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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

Ayrial Haarer from Anthem, AZ's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher attending ASU west, I find this article to be very extremely informative and enlightening. Up until this point, I really had a very skewed idea as to how much technology did or didn't affect a classroom. In all honesty, I actually had more of a negative perspective on technology constantly being integrated everywhere one turns. After viewing this article though, my opinion has drastically changed. I found this article to be very encouraging and a real eye-opener, really showing how much teaching has changed within the past 10 years. I was very impressed with how much fun students had and how well they all cooperated with the teacher and each other. I am now looking forward to integrating technology into my upcoming classroom and I can't wait to learn more about what else teaching with technology has to offer.

Tina DuPont's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre-service teacher at Arizona State University and the article and the video made me even more excited to start my teaching career. I found this article to be inspiring I was amazed that teachers were teaching more the one subject in a lesson. I also liked the fact that the students were happy and excited to learn, they were happy and motivated. It was also good to see that teachers are using innovation and technology within the classroom to make learning more effective as well as more enjoyable. Thanks for sharing!

David Graham, Jr.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher at ASU West, I was really quite inspired by this article and video. Math and science have always been reported as subjects that American students suffer on the most, yet, teachers do nothing to really change the way these subjects are taught. The teachers in this video really made a difference by allowing the students to discover for themselves. By allowing the students to take their own pictures, choose the websites they studied, and support their answers, they were able to take ownership of their work. This turned it from something special to them, and something they will remember. This is teaching at its finest.

Kyle Brannon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I thought this 5th grade classroom was setup perfectly. I agree with the girl that said that she didn't like having to think about one class at a time. This whole project tied in with all the classes they had to take. I am a hands-on type of person and I think I would have learned more if I were in this type of class setting. Everyone looked like they were enjoying school and learning so much at the same time. I am will be a math teacher so I think it might be a little easier for me to incorporate my curriculum to other classes the students may have because math is in just about everything.

Nicole's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading this article and watching the video I was ecstatic about teaching again. Making this kind of curriculum and having the students do a project like this is more beneficial to them now but also in the long run. Just lecturing doesn't really cut it anymore so a project like this is really getting the lesson across to the students and they are having fun while their doing it. This is what making learning fun is really about and as a pre-service teacher I can't wait to try something like this with my students.

Laura Lewis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a pre service teacher reading this article and watching the video, showed me the importance of hands on learning. The students were all participating and learning many new skills from this project. By being able to build their own water wheels, the students were able to interact with each other, learning social skills, and also work on math, social studies, language, science, and technology. This is an excellent project that this school conducted, and more schools and teachers can learn from this example. Kids will remember the lessons more if they enjoyed learning them, and by the looks of the students in this video they were.

Sonya Kaner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The article and video are full of fabulous techniques that have inspired me even more as a pre-service teacher. To be able to do all of these things in accordance with the standards and have the opportunity to combine numerous subject and teachers all together in one fun learning project for these students is amazing. Most of these children probably don't realize what pioneers they are in comaprison to the workers who built the things they are studying from. No only is it completely educational, but it makes the students want to come to class. I think this is wonderful, and when the students open their passports, I'm sure they feel it is wonderful too.

Elena Penuela's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This video was awesome. I really enjoyed the way the kids were able to use the digital camera's and the laptop. I am a preservice teacher at ASU West. I really felt excited on how these kids can use technology. I feel very lost when I use a laptop. I also enjoyed the passport and hope tu use it one day.

Enrique Cardon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher from ASU West, I thought this video had some amazing insight into how to integrate technology into education. I loved how the kids had a passport in order to be able to go on the field trip. This sort of reward system definitely inspires the kids to want to learn more. I also liked how the kids used the technology to research how to make waterwheels. The waterwheels were a great idea because kids love seeing what they have learned put into use! This way they saw immediately what they did right, and what they could improve.

Kelly 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading this article. What a great idea for teachers to think of one simple way to incorporate multiple subjects. It is definitely a process I hope to one day use in my classroom. It also seems like the students seemed to enjoy the subject matter much more than having a text book in front of them all the time.

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