "belly button" of the school, the place where the principal dwells, where grades are stored and where visitors must sign in.
The front office also reinforces familiar hierarchy: principal at the top, teachers in the middle, kids on the bottom, sitting with hands folded at their desks.
Now, imagine a school where the organizational structure is completely flat. At the New Country School in Henderson, Minn., there is no front office. Visitors are immediately embraced by an airy atrium that is the centerpiece of this one-room schoolhouse.
And all around the room, New Country's 124 students sit at desks — real office desks — working at their own personal computers.
The feeling is comfortable. There is a hum of constant conversation, none of the screaming and yelling heard in a traditional school. Kids are free to move about the school, so there's no need for hall passes or for teachers to patrol the hall. And there's no need to send kids to the office.
New Country, a charter school, is the biggest institution in the small town of Henderson (pop. 910), about an hour southwest of Minneapolis. It's not the kind of place you expect to see radical experiments.
A Break from the Past
When Dee Thomas and her colleagues got together 15 years ago to design a new high school, they knew there was one thing that had to go: The bell. Thomas said that everyone agreed that the constant interruption of classes caused huge amounts of strain. Moreover, it's just not natural, Thomas said.
"You don't go into your job in the morning and say, 'OK, for the first 42 minutes of my job, I'm going to do the math part.' And then a buzzer goes off, and you do the social history part of your job. You don't do that," Thomas said.
Students spend most of their day in front of their computers, working on interdisciplinary projects. If they're working on a history project, they have to do enough writing to fulfill the state curriculum requirements. If they don't fulfill the requirements, they have to do another project. They also have to take the same standardized tests as other students statewide.
Many students say that compared to the traditional schools they came from, New Country is a breath of fresh air. Bernie Nichols, a junior, said that at his old school, he kept getting lost. He hated sitting still all day, being forced to pay attention as teachers lectured.
New Country brings out the best in students, Nichols said.
"I hated writing. Well, apparently I can write a very good story, because I made a couple of the advisors tear [up]," Nichols said.
Independent Learning, with Guides
Other students are here to escape a world of pain at traditional schools. Many said they were teased mercilessly by their classmates. One mother says her son would stay in the car and beg his mother not to make him go in.
When she told him he needed to be in school to learn, he said he'd have to spend the day enduring taunts from other students.
Teasing simply isn't tolerated at New Country.
The school gives loners, like a boy named Alex, the freedom to work on their own. Alex sits at his computer most of the day, taking occasional breaks to read a book or to do math.
Alex said he knows what he wants to do when he grows up, but he's embarrassed to say. When pressed, he says he wants to be a hospice worker.
"Surprisingly, I found it when I was surfing the Internet on one of those days when you were supposed to be doing an evaluation quiz," Alex said.
Every few weeks, students must present projects they've been working on to the rest of the school community. To prepare for their presentations, they gather at tables in the middle of the school atrium and submit their work to their "advisers."
There are no teachers at New Country. Adults are viewed as guides to learning.
Dee Thomas listens as a student defends the credit she thinks she deserves for the work she's done on a project. Thomas is disappointed that the student hasn't carefully logged the time she invested in the project. The student concedes that was a mistake. But in the course of the critique, advisers agree that the student has learned how to get along with other students, and has made important progress in non-academic areas. She gets the credit she wanted.
Judging New Country
Kids at New Country test better than their peers on the state tests and on the pre-college ACT. Special education students at New Country are able to pass the same tests everyone else takes. The school sends 90 percent of its graduates to college.
But that doesn't tell the whole story. New Country struggles to keep its seniors from leaving. The school's senior project is demanding — 300 hours of work. Many students choose to do their senior year at a traditional school, rather than invest the time and energy required for the senior project.
As with many charter schools, there's some tension with the surrounding district. The U.S. Department of Education singled out New Country for its high test scores. But local administrators say you can't compare the performance of students at a small charter with a sprawling school district serving 1,300 students in the surrounding Le Sueur-Henderson school district. They say they admire what New Country is doing, but say the comparison just isn't fair.
Staff and students concede New Country's open structure is not for everybody. The school building can get pretty noisy at times, which students with attention problems say can be challenge.
And there's also concern about math education. Right now, math is the only class that is taught as a separate subject. Students advance at their own pace through lessons. That means that on a given day, each student may be at a different math level. The school admits it does not have enough advisers to cover all those different ability levels.
But for some students, New Country offers a rare alternative, a choice they can't find anywhere else. And the school is constantly visited by educators from around the world looking for new ideas. That's the foundation of efforts to reform American high schools today — that there's a need to experiment with an institution that is failing millions of students.


Laptops on Expedition: Embracing Expeditionary Learning

A Maine middle school thrives with a learning approach that champions personalized project-based learning.

printer-friendly versionby Diane Curtisexternal image kingmsa.jpg

VIDEO: A Product of Learning

Running Time: 6 min.

At first, it may look like they're taking part in a graduation ceremony, but the students who march across the stage at Maine's Falmouth Audubon Society to shake hands with their principal and teachers aren't walking away with diplomas. They're walking away with tangible results of their learning.
In this particular case, the eighty-five seventh graders from King Middle School in Portland each received a copy of "Fading Footprints," a CD-ROM they produced about Maine's endangered species. During the ceremony, which included thank-yous to teachers and experts who had helped on the project, some students explained the process. "I made sure all the links worked." Others talked a little about what they learned. "You can ask me anything about the Harlequin duck." Then they all repaired to a courtyard for cake and punch.
"The state's Web site probably doesn't have as good information as what's in here," says Mark McCollough, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expert on endangered species who had advised the students. "I want to share this with our regional office."

external image kingmsm.jpg

MULTIMEDIA: Maine: King Middle School

An Outside Audience

The students are heady with the knowledge that outsiders appreciate their work, and that it may be used by professionals. "The hard work that went into it -- people are noticing it," beams Amelia, the Harlequin duck expert. "I know I worked a little harder because I knew it was going to be seen," says Miranda, another seventh grader.
Celebrations with everyone from parents to community members are an important part of the learning process at King, which has adopted the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound model of personalized, project-based learning. At least twice a year, students, who stay with the same group of teachers for two years -- a practice called "looping" -- undertake four- to twelve-week interdisciplinary projects. Besides incorporating such subjects as art, science, and language arts, the projects include well-considered use of computer technology, which has been enhanced by the decision of the state to provide all Maine seventh and eighth graders with iBook laptop computers.
The culminating event can come in a number of forms -- a performance of an original play or presentation to younger students of a geology kit or production of a CD-ROM or a book or video, all of which incorporate state curriculum standards. Projects at King have included an aquarium design judged by local architects; a CD narrative of Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" by students learning English;
Voices of U.S. (a book of immigrant stories), a guide to shore life of Casco Bay; original music composition and production; documentaries on learning with laptops; a claymation video explaining Newton's Laws; and a Web site on pollution.
Ann Brown, the eighth-grade science teacher who oversaw the claymation video production, likes the effect of such projects on the students, who really have to understand the concepts to portray them accurately in a movie. "I think it makes for an interesting way for kids to represent their learning," she says. "It's a lot more interesting than having them simply write about it or draw pictures of it because they really have to think about how to communicate with an audience and use text and images that make sense to people who haven't studied what they've studied."


Reviewing student-made representational media helps teachers to assess subject knowledge.
Credit: GLEF

Representational Work

"The goal for us at King Middle School is to create opportunities for all kids to do representational work about their learning," says David Grant, King's technology teaching strategist. He works with both students and teachers to ensure that any video or computer or Web production furthers the curriculum. "It's in the making of things that kids actually do their learning," he says. "When you start to make something, you look at it, you reflect upon it, and you begin to be informed by your own representation. And then in that way, you either go out into the world to get more data to support your ideas or you begin to think about something new in your mind and you start to re-represent. And that's how the learning gets deep."
It's also how to tell whether students know what they're talking about. "I'm sitting right down at the computer with the kid and I'm saying, 'Well, how does that show us Newton's Law?' And they might have gotten that answer right on the test. But when you sit down and look at their representation and you hear from them what they're trying to say, and you pull it apart a little bit, you wind up in this space where you really get to see what they know and what they don't know. And that's always where we want to be working from -- what they know and what they don't know. And working with these media allows that to happen."


Students work in teams to create media projects. Small groups allow them to share ideas and learn from each other.
Credit: GLEF

Learning From Each Other

Brown likes the fact that video requires students to work in teams and learn from each other. "That adds to the final product because the different angles produce different ways of approaching the same problem," she says. "You get pieces of the best ideas coming together, so the final product is that much better, and they're also learning from each other and thinking differently."
King put an end to tracking and special education "pullout" classes at about the same time it adopted the project approach to learning and began emphasizing the use of technology. Since then, test scores have shot up -- a major accomplishment for a student population that is 60 percent low-income and 22 percent refugee and that comes to school speaking 28 different languages. Following years of below-average scores on the state achievement test, King students began outscoring the state average in six out of seven subjects in 1999, and they even moved into the top third in some subjects.


Giving the culminating presentation at the Maine Audubon Society instilled a sense of pride in the students.
Credit: GLEF

A Gifted and Talented Education

Principal Mike McCarthy, a National Principal of the Year in 1997, believes that giving all students -- not just those at the top of the class -- the highest quality and most challenging education makes the difference at King. "I've heard people describe what a Gifted and Talented classroom would look like. It should include field experiences. It should include technology. It should include independent work. It should include work that's in-depth. That's basically what our school is. Everyone has access to that kind of learning."
The close relationship of students and their families with teachers through looping also plays a significant role in students' success, McCarthy adds. "That means they can get heavily invested in each other. And I think that's part of the reason we produce such great work. One kid said a few years ago, 'Nobody feels stupid around here anymore.' I think that was one of our highest achievements."


Columbus East High School <>
At Columbus East High School, teachers and administrators believe that success during the 9th grade year is critical for a student's success throughout their entire high school career. Their teaching team was formed as the school implemented Smaller Learning Communities to support the 9th graders. Under the Smaller Learning Communities system, every freshman is assigned to a team, called a house. Each house has four teachers and approximately one hundred students. The houses focus on creating a sense of community and building relationships with students. Teams were formed by taking one teacher from each of the core classes that a freshman takes, and giving those teachers a block of time where they can teach together.

After two years of working as a team, the Columbus East teachers have been surprised at how great the paradigm shift is when transforming from a traditional to a collaborative high school model. At first, several of the teachers thought that the time it took to collaborate would not be worth the effort. Now that they have seen the results in higher student achievement, they can't believe that there was ever any hesitation to collaborate. They have learned that teaching is much more powerful and rewarding when they are not in it alone.

The Columbus East team was selected as one of two teams to represent the United States at the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum in Finland next week. Look for a report from them soon on this exciting opportunity to network with teachers from around the world!

Download the Columbus East presentation <> to learn how their team works together, and learn about their English and world civilizations project where students serve as Ancient Roman Senators to learn about an individual's responsibility to society.


Beyond Band: Music Technology Inspires Students

printer-friendly versionby Ashley Ballexternal image bayshorea.jpg

VIDEO: Instruments of Learning

Running Time: 7 min.

Ryann Hoffman knew what she wanted, and she knew how to get it.
"I wanted something that would give me the feeling I got when I was running," says Ryann, a track star in her junior year at Bay Shore High School in Long Island. "I started with a flowing melody, which gave the impression of running on a trail. Then I added bass chords to give it more depth. Once I got that in, it flowed and it was nice, but there was something missing. So I added percussion. . . . It gave the impression of a heartbeat. The final product was exactly what I felt when I was running."
Ryann's ability to express herself through music is not unusual for a Bay Shore student. The multicultural, moderate-income school district has been rated as having one of the top 100 music programs in the country for three consecutive years by the American Music Conference. In 2002, Bay Shore High School was judged a Grammy Foundation Signature School for its dedication to music education (public schools considered for this honor must submit audio samples to a panel of music industry professionals). Students take pride in their music, and parents speak of the maturity and focus that music study imparts.
Bay Shore makes music accessible through technology, a core curriculum that includes music, and an effort to share with the community through student-made CDs and DVDs, school Web sites, and frequent performances.
external image bayshorem.jpg

MULTIMEDIA: Bay Shore, NY: Committed to Music and Technology

Technology a “Powerful, Flexible Tool”

Ryann's composing experience bears little resemblance to traditional composing, which involved writing scores and copying parts by hand, then assembling a group of musicians to play the piece.
Bay Shore Music Director Terry Nigrelli calls Bay Shore High School's technology lab, used for multimedia and music theory classes, a "powerful, flexible tool for the creative process." Students can compose a piece using software and hear it played immediately.
Students in the high school and the junior high work with MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) connections, which are in essence keyboards hooked up to computers. The keyboard can play the sounds of any instrument, and the computer allows students to arrange the notes in different phrases or change the timing. Music technology expert David Mash of the Berklee School of Music in Boston, calls it a "musical word processor."
Mash adds that the cost of a MIDI lab is reasonable: "An acoustic piano is the standard for music class -- every public school starts with that. You could get the computer, keyboard, and all the software you needed for a MIDI setup for about $2500. The piano would cost you $3000."

Elementary school students learn rhythm and music theory early. By the end of fourth grade, most students are able to play instruments and begin working as an ensemble.
Credit: Bay Shore Union Free School District

Students Start Early

Bay Shore's high school music program builds on elementary school groundwork. Music teacher Carol Bertolino teaches her first-grade students to sing and to "play" notes in proper time using rhythm sticks. Rhythm builds coordination, she says, and singing from printed lyrics reinforces reading skills.
The instrumental program begins at the end of third grade, when all students are asked to rank their first, second, and third choices of instruments to study. District music teachers evaluate the choices, taking into account each child's individual talents and the district's instrumental makeup (a balance of woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings is essential). Then students are each assigned one of their choices and asked to begin five weeks of free summer lessons.
More than half the class participates. Those who do not are issued another invitation to join music classes during school hours at the beginning of fourth grade. By the end of fourth grade, most students are able to play their instruments and begin working as an ensemble.
In junior high school, MIDI technology allows students to learn music theory by playing the types of music and the instrumental sounds that they hear on MTV.

Students in Bay Shore High School's multimedia class combine music, video, and narrative in their projects.
Credit: GLEF

Technology Connects Disciplines

In the high school multimedia class, students combine music and video in projects, which are often done for credit in another class, or to promote an extracurricular activity. This year, English students made a "Hamlet in the Hallways" video of modern Shakespeare interpretations.
Students also make informational DVDs for the community, saving the district the cost of hiring an outside service. Dan Levenson, a graduate now studying film and photography, says the wider exposure was a motivating factor: "I got hooked. I'd be in the multimedia room late at night, working on my project and trying to make it better."

Through performance and composition, Bay Shore's music programgives students an opportunity to express themselves and connect with others.
Credit: GLEF

Self-Expression and Communication

Music and multimedia classes focus on self-expression. Multimedia technology allows students to tell a story, not just master a set of computer skills. Music becomes a language rather than a series of pieces to memorize.
Ted Scalzo, who teaches multimedia and directs several musical groups at Bay Shore High School, says, "There are things music does that nothing else does. If you can make them laugh, cry, cheer . . . that's what matters, more than if you nail F sharp. Performing is communication."

The music program encourages collaboration in the technology lab, as well as in instrumental performances.
Credit: GLEF

Maturity, Discipline, Social Skills

Parents of Bay Shore students note the music program's positive effect on their kids.
Marilyn Clemens, a parent of three, says that students involved in music "learn to focus academically. [My son] is better in math. His self-esteem is up, and because he's taught to perform, he's better at speaking in front of an audience than I am."
Terry Nigrelli extols the discipline of performance. "Getting up in front of an audience and executing in real time is a unique skill." He also emphasizes teamwork and self-esteem. "Band and orchestra promote social skills. You're working as a team. You need everyone to play the right note at the right time. . . . Bay Shore is a diverse community, but talent doesn't discriminate. No matter where you're from, or the color of your skin, you can be good at this."

Bay Shore music boosters set up fundraising booths at every concert. Here, community members sell T-shirts at the yearly Arts Festival, which draws 25,000 people.
Credit: GLEF

Community Outreach, Community Support

In Bay Shore, the whole community supports the arts. Countless local fundraising organizations enrich the music and arts programs, from small groups that make $100 selling ice cream at concerts to wealthy benefactors who fund entire class trips to Broadway.
The community has several modes of access to the music program. The high school maintains Web sites for each musical group, allowing students and parents to listen to (and practice with) pieces currently being studied.
Frequent concerts at all grade levels also help build community support. Parents see what their children are capable of when they perform, and community members benefit from performances at the downtown band shell. The yearly Arts Festival, in which various school music groups perform, draws 25,000 people.
Superintendent Evelyn Holman, a proponent of the arts in education, has been reaching out to the community throughout her 10-year career, and she is pleased with the results. Even during the past year's New York budget crisis, she says, the community never thought to cut the music program. "In Bay Shore, cutting arts would be like cutting reading."
Parent and School Board Vice President Mary Louise Cohen agrees. "We agonized over what to do this year, but our curriculum -- and part of that curriculum is music -- had to stay. We need the arts."
This article originally published on 5/5/2004


The EAST Initiative: Students Use Technology to Promote Collaborative Learning

A national program succeeds with student-directed labs.

printer-friendly versionby Traci Vogel external image east_overviewa.jpg

VIDEO: A Way Forward

Running Time: 8 min.

When Mansfield Elementary School, in Mansfield, Arkansas, had to cancel its field trip to Blanchard Springs Caverns because of rising gas prices, it didn't take a group of nearby high school students long to rally: If the elementary students couldn’t travel to this awe-inspiring underground cave system in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, the high school group would bring the caverns to the kids.
Over one week in the summer, six students from Mansfield High School’s Environmental and Spatial Technologies (EAST) Initiative filmed the caves, mapped them with a global-positioning-system device, interviewed the man who first explored the caves half a century ago, and created a virtual tour complete with animated cartoon guides.
This high tech project typifies the level of ambition and service-oriented thoughtfulness championed by the EAST Initiative. Started by Tim Stephenson, a teacher at Greenbrier High School, in Greenbrier, Arkansas, the initiative has grown into a nationwide program that uses technology to promote self-directed, performance-based, collaborative learning. Thanks to funding received through individual grants, schools in the program are able to set up the tech labs necessary to perform community-based projects under EAST's pedagogical guidance.
This approach flies in the face of a National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance study published in April for the U.S. Department of Education that concluded technology in schools fails to increase student achievement. “What makes EAST
different is the engine running it,” says Natalie Tolbert, a Mansfield High School teacher and lab director. This engine includes teacher training, technical professional involvement, and two yearly conferences (one each for lab facilitators and students).
"What makes EAST
work is the undying dedication of the people behind it," Tolbert says. "If we didn't have this dedication from the staff -- the training and administrative support, and everything else we need -- this program couldn't work."
Instead of emphasizing technology for its own sake, EAST recognizes it's a tool for creating a stimulating learning environment, says program president and CEO Matt Dozier. Students are encouraged to "take ownership of their own learning and be actively engaged in their communities," he explains, and are allowed to work at their own pace, without the usual time constraints of a typical classroom. And the lab facilitators don't give students solutions to problems; instead, they gently guide the students in finding the answers on their own.
The labs create a symbiotic relationship with standard school curriculum. "EAST is a place where students can take all the stuff they're learning somewhere else and apply it," Dozier says. "If you want to do animation, you have to know geometry -- and, all of a sudden, you have a reason to go to geometry class and pay attention, ask questions, and challenge the teacher. And then, all of a sudden, the teacher seems a little more lively in the classroom. Guess what just happened? We changed the entire educational experience."
Tolbert has seen this transformation happen. "The EAST kids who do really well are the kids who lack interest in their core classes because they don't have freedom of expression there," she says. "The rules don't work for them. But they come into EAST -- where they can make their own rules as long as they're on the right track -- and they do really well."
One example, Tolbert recalls, was a lackluster student from a poor family. Through EAST, the girl got involved in a virtual reality project, where she was able to apply her writing skills to the scripts. "She just loved it," Tolbert says. "Now, because of EAST, she is going to college and majoring in graphic design."
For Tolbert's students, the Blanchard Springs Caverns project has literally been an enlightening experience in problem solving. "The first day we filmed in the caves, we ran into our largest problem," she says. "All of our equipment was state of the art, but the caves were almost pitch black. No matter what we did, we couldn’t get the pictures we needed. The students regrouped and went to Wal-Mart for external lighting, and on day two, the filming was so much better.”
"At the end of the day, the job of the institution -- whether an elementary school, middle school, high school, or college -- is to provide the skills, content, and power to build on education,” Dozier says. “If we wake up in a new world every morning -- and, if you look at it, in some ways we do -- we need people who can thrive in that culture."

Traci Vogel is a freelance writer and editor in San Francisco.This article originally published on 10/9/2007

10/5 Using a GPS (Global Positioning System) Receiver and GIS in the Classroom

Teaching Materials
Purchasing a GPS
GPS receivers generally come with a built-in mapping database of North America, including interstates, highways, major roads, waterways, city locations, airports and more. However, this generally does not include topographic or street maps. If you want these more detailed maps, you will want to purchase a GPS that either has an SD memory card slot or enough built in memory to handle the maps and a cable to connect to your computer (models usually fall into two categories: those with slots which are above $150 and those without).
GPS receivers without slots/cables are usually fine for school use, however if you are purchasing a GPS for your own use or for specific school activities requiring detailed maps, you may want to increase your mapping detail by downloading street-level maps onto the GPS using the cable or optional SD memory card.
Another consideration is whether or not you will have a need to upload/download coordinates from the GPS receiver. Less expensive GPS receivers generally do not have this capability. GPS receivers that allow you to upload/download coordinates generally do not come with the necessary cable to connect to your computer.
There are two main manufacturers or GPS receivers. See their product comparison charts for Magellan and Garmin. For more information on selecting a GPS receiver, seethe Geocaching Guide to Buying a GPS.

Latitude/Longitude and GPS Basics
  • Longitude and Latitude Basics
  • The Find Your Longitude game helps make the connection between the Earth's rotation and time zones.
  • All About GPS — This excellent tutorial provides an explanation of what a GPS is and how they work. This is recommended for teacher use prior to instructing students in the use of GPS.
  • Play the The New Navigation game to learn how GPS receivers determine your location on Earth. This is a slimmed down explanation of how GPS receivers work. Includes nice graphics — including a visual that teachers can relate to Venn Diagrams.
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Geocaching is a world wide treasure hunt in which people hide a "treasure" and then post the longitude and latitude coordinates, along with a little hint so that others can find it. Once found, the finder signs a log sheet and, if something is there to take, removes a trinket and leaves a trinket for the next finder. There are thousands of caches in Oregon; caches can be found all over the world!

Creating a Cache
Ideas for Classroom Use

Classroom Ideas and Lesson Plans
Lesson Plans

Introductory Materials
  • Introduction to the GPS Lesson — This site also contains resources for downloading software for connecting your GPS to a computer.
  • Globes, Maps, and GPS — This is a lesson that introduces the concept of GPS devices and the relationship to maps, globes, and other ways of representing a location on Earth. It is a nice introduction to the different ways by which one can determine a location on earth.

Real Life Applications
There are many, many applications of the GPS, a few of which are listed below.

9/21 Gaming in the classroom Everything I've listed here is free and online or downloadable. Enjoy!

From the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian agency, Food Force is a free educational video game telling the story of a hunger crisis on the fictitious island of Sheylan. Comprised of 6 mini-games or “missions”, the game takes young players from an initial crisis assessment through to delivery and distribution of food aid, with each sequential mission addressing a particular aspect of this challenging process.

You don't have to be a genius to understand the work of the Nobel Laureates. These games and simulations, based on Nobel Prize-awarded achievements, will teach and inspire you while you're having FUN! Students, teachers and non-professionals of all ages will enjoy testing and building their knowledge in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, peace and economics. So, go ahead, Explore and Learn!

This company designs, builds, and distributes electronic games for persuasion, instruction, and activism.Their games influence players to take action through gameplay. Games communicate differently than other media; they not only deliver messages, but also simulate experiences. While often thought to be just a leisure activity, games can also become rhetorical tools. You have just got to check this out. I think these games are great thinking tools. Below is just 1 example from the suite.
Activism, The Public Policy Game - Sponsored by the DCCC and released during the height of the 2004 general election, players are challenged to balance six public policy issues with limited time and resources.In the game, you manage 10,000 virtual "Activists" allocating them across 6 policy issues. You can play based on your own preferences or load a pre-played scenario from players across the nation. During the game, you need to simultaneously balance 6 mini-games representing some of the top policy issues faced by America in 2004. Players will find it hard to balance all these issues all at once, so you'll need to set your priorities. Still, you cannot neglect any issue or you will lose. The game allows you to explore your viewpoints on: The Economy, Education, Corporate Policy, Homeland Security, Military, and Internationlism, or you can choose to explore other's opinions in these areas through gameplay. Success in the game is based on three in game scoring mechanisms represented as: Monetary, Peace, and Quality of Life.

Community Engagement
Community Engagement
We invite you to step outside the confines of time and space and choose where these digital stories will take you. Interact, “talkback” and participate! The site is My personal favorite from this site is WORLD WITHOUT OIL Everyone knows that “some day” the world may face an oil shortage. What if that day was sooner than you thought? Go to and see the latest developments in the crisis. How do they affect you? Become a Netizen Hero and be part of the solution.

This one is little different but I'm throwing it out here anyway. It has a news trivia game that's pretty good for older students. The most intriguing thing on the site is not the game but the fact that it displays today's headlines from 80+ papers every day(out of 500 who transmit them) so you can compare the slant on the news based on who's reporting. (I know that's not gaming but it was way cool.)

Scholastic Magazine's gaming site for elementary students

Again, mostly elementary but some nice games.

9/14 Leapin' Lizards!: Students as Data Collectors
NatureMapping brings real science to the classroom -- and startles the professionals.
printer-friendly versionby Diane Petersenexternal image leapinlizardsa.jpg

VIDEO: Toad Tracking

Running Time: 7 min.

Ian's work as a scientist began with a contradiction: "The scientists said that you can't find any horny toads here. And I said, 'My dad and I go out and catch them.'" The 13-year-old has now traveled to Idaho and California, where he and three classmates surprised working scientists by describing new discoveries about where the 3-inch-long lizards live and what they eat. "One man said that we presented better than most college students did," says Ian.
Ian is one of more than a dozen of my students at Waterville Elementary School, in Waterville, Washington, who have spoken at scientific conferences throughout the country. Their subject: short-horned lizards (Phrynosoma douglasii), also called horny toads, which are native to our rural area and are a part of my students' world. The creatures aren't an obvious vehicle for teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. But through their work on horny toads as part of a nationwide project called NatureMapping, my students honed those very skills and made a real contribution to science.
Before my fourth-grade class began collecting data in 1997, there were fewer than 100 documented lizard sightings, and most came from projects in the '30s and '40s. Those records showed that the elusive reptiles existed only on undeveloped land, but this data was wrong, probably because no one had sampled private property. In just a few years, my students have quadrupled the number of documented sightings and shown that the lizards thrive on farmland.
In addition, we have shaken up decades-old assumptions about the animals' habitat and diet. For example, according to scientific literature, the lizards are specially adapted to eat ants, but in our observations they clearly preferred small grasshoppers. Besides, farmers say they see few ants in their fields for the lizards to eat. Those findings were presented at The Wildlife Society Pacific Northwest Regional Meeting in Post Falls, Idaho, in March 2000, where the students and their data were accepted by a grateful scientific community.

Now You See Me:

In just a few years, students have dramatically increased scientists' understanding of the horny toad.
Credit: J. R. Hughson

A Day in the Life of a Horny Toad

Even though our NatureMapping project is designed to fill gaps in existing information about where certain plant and animal species are located (see "How To: Start Counting Critters"), we didn't set out to challenge accepted scientific wisdom. In fact, when NatureMapping first became part of my classroom, it was in a very different form.
Shortly after I began working at Waterville, I was handed a binder of lessons to get me started teaching elementary school science. I quickly realized that the curriculum was boring and shallow. We had to do something different. I signed up for a NatureMapping workshop, and that got me started incorporating the program into my curriculum, beginning with birds, because I knew a lot of bird-watchers. The kids would bring in their own sightings and team with birders by phone to record what species they saw, and where. We would write up the information and email it to Karen Dvornich, the NatureMapping coordinator at the University of Washington, who added it to a growing collection of data about sites where common Washington species are found.
One day Karen visited our classroom, and the students were talking about the short-horned lizards they often saw. Karen got really excited because the lizards were considered an at-risk species, so we started making lizards the focus of our work. We've been expanding the program ever since.
At first I thought the students could collect the information themselves near their homes over the summer. Unfortunately, they would often forget or look at the wrong time. I've never been shy about asking for help, and I thought that the farmers in our community could make the observations we needed. So, in 1999, I asked my students to make a list of every farmer they knew, and we mailed out invitations to be part of our school project.
For six years now, my students have worked with farmers in the community who agree to collect data about where and when they see the lizards in their fields. We start by imagining a day in the life of a horny toad, and then a year in the life of a horny toad. Next we work on our reading. When you try to read a field guide, just about every word is hard, and every sentence is difficult. So we put notes in the margins, look up new words, and turn what we read into lists and tables. We compare what we read to what we first imagined about the animals, and after we collect data, we compare our data to what we read.
Later, students use their experience with the horny toads to practice various kinds of writing: instructions to capture a lizard, a persuasive paragraph on the same topic, a description of horny toads' resemblance to a dirt clod, an explanation of how this appearance benefits the lizards.

Outstanding in the Field:

Students practice using radio telemetry so they'll be able to track short-horned lizards when they burrow underground for the winter.
Credit: GLEF

Trend Spotting

Each student works with one farmer. On a given day, the farmers come to the school with the data they've collected, help students find their fields on a series of maps, and arrange their data in tables. This information tells us where, when, and how many horny toads the farmers see. Then we see if the data can answer questions: Where are the horny toads the most common? When are the horny toads most likely to be in their fields?
We plot each sighting on a computer map, then put all the associated information on a large spreadsheet. From the spreadsheet, students select data to answer a question they have and use the computer to make a graph of the information.They scrutinize graphs for clarity and then write an analysis of the results, thus demonstrating a state standard -- analyzing data through graphing. This year, for the first time, we were able to overlay aerial photos of the farmers' lands onto the maps. Several farmers worked with students to plot very exact horny toad sightings.
We also decide what information is useful and what isn't, and we design the data sheet that farmers will use to collect data for next year's class. We also talk about the value of collecting the same data year after year to capture trends. NatureMapping also finds researchers who can help us plan studies to answer new questions as we think of them.
Recent grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supplied the classroom with computers and computer support so the students can use geographic information systems (GIS) to look at data over time and space, and overlay it onto aerial photographs. But even without these tools, NatureMapping would be possible.
For example, one year my students wanted to know what happened to our lizards during the winter. We started by consulting our field guide, which says they dig down about 2 inches and partially freeze. The soil-conservation agency, however, says that frost levels in our part of Washington reach an average of 18 inches below the surface. Do the lizards dig deeper than the field guide says? Or do they have something that keeps them warm? Do some end up freezing to death?

Keeping Track:

One of the lizards blithely carries a radio transmitter on its back.
Credit: GLEF
To answer these questions, the kids made an 18-inch-high pen of chicken wire with a wood floor and sank it into the ground. In October, we placed two lizards inside the pen. They immediately burrowed underground. When spring came, the students carefully dug out the pen with teaspoons. One horny toad had disappeared, but the other was flattened on the floor of the pen, having dug far beyond the field guide's 2 inches; it looked like it had tried to go even lower, maybe beneath the frost layer. We learned that we should have made the pen higher, and the students gained a better sense of what "average" really means. This year we're gluing radio transmitters onto a few lizards so we can track where they burrow for the winter. Then we'll see how deep they go and how they survive.
This project continually strengthens ties between the school and the community. I don't really teach my students mapping; the farmers do. For these people who work the land, anything connected with it is interesting; they'll sometimes call one another to find out how many lizards other farmers have seen.
A highlight of the year comes when students present their findings to the farmers, who get to see an analysis of the data they've been collecting in their fields. This involvement makes the students take their work more seriously; they perform tasks considered beyond the abilities of children at their grade level, like mapping data to find trends over time, or going to scientific conferences, which has become so commonplace that we've developed a system to figure out who gets to go. In September, students often walk into the classroom asking, "Where are we going to present this year?" Not a bad way to begin a school term.
Waterville Elementary presented at the 2003 NatureMapping National Meeting. See their presentation. (46.4 MB)

9/7 external image 0914_PWLC_webingroundbreaking2_t590.jpg
Sen. Dan Skogen (DFL-Dist.10) and Fergus Falls Mayor Russ Anderson, with assistance from kids from the Prairie Science Class, move some earth at Prairie Wetlands’ Thursday groundbreaking ceremony.

Environmental classrooms set to expand

By Bob Williams (Contact) | The Daily Journal
Published Friday, September 14, 2007
external image adlog.php?bannerid=59&clientid=48&zoneid=3&source=&block=0&capping=0&cb=3de4658af5729d27cd5af8b978d5015bexternal image adview.php?what=zone:3&n=aaf157fe
City and state officials were on hand Thursday at Prairie Wetlands Learning Center for groundbreaking ceremonies on a four classroom expansion.
The city of Fergus Falls received a $2 million state grant to expand the building that houses the prairie science class. The Class is a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Prairie Wetlands Learning Center and Fergus Falls Independent School District 544.
“This is how the state money should be spent,” Sen. Dan Skogen (DFL-Dist.10) said.
Last year the state legislature approved funding to add 12,000 square feet and four classrooms to the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center to support expansion of the class from solely fifth graders to include fourth graders. The grant was given to the city because it owns the building and leases it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which subleases space to the school district.
“We’re here to celebrate our success and the future of understanding and living in harmony with this special place,” PWLC Project Manager Kevin Brennan said.
Mayor Russ Anderson called this a banner day for the city and the region as a whole.
Dave Ellis, prairie science class Instructor, spoke to the 50 adults and the class of students also attending the ceremony.
“We need a place to keep alive a sense of wonder in children,” he said. “Wonder and learning go hand in hand.”
PWLC offers an inimitable opportunity for kids to learn math and science, along with providing a unique way to appreciate the environment. The new classrooms will be open to the outdoors.
“The kids will have an amazing view of the wetlands,” Park Ranger Laura Bonneau said.
Dist. 10A Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls) closed the ceremonies talking about the many people who assisted in convincing the legislature to fund the project, including former Douglas County state Sen. Dallas Sams.
“He believed in this project and was there when we needed him,” Nornes said.
The Prairie Science Class is not a gifted or special needs class. It focuses on science, writing, math and health. These areas are studied through integrated, field-based learning experiences focused on the local prairie wetlands environment. Four teachers instruct Prairie Science Class students, including two ISD 544 teachers who are stationed at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center.

8/24 Want to upgrade your Language Arts classroom with tech tools?

Cite It Right: Online Citation Tools and Formal Citations(from Edutopia)

By Jim Moulton
We hear it often: "Plagiarism is rampant! Teachers as detectives! Punish the wrongdoers! Stand up for what is right! Seize the moral high ground!"
I have written about plagiarism before, but this time I want to discuss how the offense can often be subtler than buying a published paper online or overtly copying and pasting a document. Rather, it can be a case of simply failing to properly cite sources. If a chunk of text, an image, or a multimedia clip is taken from a source without citation, then -- bingo! -- plagiarism.
In fact, we should probably include the ability to copy and paste and to blend content from multiple digital sources into a single document or file as a key twenty-first-century skill. With this realization, rather than discouraging such behavior we should be encouraging it, while simultaneously teaching students how to properly cite materials.
Here are some online tools for students that take the confusion out of citing sources:

  • Education blogger David Warlick's Citation Machine, which he describes as a tool that will help students, teachers, and researchers learn how to properly "respect other people’s intellectual properties"
  • NoodleTools -- with its wonderfully simple NoodleBib functionality -- which targets grades 1-5 and English as a Second Language students and requires the creation of an account but is free and allows you to save bibliographies as lists
  • SourceAid, the tool for professionals that encourages educators to, as the SourceAid Web site states, "invest in the academic integrity of your classroom by providing your students with the best tools to cite properly and avoid plagiarism."
These Web sites vary in the number and type of citations they illustrate, as well as the diversity of sources they cite. Each discusses how to cite books, Web sites, and encyclopedias, but they are not equal and should be reviewed by teachers and students to identify the one that is right for them and for their work. While perusing these sites, be sure to look at the interactive resources available on NoodleTools under "Teacher Resources," the SourceAid newsletter on research skills, and the other wonderful tools and resources available from Warlick's Landmarks for Schools.
Arguments I occasionally hear against the use of these powerful tools remind me of the calculator debates. The ability to automate the creation of citations still makes some educators nervous and has them wondering whether, by allowing students to avoid the pain of learning how to properly cite their term papers, they aren't doing enough to support the development of good researchers. Many are concerned that these tools just make it too easy for students to cite without really understanding how and why to cite, and when.
Do you and/or your school support the use of online citation builders? Do you use Modern Language Association or American Psychological Association formatting and style guides? Why or why not -- and, if so, which is your favorite? Are there other tools we should know about? I'm interested in your comments. And, yes, I promise to cite you as a resource!

8/17 Whit Davis was able to purchase a classroom set of iPod shuffles and headphones with Georgia Learn and Serve Grant funds last school year. While the primary purpose for the iPods is to support a science and history trail we made at Southeast Clarke Park, we will also be using them to support instruction in other ways here at Whit. The project has a website with tons of information and pictures. Please check it out...

8/10// One of the things we've been working hard on is gaming in the classroom and we are starting off this school year with multiple gaming projects involving. First up to bat is using Civilization IV in our World History classes. This is being piloted in Clarke Central in Ashlee Goodrich's class and we'll keep you posted on how it's going.

A second project is the use of audio support in the classroom. Beth Tatum's ninth grade English classes at Cedar Shoals will be using iPod Nanos to learn this semester. Again, we'll keep you posted on the progress of this initiative.

A third ongoing project is the use of video conferencing. We are open to suggestions for virtual field trips using this technology. if you visit this website, you can see some of the available topics. One of the most interesting ones I have found is teaching weather through art at the elementary level with the Cincinnati Museum of Art. When I set the link up, the page was under construction, but usually the link works just fine. Let me know if there is a technical glitch.

A great project happening in Camilla, Georgia called the flat classroom project, based on the Thomas Friedman book, can be reviewed by following the link below.
Flat Classroom

If the video above does not work, click on the words in blue in this sentence YouTube to see the video on the YouTube site .