(Kim Rose, Apple Computer)
*In the United States the majority of children attend three schools before entering an institution of higher education: Elementary school, which begins with Kindergarten and goes through Grade 6 [K-6]. Generally, a child is 5 years old upon entering Elementary School. Middle School continues for children grades 7 though 9; and finally High School for grades 10-12. Many children also attend Pre-School before entering Kindergarten.
How can we utilize the Web and it's users for K-6 student access as amplifiers to learning and enhance their daily classroom experience?
How can we promote change to "School" as we know it to extend beyond the classroom walls and engage students with adults, especially in those areas requiring specialized expertise?
What have pilot telecommunications programs taught us about the use of this technology so that we may broaden the learning experience?
How can Elementary schools be afforded easy-to-use, easy-to-navigate access to the Web?
How can we recruit specialized individuals to volunteer their time to correspond with students to offer them insights, opinions and ideas and motivate them toward continued questioning and learning?
Models for learning are changing. Environments for learning are changing -- or perhaps not. We've known for a long time that often one's best learning takes place beyond the Classroom -- in homes, theaters, outdoors, or via the telephone. The tools our information age is offering can help us to exploit the idea of learning beyond traditional classroom walls at a time where it is very much needed. It is up to us to decide how to use the technology -- Neil Postman reminds us that it is not the technology that can improve our learning, but the media we create from that technology. What can we make of these tools to benefit our children? What kinds of "programming" shall we develop for this new media to amplify learning?
Teaching our children how to think, problem solve and be productive, creative adults can no longer be the responsibility of Schools and Classroom teachers alone. Along with parents (many of whom need to be reminded that their child's education is not solely the responsibility of the school they send their child to attend daily) I suggest it is also the responsibility of the larger community to assist in developing society's children into thinking adults who are proud to be life long learners.
The Web offers us a way to do this. We know how astounding the growth of users of the Internet has been. Internet users represent all ages, cultures, and ways of thinking. Work paradigms are shifting. More of us are working from our homes. School paradigms are going to shift as well. Home schooling is becoming ever more popular as problems continue in our Schools. K-6 educators became generalists because that's what the system asked them to do. More and more demands have been placed on these professionals due to the path our society has taken. Teachers too often need to also be disciplinarians, and sociologists, dealing with children from split homes, dysfunctional homes, or homes where both parents work 12 or 14 hours a day. It's time for professionals outside of our official educational institutions to participate in the teaching of our next generation of adults.
We need to examine experimental programs that team students and adults outside of the classroom, and from them, formulate highly accessible tools and programs which can work alongside and benefit our current educational system.
One of the central issues in AGE is curriculum. Traditionally, curriculum is the knowledge organized and packaged into forms suitable for instruction in schools. That means, textbooks, workbooks, lesson plans, "scope and sequence", and the other forms of instruction "containerized" for delivery before the student even enters the classroom. AGE projects touch every discipline: Literature, History, Science, Math, Arts, Technology and Computers, Journalism and DeskTop publishing. In addition, AGE offers grant guidelines, and upcoming conference information for teachers and administrators.
Primarily, AGE has been a good resource for teachers. It broke the isolation of the single classroom. No longer limited by the materials in one room or even one school, teachers could draw upon new colleagues and new resources...around the world. Schools could learn from and grow from one another. Resources could be quickly and easily shared.
AGE has most benefited students by affording them the opportunity to establish email pen pals and exchange cultural information. However, there is not much opportunity for student learning beyond this possibility. What is also unfortunate is that this network is only available to those students and teachers subscribing to Apple's AppleLink network; non-AppleLink users cannot access AGE.
The Life Lab Science program began in 1978 when a teacher from a small school in Santa Cruz, California, gathered a group of students together to garden. From this adventure and the field testing of the ideas from other teachers and students evolved the first published curriculum, "The Growing Classroom" (Addison-Wesley, 1990). Continued refinement, through field testing, further research and lesson development, and input from more teachers and students, resulted in a comprehensive, thematic science program for each grade level: Life Lab Science, K-5 (Video Discovery, 1993).
The Life Lab Science Program supports "Growing Connections," an on-line information exchange between students and teachers on AppleLink who share science project data and findings. Growing Connections was started as a collaborative effort between the Life Lab Science program staff and Apple Computer's Learning Concepts Group researchers.
Since 1990, twelve Life Lab Schools in California and Florida piloted and have sustained Growing Connections. Projects have been set up using Life Lab lessons in which enthusiastic teachers and students exchange information electronically about experiments on radish, peanut, and fava bean growth, bird watching, and building compost piles. Exchanging weather data, curriculum integration ideas, and pen pal exchanges, are also part of this successful and exciting project.
Growing Connections also offers assistance from a volunteer "scientist-on-line" -- Joe Jordan from NASA Ames, based in California. This component of the Growing Connections has been one its the most valuable. Here are some comments from Joe regarding his participation in the project:
"Participating as "scientist-on-line" in the Growing Connections computer- telecommunications network has been fun. Although my professional work is atmospheric sciences research at NASA (Ames), education has long been something I consider of paramount importance to the world's future, and teaching is really my main passion and talent, probably. So I've appreciated the opportunity to be of service, not only to the students, but also to teachers. This network enables me to keep in touch with the interests and curiosities of school kids, and occasional announcements I'd broadcast (often about events in the sky) seemed to generate enthusiasm. One of my favorite questions received was, "Are there rivers in outer space?" -- (to which I responded that there possibly were once rivers of liquid water on Mars, and there certainly must be many in other solar systems ... but maybe that's not what they had in mind!). When "answering" questions, I usually try to either guide the students in their own investigations leading to answers, or to give them a bunch more information than they were specifically asking for, in hopes of stimulating further questions."
Four components are key to the success of the Growing Connections project: The small base of users offers an area which is very easy to navigate. The participants need not embark into a deep, dark hierarchy of files with hundreds of entries to obtain the information they seek. In addition, all of the information available is embedded in the same context. The umbrella of the Life Lab Science program and connected themes keeps things compact and relevant. Joe's adjunct offering of insights and opinions enhances what the teachers can offer the students as well as giving the students an additional resource and point of view. Finally, Joe's attitude of having "the opportunity to be of service" and knowing the value of keeping in touch with the interest and curiosities of school kids is one that should be shared and emulated by more adults in our society.
Seeing the value in Growing Connections' offering of a "scientist-on-line" sparked the addition of Expert People Resources for Educators to Apple Computer's K-12 Educator's Resource area on AppleLink.
This 1992 addition to AppleLink offers only 5 experts --- one of whom is Joe Jordan from NASA Ames. Unfortunately, this resource does not appear to get much use. Several of the participant's folders have not be added to for several months.
I believe there are several reasons for this: Lack of publicity, and therefore, knowledge that the area even exists. The resource area is too buried in the AppleLink hierarchy for people to find. The people represent areas of random expertise; subjects range from information on how to establish your own bulletin board to how to maintaining your computer hardware. The content is not embedded in anything as is Joe's participation in the Life Lab Science Growing Connections project. These experts are detached and floating in an area of cyberspace -- they need to be grounded in something with more context.
With video cameras, computers and Quicktime software, the kids expressed their questions to a group of volunteering scientists at the Exploratorium. Using the same technologies, the scientists offered not only answers, but suggested experiments the students could do themselves to illustrate the scientific phenomenon they were thinking about. The scientists also coached students so they could tie the big ideas together. The experts found the children asking more thoughtful questions as the program went on. The experts elaborated theories, offered new questions and provided additional resources for the class. The kids found that they learned not only more about the scientific phenomenon they were investigating, but also about a range of new things as they used the computers and video cameras.
Establishing a project to connect teachers and experts proved highly beneficial. Many school teachers feel quite uncomfortable with much of the material they are expected to teach their children in the area of science. This scenario enabled the teacher to be more of a facilitator. She could learn along with her children. The science museum served as a critical partner to this program.
The additional tools used in this project can provide an excellent example of how we might take advantage of using multimedia on the Internet to exchange lively data and images thus providing depth to the issues being explored and examined.
AOL has successfully recruited over 300 volunteer teachers to serve as experts in this area. There are folders within folders within folders on literature, science, math, and history containing hundreds of inquiries and answers on everything from Milton's Paradise Lost to astronomy. Although I know students have much more perserverence in digging than I, this type of system is very difficult to sort through. Thinking of these services as resources for information access and to assist in critical thinking, and not as televisions in which to "channel surf" I seek a model that is less conducive to surfing and more so to spear fishing for a particular species of fish. The other problem I have with this model is that once again, it is the classroom teacher doing all the work. This is another job for the teacher who is already pressed for time and expected to be an expert in all things. I am suggesting we take that load off the Classroom teachers and ask professionals to take responsibility to assist in the education of our children. A nice feature of the "Teacher Pager" device is that once the student has sent a query, responses come right into their mailbox. There is no need to go back into a bulletin board area to sort through hundreds of other student queries to find responses to your own.
Networking children and adults would be of great value to us all. Commenting on a teacher's need to keep in touch with other adults, Bertrand Russell said a teacher should not spend more than two hours per day with his students. Teachers need more discourse with other adults outside of their school environments. Teachers need help to become facilitators to learning. Adults in other workplaces and professions also need to be better in touch with today's children enabling them to understand their motivations and curiosities as Joe Jordan reminds us. We need to build online communities where children and adults can engage in thought provoking discourse.
These ideas represent initial thoughts and possibilities for enhancing learning by utilizing the WWW and new technologies. Your ideas would be valued and most welcome. If you would be interested in participating as a volunteer in this project or have comments please contact me.
Kim Rose, Apple Computer, Learning Concepts Group, ROSE5@APPLELINK.APPLE.COM