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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Visualizing Technology Integration: A Model for Meeting ISTE Educational-Technology Standards

Educators employ project learning to explore science and history together.
Robert Simpson 3
Technology Integration Specialist / Boston Area

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards (formerly the NETS), call for the integration of technology in schools. The truth is that such technology integration is difficult but absolutely necessary.

VIDEO: Turning on Technology: Using Today's Tools to Study Yesterday's

Running Time: 10 min.

I prefer to use a concept map to explain complicated processes -- such as integrating technology -- when it is important to see the overall picture but also drill down into the details. The concept map for our curriculum at Ferryway School, in Malden, Massachusetts, shows the forces that have shaped our approach. (Download the PDF; open it in Adobe Reader for clickable links.) The instruction, development, and analysis of the curriculum occurs simultaneously but at varying degrees of intensity.

Often, we hear that a curriculum should be interdisciplinary, but what exactly does that mean? For one thing, the curriculum should involve multiple subject areas. Our curriculum started as an elementary science lesson on natural resources and simple machines.

But because student-performance data on the state's standardized science exam indicated that our students did not understand these subject areas in a deep and meaningful way, the teachers decided to use a new approach: They chose to embrace a project-learning strategy to connect science and colonial history through a local historic site that dates back to the 1640s, the Saugus Iron Works.

The teachers knew that their students would likely enjoy a field trip to the Saugus Iron Works if they had the knowledge to understand its significance. (Also, it didn't hurt that the proposed curriculum scheme aligned with state standards in science, history, and English-language acquisition.) The delivery vehicle for this new approach was a custom-designed Web site called a project-based unit. (On the concept map, see the circle under "Development" that reads "Saugus Iron Works PBU.") The PBU allowed teachers to creatively weave together a set of lessons that effectively integrated the different subject areas they were covering.

Creating the Right Project

Tufts University graduate student Andy Mueller joined our curriculum-development team as an engineering intern, and his expertise resulted in a lesson on designing a waterwheel. One of the most challenging questions on the state science exam is an open-response question that requires students to solve a design problem. Having teams of students build their own waterwheels gave them the same opportunity the early colonists had at the Saugus Iron Works -- to learn to harness the power of water through trial and error.

In order to build an efficient waterwheel, students needed to understand the engineering concept of torque. Mueller's multimedia presentations used text, graphics, animation, and narration to present that concept. Students could navigate through these presentations both at school and at home.

With their understanding of torque, the students were able to build better waterwheels by considering the impact of radius and volume during the engineering-design process. Additionally, the students learned to apply some complicated mathematics in order to calculate the torque of their waterwheels. In this case, technology helped give students the knowledge to become better problem solvers and perhaps future engineers.

Creating Curriculum

Curriculum development requires a dedicated team of educators who have good instructional skills. The instructional team for this curriculum started with a core group of fifth-grade teachers. They, in turn, enlisted the support of other educators. As the technology specialist, I helped translate their curriculum ideas to the Web. A Web-based curriculum enhances the collaborative nature of instruction simply because it's easier for everyone to access and work with the curriculum. For instance, when students travel to the computer lab, the computer teacher can help them perform online research and create concept maps to explain processes, such as the rock cycle.

Once the collaborative spirit was unleashed, other teachers offered their assistance. The educators shaded in gold on the concept map had a direct role in helping the core teachers develop and implement the curriculum: Our consumer-education teacher taught students how to design and sew rock-people costumes. The technology teacher taught the hands-on skills needed to construct waterwheels in the school-technology and woodworking shop. The support of these exploratory teachers significantly enhanced the students' mastery of subject content.

During classroom instruction, support staff, such as special education aides and other paraprofessionals, provided additional assistance to students with learning disabilities to ensure they could complete their tasks. Our school district uses an inclusion model that groups students with differing ability levels. Project learning requires students to work cooperatively to complete major assignments and solve problems.

The curriculum directors encouraged us to be innovative, but they also emphasized how important it was that the unit lined up with district content standards. One of the most difficult aspects in justifying project learning is that it requires extra time, which clashes with the time demands of preparing students for standardized subject exams. We've found that broadly distributing the curriculum-implementation duties over a diverse team of educators increases the probability of success in project learning.

The Passport System

A successful curriculum is one that inspires students to own their learning in such a way that their achievement is a natural by-product. One of the most important motivational tools in the Saugus Iron Works curriculum is the use of a passport system. As students complete activities, which spiral upward in difficulty, they earn passport stamps. We also require students to keep an organized portfolio of their work. Learning to physically organize their portfolios helps them organize their thoughts and ideas when completing assignments. (Fifth-grade students take pride in this visual representation of their progress.)

When the curriculum first launched, most of the work was paper based, but as the teachers acquired more technology skills, the work became digital. As you might suspect, the team has embraced concept mapping as an effective tool. Students absolutely love the opportunity to build visual representations of their learning, and doing so addresses the NETS-S call to use technology for creativity and innovation.

Another increasingly important method of capturing student achievement, especially with regard to project learning, is shooting classroom video footage. The tendency is to focus on what the teachers are teaching and their techniques, but when we videotaped classes, we saw a dynamic learning environment in which students were constantly sharing. The videos helped confirm that project learning was working, and it gave teachers the confidence to continue developing the curriculum.

But does project learning result in what some consider real student achievement -- standardized-testing results? An analysis of student performance on the state's standardized science exam has repeatedly shown that our students do better on questions that relate to the project-learning curriculum. In fact, the project's effect is strong enough to raise overall average achievement by 7 percent, despite the fact that it covers only 20 percent of the science standards.

These results inspired our team to use the same curriculum approach to teach animal adaptation and biomes in the fourth grade. If students could enter fifth grade having had an authentic project-learning experience in biomes, we reasoned, then their fifth-grade teachers could work on mastery of that content as well as teach the waterwheel project.

Successful projects require a school structure that encourages curriculum integration and innovation, with a special emphasis on ensuring that the technology is always on.

Robert Simpson is a technology specialist at the Ferryway School, in Malden, Massachusetts.

Comments (75)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Ashley Hathaway's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher. I would love to incorporate combination of subject skills from this article in my classroom. When student are proud of themselves they get self-esteem high and know that they can achieve a goal. There are many kinesthetic learners in this world today. This is a perfect project for them. I am very happy to here are the work teacher are doing showing that not all students need to be taught the same way they were taught. This is an article I will remember and try and be a teacher that will teach with an effective way.

Sheryl Fisher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a pre-service teacher, this article really opened my eyes on how to present a lesson to a classroom while integrating into a field trip to help them understand it even more. Personally I think technology and this type of teaching to the class is a great tool that is not being utilized in classrooms for students to learn to the fullest potential. I appreciate the author's insight to this to help those of us who are going into that field to help us become better teachers so our students don's "miss" out.

Adam Lopez-Verdugo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher here at ASU West, I found it very interesting to how more technology can be utilized in the classroom. As a hopefull math teacher I see the use of some video or powerpoints not the typical direction to how the curriculum is traditionally taught. Becoming innovative would be a challenge with traditional trains of thought, but hoping maybe a math lesson can be brought to life is exciting. The goal of having my students become comfortable with performing basic math functions would be more accomplishable.

Courtney Barnes's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Children learn and retain best when the information is valuable and engaging. No one enjoys listening to lectures and then memorizing their notes for a test. Most of what they learn stays with them for the duration of the test and then it's gone. On the other hand, if teachers were able to allow students to be fully active in the project-based learning activities the learning would be tied to real life, call for problem solving and team work, have an actual product of true value and accomplishment, and maybe also be lots of fun.

The article described a school in Massachusetts that encouraged project-based learning where kids had to solve an actual problem of designing a waterwheel. The project encouraged integration of different contents, while using texts, graphics, and animation with technology. The students researched, worked as a team to problem solve, used math and science and engineering to understand torque and then wrote about it and used media to present. I have a feeling that kids really went away with a strong appreciation of learning and used skills in a variety of ways to accomplish the learning. Kids will remember the project for many years to come vs. the memorization of facts for a test. This is the way schools should be shifting their instruction to make learning meaningful and tied to skills needed in global society.

Shayne Brockman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher at ASU West I found this article to be very informative about the benefits of integrating technology into our classrooms. Project based units allow for a seamless integration of different subject areas within a set of lessons. I appreciate that this type of project allows not only for the understanding of key concepts but the application of those concepts as well. Having the ability to problem solve is essential to success in todays society. Giving students the ability to "own" their learning through curriculum gives them the confidence they need to reach higher and stretch further in their own goals and development and thirst for knowledge.

Shayne Brockman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher at ASU West, I am excited about the integration of technology in my classroom. In viewing the video of the Ferryway School and the project of the waterwheel and Biome it is inspiring to see the reaction and pride of the children as they problem solve and succeed in their efforts. Bringing a hands on approach and introducing the use of technology for research and development provided a well-rounded, in-depth learning experience which accelerated the childrens content knowledge as well as application methods. Colleague collaboration coupled with group work provided a cohesive and supportive foundation for learning. Amazing!

Leonela Torres's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading this article I realize more how important it is to incorporate technology into the classroom. This article gave me a few ideas of how to get my students more involved and practice more using technology. It also showed how to integrate several topics together. This type of teaching will interest the students a lot more and in the long run it will benefit them.

Carrie Rodriguez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After watching this video, I realized how easily technology can be included in the classroom. As a preservice teacher, I think that technology is a vital component in today's students' work, because technology surrounds them. I thought that it was cool how the teacher could ask a question and the students could answer from their hand held remotes. The information was translated into a graph on the teacher's PowerPoint. I know that if I had that kind of technology in my classroom when I was in 5th grade, I would have learned a lot more and been more interested in what I was learning.

Tara Stoicescu's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher, I found this article to be very interesting. When I was a student in high school they combined our history and english class one year, and the class was a huge success. I think it is very helpful too to encourage students to translate ideas into various aspects of their lives. That concepts in math can be readily applied in science and so on. It is my opinion that teachers could really benefit from carrying these ideas over to problem based learning and such as well.

EJ McCollister's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher. I beleive hands-on learning is sometimes the most effective way to keep children engaged. I hope to use technology and hands-on projects with my students and that my classrrom can look like the one on the video! A portfolio for fifth graders is a great way for them to keep organized and be proud of their work.
Students learn more when they get opportunities to explore and discover new information on their own while being guided, instead of just being feed information through lectures and textbooks.

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