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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

On the Frontier of Technology: A Fresh Start in Alaska

A new school provides a path for tech integration.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team
Credit: Max Seabaugh

Designing a new curriculum -- and a new school building -- from the ground up allowed the residents of Juneau, Alaska, to create a showplace for the uses of the latest technologies to support teaching and learning.

Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School is the result of a collaboration among educators and community members who created a curriculum that is challenging, project-based, and exciting. At each step along the way, the planning teams considered how technology could be used to further their goals. They also worked closely with the architects designing the school to make sure that the building itself supported the new curriculum. Every learning area, for instance, has connections to computer and school-wide video networks.

The ubiquitous technology allows the school's 700 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders to work on projects that integrate academics with learning about the real world. In one project at the school, students helped to preserve regional history by chronicling the lives of local heroes. They created video documentaries with companion still photographs and written testimonials, then arranged a celebration where they presented their work to community members and those heroes who were still living.

One of the school's best-known projects resulted from a teacher asking his class to come up with ideas for dispelling myths about their home state. The class responded by creating Alaska On-Line, an award-winning project on the World Wide Web that offers information about the state's history and folklore as well as guides to such Juneau-area attractions as the Mendenhall Glacier.

In 1994 the school joined Co-NECT, a consortium of schools with a common vision of education focused on project-based learning, strong community support, and the appropriate use of the best technologies. Observes Charla Wright, Dzantik'i Heeni's principal, "Community involvement in schools is strongest when the public can see that students are doing real work."

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