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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

Rhonda Page's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher I found this article very interesting. I am currently a student at ASU West. I believe that technology in schools is rewarding for both teacher and student. It allows the students to discover and research on their own. The web can provide new and interesting ways for teachers to implement the curriculum. I also enjoyed the passport idea and plan to use that for different projects during my teaching career.

Stephanie Lopez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher, this article was very encouraging in that technology is an innovative way to help students learn. This article discusses how many different teacher teams it takes to make this project work. Everyone from teachers, technology specialists, to paraprofessionals. It takes a team that is full of ideas to make this project successful for the students. When I am a teacher I would love to integrate technology into my classroom.

Julie Bradford's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher at ASU West. I was really intrigued by the video and article. It is so interesting to see how teachers incorporate technology into their classrooms. The teachers at Ferryway School were able to create a fun and educational lesson that still involved technology. During the video, the students seemed to have fun in the classroom as well as on the filed trip. It is difficult to create a lesson that students really enjoy and still allows them to learn new information, but the teachers did it.

Nicholle Apuan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a Pre Service Teacher at ASU West.

I definitely agree that the article and video were eye opening. I can honestly admit that I have never given this much thought to the use of technology within the classroom. The article has encouraged me to explore different options and ideas to incorporate the use of technology in my future classrooms. I also look forward to opportunities to implement similar cross curriculum project ideas.

Christina Estrada's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a pre-service teacher at ASU, I found this article to be fascinating and encouraging. The fact that the educators collaborated their expertise and skills into the curriculum was inspiring. These students were able to enforce math, reading, writing and science into a project, all while using technology. The article also described that students were learning team work, hands on skills, and critical thinking. As future educators, I believe that it is important to integrate technology into the curriculum so that students may have a better understanding and observe the possibilities that may occur.

Crystal Estrada's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a pre service teacher, attending ASU West, I found this article to be helpful to all inspiring teachers. The article, described the importance of intergrading technology into our classrooms. I believe the article and video were very interesting, because the students seemed excited and willing to learn and participate in the given assignment. Any idea or technique that helps teachers improve their lesson is worth taking the time and effort to see their students succeed.

Debbi Hendrickson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher at Arizona State University, West campus. I was amazed how this lesson plan was put together. I thought it to be a unique way to incorporate various teaching methods' for all to learn from. Children were able to research their own information, work hands on projects and interact with one another. I found the passport to be a great idea; it allowed the students and teacher to track the progress and allowed the students to complete an adventure upon completion, the field trip. It was wonderful to see the children downloading their own pictures from the trip and discussing them with each other. I was so inspired watching this video, seeing the love and enjoyment these children had from learning this lesson. It's exciting to know the technology we as future teacher will be able to incorporate into the classrooms.

Christine's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher at ASU West, I am just starting to learn about integrating technology into the classroom. These are the kinds of ideas that make me so excited to become a teacher! I actually grew up in New Hampshire, and we did a very similar project to this when I was in Elementary School. Around Thanksgiving, we did a unit on the Pilgrims and original colonies. We took a field trip to Plymouth Rock and Plimoth (original spelling) Plantation. Plimoth Plantation is an amazing colony, where the staff is dressed in period clothes and speak with the period accent (British, obviously). They have a replica of the Mayflower, a Wampanoag homesite (expressing the perspective of the Native Americans), a barn, a craft center. Then, we enjoyed samples of an original Thanksgiving Feast. That was about 20 years ago, and I still remember it to this day. The project at Ferryway School reminded me of that experience, only now they can do their research on the internet before they go! Given that most learners are kinesthetic/visual, ideas like this are a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Tiffany Zadylak's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher, I found this article and video to be exciting and interesting. I think it is amazing how much technology has transformed education. The fifth grade students at Ferryway School were learning so much in so many ways. It is great that technology is allowing for teachers to incorporate numerous subjects into one lesson. These students knew how to search the internet effectively, use a digital camera, make PowerPoint presentations, store photographs on a computer, use a laptop, and so on. I did not learn how to use any of these items in school. I had to learn how to use them on my own. The students at Ferryway School were doing so many fun and hands on activities, yet they were learning so much about technology and the subject matter at the same time. I am very excited to see what sort of advancements in technology are in the future. I am also glad to have the opportunity to use technology to further education through modern interests.

Michelle Sawyer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Coming from the perspective of a pre-service teacher, integrating technology into the curriculum is nothing but beneficial for students. When teachers integrate technology in their lessons, students must rely on themselves to find the information rather than the teacher. Thus, students learn faster and have a better chance of retaining the knowledge. People learn more when it is hands-on and learn problem solving skills that cannot be taught out of a textbook. Also, teaching technology at a younger age allows students to develop skills they might not have otherwise learned until high school or college. Finally, the integration of technology permits students to develop important social skills and are able to cope with group members in a more positive manner.

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