CIESE, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in math and science education, began running collaborative projects more than five years ago, said Joshua D. Baron, its manager of curriculum development and training.
"The goal of the CIESE with its online projects is to develop and demonstrate to teachers how the Internet can be used in ways other than just as a large library," Baron told Education World.
"Most organizations like ours continue to focus only on information retrieval uses of the Internet ... having students search and surf the Net for library-style reference materials," Baron said. "Although we also see this as an important use of the technology, we feel that if schools in the United States are going to invest billions of dollars to connect to the Internet, then they should be using the technology to its full potential and not just replacing CD-ROMs and other library resources with new technology."
CIESE makes it easy for teachers to integrate technology and take their students on the ultimate field trip -- without the cost or the travel! The detailed CIESE Web site provides all the tools needed for four different kinds of technology projects: collaborative projects, real-time data projects, projects using primary sources and archived collections, and partner projects. The choices of activities are as diverse as the projects themselves.
The projects are geared for students in specific grades, although all students are welcome to participate. The center provides links to national and state standards, lesson plans, reference materials, and project instructions. Links to reference sites and online experts are also provided.
One of CIESE's goals is for students of all ages to benefit from their projects. A project for younger students called the Square of Life was designed by CIESE in partnership with Bank Street College of Education to ensure that it was appropriate for students in kindergarten through grade 5, Baron said.
The Square of Life project sets students off on a journey to explore their local and global environments by gathering information about the plants, animals, and nonliving objects found in their schoolyard. Then they compare what they discover with information gathered by students from all around the world. The students also design a poster that represents their findings.
Sheila Ginoza, a first-grade teacher at Waikele Elementary School in Waipahu, Hawaii, was delighted to discover the Square of Life project. "Our learning is consistently multidisciplinary, so again this project was a natural match for us," Ginoza told Education World. "As a teacher I really look forward to all the wonderings and learnings the children will experience through this project. I see this as an excellent way to connect to others with real information in our backyard and theirs."
Ginoza expanded the project to include mapping skills, which helped the students locate the continents and states of the other project schools. Justin, one of her students, not only learned about the environment but was also impressed by the substantial distance between Hawaii and some of the other participating schools. "We are very, very far away from New Jersey," he said.
Jan Powell, a fifth-grade teacher at Our Lady of the Assumption School in Enoggera, Brisbane, Australia, also appreciates the possibilities the CIESE Internet projects provide. Her class worked on the human genetics project.
"The students hadn't done anything like that before, asking others about their human features," Powell said. "They were fascinated to realize that people really are different in their physical characteristics. For teachers like myself, these projects open up a whole new world of involvement and learning opportunities. For the students, the prospect of being involved in a real-life global project, which is both science- and technology-based, offers both motivation and challenge."
Students like being involved in projects from the Internet because they realize that these projects involve people from around the world, Powell explained. They also like taking on the role of the real scientist.
Jacquelyn Varcadipane, an eighth-grade math teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Passaic, New Jersey, also participated in the genetics project. She teamed up with a science teacher, who dealt with the actual genetics/heredity aspect of the project, and Varcadipane focused on the statistical analyses.
"The students really liked working on the project because it brought them together as a class, checking out each other's genetic traits," Varcadipane said. "It made the math and science somewhat real for them, which is how it should be. They connect with anything that is relevant to their daily lives."
In addition, Varcadipane said, "The students' motivation level soars when they see that other schools around the country and even the world are doing the same things that they are!"
Varcadipane particularly liked the way CIESE made it so easy to participate. The project didn't require constant online access, a real plus if there is only one computer in the classroom. "I would also recommend projects like this one for first timers," she said. "It was very explicit in its directions and easy to do."
Teachers and pupils alike feel that they are part of a big international research team when they participate in these Internet projects, said Evgenia Sendova, a research associate at the Institute of Mathematics and Informatics in Bulgaria. She coordinates the implementation of the CIESE projects in schools in Bulgaria.
Even the parents get excited with these Internet projects, which helps to transform schools into a place where students can enjoy science, she said. "There was a case in Sofia, Bulgaria, where the father of one of the students brought a water sample from Antarctica to be compared with the water they were drinking at school," Sendova said.
Students like the fact that their work is not just an "imitation" but like the real thing that may be of use to the real scientists, she told Education World.
Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2007 Education World