Location portrait: Collaboratively building a website about the weather

The school

ARP ISD (http://www.arp.sprnet.org/) is an independent school district in Arp, Texas. In comparison with other American school districts, the ARP ISD is relatively small. It is comprised of three schools: a primary school with 365 students (pre-school through fifth grade), a junior high school with 200 students and a high school with 290 students. The district employs approximately 70 teachers: 35 in primary school, 10 in junior high, and 25 in the high school. The junior high and high school are situated in the same building, but each has its own principal. Approximately 30% of the students are of African-American heritage. Arp is a rural community.

Integration of technology into the curriculum spearheads the policy of the school district. The ultimate goal of this is the improvement of learning performance. Since the implementation of the active technology policy, the ARP ISD appears to be scoring higher on the yearly exams administered by the state of Texas. Within the district, an ICT director is charged with integration of ICT into the curriculum and bringing teachers up to speed on ICT through in-service training. This director is also the curriculum specialist of the school district. The ICT director works together with the ICT coordinator who is present at each of the three schools. ARP ISD has been awarded several grants from diverse sources to bring about the integration of ICT in the curriculum.

The following are important starting points for the educational design at ARP ISD:

 

2. ICT in the school

Each class has access, in principle, to at least 3 (primary school) or 5 (junior and high schools) computers and a printer. This is true as long as the teacher of that class has sufficient computer skills. Each class has a number of Internet connections. The high school has a computer lab with 12 Pentium computers and a workstation. The classroom for business studies has 20 computers (Pentium and 486) where multimedia activities can be carried out. There are also 486-type computers available for programming and 12 Macs and printers are on hand for remedial math.

The junior high school has a computer lab for reading education with 12 Macs, a general computer center with 24 multimedia computers (Pentium), 2 scanners, a scan converter and printers. There are 12 PCs in the library for research and word processing. The primary school has a computer center with 12 Pentiums—two of which are multimedia computers—two scanners, a scan converter, video capture and four printers. Another computer lab will be added with 24 Macs.

Brief user training courses accompany each new technology introduced in the school district. In addition, nearly all teachers have followed an introductory course in computer use. Teachers who have followed this course are certified and are therefore provided with computers in the classroom.

A sample of the use of ICT in teaching/learning at the ARP ISD:

In this course, high school students must develop a www site at the behest of and in cooperation with students and teachers from the primary and junior high school, the latter of which acts as the employer. It is as part of this course that two high school students are responsible for the design of a WWW site for the weather project in the junior high school (see below). Aside from the technical skills demonstrated in the development of the WWW site, students are also graded on their management skills: maintaining communication with their 'employer,' staying on track with the planning, etc.

Here there is also an attempt to make use of students' products as a key component of the teaching/learning process. The students must make a PowerPoint presentation about one of the fifty states of the USA. These presentations are subsequently used as supplementary materials for grade 5 geography lessons.

 

3. The teaching/learning situation

Teacher: Marty McDougal

The students: Students from grades 6-8

Subject area: Science

Meteorology forms part of the junior high science education curriculum. ICT is being explicitly used in this topic this year, specifically through use of spreadsheets and the World Wide Web. Students from grades 6-8 are working on this project. The project is still in a nascent stage and will be built upon in the coming years.

The project has its own website (http://www.arp.sprnet.org/weather/wnet2.htm) which plays a central role in the project. The information gathered by the students is placed on the web. Students can present the results of their investigations on the website. There are links to sources of information about the weather and there is the opportunity to interact with other schools via E-mail. The design of the website is taken care of by high school students who take part in the course on web-mastering (see above).

Twice daily, a small group of students gathers information about the weather (temperature, precipitation, cloud coverage) from the weather station at the school. This information is first recorded in a spreadsheet and later on is placed on the web. During the lesson, students compare their weather data with data from other parts of the country. These data are gathered via contact with other schools with said contacts being made via the website. In order to predict the weather, students use data from over the course of several days.

This project is worked on both at class-level as well as on the level of individual students, with individual students working on their own sub-topics within the theme. For instance, one of the grade 7 students is busy with an investigation into the effects of El Niņo on various regions. With the help of information gathered by the students, the basic concepts are dealt with in grade 6 with more in-depth treatment coming in grades 7 and 8. Many students come in between classes to work on their research. Room is explicitly made within the ARP ISD to stimulate students to work on their projects in this way.

The teacher attempts to do the following in this project:

 

4. ICT in the teaching/learning situation

The teacher has access to 8 computers, a video recorder and a scanner. The intention is that the data gathered by students be directly input into a laptop computer. For technical reasons, this has not worked well in practice.

Use is made of spreadsheets, PowerPoint and the World Wide Web.

ICT is employed to search for information and to share information with others.

5. Characteristics of Emergent Practice in the teaching/learning situation

In the conceptual framework developed prior to field research, a number of characteristics of EPs were formulated (Voogt & Odenthal, 1997a). These characteristics are grouped around four components of the teaching/learning environment that exert influence on the teaching/learning process: 1) goals and contents, 2) roles of the teacher, 3) roles of the students and 4) materials and infrastructure.

The following overview summarizes the characteristics of EP, and to what extent they can be found in the teaching/learning situation described.

Component Characteristics of EP
Goals and contents
  • Contents are related to authentic practical applications
  • Emphasis in the teaching/learning process is placed on developing new skills
The roles of the teacher
  • The teacher primarily uses instruction methods that encourage students to actively engage the material
  • The teacher bases his actions on the interests and needs of individual students
  • The teacher actively creates a learning environment for students
  • The teacher stimulates cooperation between students
  • The teacher is a partner in the learning process of the students
The roles of the students
  • The students are actively engaged with the material
  • The students are independent (but not yet autonomous)
  • The students work in teams
  • The students become 'experts' in their sub-topics.
The use of ICT and the infrastructure
  • User-driven ICT applications are used
  • Various forms of ICT are used
  • Use is made of non-structured and semi-structured (non-ICT) sources of information
  • Learning is flexible in time

Goals and contents

In the project 'The Weather' use is made of measurements taken by the students themselves. By relating these measurements to actual weather reports, the subject meteorology is treated in a real life way.

The students take measurements, which they must organize and present graphically. In addition, they must gather and process information on the weather as it relates to the sub-topic they have chosen. This information is presented on the website. The investigation into El Niņo is a good example of this.

Roles of the teacher

The students are actively put to work. They must gather measurements on the weather, make forecasts, compile their data in convenient to read graphs and present their finding on the website.

Students can work on their own research questions; there is room in the curriculum for individual activities in addition to class activities.

The teacher clearly creates a learning environment in which the weather station and the website play important roles.

The teacher ensures that the students—as a group—are responsible for maintaining the website and collecting the data. Every day a small group of students is responsible for carrying out the measurements at the weather station.

Part of the educational approach is that students carry out their own investigations related to the weather. The teacher is a partner in this learning process.

Roles of the students

The students are actively engaged with the material in a number of ways: taking measurements, searching for and arranging information, formulating research questions, presenting results.

The students are given a certain degree of independence in carrying out the plans for their own investigations, which take place in addition to the traditional activities.

The students are responsible—as a group—for the collection of data as well as for filling in and maintaining the website.

Students become 'experts' in their sub-topics, particularly when they carry out the research themselves. They share this expertise with the class via a presentation, and on the website.

Materials and infrastructure

The students use spreadsheets to arrange and further manipulate their measurements. In addition, they work together to build their site on the World Wide Web.

The students use spreadsheets, PowerPoint and the World Wide Web.

For their own investigations, students are encouraged to use sources other than the Internet (encyclopedias, TV stations—such as the Weather Channel).

Students have a certain degree of flexibility in the use of their time, specifically in working on their individual investigations.

6. Why we find this an example of courage

By using ICT, Students become more involved in their own learning, for instance by being collectively responsible for taking measurements using the weather station and building and maintaining their own website. Furthermore, weather phenomena can be visualized with the help of ICT. This supports the teaching/learning process.

Further plus points of this teaching/learning situation"

 

7. Suggestions for further enrichment

Suggestions for further enrichment can be given in every teaching/learning situation. By enrichment we mean that a teaching/learning situation can be expanded upon such that it would contain more characteristics of EP.

Up to this point, students' grades are based on a list of goals that must be monitored. A possibility for enrichment could be to make the products of the individual investigations (the websites that the students make as part of their presentations) part of a digital portfolio. This has the additional benefit of offering the teacher a tool for monitoring progress.

10 October 1998 5 hours