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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

Brenna Good's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher, this article is very encouraging. The technology Ferryway School has incorporated into their curriculum has promoted all the things we are trying to learn and balance; the students are interested, they are "getting it," there is collaboration and excitement among the educators, and the parents can be involved as well with the technology's access from home. It gives the students a chance to "live and learn" the material, and they have the opportunity to teach each other. By working together and completing objectives, they are able to take a sense of pride in the skills they have acquired. Not only does Ferryway show that integrating technology offers a working system for curriculum that can be utilized for several age groups across several subjects, but it involves the children in the process, gives depth to the subject matter, and just plain makes it fun.

Brooke Lackey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher attending ASU West. While I was watching the video about the Ferryway School I realized how important technology really is in schools. Students are able to discover things on their own, without using a textbook. I noticed that all the kids in the video were so excited to learn new things. This video made me eager to new learn new ways that teachers are able to reach out to their kids and engage them more into learning. I think technology is a great thing, which all classrooms need to use more.

Kristen Krisak's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre-service teacher at ASU West and I found this article and video to be interesting and knowledeable. Technology has definitly come along in education and helped shape it more. Growing up I did not have that much technoloy in my classrooms. As technology advanced more and more in education, I had to learn it on my own. Last semester I got to take a technologies for educators class at my old college. That helped me feel more confident about making learning fun for students.
The fifth grade students were learning a lot in different ways.They knew how to use powerpoint, digital camera, search the internet, etc. Technology is a great resource in helping students learn in a better and fun way. I am so excited for the advancement of technology and I can't wait to see what else comes about. Technology is always new and a learning experience.

Vanessa Parker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a pre-service teacher at ASU West, I am amazed at how educators at Ferryway School were able to combine more than two class subjects to complete a great project. Not only were the students able to use subjects like math, science, and social studies, they also had the opportunity to use technology. The students were able to learn more through hands on activities. After watching the video, I'm looking forward to creative projects with my future students.

John Hannam's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a pre service teacher, this article opened my eyes to what is being done in the field i plan to join in just a few (hopefully)short semesters. The ideas that the teachers along with the countless other individuals show what is possible when it comes to educating the youth of our nation. Hours of classroom instruction, be it in math,language, science and history are next to meaning less, unless they are put into the proper context. I like this story because it showed what is possible when everyone involved thinks outside of the box. Before students sat in rows and learned facts about things that were so abstract to them, young people were learning by doing. I commend the school because I believe that setting higher goals gets students to perform at higher levels. Like the old saying if you shoot for the moon, if you miss you'll still end up among the stars.

Hannah Karwal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a pre-service teacher I found this article and video very inspiring. I thought that the technology that was integrated in the classroom was incredible because it took the students' learning to new heights. One of the things that really stood out to me about the project was the way the students were able to make so many of their own choices. I think that because they were allowed to choose the websites and allowed to take their own pictures their end result was a project that they could identify with. It was a product that they could be proud of and all the while they were learning necessary skills and knowledge about numerous subjects and having fun doing it.

Michael Ingram's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Learning how to effectively incorporate technology and innovative ways of thinking is something I think all teachers must consider in their own classroom. As a preservice teacher, I have yet to shape and define my instructional methods in class. I see great value in creating learning projects that incorporate various content and concepts. Exploratory teachers such as the ones mentioned in the article, have a lot to offer, but they can face difficulty in getting around a rigid school structure. I think the passport concept is a creative way of promoting ownership into a student's education. Students will find the value in their own learning.

Carol Horwedel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher at ASU West and I feel that using a hands on approach to learning is very beneficial. Sometimes its hard to remember what is taught if it isn't practiced. I also like the idea of using computers more often to teach lessons. It will help prepare students for success when they graduate. The idea of several teachers working together towards the same goal is very exciting. I personally would love to be a part of such a project. I also know that I would remember my school lessons much better if my teachers had used this approach. Not to mention how much fun these students must have had.

Renee Vos's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a pre-service teacher I found this article and video to be quite impressive. I was intrigued at how well the students worked together and how high the student's interest level was. Every student seemed to be very involved with each of the projects and or assignments, and they all took responsibility for their jobs throughout the project. I loved the fact that the kids were able to have choices on what websites or topics they wanted to research. I also believe that the kids learned a lot more during this time because they were teaching themselves through a lot of it; ownership of knowledge can be a very powerful thing in a classroom, and those kids definitely had ownership out of the projects they were researching, learning about, and developing.

Courtney Grable's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a pre-service teacher , I can only aspire to accomplish what these teachers have. In order to create innovative learners, we need innovative teachers, which is exactly what they are. Inquiry based learning is an important factor of education. Students can experience learning as exciting, and realize it isn't merely reading a chapter and answering questions. They learn how to research information on their own and develop questions based on what they explore. Learning can be fun and hands, on with the right group of dedicated teachers who are determined to find a less standardized way of instruction.

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